Neithhotep (or Hetep-neith) may have been the wife or the mother of King Aha of the first dynasty; if she was his mother, then she probably was the spouse of King Narmer. The differing opinions stem in part from the fact that she is never designated as “mother” or “wife.” Like those of other important royal women of the Early Dynastic period (Merneith, Herneith), her name is compounded with that of the goddess Neith, whose main cult center was at Sais in the Nile Delta.

Her name appears on some two dozen objects—clay sealings, ivory tags and cosmetic items, and stone vessels—the majority of which were discovered at Naqada and Abydos. The pieces from Naqada were found in the so-called Great Tomb excavated by Jacques de Morgan in 1897 and by John Garstang in 1904. This tomb also contained objects inscribed for Aha. This massive mud-brick mastaba (approximately 54 × 27 meters/177 × 88 feet), situated about 3 kilometers (2 miles) northwest of the town of Naqada and some 7 kilometers (4.2 miles) south of the main Predynastic cemetery, had a well-preserved superstructure decorated with a continuous palace façade. It has been attributed to Neithhotep herself, but the original tomb owner is likely to have been a man whose name was written with three bird hieroglyphs (reading uncertain). Judging from the size of the tomb and the types of grave goods, he was surely the local ruler of the province. The placement of Neithhotep's objects in the tomb suggests that she was related to him and thus may have belonged to an important Upper Egyptian family. She was probably buried at Abydos.

One seal documented by several ancient impressions from the Naqada Great Tomb depicts her name with crossed arrows—the sign for the goddess Neith—placed on top of the palace façade (srḫ) instead of the Horus falcon, the signal for the king's Horus name, a royal prerogative. This so-called palace seal has been used as evidence that Neithhotep may have served as a queen regent. A fragmentary ivory label from a grave at Helwan preserves the head of a female figure beside the name Neithhotep.

Bibliography

  • Bryan, Betsy M. Mistress of the House, Mistress of Heaven: Women in Ancient Egypt, edited by Anne K. Capel and Glenn E. Markoe, pp. 27–28. New York, 1997. Bryan ascribes the Naqada Great Tomb to Neithotep (the traditional view) and notes that she was probably the wife of Aha and regent for his successor Djer.
  • Emery, W. B. Archaic Egypt. Harmondsworth, 1961. Emery believed that Neithhotep was married to Narmer and that it was a diplomatic marriage that joined North and South.
  • Helck, Wolfgang. “Neith-hotep.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 4: 394–395. Wiesbaden, 1980. Succinct presentation, including possibility that she was queen regent for an ephemeral successor of Aha.
  • Hoffman, Michael. Egypt before the Pharaohs. New York, 1979. One of the best English sources for a description of the Naqada Great Tomb and for puzzling out the confusion of Neithhotep's genealogy as the wife of either Narmer or Aha (see especially pp. 280, 322).
  • Kaplony, Peter. Die Inschriften der Ägyptischen Frühzeit. 3 vols. Ägyptologische Abhandlungen 8. Wiesbaden, 1963. Most scholarly discussions about Neithhotep refer to Kaplony's commentary and the list of objects inscribed with her name; also provides the original publication information (vol. 1, pp. 588–592).
  • Saad, Zaki Y. The Excavations at Helwan: Art and Civilization in the First and Second Dynasties. Norman, Okla., 1969. The ivory label depicting Neithhotep's name and the upper part of a female figure are illustrated in figure 14 and plate 93.
  • Seipel, Wilfried. “Untersuchungen zu den ägyptischen Königinnen der Frühzeit und des Alten Reiches: Quellen und historische Einordung.” Ph.D. diss., University of Hamburg, 1980. This study of early queens in Egypt has a very useful assessment of the evidence about her (listed under Ḥtp.wj-Nt).
  • Troy, Lana. Patterns of Queenship in Ancient Egyptian Myth and History. BOREAS: Uppsala Studies in Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Civilizations, 14. Uppsala, 1986. Troy suggests (pp. 106, 152, 183) that an ivory lid from Abydos (now in the British Museum [BM 35512]) has a title for Neithhotep, which she interprets as “consort” (sm3yt nbwy, “the one is united with the Two Lords”). Other scholars, such as Kaplony, read it differently, as a personal name, not a title.

Barbara A. Porter