Meryt-Neith

First Dynasty Ruler Was Most Likely a Woman

Osiris and Isis, The Great Temple of Seti I, Abydos
Osiris and Isis, The Great Temple of Seti I, Abydos. Joe & Clair Carnegie / Libyan Soup / Getty Images

Dates: after 3000 BCE

Occupation: Egyptian ruler (pharaoh)

Also known as: Merneith, Meritnit, Meryet-Nit

Early Egyptian writing includes fragments of inscriptions describing the history of the first dynasty to unite Egypt's upper and lower kingdoms, about 3000 BCE.  Meryt-Neith's name also appears in inscriptions on seals and bowls.

A carved funeral monument discovered in 1900 CE has on it the name Meryt-Neith. The monument was among those of kings of the First Dynasty. Egyptologists believed this to be a ruler of the first dynasty -- and some time after finding the monument, and adding this name to the rulers of Egypt, they realized that the name likely refers to a female ruler. Then those earlier Egyptologists automatically moved her to the status of royal consort, assuming that there were no women rulers. Other excavations support the idea that she ruled with the power of a king and was buried with the honors of a powerful ruler. 

Her tomb (the tomb identified with her name) at Abydos is of the same size as that of the male kings buried there. But she does not appear on the king lists. Her name is the only name of a woman on a seal in her son's tomb; the rest are male kings of the first dynasty.

But the inscriptions and objects tell nothing else of her life or reign, and her very existence is not well-proved.

The dates and length of her reign are not known.  Her son's reign has been estimated to have begun around 2970 BCE.  Inscriptions suggest that they shared the throne for some years while he was too young to rule himself.

Two tombs have been found for her.  One, at Saqqara, was close to the capital of the united Egypt.  At this tomb was a boat her spirit could use to travel with the god of the sun.  The other was in Upper Egypt.

Family

Again, the inscriptions are not completely clear, so these are the best guesses of scholars. Meryt-Neith was the mother of Den, her successor, according to a seal found in Den's tomb.  She was probably the senior royal wife and sister of Djet and the daughter of Djer, the third Pharaoh of the First Dynasty.  There are no inscriptions that tell her mother's name or origins.

Neith

The name means "Beloved by Neith" -- Neith (or Nit, Neit or Net) was worshipped at the time as one of the chief goddesses of Egyptian religion, and her worship is represented in images that are from before the first dynasty. She is usually depicted with a bow and arrow or harpoon, symbolizing archery, and she was a deity of hunting and war. She was also depicted with an ankh representing life, and was probably a Great Mother Goddess. She sometimes was depicted as personifying the great waters of the primordal flood.

She was connected with other goddesses of heaven such as Nut through similar symbols.  Neith's name was associated with at least four royal women of the First Dynasty, including Meryt-Neith and her daughters-in-law, two of Den's wives, Nakht-Neith and (with less certainty) Qua-Neith.  

Another whose name refers to Neith is Neithhotep, who was the wife of Narmar, and may have been a royal woman from Lower Egypt who married Narmer, a king of Upper Egypt, beginning the First Dynasty and the unity of Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt.  Neithhotep's tomb was found at the end of the 19th century, and has been destroyed by erosion since it was first studied and artifacts removed.

About Meryt-Neith

  • Categories: Egyptian ruler
  • Organizational Affiliations:
  • Places: Egypt
  • Period: ancient history