The original Queen of the Nile…
The last pharaoh of the Middle Kingdom, a golden age for Egypt, was Sobekneferu; Egypt’s first known female king. While Merneith had ruled on behalf of her son over a millennium earlier and queens (king’s wives) often had some administrative powers, Sobekneferu is the first woman to rule with the title of Pharaoh (king) in her own right.
She was the daughter of pharaoh Amenemhat III, whose greatest achievement was the construction of a man-made lake in Faiyum. The lake brought prosperity to the area by channelling the floods from the Nile into a reservoir. For this reason Amenemhat became closely associated with the crocodile-headed god of the Nile, Sobek.
A cult of crocodile worshippers developed around Faiyum, leading the Greeks to later name the area Crocodilopolis (Crocodile City).
Sobekneferu means ‘the Beauties of Sobek’ – cementing this family’s close ties with the city.
Amenemhat was succeeded by his son, Amenemhat IV, who was either Sobekneferu’s brother or step-brother. When Amenemhat IV died he left no children to inherit the kingdom, leaving to position open for Sobekneferu.
Unusually, Sobekneferu never took the title ‘King’s Wife’, so was probably not married to Amenemhat IV. There is very little explanation at all for how she rose to power, but there is evidence of a few shrewd political moves on her part.
She consistently emphasised her right to rule by associating herself with her father
rather than her brother, and was likely the reason Amenemhat III was deified (made a god) in Faiyum– being the daughter of a god meant that her right to rule was sacred.
Though she only ruled for four years and died childless, Sobekneferu is included on all later king’s lists in Egypt. This indicates that unlike many other female rulers, later historians considered Sobekneferu a legitimate pharaoh.
The title Queen did not have the meaning it had today, but meant ‘the wife of a king’. There was no specific word for a female ruler in ancient Egypt, so women who did rule, like Sobekneferu and Hatshepsut, took the title of King.
Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt: From Early Dynastic Times to the Death of Cleopatra – Joyce Tyldesley
Tausret: Forgotten Queen and Pharaoh of Egypt – Richard H. Wilkinson
Daughters of Isis: Women of Ancient Egypt – Joyce Tyldesley