Egypt: The Queens of Ramesses II, including Nefertari, Istnofret, Bint-Anath, Aerytamun, Nebettawy, Henutmire and Maathomeferure

The Queens of Ramesses II

by Jimmy Dunn

Ramesses II had eight royal wives, all of whom are known expect for the last, a Hittite princess. The others were Nefertari, Istnofret, Bint-Anath, Aerytamun, Nebettawy, Henutmire and Maathomeferure. However, in ancient Egypt, it was unusual to record much information about queens, and today, even though at least Nefertari is known world wide, we actually know almost nothing about her. What we do know, is that by these wives, he may have fathered one hundred or more children.

Ramesses II probably married the first two principal wives at least ten years prior to the death of his father, Seti I, before Ramesses II actually ascended the throne. He may have been a co-regent that that time, and he probably presented his father with probably at least five grandsons two granddaughters before Seti I's death by these principal wives. There may have even been ten to fifteen more children by minor wives.. His first two principal wives were Nefertari and Istnofret. They both mothered important children by Ramesses, and probably had somewhat different duties at court. Even though many people know Nefertari best, because of her wonderful tomb in the Valley of the Queens and her temple at Abu Simbel, she may have not been that much more important then Istnofret. If there were rivalries between these queens or others, we really have no evidence as proof.



If we mention the famous women of Egypt, including Hatshepsut and Cleopatra along with them we would have to name Nefertari, if for no other reason then her well known tomb. We know a great deal about Queens Hatchepsut and Cleopatra, but of course they were pharaohs.

It is very possible that Nefertari grew up as the daughter of a nobleman in Thebes. One of Nefertari's names was Mery-en-Mut, which means, "Beloved of Mut". As the wife of Amun, Mut was part of the Theban triad. It is interesting to note that post references to Nefertari come from Upper (southern) Egypt, while most of the other principal queen, Istnofret, are found in Lower, or northern Egypt. Furthermore, Ramesses II probably had a better power structure in northern Egypt, and it is thought that he may have married a Theban to enhance his position in the South. The two queens, Nefertari and Istnofret, could have possibly even had a division of duties geographically. However, it is has also been suggested that Nefertari could have been a daughter of Seti I, making her a half sister of Ramesses II.

Nefertari was most likely Ramesses II's first wife when the prince was only fifteen. She provided him with his first male heir, Amun-her-khepseshef (Amun Is with His Strong Arm),even prior to his ascending the throne of Egypt In addition, Ramesses II also fathered at least three more sons and two daughters by Nefertari. In fact, her oldest daughter, Meryetamun probably later also married Ramesses II, possibly after the death of her mother, apparently when Nefertari was in her early forties.

Nefertari with Isis in her tomb in the Valley of the Queens

Nefertari with Isis in her tomb in the Valley of the Queens

She was probably Ramesses II's chief queen, at least up until her death in about year 24 of Ramesses II's reign. From her tomb, we know a number of her other names and titles. They included "Hereditary Noblewoman; Great of Favors; Possessor of Charm, Sweetness and Love; Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt; the Osiris; The King's Great Wife; Mistress of the Two Lands, Nefertari, Beloved of Mut, Revered Before Osiris".

Surely Ramesses II loved Nefertari. Few queens were built anything near as grand a shrine as her temple dedicated to Hathor at Abu Simbel, near the somewhat larger temple of her husband. Her tomb in the Valley of the Queens on the West Bank at Luxor (ancient Thebes) is today, one of the most fabulously decorated tombs at Luxor or anywhere else in Egypt. If one had only time enough to visit one tomb on the West Bank, it should be this one. Ramesses II, who said of Nefertari, "the one for whom the sun shines", even wrote of his weakness for the queen:

"My love is unique - no one can rival her, for she is the most beautiful woman alive. Just by passing, she has stolen away my heart."

Other then her tomb and temple at Abu Sembel, Nefertari is also famous for her beauty. We have no mummy to help substantiate these claims, but there is plenty of documentary evidence including images, although at this point in Egypt's history, portraitures were not known for being completely accurate. Even in ancient Egypt Nefertari was famous, becoming deified even before her death. It is said that as Great Royal Wife, her high status and and great authority within the royal court, along with her apparent beauty, charm, "sweetness", intelligence and guile, she may have been one of Egypt's greatest queens.

A description at Luxor Temple, says of her:

greatly favored, possessing charm, sweet of love.... Rich in love, wearing the circlet-diadem, singer fair of face, beautiful with the tall twin plumes, Chief of the Harim of Horus, Lord of the Palace; one is pleased with what(ever) comes forth concerning her; who has (only to) say anything, and it is done for her - every good thing, at her wish (?); her every word, how pleasing on the ear - one lives at just hearing her voice..."


Though Nefertari is by far Ramesses II's most famous queen, Istnofred (Isisnofret) had considerable importance within the court. She was, early on, the second principal wife, and may have been closer to Nefertari in importance then what we know.It is very possible that the two queens had similarly important responsibilities, with Istnofred domain being northern or Lower Egypt.

Istnofred (Isisnofret)

While there is little doubt that Nefertari was probably Ramesses II's favorite and most powerful wife, it was Istnofret who bore Ramesses II his most important sons, including his successor, Merenptah, and the well known and loved Khaemwese, High Priest of the Temple of Ptah at Memphis.

Furthermore, after the death of Nefertari, Istnofret became Ramesses II's "Great Royal Wife", becoming his chief queen. We believe this was in year 24 or 25 of Ramesses II's reign, and she remained his chief wife until her death. We are not sure at what point she died. Perhaps she lived less than ten years after the death of Nefertari, but we do know that she preceded Ramesses II to the grave. Istnofret's tomb has never been found, though it is probably on the West Bank at Luxor.


A Statue possibly of Bent'anta, stands in front of the legs of Ramesses II's Colossi at Karnak

A Statue possibly of Bent'anta,
stands in front of the legs of Ramesses II's
Colossi at Karnak

Bent'anta (Bintanath, Bint-Anath, Bintanat) is buried in tomb 71 in the Valley of the Queens. Queen Bent'anta may have become one of Ramesses II's consorts, perhaps after the death's of the king's principal wives and specifically, the death of her mother who was probably Istnofret. One curios aspect of this queen is that her name is distinctly Syrian, and means "Daughter of Anath". We are uncertain of a statue of her, that might instead be of Nefertari, located at the feet of the colossal granite statue of Ramesses II in the first courtyard of the temple at Karnak.


Merit-Amun (Meryetamun, Merytamun)

Merit-Amun (Meryetamun, Merytamun), was the oldest daughter of Nefertari and we believe the fourth daughter of Ramesses II. A statue of her is in the open air museum at Sohag. She is also shown at Abu Simbel, where she accompanied her parents for the temple's dedication and there was bust of her found at the Ramesseum. She apparently also married Ramesses II after the death of her mother, but probably also did not outlive her father and husband. She held the titles and names, "Priestess of Het-Hert); Player of the Sistrum of Mut and the Menat of Het-Hert; Songstress of Atum; and Ritual Dancer for Het-Hert, in addition to being "the One Who Fills the Forecourt with the Scent of Her Fragrance; Superior of the Harem of Amun-Ra; the Eldest Daughter of the King and Nefertari, with the Splendid Face; Magnificent in the Palace; the Beloved of the Lord of the Two lands; She Who Stands by Her Master like Sothis is Beside Orion; and One is Satisfied with What is Said When She Opens Her Mouth to the Lord of the Two Lands". Merit-Amun was buried in tomb 68 in the Valley of the Queens.


Nebttaui (Nebtaui. Nebettawy) is buried in tomb 60 in the Valley of the Queens. We do not know if there was any family relationship with this queen to Ramesses II.


Hentmire (Henutmire, Henutmira) may have been a daughter of either Ramesses II or Seti I, his father, though we believe it was Seti I, making her Ramesses II's sister. She apparently also married Ramesses II.


Ramesses II's marrage to Maathomeferure was born of diplomacy. She was a princess of the Hittite ruler, Hattusilis III. This was a political move to cement peace between Egypt and the Hittites, after a peace treaty was signed in about year 21 of Ramesses II's rule. Seven years later, in about 1239 BC, and Ramesses seems to have outlive this queen as well, and duly marries another Hittite princess whose name has been lost.

The Last Queen

While we do not know the name of the last queen Ramesses II married, she was probably a younger sister of Maathomeferure, and was most certainly Hittite. Of course, Ramesses II had a number of other lesser queens we know nothing of. In fact, he probably had many other consorts, but we are never likely to find out much about these other wives.

See Also:






Reference Number

History of Ancient Egypt, A

Grimal, Nicolas



None Stated

The Lost Tomb

Weeks, Kent R.


William Morrow & Company

ISBN 068815087X

Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian


Oxford University Press

ISBN 0-19-815034-2

Ramesses II: Greatest of the Pharaohs

Menu, Bernadette


Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

ISBN 0-8109-2870-1 (pbk.)

Last Updated: Aug 4th, 2011