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The King's Great Wife (ancient Egyptian: ḥmt nswt wrt) also Great Royal Wife or King's Chief Wife (i.e. Queen) was an ancient Egyptian honorific title. Mainly from the New Kingdom onwards the tile was used to refer to the principal wife of the Pharaoh. It was thus the highest status of a King's Wife. The King's Great Wife served many official functions. The heiress of the King's Great Wife held the title "Hereditary Princess" (r.t-pꜥt).

King's Great Wife


The title is thought to have stemmed from the title "Consort of the Two Ladies".[1]

The earliest woman attested with the title "King's Great Wife" is Meretseger, the principal wife of Senusret III of the Twelfth Dynasty.[2] However, she is only later during the New Kingdom attested as such, therefore the title was probably an anachronism. Perhaps the first holder of the title was Nubkhaes of the Second Intermediate Period.

Consorts of the Pharaoh[]

While most ancient Egyptians were monogamous, a male pharaoh would have had secondary wives and concubines in addition to the King's Great Wife. This was often necessary to secure an heir to the throne, since child mortality and maternal deaths in childbirth were high in ancient times. This arrangement would allow the pharaoh to enter into diplomatic marriages with the daughters of foreign kings, as was customary during the New Kingdom.[3]

Usually a king had one Great Wife at the time, though some are known to have had two at the same time or even more, the most famous example being Ramesses II. It might have been acceptable to have two queens due to the emphasis of Egyptian culture on the concept of duality. For example, the Two Ladies (Nebty); Nekhbet and Wadjet, were goddesses associated with queenship that represent Upper and Lower Egypt respectively.

Royal Succession[]

The order of succession passed through the eldest son of the King's Great Wife prior to the New Kingdom. During the Eighteenth Dynasty the throne appears to have passed to the eldest living son of the pharaoh, while Ramesses II had such a large number of offspring that he made his own processional lists of princes (and princesses). He did clearly favor the children of his principal wives, although some firstborn children of lesser wives were ranked high in procession.

The mother of the heir to the throne was thus not always the King's Great Wife. The sons of a lesser wives that ascended to the throne in the Eighteenth Dynasty often granted their mothers the title of King's Great Wife, along with other titles. Examples include; Iset, the mother of Thutmose III, Tiaa, the mother of Thutmose IV, and Mutemwia, the mother of Amenhotep III.

See also[]


  1. Tyldesley 2006.
  2. Dodson & Hilton 2004, p. 25-26.
  3. Shaw 2012, p. 48, 91-94.


  • Dodson, A./Hilton, D., 2004: The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson, London.
  • Shaw, G.J., 2012: The Pharaoh, Life at Court and on Campaign. Thames & Hudson, London.
  • Tyldesley, J., 2006: The Complete Queens of Egypt. American University Press, Cairo.