God’s Wives of Amun

The Kushite princess Amenirdis I was a powerful God’s Wife of Amun

The adoption of king Kashta’s daughter, Amenirdis I, as God’s Wife of Amun made Kushite rule in Thebes legitimate. Occupied by a woman of the reigning royal family, the office of God’s Wife had served as a mediator between the god and the king since the time of Egypt’s New Kingdom. Each God’s Wife adopted her successor. Amenirdis would have been presented for adoption by the Kushite pharaoh. The office of God’s Wife was a power center in its own right and controlled vast economic resources belonging to the Temple of Amun at Thebes.

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God’s Wives enjoyed many privileges of royalty

Lavish coronation ceremonies marked the succession of a God’s Wife to office. God’s Wives received throne names and had their names written in cartouches just like the kings of Egypt. They were endowed with their own estates, property, staff, and administrators. Their tombs were on the grounds of Ramesses III’s temple at Medinet Habu in Thebes instead of in the cemeteries in Nubia where most other members of the Kushite royal family were buried.

God’s Wife Stela
Sandstone, paint
Napatan Period (Egyptian 25th–26th Dynasty, about 670 BC)
Egypt, Medinet Habu
OIM 14681

Burial customs changed under Egyptian rule

The New Kingdom conquest of Nubia brought with it a major shift in Nubian funerary practices. No longer flexed and laid on beds, bodies were now extended and often buried in coffins of mummiform shape with face or coffin masks like the ones in the New Kingdom and Napatan case. Egyptian jewelry was placed on the bodies and the furnishings of the graves were almost identical to those in Egypt, including items of daily life, ushebtis, and canopic jars. However, human remains from the burials are too fragmentary to indicate whether bodies had been mummified.

Pyramid building began in Nubia after the Egyptian conquest

Pyramids built in Nubia were modeled after small, steep-sided pyramids often used for private tombs in Egypt. After the Egyptian conquest, such pyramids, made of mud brick, soon appeared in several cemeteries in northern Nubia and also farther south at Napata. Chapels associated with the pyramids were decorated with tomb scenes in Egyptian style. Hundreds of years later, when Kushite kings ruled both Nubia and Egypt, their royal pyramids were also erected at Napata.