Sobeknefru (also Nephrusobek) remains one of the mysteries of Ancient Egypt. We know that she most likely ruled alongside her father, the mighty pharaoh Amenemhet III. After his death, she married her brother Amenemhet IV – a prerequisite for her to sit on the throne. Her brief sole rule lasted almost four years and marked the end of the XII Dynasty. However, it is not known what happened to Sebekneferu herself – whether she died of natural causes or had a more tragic end.
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The city of crocodiles
80 km from Giza, to the El Fayoum oasis, the first pharaoh of the XII Dynasty – Amenemhet I, founded the city of Shedit, which later became the center of worship of Sobek (Sebek), the crocodile god. In Ancient Egypt, Sebek was considered the god of water, the floods of the Nile and the patron of people. The name of the first female pharaoh, Sobeknefru, literally translates as “the beauty of the god Sobek”.
The ruler’s brother, Amenemhet IV, was a peaceful pharaoh. He was mainly engaged in sending expeditions to the Sinai Peninsula, where turquoises were mined, as well as to Upper Egypt for amethysts.
Sobeknefru reigned between 1806 and 1803 BC. The Turin Royal Papyrus records that her reign lasted 3 years, 10 months and 24 days. The fact that her name is on the list proves that the queen was not seen as an illegitimate usurper; her rule was recognized as legitimate by the subjects. This is emphasized by her very “divine” name.
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Little is known about the reign period itself. The situation in domestic and foreign politics remained stable. Sobeknefru, according to ancient Egyptian tradition, reigned independently and independently. After her, there was no heir left to take the throne. She is less well known than other female pharaohs (Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, Cleopatra) for one simple reason: she left behind fewer monuments.
Interestingly, during her reign, Queen Hatshepsut diligently distanced herself from her gender, wearing male clothing, the traditional “chin” and other purely male regalia and symbols of pharaoh power. However, the same cannot be said for Sebekneferu: she never sought to present herself as a man and used feminine suffixes in her title. It is obvious that she emphasized the legitimacy of her full power, regardless of gender.
The causes of Sobeknefru’s death are unknown. She may have fallen victim to a political power struggle. After her death, a civil war began in Egypt, an uprising of unfree Egyptians (peasants and slaves). As a result, the XII dynasty of pharaohs ceased to exist. The end of the Middle Kingdom period is also associated with this. Sebekneferu’s burial place has also not been established.
The queen is credited with building one of the Mazgun pyramids, although no documentary evidence has been found. The pyramid is located on the west bank of the Nile, 40 km south of Cairo. Excavations at Mazgun were carried out at the beginning of the 20th century by the British Egyptologist Flinders Petrie. Sebekneferu’s pyramid was unfinished and never used. Also, the queen’s name is associated with the construction of the burial complex of Amenemhet III (Herodotus calls it the “Labyrinth”).
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Few sculptures of Sobeknefru survive. Her quartzite torso is in the Louvre. In 1899, a bust of the queen, made of grauvach (a type of gray sandstone), was exhibited in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin – but, unfortunately, today it can only be seen in photographs: the original disappeared during the Second World War.