top of page
  • Writer's pictureMike Parker

Why does the Sedge-Bee, translated as King of Upper and Lower Egypt, have feminine suffixes?

If you want to study ancient history, you have to be able to read Egyptian Heiroglyphs. You are kidding yourself if you think otherwise. This is the conclusion I've come to. I learnt the basics years ago when I was staying in Luxor, and left it there, as most people do. Well, after finding reference after reference in Egypt in my other reseearch, and being frustrated at not being able to find translations, or read them myself, I've decided to take it further.

My plan was to find some worked examples and see if I can follow them. Fortunately Mark-Jan Nederhof at St Andrews has published a set of them on his University webpage [Nederhof St Andrews]. After flicking through them, the first one I decided to look at was the Coronation Oath of Tuthmosis I. In analysing that I found something a bit curious in the first few lines about the gender of the Pharoah.

First, in the book I've been reading by Janice Kamrin it says this about gender:

"You will notice in the preceding volcabulary list that several of the nouns end with a t (bread loaf). This is an indication of gender. Egyptian nouns are either masculine or feminine. It is generally easy to tell which is which: feminine nouns end in t (bread loaf)." Ancient Egyptian Heiroglyps - A Practical Guide by Janice Kamrin

Tuthmosis I

On Line 3 of the coronation oath for Tuthmosis I, bread loaves are used to indicate the feminine gender in may she live and prosper, when talking about Nofretiry (presumably Ahmose-Nefertary).

Yet in Line 1 where bread loaves have been added after the sedge plant and bee meaning King of Upper and Lower Egypt they are ignored, and the translation is taken as masculine. Applying the same rule surely it should be feminine, making the title Queen of Upper and Lower Egypt, suggesting Tuthmosis was a woman!?! The translation adds "The", so maybe thats all it is, but it seems strange to have two different meanings for the same usage.

What does it say for Hatshepsut?

Now Hatshepsut, who interestingly enough was the daughter of Tuthmosis I, and we're pretty sure was a woman... If we look at her fallen Obelisk at Karnak, the same title is used again with the bread loaves and she was Queen of Upper and Lower Egypt not King. So are we looking at a line of lady Pharoahs here? A "queue of Queens". A "Dynasty of Divas"?

Source: Molon.

What does it say for Ramesses II?

On the other hand we're pretty sure Ramesses was a fella, so what does it say on his obelisk? Even in his case the Sedge-Bee has bread loaves after it. So unless he was secretly a she, they must have have another use here or we're missing something...

Are we missing something?

It seems arbitrary that the suffix bread loaves can mean two different things. Pehaps it is as simple as meaning "The" in this instance, but then why have two of them. It makes the word for word translation "The King of Upper Egypt. The King of Lower Egypt", which seems a bit clunky. And why would a Queen call themselves a King?

If we substitute King for Pharaoh, and assume this doesn't have a female form, then it makes a bit more sense. "The Pharaoh of Upper Egypt. The Pharaoh of Lower Egypt". But then immediately afterwards it says basically the same thing again on the Obelisks "lord of two lands", represented by a Basket and two horizontal lines representing land. Something doesn't seem right.

Maybe intead of referring to the office, it is referring to the territory, so rather than "King of.." it should be something like "Kingdom of.." which doesn't have a female form. If Kings have Kindgoms, and Emporers have Empires, what do Pharoahs have? A Pharocese maybe.

Source: White Chapel of Senwosret I at Karnak, by Dr Cambell Price [Twitter].




bottom of page