In the expansive tomb of Mentuemhet, only one wife and one son is featured. The wife is Wedjarenes and the son is named as Pasher-en-Mut. An inscription on a funerary cone from the tomb reads: “the Osiris, Monthuemhat, his son of his body, prophet of Amun, Pasherenmut, engendered on the lady of the House Wedjarenes'”.
In the years leading up to the death of Mentuemhet (when the cone was likely dedicated by Pasher-en-Mut to his father’s tomb preparations) the epithet/title of Wedjarenes (Wadjet/Hathor/Mut) would certainly have long passed down to Nitocris, and by then she herself would have been ready to pass it on to one of her own daughters.
It stands to reason that Nitocris would NOT have initially been designated as successor to Shepenwepet II until she had herself given birth to a healthy royal child. The only junior prince (without a title/office) mentioned in the Adoption Stela is Nes-Ptah. The name Nes-Ptah also associates this prince with the “Joseph” line of Mentuemhet and his father Piankh-Tefnakhte-Sematawy (Nes-Ptah the Elder) rather than the “Judah” line of Piye and his sons (Menkheperre/Smendes and Psamtik/Taharqa. If the firstborn child of Nitocris was sired by Mentuemhet or even Nes-Ptah the Elder, that would further explain the prominence of this family in the Adoption Stela.
Therefore, in all likelihood Nes-Ptah was the biological child of Nitocris (Shepenwepet III) rather than Shepenwepet II or some other royal female. And from other sources, prince Nes-Ptah was in fact called the son of Mentuemhet, not by Wedjarenes, but by the Lady Neskhons/Nesikhonsu. Therefore, Nitocris as the consort of Mentuemhet appears to have been variously known as Wedjarenes and Neskhons (not to mention Amenirdis II, Habazillatu, and Naqa’a/Zakutu). The Biblical authors chose to call her Zebidah/Zebudah. On the other hand Shepenwepet II, besides also being a “Wedjarenes” also, was variously called Shepenmut, Mutnodjmet and Meyhtemweskhet (not to mention Wiay, Takhuit and others as previously noted). She is simply called Hamutal in the Bible.
Note: Although Shepenwepet certainly became the family “Hathor/Wadjet/Mut”, there are no instances of the name Wedjarenes (on monuments) that can be definitely associated with her. The name Wedjarenes on the Adoption Stela may very well have applied specifically to Nitocris. There is however evidence that a daughter of Nitocris was also specifically called Wedjarenes. This princess will be addressed later.
Nes-Ptah ("Belonging to Ptah" or "King Ptah/Joseph") is a name that has already been associated with Cyrus the Great. At issue is whether or not Cyrus the Great was the same Nes-Ptah born in Year 9 of Psamtik or if he had instead received the title of Nes-Ptah only after an older prince died or was disgraced. The name Nes-Ptah is sometimes written as Es-Ptah, which corresponds quite closely to the transliterated Greco-Persian name Aspathines (a likely epithet of Cyrus the Great).
If Darius died in his mid-sixties, then he would have been born around Year 20 of Psamtik (Taharqa). If Cyrus was born by Year 9, that would have made him about ten years older than Darius. Cyrus did die between one and five years before Darius suggesting that he was in fact the oldest, but it is somewhat doubtful that he could have lived well into his seventies.
Had the Nes-Ptah of the Adoption Stela died young, or been disgraced. Was he only then replaced by Pasher-en-Mut in the role of Nes-Ptah (“King Joseph”)?
We do have the detailed account of a leading prince being forced to commit suicide after a failed assassination attempt against Ramses III. This event occurred around Year 20 of Psamtik, and is referred to as “The Harem Conspiracy”. In this event, a queen called Tiye (corresponding to the senior queen Shepenwepet II) maneuvered to have one of her sons called Pentawere (a.k.a., Pentweret, Chief of the Ma, named in the Victory Stela of Piye) placed on the throne of Ramses III.
Although Pentawere and many others were tried and punished, the Queen herself was beyond reproach. No trial or sentencing is mentioned for her, and both Shepenwepet II and Nitocris continued as God’s Wives two full decades longer. At the time of the Harem Conspiracy, the Great Throne had recently been taken away from Egypt and removed to Assyria. The Harem Conspiracy coincided with the death of the Great King Sargon II (Piye) and succession of hs son Sennacherib (Menkheperre/Smendes). Although the Assyrian kings had distinct Egyptian identities, they were more-or-less absentee rulers. The direct rule was delegated to subordinate kings, specifically Ramses III/Shebitku and Psamtik/Taharqa.
The capital Thebes itself was ruled by the God’s Wife of Amun on behalf of the Great King. (Note: Egypt was generally ruled by strong queens whenever a transition occurred, for example, as by Sobeknofru at the end of the Middle Kingdom when the court was moved to Kassite Babylon, or as in the late Ptolemaic Period when the primary court was in the process of being moved from Egypt to Rome.)
In the reign of Sargon/Piye, the Great King could depend on the loyalty of his daughter Shepenwepet II. Shepenwepet II was the half-sister of his son Taharqa, as well as the half-sister of his heir Sennacherib/Menkheperre, and the mother of the next successor Assurbanipal/Smendes II. She was however also the mother of sons by rivals to Sennacherib, including at least two sons by Ramses III. This meant that upon the death of her father her loyalties became very much divided. The solution dictated by Sennacherib appears to have been the immediate removal Ramses III. Even though Ramses III did survive, his years were nevertheless numbered by “the Lord” (in practice, by Sennacherib and the Queen Mother Shepenwepet II). Taharqa was less of a threat in that he did not apparently have any royal sons of his own and was also the half-brother of Sennacherib.
Note: An alternative explanation for the Harem Conspiracy would be that Pentawere was the one primarily targeted. That is, Ramses III was exalted as a Horus-figure by surviving the bite of a cobra, and Pentawere and other officials were the intended victims of the “sting” operation. Ramses III would have nevertheless been reminded of his place (of subordination to Sennacherib).
Pentawere was likely much too old to have been a child born to Nitocris shortly before she was appointed as God's Wife. The search must be directed elsewhere. To be continued ...
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