Disney has sold us the love stories of characters from the West but none of our own. From Snow White to Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, many of us have bought into the fairytale love stories of kings and queens from places many of us will never know and with names we can barely say. Why isn’t our culture and beauty reflected in these stories? Is it because African love of the movie type does not exist? Or it’s just a matter of unearthing early ones and sharing them with new light? Like that of the story of Ramses II and his beloved wife Nefertari.
A romance for the ages: the story of Ramses II and Nefertari
Some 3000 years ago, Ramses II, also known as the Great, was the king of the 19th dynasty (1292–1190 bce) of ancient Egypt. His reign was the second longest in Egyptian history, between 1279–13 BCE. He is often honored as the greatest, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh of the Egyptian Empire. It is said that his successors and later Egyptians called him the “Great Ancestor”.
Ramesses II was a great explorer, leader, and warrior, leading several military expeditions into the Levant to assert Egyptian control over Canaan. He is also said to have led expeditions south into Nubia, commemorated in inscriptions at the temples at Beit el-Wali and Gerf Hussein.
Ramses II had 200 wives and concubines, 96 sons and 60 daughters, as was common during his time. But his first wife Nefertari was his favorite and the one historians say was the true love of his life. The two were married for 24 years and had four children.
Queen Nefertari is said to have been a Nubian queen from 1292 to 1225 B.C, although other sources say they do not know her origins. She is known to have been highly educated and able to both read and write hieroglyphs, rare skills for her time, which she used in diplomatic work, corresponding with other prominent royals of the time.
Some say she married for peace, her marriage to Ramses II beginning strictly as a political move, a sharing of power between two leaders that led to an armistice between Nubia and Egypt that lasted 100 years. Others say she married Ramses before he became king.
While her motives are unknown, what we know for sure is that Ramses loved her deeply. She is known to have even accompanied Ramses on military campaigns, an exercise that was rare during the time. The Great king also had monuments built in her honor. In fact, Ramesses built a temple for her at Abu Simbel, one of the largest and most beautiful structures in Egypt.
Although pharaohs always depicted themselves as larger than the statues of their queens, Ramses did not: he made two colossal statues of the queen and four of Ramses II were carved on the front of the temple all in the same size.
Ramses also called her the most beautiful names: Great of Praises (wrt-hzwt), Sweet of Love (bnrt-mrwt), Lady of Grace (nbt-im3t), Great King’s Wife (hmt-niswt-wrt), his beloved (hmt-niswt-wrt meryt.f), Lady of The Two Lands (nbt-t3wy), Lady of all Lands (hnwt-t3w-nbw), Wife of the Strong Bull (hmt-k3-nxt), god’s Wife (hmt-ntr), Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt (hnwt-Shm’w-mhw). Sweetly, ‘The one for whom the sun shines’.
On one of her tomb walls, Ramses had inscribed the most beautiful words, “My love is unique – no one can rival her, for she is the most beautiful woman alive. Just by passing, she has stolen away my heart.”