Queen Tworse

There now comes upon the scene a remarkable woman by the name of Twosre.” (1) Jewelry found in a nameless cache in the Valley of the Kings shows her to have been Sethos’ principal wife; “a silver bracelet depicts her standing before her husband and pouring wine into his outstretched goblet.”

“Remarkable” Twosre is claimed to have been not because of what is known about her life and reign—and very little is known—but for circumstances that are baffling. Why did she have a separate tomb in the same valley as her husband? The honor of having her own tomb in the Valley was a distinction previously accorded “to only one other royalty of female sex, namely Hatshepsowe [Hatshepsut]” ;(2) however, Hatshepsut was not a queen by virtue of having married a king, but in her own right, as a suzerain.

Besides the very fact of having her own tomb in the Valley, separate from that of her husband Sethos, the contents of the tomb are “even more intriguing.” Gardiner describes the perplexing circumstances: she bears the title of “King’s Great Wife” by virtue of her marriage to Sethos, but one scene(3) shows her standing behind another king who is making an offering; the name of this king, Merneptah-Siptah, has been plastered over and that of Sethos cut into the same space. “Since there are excellent reasons for thinking that Sethos was the earlier of the two kings, this replacement [the substitution of Sethos’ name for Merneptah-Siptah’s ] must have been due to Twosre’s later preference to be depicted with the king who had been her actual husband.” (4) With this motive Gardiner sought to explain why the name of Sethos, Twosre’s presumably deceased husband, had been carved over the name of the other king, Merneptah-Siptah, who is depicted standing next to her.

Twosre and her consorts intrigued the historians since the early days of modern Egyptology. In her tomb in the Valley of the Kings, on various places on the walls, she is called King’s Great Wife—but immediately we will be confronted with the problem of who were here husband-kings and in what order. Further, she is called Lady of the Two Lands and Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt, which is the same as being a pharaoh herself; and another title is attested: Hereditary Princess.

For the present effort to resolve the vagaries surrounding Twosre and her time the last of the mentioned titles is of import. Twosre had claims to a pedigree from a royal house—and in the frame of this reconstruction it must have been the house of the Thutmoses and Amenhoteps of the Theban (Eighteenth) Dynasty that came to its end over a hundred years earlier, with the advent of Libyan rule.

A genealogical evidence of Twosre’s pedigree must have survived and must have been rather unique. In Egypt, traditionally, the throne was inherited through a royal princess and marriage of a royal son to such an heiress legalized the succession. Her consort, whoever he was, would be elevated to kingship.

The evidence from the tomb of Twosre and from the other scattered archaeological finds, instead of offering a clear answer, presents a confused and much debated state of affairs. What follows is an attempt at a reconstruction of the sequence of events.

As we see it, a clue to the strange facts of Twosre having a tomb separate from that of her husband, and of her being pictured there with another king whose name was subsequently replaced with that of her husband Sethos, can be sought in the legend about the three brothers. Ramses Siptah appears to correspond to Ramses of the legend, and to have died at the hands of Sethos.

When Sethos killed his brother Ramses Siptah, he did not replace him yet on the throne of Egypt; his action was in the nature of a guerrilla assassination, he being an insurgent leader opposing the Assyrian domination of his country.

At some period of her career Twosre claimed the title of Pharaoh, not just royal wife or queen. All points to the time immediately following the assassination of her husband, Ramses Siptah. At the death of her husband she was pregnant and Bey, the Assyrian plenipotentiary, set to pronounce her issue as the occupant of the throne upon birth, would not leave the pharaoh’s seat vacant in the interim. This Bey, who was not of Egyptian origin, but possibly “a Syrian by birth” let a tomb be excavated for himself in the Valley of the Kings; even though this tomb is not spectacular, still it was most inappropriate for anybody not of the royal house to be entombed in the Valley of the Kings. “It is a strange and unprecedented thing that three contemporaries should have possessed tombs in the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings,” the other two being Sethos and his wife Twosre.

This order of events explains the otherwise enigmatic state of things with Twosre called “Hereditary Princess,” then “Royal Wife,” with a different husband holding the scepter and donning the crown of upper and lower Egypt. Her claiming the Pharaoh’s role and title is attested by the fact that she took a throne name(5)

and called herself “Lady of the Two Lands” and “Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt” ;(6) later even “King of Upper and Lower Egypt.” (7) She is associated with Bey, who refers to himself as “Great Chancellor of the Entire Land.” (8) As soon as Twosre bore a son, he was made the pharaoh; he received the name Merneptah Siptah. Bey, according to his own words, “establishes the king on the seat of his father.” (9) Whereas Ramses Siptah provened from a not princely family and gained his kingdom thanks to marrying Twosre, in the case of his infant son Merneptah Siptah, Bey could base his action on the fact that the deceased father had been a pharaoh.

In 1962 a scholar discerned a certain figure of Merneptah-Siptah, showing him as a small boy sitting on the lap of his mother Twosre, who is referred to as a protectress of the boy-Pharaoh.(10) Thus the throne was ceded to the infant, and he occupied it for several years, possibly six. Twosre’s new title was “protectress of the pharaoh.”

Ramses Siptah was buried in a tomb of his own in the Valley of the Kings, an in his funerary temple at Thebes Bey’s name was found in the foundation deposits.(11) His tomb was discovered by Theodore Davis in 1~~~. He suffered in life from the effects of polio—one leg was found shorter than the other. At his death he was in his early twenties.(12)

In the same volume Davis published also find he made in an unnamed tomb—it was a chache with treasures of Queen Twosre. Among other bracelets and jewelry, a silver bracelet, mentioned earlier, is most significant—she is shown pouring wine into a goblet held by her husband Sethos. The engraved scene bears similarity to a scene adorning the throne of Tutankhamen—with him sitting, holding a goblet, and Ankhesenpaaten, his young wife, standing before him and pouring wine. This, and several other scenes and statements, make clear that Twosre at some time became the royal wife of Sethos. This way he, too, established in the eyes of the clerics and the people his right to mount the throne. Like his brother Tamses Siptah, he was of rather undistinguished origin.

By the size of the boy, Merneptah Siptah, compared with the lap of his mother and the part of the hand still surviving on the sculpture, it can be judged that Merneptah Siptah remained “in power” or in the position of a puppet of Sargon and Bey for a number of years. An inscription found in Nubia refers to his sixth year.(13)

Sargon’s ruling years are given as -722 to -705 when he was killed battling against the Cimmerians on his northern frontier, and his son Sennacherib grasped the scepter. During these seventeen years Ramses Siptah counted a year or so on the throne, Twosre less than a year, Merneptah Siptah six years. From then on the count of Sethos’ years starts. He survived Sargon. Since his occupation of Thebes, the Assyrian influence in Egypt was quickly abating. Of Bey nothing is heard again, nor of any other Assyrian functionary. With the advent of Sethos, no longer an insurgent, but an occupant of the throne, Twosre being now his wife, of the boy pharaoh nothing is heard. Was he banned, did he die a natural death, was he killed, or was he only deposed and exiled, or even imprisoned?—we do not know. But there are indications that the marriageable Twosre had some more romantic or tragic experiences in her matrimony. We shall retake the detection effort before long.


  1. Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, pp. 277f.

  2. Ibid., loc. cit.

  3. Right wall of the entrance corridor (A); see R. Lepsius, Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien, III, pl. 201b.

  4. Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, pp. 277f.

  5. Sitre merit-Amen: see Petrie, Six Temples at Thebes (London, ~~~~), pl. 16, 1-7; 17, 2; 19, 2; cf. J. von Beckerath, “Die Reihenfolge der letzten Koenige der 19. Dynastie,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlaendisches Gesellschaft 106 (1956), p. 249.

  6. Gardiner, “The Tomb of Queen Twosre,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 40 (1954), p. 42.

  7. J. von BEckerath, “Queen Twosre as Guardian of Siptah,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 48 (1962), p. 70.

  8. Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, p. 277.

  9. Ibid.,

  10. Von Beckerath, “Queen Twosre as Guardian of Siptah,” pl. 3.

  11. Ibid., p. 70.

  12. J. E. Harris and K. R. Weeks, X-raying the Pharaohs (New York, 1973), p. 159.

  13. J. Reisner, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 6 (1920), pp. 47-50.