Remember when I said that Poor and Gluten Free was going to expand a bit to include more of my writing life? Well here's the first little bit of that!
In the process of sharing In the Court of Kemet (Book 1 of my Ancient Egyptian Romance Series) with my writing critique group, I was asked several questions about the accuracy of various details in the story. I thought that since my group was curious about things, other readers might be as well. So I decided to share their questions - as well as trying to anticipate some others - in case people were wondering just how historically accurate this novel (and series) might be.
The entire Ancient Egyptian Romance series is set in the Early Dynastic Period of Egypt (3100-2686 BCE). We have less archaeological evidence for this period than later times such as the New Kingdom (1550–1069 BCE). Since we’re lacking details for the Early Dynastic Period, I’ve taken some liberties and extrapolated some information from later periods, such as common foods, or styles of dress. However, we cannot assume that over the course of 3,000 years (the Pharaonic period) that Egyptian society did not change. It did.
I’ve put the questions into a Q and A format in order to simplify things.
And stay tuned for the upcoming release in Autumn of 2015 of the second novel in the series, In the Temple of Mehyt! There will be even more FAQ shared then :)
Q: Did the characters in the story really exist?
A: Merneith – Merneith was one of the first queens of Ancient Egypt that we have evidence for. She may also have been the first female pharaoh, and ruled as regent for her son, Den, after the death of the Pharaoh Wadj (a.k.a. Djet). There is not much information about her, but her tomb in Abydos is of the same size and scale of other pharaohs/kings of her time, as well as in the same area associated with the tombs of the pharaohs. She’s listed in her son Den’s tomb on a list of kings of the time period (she is the only woman listed amongst the pharaohs). In Den’s tomb she is referred to as “King’s Mother Merneith,” a royal title that indicates that at the very least she was the Pharaoh Den’s mother.
It is likely that Merneith and Wadj were indeed brother and sister as well as husband and wife. I was intrigued by a woman who might well have been the very first female ruler of Egypt, and she was the inspiration for this entire novel. There is no evidence that she and Wadj were really in a power struggle, that Wadj was killed under suspicious circumstances, that she had an affair with a foreigner, or that Den was an illegitimate child. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have happened…
Wadj – As mentioned above, Wadj, or Djet, was one of the first pharaohs of Egypt, and likely ruled around 10 years. His name meant “Serpent of Horus.” He was married to Merneith, who was probably his sister, and possibly a woman named Ahaneith. Wadj had a son called Den. Wadj’s tomb, like Merneith’s, is located in Abydos.
Amka – Evidence shows that Amka was a manager of Hor-sekhenti-dju under Djer, Merneith’s father. Amka became an advisor and royal steward under Wadj and Merneith, and later became a mortuary priest under their son Den. Amka’s name is listed on the tombs of Djer, Wadj, Merneith, and Den.
Bey – Bey’s character is fictitious. However, his character was inspired by a much later story in Egyptian history. 1,500 years after Merneith, Pharaoh Ramses II defeated a group of raiding sea peoples from the north known as The Sherden. Ramses then incorporated many of these Sherden warriors into his own personal guard. This served as the basis for Bey’s story. In all likelihood, it wasn’t common practice to incorporate foreigners into the royal guard. That said, Ancient Egypt probably did have a fair amount of foreigners traveling through the region, as slaves were brought in from neighbouring regions, and trade was strong with the Mesopotamian Levant to the north and what is now Sudan to the south.
Ebrium – like Bey, Ebrium’s character is inspired by Ramses II’s co-opting of the Sherden pirates that raided the northern coast of Egypt.
Batr and Makae – The brothers who are assigned to guard Merneith, while fictitious, are based around ancient Libyan tribes such as the Libu and Meshwesh. There isn’t much evidence for them from Libyan sources, but there are some from Ancient Egyptian ones. They describe the Libu, and other Libyan tribes, as having long braided hair decorated with feathers, and their faces and legs were tattooed. Sources for these tribes are for much later than the period the novel is set in, they may or may not have been in existence during the First Dynasty.
Q: Did brothers and sisters really marry in Ancient Egypt?
A: Yes, but it is seems sibling marriages were only common amongst royalty. Some famous Ancient Egyptian rulers who married their siblings include King Tutankhamen, who married his half-sister. King Tut himself was the son of King Akhenaten and Akhenaten’s sister-wife. The famous Cleopatra also married two of her own brothers, and was probably the daughter of a sibling marriage. Ramses II married several of his own daughters, some of whom became pregnant with his children.
Q: Did Ebla exist?
A: Yes. Ebla was located in what is now Tell Mardikh, Syria, a place southwest of Aleppo. Ebla was a prominent city at the same time as the First Dynasty in Egypt. They did have rulers that were elected for seven year terms, as well as schools of the type that Bey attended in the novel. The story Bey told Merneith of the queen who ruled Ebla without her husband is fictitious.
Q: Did they have beer and wine in Ancient Egypt?
A: Yes. There are numerous shards from beer and wine caskets in archaeological sites that indicate there was a strong trade at the time of the novel with regions as far north as what is now Palestine and Israel. The beer was typically made of barley, and was nutritious and soupy.
Q: Could women get divorced in Ancient Egypt?
A: Yes. The character of Nenofer, Merneith’s distant cousin, was based off an Ancient Egyptian tablet that described the legal case of a woman that divorced her husband. Because she was wealthier than he when they married, she ended up paying him an alimony of sorts which included a portion of her landholdings.
Q: Are the Sumerian insults that Ebrium and Atab exchange during the banquet scene authentic?
A: Yes. They are taken directly from Ancient Sumerian tablets that listed some common insults at the time.
Q: Did people really hunt hippopotamuses along the Nile?
A: Yes. There are many tomb paintings of Pharaohs hunting hippopotamuses. In the ancient period, there were numerous hippos along the Nile and they were very dangerous, often killing people who got between them and their babies or infringed on their territory. Although hippos no longer exist in Egypt (they have been hunted out), even today in Africa dozens of people are killed every year by hippos. In Ancient Egypt they inspired both respect and fear, and some Egyptian gods are depicted in the form of a hippo. An Egyptian named Menes (who may or may not have also been one of Merneith’s grandfathers, Narmer or Hor-Aha) is said to have been mauled to death by a hippo, and at one time it was suggested that King Tut himself had been killed by a hippo during a hunt.
Q: Did they have fortresses in Ancient Egypt like Ta-Senet?
A: Yes. The fortress of Ta-Senet described in the book is modelled after a fortress unearthed in Buhen. While the Buhen one is of much later construction (around 1860BCE), and even larger than the one described in Ta-Senet, it is possible that early-Dynastic fortresses were not so dissimilar from later ones.
Q: Did they have tattoos like Bey’s, Ebrium’s, Batr, and Makae’s in the ancient world?
A: Bey and Ebrium’s tattoos are modelled after the tattoos found on the bodies of mummies found in Siberia, dating back to 3rd-4th century BCE (about 2,400 years after this novel takes place). But I found the style intriguing and decided to include them on the off-chance such tattooing did exist in the ancient period. In particular, the tattoos described are like those of two mummies found in Siberia called the Man of Pazyryk (found in the 1940s) and the Ice Maiden (found in the 1990s). Batr and Makae’s tattoos are described above, and are modelled after the Libu and Meshwesh tribes of Libya.
As for tattoos in Ancient Egypt, there is little evidence that they were common. There have been a couple of female mummies (probably dancers or musicians) found that had small tattoos of the goddess Bes, and some small figurines with marking suggestive of tattoos. How widespread tattooing was, and what purpose it served, is not apparent.
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