As part of my research into a cultural and historical primer for Nefertiti Overdrive, I’m reading Robert G. Morkot’s The Black Pharaohs. It’s a bit rough going because it’s a very technical book and not a popular history. My readings on Egyptian history have been at the popular history level, and much of the archaeological and historiographic discussions in the book are over my head.
I have hit on a very interesting point. There’s an inscription on a temple in the fortress of Semna in what would become Kush, and it refers to Karimala, whom the inscription calls “King of Upper and Lower Egypt, King’s Great Wife, King’s Daughter.” While she was apparently a great wife to a pharaoh, that inscription seems to suggest she also ruled in her own right. Dr. Morkot’s assumes this is not true, even though he does not indicate a specific reason why it could not be. He does indicate that the hieroglyphs are difficult to decipher, though I do not know enough to be able to make a guess as to why.
I understand that female rulers in Egypt and its surrounding cultures were uncommon, but they were not unknown, and given the accepted – if uncertain – translation, it seems reasonable that someone, quite possibly Karimala herself, considered her the pharaoh. Certainly Hatshepsut ruled as pharaoh, as did Sobekneferu, and possibly Merneith and Ahhotep I, among others. As serendipity would have it, the temple on which the inscription was found was believed to have been built by Thutmose III, with whom Hatshepsut jointly “ruled,” as he was a child of her husband, Thutmose II, and a lesser wife. It was also in the rule of Thutmose III that an attempt was made – possibly by him or his counsellors – to remove Hatshepsut from all monuments and inscriptions: to erase her from history.
The Karimala inscription also relates to a period in which the ruling powers – whomever those might be, let’s say it’s Queen Karimala – turned away from Amun, which created turmoil in the kingdom. The carving shows Karimala giving sacrifices to Isis, so maybe – like Akhenaten – she tried to change the state religion and raise Isis above Amun. Imagine her nation in turmoil as the nobles and warlords turn against her. The inscription seems to indicate that in the end, Amun was returned to his place of pre-eminence, so I guess in our story Karimala would have to lose.
In the end, for me, it’s a great piece of inspiration, a seed that could grow into a really interesting story. I don’t have the knowledge or skills necessary to actually ferret out the truth, but Nefertiti Overdrive is about kick-ass adventures rather than strict historical accuracy, so there’s nothing stopping us from running a game in which Karimala, an acolyte of Isis, challenges the status quo and finds herself embattled by her own subject – though maybe not all of them.
It’s also important not to assume anything. There may be plenty of evidence not presented that Karimala was a wife of the ruler rather than a ruler in her own right, but that’s not included. Unfortunately, it seems very much like an assumption based on expectations, and that is very dangerous.
You can get the print+PDF combo of Nefertiti Overdrive at Indie Press Revolution.