Egypt's Lost Queens (2014) Movie Script

(humming chime)
(dramatic, mysterious music)
- Ancient Egypt,
a rich history that lasted
for over 6,000 years.
The lives and deaths of
its leading characters
still fascinate us today.
We come to museums like this one
to get a real sense of the
grandeur of ancient Egypt,
monumental statues and monumental men.
But when you start to look
around at the faces here,
they are just that, men.
So where are all the
women of ancient Egypt?
Well, of course the most
famous is Cleopatra the Great.
I may have to go from the
sublime to the ridiculous,
from the monumental to this tiny,
because most of the images
we have of the great woman
are in coin form.
But what about all the great women
who came before Cleopatra?
I wanna find out who they were.
If you know where to look,
the story of ancient Egypt
is also the story of extraordinary women
who left behind an extraordinary legacy.
Here she is, Arsinoe, pharaoh, a goddess.
Ancient Egypt was a society in which women
had more rights than anywhere
else in the ancient world.
And I'm going to be looking at four
of my favorite women of
power, each one a trailblazer
who in different ways
paved the way for the rest.
The venerated mother.
Might look like a hole in the ground.
But is where it all began.
The powerful leader.
Look at me, I am a pharaoh.
The perfect diplomat.
Not only beautiful, this
woman was pretty clever, too.
And Cleopatra's
globally-minded role model.
She knew that knowledge really was power.
Together, the created a
legacy of female authority
that would influence not only Cleopatra
but generations to come.
These women were incredible role models,
to all of us, even in the modern world.
And by telling their story,
I'll be taking a fresh look
at these great civilizations
through the eyes of the
other half of ancient Egypt,
its women.
(water splashes)
And to understand the
women of ancient Egypt,
we need to go right back to the beginning,
to the Egyptians' own story of creation,
the story that gave its female characters
unparalleled powers and status,
powers inherited from
the very gods themselves.
(mysterious music)
The ancient Egyptians
had countless versions
of the creation story.
But most of them centered
on their very distinctive environment
and the life-giving waters
of the wonderful River Nile.
And in essence, what these
creation myths tried to suggest
was that all life had started
from these waters of creation,
from which the great sun,
the source of all life,
had first emerged to create the deities,
the multitude of Egyptian
deities, male and female,
no less important, and just
as numerous as each of us.
The most famous of these
was the great goddess Isis
and Osiris, brother-sister gods
who were also husband and wife.
Now, according to the ancient Egyptians,
unlike most ancient cultures,
it was Isis who was the
active, dominant partner
and Osiris was a rather passive fellow.
In fact, he was killed
off early on in the story.
Oh, poor Osiris.
The only power in the
universe strong enough
to bring him back to
life and resurrect him,
his great sister Isis, who brought to bear
all her great magic to
resurrect him from the dead.
And from this pair, so
began all humankind.
Such stories of Isis, the
powerful mythical woman,
are in many ways key to understanding
how women had such
prominence in Egyptian life.
For Isis was venerated as
a divine mother figure.
And a certain real woman
I'm going in search of
gained her own power and
prestige as a mother.
She lived in the early
time of the pharaohs
known as the Old Kingdom,
more than four and a half 1,000 years ago.
Her name was Hetepheres.
(people chattering)
(speaks foreign language)
For the ancient Egyptians,
death was simply a
transition to the afterlife,
into which the soul
would need to be reborn.
To house their souls as
well as their bodies,
the Egyptian elite built
ever more elaborate tombs.
The most spectacular such tomb
is the Great Pyramid of Giza,
final resting place
of the powerful Old Kingdom
leader, Pharaoh Khufu.
Everybody comes to Egypt to see these,
and they are very big, they are very grand
and they are very imposing.
But I'm here today to see
something even more interesting,
just over there.
(mysterious music)
I'm looking for the
tomb of Khufu's mother,
Queen Hetepheres, for,
as mother of the king,
it seems that Khufu wanted
her to be buried close by,
to ensure his rebirth into the next world.
So I've come here to find the source,
to find the origins in
this whole entire site.
It all started here.
Might look like a hole in the ground,
but this is where it all began.
This is the entrance to
the tomb of Hetepheres.
I believe it was this
mother's life-giving force
that shaped this entire plateau forever.
Now, in Hetepheres' day, this landscape
was a very special landscape.
It was on the edge of the desert,
where the Egyptians
traditionally buried their dead,
in the land of the west,
the land where the sun set.
And yet at her time, this entire
plateau had nothing on it.
The rest of this necropolis unfolded
as a result of her son being here,
and it was filled with the most
spectacular golden treasures
because 20 meters down this steep shaft,
at the very bottom, is a burial chamber,
and Hetepheres' personal
belongings, covered in gold,
were found there in 1925.
(mysterious music)
Hetepheres's tomb is the oldest
intact royal burial ever found,
predating the tomb of
Tutankhamen by 1,300 years.
All the contents of that tiny little tomb
came here, this quiet
corner of Cairo Museum.
This is surely the ultimate
in flat pack furniture.
This is the bedroom suite, if you like,
of the great queen Hetepheres.
It's absolutely stunning.
We've got her bed, her silver headrest,
one of her gold thrones,
and all manner of gold-covered boxes.
And among these boxes,
a unique collection of jewelry was found.
These spectacular silver bangles
which she would have worn
over each arm (mumbles).
If you look very carefully, you can see
they're all slightly different sizes.
They start off quite
large and then they get
increasingly smaller towards the wrist.
They would have fitted no one else,
and they're kind of made to
measure, just to fit her,
just to fit the great queen.
It's absolutely extraordinary to think
that this is four and
a half 1,000 years old.
As King Khufu's mother,
Hetepheres was the most
important woman in his life.
So he made sure that her tomb was filled
with all the luxuries she
would need in the afterlife.
This fabulous gold carrying chair,
which was given to Queen
Hetepheres by her son,
is a fantastic work of art.
Her titles are inlaid in
these fine gold hieroglyphs
down the back of the chair,
inlaid in this dark ebony wood.
You can see the little figure
of the bee and the plant.
And right immediately
below that is the vulture.
That means "Mother of the King
of Upper and Lower Egypt."
The next sign is a golden
falcon, "Follower of Horus."
Then scroll right down through
all these wonderful titles
that Hetepheres held in her lifetime.
Overseer of the Affairs of the Palace,
She Whose Every Command is Carried out.
Daughter of the Gods Body.
The last six hieroglyphs
give the name Hetepheres,
the woman herself.
And in the very final hieroglyph,
that's the so-called determinative,
which shows her enthroned,
and we come face to face
with the woman herself.
Being the mother of the king
certainly had its perks,
and being carried around was one of them.
For a slightly less
royal ride in the desert,
I've asked Fatih and Ibrahim for help.
Now, this wonderful thing is a replica
of Hetepheres' carrying chair,
and I'm going to try it out now.
It really symbolizes how
precious this royal woman was,
that like the goddesses,
she was carried around,
she was far, far, too important
to merely walk across the ground.
So she was carried everywhere
in a chair like this one.
(speaks foreign language and laughs)
(men speak foreign language)
This is so good, this is really good.
I wouldn't like to go
very far in it, though.
(mysterious music)
Now, although in many ways,
Hetepheres was the source
of everything here,
she was only ever the king's mother.
She may have given birth to him
and guided him throughout his life,
and enabled him to enter the next world,
but she was only ever royal mother,
unlike my next mighty woman of power,
the ultimate Egyptian pharaoh.
Move forward over 1,000
years to my next choice,
another great royal woman
destined to become one of
Egypt's greatest pharaohs.
Her names was Hatshepsut.
And although at least
15 women are now known
to have ruled Egypt as pharaoh,
Hatshepsut would really make history,
as both a monumental
builder and a royal warrior.
Although Hatshepsut was
a direct royal descent,
becoming pharaoh wasn't
so straightforward.
It required some skillful
political maneuvering.
At the death of her husband,
the reigning pharaoh,
her stepson and heir to the throne
was too young to rule.
So Hatshepsut ruled on his behalf,
and was eventually crowned king.
But how did she hold on to her power?
(mysterious music)
Staring down on visitors to Cairo Museum,
her intimidating presence
can still be felt.
All pharaohs had to look the part,
but it was especially
important for a woman
to project herself as the perfect leader.
It's all about how you look.
If you looked like a
pharaoh, you were a pharaoh.
You took on the attributes of a pharaoh,
and that's exactly what
Hatshepsut's doing here,
the correct crown, the tie-on false beard,
and other parts of the regalia
were all meant to
emphasize to her subjects,
because you're looking at
95, 99% illiterate subjects,
they couldn't read royal edicts,
they couldn't read any
sacred inscriptions,
it was all about the visual.
And that is what Hatshepsut
was so brilliant at doing,
this ultimate in propaganda,
"Look at me, I am a pharaoh."
Wearing a tie-on false
beard was considered
a divine attribute of the gods.
All pharaohs had one.
And Hatshepsut was no exception.
But she didn't confine
such visually dazzling
statements of power to her own appearance.
I'm traveling to Hatshepsut's power base,
500 kilometers south of Cairo,
to Thebes, modern-day Luxor.
(mysterious music)
For here, Hatshepsut
remodeled the landscape
with a whole series of
monumental buildings,
the most famous, her
sublime funerary temple
at Deir al Bahari.
Known by ancient name, The
Most Sacred of Sacred Places,
the temple is one of Egypt's
most spectacular buildings,
the ultimate eternal monument.
Now, seeming to emerge from
the foot of the Theban hills,
Hatshepsut's temple is a
brilliant piece of architecture.
Its clean geometric lines
contrast stunningly well
against the rugged rocks behind them.
It's surely one of the most
beautiful temples in Egypt,
and the most fitting place to commemorate
the life of the great
female pharaoh Hatshepsut.
(mysterious music)
The setting of the temple
is indeed awe-inspiring.
But the reasons behind its construction
go far beyond the aesthetics.
Now, Hatshepsut built here
for three specific reasons.
Firstly, it lay directly
across from the great temple
of the state god Amun Ra.
Secondly, offerings could be
left for her soul for eternity,
rather than disturbing
the peace of her tomb.
And thirdly, this place
was filled with scenes
personally selected by Hatshepsut,
illustrating and emphasizing
her right to the throne.
In short, this was a piece
of permanent political propaganda.
(mysterious music)
But Hatshepsut wasn't just a builder.
She was also a military commander,
twice leading campaigns herself
against Egypt's enemies in Nubia.
And some of the offerings
discovered at Deir al Bahari
hint at Hatshepsut's
military capabilities.
She led her troops into battle
on at least two occasions.
Texts describe her as a conqueror,
"She who will be a conqueror,
flaming against her enemies."
(thunder rumbles)
This very special thing
is a votive offering,
presented here as an axe
blade, a copper alloy.
It's inscribed with
Hatshepsut's names and titles.
I think in a single
object, it encapsulates
this female pharaoh, this woman warrior.
It's a wonderful thing.
Having proved her military skills,
Hatshepsut turned her
attention to securing
the nation's peaceful prosperity.
(vendors shout and chatter)
She formed economic alliances
that brought wealth into her country,
trading with kingdoms
like Punt to the south,
on the Red Sea coast.
Now, Hatshepsut certainly
expanded Egypt's trade routes
and initiated commerce on a large scale.
She also reopened the very
lucrative trading route
with the land of Punt
down the Red Sea coast.
We can see exactly this
scene behind us now.
These are the Egyptians arriving in Punt,
these are the Puntites
coming out to meet them,
and this is the place where
the commerce occurred,
this small low chest on
which the Egyptians placed
all valuable goods,
the beads, the bangles,
the metal weaponry with which
they're then going to trade
with the Puntites for this
most precious of commodities,
that kind of red dome shape.
That's actually a huge
pile of myrrh resin.
Myrrh and other resins
were traditionally used
in temple rituals, in mummification,
and were also key ingredients
in perfume production.
Hatshepsut herself is known to have used
fragrant myrrh oil
rubbed into her skin to,
as she puts it herself,
"gleam like the stars
"before the whole land."
So in the days before
the modern celebrity,
Hatshepsut also had her
own signature fragrance.
(mysterious music)
The details in such scenes
certainly helped piece together
how Hatshepsut managed to hold on to power
for over 20 years.
But through one intriguing object,
I can even experience a
little bit of time travel.
That's quite amazing.
This small alabaster vessel
still has its original contents
after almost three and a half 1,000 years.
And her names and titles are
again inscribed on the front.
But look inside.
The actual imported resin.
This is the stuff that's referred to
on the walls at Deir al
Bahari, and here it is.
It's amazing.
It's as if we can smell the past.
We can't just see it, we
can't just read the words.
It's contained in this very vessel.
(mysterious music)
Maintaining power for
more than two decades
of peace and prosperity,
Hatshepsut was the most
successful female monarch
Egypt has yet seen.
And she had proved beyond doubt
that an effective leader
didn't have to be a man.
(mysterious music)
As part of Hatshepsut's
master plan for prosperity,
she commissioned two pairs
of pink granite obelisks
at Karnak Temple.
At almost 30 meters high,
this one is the tallest
still standing anywhere in Egypt.
In her own words, she tells us
why she wanted to set up
such striking monuments,
as a tribute to her father,
"to the one who made me," she said.
And by "father," she didn't
mean her natural parent,
but Amun, the king of the gods,
to whom this whole temple is dedicated.
Their tops would have
been capped with electrum,
which is a blend of gold and silver.
The idea is, they acted as a
kind of esoteric lightning rod
to catch the very first
rays of the sun at dawn,
to transmit that solar power down here,
into the heart of Karnak Temple,
where it could then be redistributed
for the good of Egypt.
(mysterious music)
Karnak Temple is a place where
the god Amun was worshiped.
This huge religious complex
was continually expanded
and embellished by successive rulers.
And Hatshepsut made sure
that she paid tribute
to the king of the gods
in the grandest of styles.
This is the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut.
This shrine was known as the
Place of the Heart of Amun,
the state god, and lay at the very center
of his great temple, Karnak.
It was kind of like a sacred garage,
which housed the sacred bark, or boat,
on which the god's statue stood
and would have been paraded
around in processions,
as we can see here on these
wall scenes behind me.
Can see the rows of shaven-headed priests
bringing in the sacred bark
on which the statue of the god is housed,
hidden behind these little curtains
to keep him from profane eyes.
The bark itself is being
greeted by the two co-rulers,
the young male pharaoh, Thutmose,
bringing up the ceremonial rear
as a kind of glorified
magician's assistant.
He's burning incense to
welcome the god's arrival.
And yet center stage
is Hatshepsut herself.
Make no mistake, she's the
most important figure here.
She is the senior partner.
She is the child of god.
Through such lavish endowments,
Hatshepsut was demonstrating
her veneration to Amun.
And assisted by the priests,
the pharaoh had to personally perform
the necessary religious ceremonies
to maintain cosmic order.
This is where Hatshepsut
herself would have stood
to perform the sacred
rites before the gods,
presenting the offerings
and pouring the sacred water
all around the god's statue.
Of course, Hatshepsut would
have used a golden vessel,
and we have a rusty old bucket.
But it gives you a kind of an idea
of what would have occurred.
(water splashes)
With the sacred water channeled
out and beyond the chapel,
the god's protection spread
throughout the entire land,
and beyond.
For Hatshepsut wished to be
enteral, like an undying star.
And she certainly gained
a unique place in history.
The feelings aroused by the
notion of a female pharaoh
remained so strong that for some,
Hatshepsut's being cast
as a kind of wicked stepmother figure,
a woman who dared to masquerade as a man,
dressing up with a
false beard of kingship,
and usurping the rights to the throne.
For others, however,
she's a huge inspiration,
an amazing woman who led the
way for generations to come.
(mysterious music)
Hatshepsut's reign had been a triumph.
And yet, after death, her
stepson took sole power.
And for now, female rule was over.
(man chanting in foreign language)
Leaders like Hatshepsut
reveal ancient Egypt
in one of the most egalitarian societies
of the ancient world,
where women could achieve
high-powered roles,
own property, make business deals,
earn equal pay, and go to court.
It may all sound reasonable now,
but it was really unusual back then.
I've arranged to have
tea with the academic
Sahar El-Mougy, who's written extensively
about the legacy of these
incredible ancient role models.
Sahar, in terms of the female
rulers of ancient Egypt,
when you were growing up,
was it easy to find out about
them, about their legacy,
because I know there's very little
in the Egyptiological
literature about them.
They seem to have swept very
much under the academic carpet.
But what's the situation in Egypt?
Was it different for you?
- I grew up not knowing about those women,
except in different pieces,
in boring history books at school.
In the process of writing, I was, like,
getting to know my
mothers and grandmothers.
That's why in my writing,
those female goddesses
come back to life as inspiring figures.
The amount of power that I received
from knowing about them,
through my own eyes,
it was immense.
It was magical.
It was like, "Wow.
"This is where I come from."
(mysterious music)
- It must be said, female
pharaohs were quite a rarity.
And by the 19th dynasty, a
new regime of ex-military men
from the north had taken power in Egypt.
Men were now very much in control,
and the royal women had
to find other tactics.
Around 150 years after
the death of Hatshepsut,
my next woman used diplomatic skills
to assert herself at the
heart of Egyptian politics.
Her names was Nefertari.
Meaning "the loveliest one of all,"
Nefertari was not only beautiful,
she was also one of Egypt's
most gifted queen consorts.
As a very young woman,
Nefertari had married a prince
who would become one of
Egypt's most famous pharaohs,
Ramesses II.
And it's quite impossible
to go anywhere in Egypt
without bumping into him,
for he ruled longer, built bigger,
and certainly boasted more
than almost any other pharaoh.
In ancient Egypt, size is everything.
And Ramesses himself has
accurately been described
as the giant planet Jupiter.
Brilliant at a distance, but
essentially a ball of gas.
This really cuts to the
heart of his policy,
of quantity over quality.
The bigger the better.
And it is wonderfully
expressed by this statue here.
We can see Ramesses on a colossal scale,
while even his favorite wife, Nefertari,
clutches at the back of his leg,
not even as high as his knee.
In order to find out more about her,
we have to travel beyond
Egypt's traditional boundaries.
(mysterious music)
So I'm going 400 kilometers south,
to tell a different side of this story,
to the temple of Abu Simbel.
As one of the most monumental
examples of pharaonic might,
it was built on the border
with volatile Nubia.
It was designed to strike fear and respect
into all who sailed past
along the Nile toward Egypt.
This is the temple of Abu
Simbel, built by Ramesses II
during his 67-year reign,
and it's typical of the man.
It's massive, it's monumental.
This is only one of the
temples at Abu Simbel.
In short, it's only half the story.
The story I'm really
interested in is next door,
within a temple dedicated, for once,
not to Ramesses but to his wife.
(mysterious, exotic music)
(wind whistles)
And here she is, the
great queen Nefertari,
standing a colossal 33 feet tall.
If you look very carefully, you'll see
she's just that little bit taller
than her famous husband, Ramesses II,
because of this tall crown she's wearing.
Built to make a statement,
the temple's towering size
conveyed a strategic political message
that puts Nefertari at the heart of power.
So for Ramesses to erect these
massive statues of his wife,
he's really bringing into play
every force at his disposal,
including this, the good lady wife,
the little woman at home, quite literally,
but out here in Nubia, in the wilds
of this desert landscape,
these volatile tribes people,
he needed her help and she
was a very potent force.
The colossal striking image reveals
that Nefertari was the
ultimate trophy wife.
(Joann and man converse
in foreign language)
In the interior of the temple,
Nefertari appears in a variety of scenes,
performing a series of sacred rites,
taking an active role next to her husband.
She's got her arms raised,
she's encouraging he
royal husband Ramesses,
who's in that classic pose
of an Egyptian pharaoh,
smiting the enemy.
Basically this is a state execution.
They cower at his feet.
He holds them by the top
of the head with the hair,
and once they're in that position,
he brings a weapon down on their head,
literally bashes out their brains.
All the while, Nefertari on the sidelines
is a kind of royal
cheerleader, if you like.
Two sides of the same coin,
but of no less value than a husband.
A very, very potent scene.
Very definitely no doubt that
this was a royal double act.
Egyptologist and Abu Simbel director,
Doctor Ahmed Saleh, has spent many years
studying the images
within both these temples.
Is there enough information
in the evidence we have
to try and get an understanding
of what they were like as a couple?
- [Ahmed] He loved her very much.
He married her before he
ascended to the throne.
That means he had fall
in love with Nefertari.
She accompanied him like a divinity.
- [Joann] Yet it seems that,
when Nefertari sailed this far south,
her health was fading fast.
- The sad story here is,
Nefertari didn't see her
temple, she was sick.
She's staying in the boat.
Maybe she comes see the
statues of her outside,
but she didn't get on
to inside this temple.
- [Joann] What a shame she
could only view the exterior.
At least she saw her statue.
- This is a sad story.
- This is a sad story.
- [Ahmed] Yeah, I think
this is the last time
of her, of Nefertari.
We are talking about
the 34th year of reign.
This is the last year of Nefertari,
because when she go
back to simpler things,
she died and she buried there.
(mysterious music)
- I'm traveling back north to
get inside Nefertari's tomb,
the place where I can find more evidence
of the woman herself.
Located in the Valley of the Queens,
its scenes are so delicate
that access is limited.
I've just been given
permission to personally unlock
the Tomb of Nefertari, the
great royal wife of Ramesses II.
And I'm really excited, 'cause this is
an absolute gem of a tomb,
(mumbles) ever seen it once before,
when I was much younger.
So this is gonna be a rare treat.
(lock clanks)
That is a big key. (laughs)
Oh, my word.
Oh wow, oh wow.
Covering 520 square meters, its
brilliant, jewel-like images
vividly depict her journey
into the hereafter.
(mysterious music)
The scenes just continue one
after another after another.
There's nothing here left to chance,
nothing thrown in
simply as a little bit
of pretty decoration.
It's like a machine functioning
to keep Nefertari's soul
alive in the next word.
Great attention was
given to her appearance.
Her eyes and eyebrows outlined in black,
a subtle red color on her cheeks and lips,
and the most exquisite
golden jewelry adorning her,
Nefertari, the loveliest of all.
The name implies incredible beauty,
and she really lived up to
this, this name that she had.
She's the ultimate high-maintenance woman.
She was certainly beautiful,
but one particular wall
scene shows Nefertari
in the company of Thoth, the
god of knowledge and literacy,
who was selected for a reason.
We come to this wonderful scene,
which really ties in to what we know
about Nefertari in life.
Nefertari chosen to have
the weighing of the heart,
the judgment of the dead scene
from the Book of the Dead,
written out with illustrators
in a rather unique manner,
because here she is.
She's having herself in a
guise of a devotee of Thoth,
the ibis-headed god of
literacy and writing.
The emphasis on writing can be seen
on this scribal pallet, which
stands between Nefertari
and the god Thoth, and there,
she's presenting herself before Thoth.
She says, "I am a scribe, I am a scribe."
That's quite an emphatic statement.
Not only beautiful,
this woman was pretty clever, too.
As a royal wife, she would
of course have had scribes
to write on her behalf.
But being able to read
and write hieroglyphs
was then regarded as the
ultimate in academic achievement.
And Nefertari made sure
that her credentials
would be clearly portrayed for posterity.
(mysterious music)
Being the wife of such
a domineering husband
would also have required
a considerable amount
of gentle persuasion and soft power,
skill best shown in
diplomatic correspondence
exchanged with Egypt's great rivals,
the Hittites of Anatolia in modern Turkey.
Nefertari is known to have corresponded
with her opposite number
in this Hittite heartland,
the great queen Puduhepa.
It's amazing that one
of these very letters
has actually survived.
Nefertari would have
composed her own letter
in the Egyptian language,
and then a bilingual scribe
would have translated it
into cuneiform and then embossed it
on small clay tablets.
This is the exact letter that Nefertari
wrote to Puduhepa.
It's obviously a replica,
but it really gives a flavor
of the very words of our
great royal wife, Nefertari.
It is full of warmth, full
of sisterly solicitation.
"To my sister Puduhepa,
great queen of the Hittites.
"May the sun god of Egypt and
the storm god of the Hittites
"bring you joy,
"and may the sun god make
the peace good forever."
At the very end is this
very touching reference
to the greeting gift she is
sending the Hittite queen.
"I send you a greeting gift, my sister.
"For you neck, a necklace of pure gold,
"and some colored linen
to make a royal robe
"for your husband, the king."
Sending such greeting
gifts to the monarchs
with whom you corresponded
played a crucial role in the
diplomacy of the ancient world.
If we actually look at Nefertari's ear,
we can see something which
encapsulates this idea,
because regardless of all the gold,
all Egyptian royals were dripping in gold.
Anybody knew that gold was
as common as dust in Egypt,
you only have to pick it up,
thought the ancient correspondents.
But in Nefertari's ear
is a a silver earring,
of far more value.
Not only that, it isn't
even an Egyptian earring.
It's a style of Greek earring.
These silver pieces of
jewelry were sent to Nefertari
from the Aegean area.
So in far away Greece,
they knew about Nefertari.
These earrings were sent to her
and she wore them with great
pride throughout her life.
So there's rather more to this
jewelry and frocks business
than at first meets the eye.
(mysterious music)
Amidst such jeweled splendor,
Nefertari was finally laid to rest
in the manner in which she had lived,
in the most spectacular
tomb in the whole of Egypt.
One of the things that
strikes you most emphatically
when you catch your breath and calm down
and start looking at these things
in a more logical, rather
than an emotional way,
you soon realize that
Nefertari's husband's not here.
The great Ramesses is nowhere present.
He's on every temple throughout Egypt.
He's everywhere.
And yet here, in his
wife's last resting place,
isn't a single image of him.
Now of course, Egyptologists
have postulated
many theories about why the great Ramesses
wasn't actually portrayed
in his wife's tomb.
I personally prefer to
think that she herself felt,
"Well, I've lived with
him for so many years,
"and in the next world,
it would be wonderful
"not to have to listen to him forever."
But whatever the real reason,
there's no doubting the
importance and influence
of Nefertari as queen of one
of Egypt's best-known pharaohs.
Yet despite Nefertari's
best diplomatic efforts,
Egypt's political fortunes
were soon in sharp decline.
Amidst rampant inflation
and official corruption,
a long series of ephemeral rulers
proved completely incapable
of defending Egypt's borders
from wave after wave of foreign invaders
throughout the first millennium BC.
The most successful of these
were the Macedonian Ptolemies
who change Egypt's fortunes forever.
(dramatic, mysterious music)
900 years after Nefertari,
the new era in Egypt's history
produced the first female
pharaoh of the Ptolemies,
She capitalized on the
success of the women rulers
who'd gone before her.
Arsinoe was able to bring
together two worlds,
the Egyptian and the Greek,
building on a legacy inherited
from the most famous Greek
of them all, Alexander the Great.
Everybody's heard of Alexander the Great,
who invaded Egypt in 332
BC and was crowned pharaoh,
as shown in repeated scenes here.
Alexander was then succeeded
by his rumored half brother
Ptolemy, whose dynasty
then went on to rule Egypt
for the last three centuries BC.
Ptolemy, in turn, was succeeded
by his extraordinary daughter, Arsinoe,
whose spectacular achievements
were very consciously modeled
on those of Uncle Alexander.
Born in Egypt, the teenage
Arsinoe was sent to Greece
for an arranged royal marriage.
Then at the death of
her husband, the king,
and a second, disastrous marriage,
she fled for her life back to Egypt.
But having acquired a taste for power,
Arsinoe persuaded her
younger brother, the pharaoh,
to marry her.
He would be her route to the crown.
In one move, Arsinoe
became ruler of two worlds,
Egypt and the Greek Mediterranean.
Through her international connections,
Arsinoe brought more
prosperity, knowledge and wealth
into Egypt than almost any
other ruler before her.
The bronze figure is all very interesting
because you have Arsinoe
almost giving the queenly wave,
if you like, a very regal
posture she's striking.
But look what she's
carrying in her left arm.
It's a cornucopia, which is a
kind of Greek pointed vessel,
but within it, all the bounty,
the fruits, the flowers,
the wealth of Egypt.
And there isn't just
one cornucopia, but two.
She's bringing double the amount
that anyone else can possibly bring.
(people chattering)
Arsinoe spent much of this fortune
in the new royal capital, Alexandria,
where her opulent lifestyle was sustained
by a continuous flow of exotic imports
from as far afield as India
and even further east.
And as goods like ivory, silk and jewels
poured into country, the rest
of the population thrived too,
as Egypt became the greatest
marketplace on Earth.
(Joann and merchant converse
in foreign language)
- [Merchant] Emerald, but not real one.
- Must try one.
(speaks foreign language)
I'm looking for some fabric.
Oh, how beautiful.
(speaks foreign language), how much?
(merchant speaks in foreign language)
Sixpence, okay, well, that's good.
With commerce operating
on such a vast scale,
Arsinoe and her brother set
up a sophisticated bureaucracy
to manage the staggering wealth
circulating within their empire.
Now, coinage, finance, was a huge part
in Arsinoe's story.
She's an extraordinary woman.
She had a huge personal fortune,
and her financial acumen
was very much focused
on Egypt's own finances.
She and her brother-husband
Ptolemy created
a kind of doomsday-style inventory
of all Egypt's assets.
She created royal monopolies
on absolutely everything,
making sure that finance flowed directly
into the royal house.
And in ancient Egypt,
previously a barter economy,
coinage played a crucial role.
It became increasingly common
as a means of financial transactions.
Pretty much, it was the
beginnings of capitalism.
(mysterious music)
Under Arsinoe, Egypt was once again
a land of plenty and wealth.
And yet, her coins had
another very useful purpose,
as a means of circulating her agenda.
This coin shows Arsinoe
wearing the Greek diadem crown
and a veil over carefully styled hair
pulled back into a bun,
at first appearance, the
epitome of a standard Greek wig.
This is the perfect portrait
of an elite Greek matron,
very respectable looking,
very well-coiffed,
very well-dressed.
And yet, if you look
really, really closely,
just poking out in front of her ear,
this looks like a very
playful little earring,
is actually a ram's horn,
the ram's horns of Alexander the Great.
Arsinoe is using this
very, very subtle device
to say, "I am the successor
of the great Alexander."
As his successor, Arsinoe built
on the legacy of Alexander,
whose emblems were the ram's horns
of Egypt's state god, Amun.
And so, by adopting this symbol herself,
Arsinoe was tucking into an ancient force,
this single, subtle image
confirming her place
as the ruler of two worlds.
(mysterious, dramatic music)
(speaks foreign language)
Almost 200 kilometers south of Luxor,
a remarkable site on an island
in the middle of the Nile
gives a real sense of the
power at Arsinoe's disposal.
(dramatic, mysterious music)
Now, we know that every temple in Egypt
has statues of Arsinoe
as the resident goddess,
alongside their traditional deities.
But at Philae, she was also worshiped
as the equivalent of Isis
herself, the mother of all gods.
Philae Temple has rightly been dubbed
the Pearl of the Nile.
It was the co-center of
the great goddess Isis,
and in many ways, it was an outpost,
both in terms of its southerly
geographical location,
and that this was the
very last place in Egypt
where the ancient gods were worshiped,
as late as the sixth century AD.
But not only was Isis worshiped here,
Arsinoe, too, was the resident goddess.
In fact, it was through
the international influence
of Arsinoe that Isis goes global.
Arsinoe's desire to be seen
as the active goddess Isis
sent a very clear message to her subjects.
She has certainly played
a fundamental role
in shaping Egypt, both at home and abroad.
But Arsinoe's many
achievements were only possible
because of the countless
generations of incredible women
who'd gone before her.
And it's in one specific image
she paid permanent tribute to all of them.
Follow me, this way.
Here she is, Arsinoe,
pharaoh, the goddess.
She's got all her regalia
on that emphasizes
just how much power this woman had.
And it's the crown, the focus
of so much recent research,
that can tell us so much.
We can even deconstruct it
to tell Arsinoe's full story.
We start with this crown,
this is the red crown.
It represents Northern
Egypt and very much embodies
the idea that Arsinoe ruled
from the royal capital,
Alexandria, on Egypt's northern coastline.
Next of all, we have the two
tall feathers at the top,
and the cow's horns,
as worn by the great
royal wife, Nefertari,
wife of Ramesses II.
Then we move on to these
twisted ram's horns.
'Course, various forms of
ram's horns are associated
with the great state god, Amun Ra,
the favorite deity of Hatshepsut.
And finally, at the very heart of this
very special crown, the sun disk,
the great creator of all life.
Takes us right back to the pyramid age
and Hetepheres, the queen mother.
So by taking on this
crown, Arsinoe's telling us
she's taking on the accumulated powers
of all these great women
who were in power in Egypt
from so many centuries before her.
It's a wonderful thing.
(majestic music)
With this crown later adopted
by the great Cleopatra herself,
these incredible women would be her guides
as she extended Egypt's
power across so much
of the ancient world.
(dramatic, majestic music)
I must say this journey, for me,
has been an incredible opportunity
to engage with ancient Egypt in a new,
and very fresh, way.
It's allowed me to investigate the lives
of some incredible people,
four amazing women.
These women were incredible role models
to all of us, even in the modern world.
They were lovers, mothers,
queens, goddesses, pharaohs.
They were incredibly strong,
they were incredibly capable.
And they underpinned the whole
of this fantastic ancient civilization.
(mysterious music)
(humming chime)