Last Pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty
Unknown Birth Date, Ancient Egypt
Died: c.2181 BC, Ancient Egypt
Also Spelled: Nitiqret or Nicaule
Her reign ended the period of Egyptian history known as the Old Kingdom.
Nitocris is mentioned in Herodotus’s Histories. However, some scholars believe her story is nothing more than that, a story. These scholars believe she never actually ruled Egypt; or at least never ruled on her own and in her own right.
If Nitocris did rule, she possibly became Pharaoh after her brother was killed by other high-ranking Egyptians. As the story goes, Nitocris got revenge on the people who killed her brother by inviting them to a dinner feast and then drowning them.
According to Herodotus, she died soon after by jumping into hot coals and burning to death. Another scholar, Percy Newberry, theorized Nitocris could have stepped in as ruler after her husband died (Pepi II), and not her brother, but again, none of this is certain. Percy’s push for Nitocris and her story to be accepted as fact rather than fiction has allowed for a new light to be shed on the tale of Nitocris. Without Percy’s intervention, Nitocris would probably still be seen as nothing more than a tall tale. Because of his beliefs though, many today see Nitocris as the first female regnant monarch of Ancient Egypt, meaning the first to rule in her own right.
More proof of her life comes from her name appearing on the Turin King List (possibly—the spelling of the name is different), Manetho’s list of Sixth Dynasty Rulers, and the Abydos King List (again possibly, for the same reason as the Turin’s). Nitocris’s tomb may be located in Saqqara, though this is disputed (more info below). Officially, there is no tomb or any other surviving documents or artifacts relating to her reign. The lack of documentation or anything else leads some scholars to claim Nitocris is actually just the jumbled misspelling of the actual last Pharaoh of the sixth dynasty-- Neitiqerty Siptah.
Nitocris’s name probably translates to Neith is Excellent. Percy Newberry established this explanation for Nitocris’s name in the same article he stated her tomb is located at Saqqara. Percy also suggested Nitocris is connected to Neith because of the Pharaoh Pepi II. One of Pepi’s wives is identified in his tomb as Neith. Percy continued his explanation of the tomb by harkening back to Manetho and his writings on Nitocris. Earlier scholars had dismissed Manetho’s account because he stated Nitocris built the third pyramid. Today it is almost universally acknowledged the third pyramid at Giza was built by another pharaoh named Menkaure—obviously not Nitocris. However, Manetho never said where the so-called third pyramid he refers to was built. The third pyramid at Saqqara was built for the previously mentioned Queen Neith, wife of Pepi II.
If Nitocris was married to Pepi II, this would contradict Herodotus’s account. Nitocris, in this case, wouldn’t have taken over after the murder of her brother—but she may have become regnant after the death of her husband; presumably after he outlived all of his heirs. The other issue stems from the fact that the pyramids at Saqqara, including the one built for Neith, were not built during the time period Nitocris is usually associated with (the sixth dynasty). Archaeologists have also pointed out that the pyramid of Neith at Saqqara may have actually been the first built, not the third.
Another possibility is that Nitocris was the sister of Pepi II’s son Merenre Nemtyemsaf II, who did take over ruling Egypt after his father’s death. Because this son, Merenre, only ruled Egypt for a year, it is very possible his sister Nitocris could have taken over the throne for a short time after his death. Whatever the case, the truth may never really be known.
Also, don’t confuse this Nitocris with the high priestess also named Nitocris. They are two completely different people from two completely different time periods!
Located In My Personal Library:
The Pharaohs by Joyce Tyldesley
Histories by Herodotus
When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt by Kara Cooney