Ancient Egypt Lesbianism

Nowdays, the Egyptian government is refusing to recognize the existence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, flouting its responsibility to protect the rights of everyone. 

However, sexuality in ancient Egypt was open, untainted by guilt. Sex was an important part of life – from birth to death and rebirth. Singles and married couples made love. The gods themselves were earthy enough to copulate. The Egyptians even believed in sex in the afterlife.

“The best known case of possible homosexuality in Ancient Egypt is that of the two high officials Nyankh-khnum and Khnum-hotep. Both men lived and served under pharaoh Niuserre during the 5th Dynasty (c. 2494–2345 BC). Nyankh-Khnum and Khnum-hotep each had families of their own with children and wives, but when they died their families apparently decided to bury them together in one and the same mastaba tomb. In this mastaba, several paintings depict both men embracing each other and touching their faces nose-on-nose. These depictions leave plenty of room for speculation, because in Ancient Egypt the nose-on-nose-touching normally represented a kiss.

Egyptologists and historians disagree about how to interprete the paintings of Nyankh-khnum and Khnum-hotep. Some scholars believe that the paintings reflect an example of homosexuality between two married men and prove that the Ancient Egyptians accepted same-sex relationships.

Other scholars disagree and interprete the scenes as an evidence that Nyankh-khnum and Khnum-hotep were twins, even possibly siamese twins.No matter what interpretation is correct, the paintings show at the very least that Nyankh-khnum and Khnum-hotep must have been very close to each other in life as in death.”

There have been many amazing and one of a kind women who ruled Ancient Egypt (a kingdom that have lasted more than any the world has ever seen), like Cleopatra, Nefertiti or Hatshepsut, thus they had relevant statuses and power, they were educated and had different talents and they had rights and freedom to love and live who and how they wanted.

In Talmudic literature, the ancient Egyptians are known for their liberal sexual lifestyles and are often used as the prime example of sexual debauchery. Rachi describes an Egyptian practice for women to have multiple husbands. The term Mimonides refers to lesbianism as “the acts of Egypt”. 

Polyandry and lesbianism are characteristics of the ancient Egyptians, according to religious Jewish discourse.

Lesbianism was acknowledged in Ancient Egypt, though evidence of it is relatively sparse. A number of archaeologists have suggested that there is sexual symbolism in a number of scenes depicting women embracing, while others explicitly depict scenes of intimacy, particularly in the artifacts from Amarna. 

In much of Ancient Egyptian art, however, it is difficult to distinguish males from females, due to the androgynous features of the figures depicted. One passage in the Book of the Dead, written by a female author and dating back to 970 BCE, reads: “I never had sex with a woman in the temple.” This suggests that there was a degree of leniency toward lesbianism at the time, compared to the prevailing attitudes toward homosexual men. This particular passage, nonetheless, does not point to the prohibition of homosexuality or contempt for the receptive (“passive”) partner. Rather, it specifically refers to homosexual (lesbian) intercourse in the temple, which at the time served as the site of popular celebrations and rituals of fertility, in which sexual acts would unfold between men and women, in particular the temple prostitutes.   

Lesbianism is also mentioned in the Book of Dreams, which dates back to the later dynasties and was gathered from the Carlsberg papyrus. The papyrus depicts a woman admonishing another for having dreamt of engaging in sexual relations with a married woman. Various sources, including Egyptologist Cassia Spakoksa, point to the idea that the text forbids adultery, rather than lesbianism as a whole, suggesting that lesbianism was somewhat acceptable in Egyptian society.

From the period of Egyptian rule through the early Roman Empire, there are a number of references to gay and lesbian marriages, such as that between Berenice, the Queen of Egypt, and her lover Mesopotamia.

They are mentioned in Iamblichus’ Babyloniaca, in which the Egyptian Princess Berenice is described (in a slightly negative light) as a promiscuous lesbian who manages to sleep with the beautiful Mesopotamia. In the end, however, it’s revealed that not only was Berenice crowned queen of Egypt, but she probably took Mesopotamia as her bride”.

“While she was still a princess , Berenice fell in love with the beautiful Mesopotamia, but Mesopotamia is kidnapped from Berenice by the villain Garmos, who wants to kill her. But one of Berenice’s female servants, Zobras, “having drunk from the spring of love, and seized with a passion for Mesopotamia”, rescued her and returned her to Berenice, who married Mesopotamia, and then went to war against Garmos on her account.”

(The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies by James Neill)

The Babyloniaca hasn’t survived in it’s entirely, but clearly a decent amount has if people know this much about it, yes I can’t find any texts online to read in English. Even allot of basic things I can’t figure out about it.

The name Berenice sounds like this princess would be of the Ptolemaic dynasty and thus the Hellenistic age, but he may have only been using a name his Greek readers would be comfortable with. The other woman simply being named Mesopotamia certainly shows he wasn’t trying to be realistic in the names.

It remains unclear, what exact view the Ancient Egyptians fostered about homosexuality. Any document and literature that actually contains sexual orientated stories, never name the nature of the sexual deeds, but instead uses stilted and flowery paraphrases. While the stories about Seth and his sexual behaviour may reveal rather negative thoughts and views, the tomb inscription of Nyankh-khnum and Khnum-hotep may instead proof, that homosexuality was likewise accepted. Ancient Egyptian documents never clearly say that same-sex relationships were seen as reprehensible or despicable. And no Ancient Egyptian document mentions that homosexual acts were set under penalty. Thus, a straight evaluation remains problematic.

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