Patterns of change – Family and Gender Hierarchies in New Kingdom Egypt: Titles of non-royal women

The purpose of this project is to examine family and gender hierarchies in New Kingdom Egypt (1539-1077 BC). More specifically, it will address the position of women in the social and administrative hierarchy, including their place in the home and role in public life through a study of the most common non-royal female titles as they appear in the archaeological and written records.

About the project

The project consists of two parts:

Part 1: The first is a macro-levelled comparative study focusing on the distribution of non-royal female titles as they appear in tombs, stelae, letters, legal documents and administrative documents. The aim is to make a database, and summarize the dataset by quantitatively describing its main features, and answer the following questions:

  1. What titles were non-royal women given in New Kingdom Egypt?
  2. Which titles were most common?
  3. Where do the titles most commonly appear?
  4. Are titles gendered?

Part 2: The second part is a meso- and micro-levelled investigation into family and gender hierarchies through a series of case studies. The purpose of this will be to identify specific practices, social formations and webs of intersecting reciprocal/discursive relations between men, women, the young and old from different social classes. The types of following questions will, therefore, be addressed:

  1. What is the connection (if any) between the titles and the source in which they appear?
  2. What was the purpose and meaning of the different titles?
  3. Do titles reflect active roles, or are they simply honorific?
  4. What can titles tell us about the role and status of women?
  5. Is there a connection between female titles and those of her husband (or other family members)?
  6. What was gender and did it matter?
  7. What can titles tell us about family and gender hierarchies in ancient Egypt?
  8. Are there patterns of change?

Understanding Gender Equality/Inequality

My research feeds into larger interdisciplinary research networks that focus on gender equality/inequality in the ancient, but also the modern world. In the latter context, the role of my project is to generate historical and theoretical knowledge, allowing for a wider perspective on family and gender hierarchies. For example, we tend to believe that women are better off, and wield more political power then ever before. However, the point to be made is that history is not necessarily as linear as chronological time. The overall aim is to show that family and gender hierarchies are not static dimensions, but rather constantly changing, and that representations on the one hand, and interpretations on the other are determined by the context of the evidence, its specific genre, as well as the perspectives and questions one as a scholar pose. I hypothesize that there was neither equality nor an unambiguous gender hierarchy in ancient Egypt, but rather a multitude of different family and gender constellations.


The project is based at the Centre for Gender Research (STK) and the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages (IKOS) at the University of Oslo. It is also supported by the expertise of the staff at the American University in Cairo and the Amarna Project.


University of Oslo, 2014-2018.

Tags: Global South
Published Apr. 8, 2014 2:58 PM - Last modified Aug. 18, 2016 1:09 PM