Egypt’s Lost Queens was a one off programme presented by Joann Fletcher about four influential women in Ancient Egyptian history. Of the women she picked to focus on there were two who wielded power in their own right, and two who were mothers and/or wives of Pharaohs. Fletcher didn’t just go the easy route of picking all the “obvious” ones – i.e. no Nefertiti, no Cleopatra – instead she covered Hetepheres, Hatshepsut (who does count as an obvious choice), Nefertari (ditto) and Arsinoe.
Hetepheres was the mother of the Pharaoh Khufu – the man for whom the Great Pyramid at Giza was built. Fletcher said that Hetepheres was the first burial at the Giza plateau and so she positioned her as the founder of this burial site – I suspect it’s more likely that Khufu picked the site for his own pyramid, then buried dear old Mum there when she died rather than Hetepheres having much say in the matter. As there’s not much known about Hetepheres other than her family relations this segment of the programme mostly looked at those of her grave goods which have survived – which includes a bed frame, and a carrying chair. They’re in Cairo Museum and I remember we saw them when we were there a few years ago – pretty impressive to see a bed that’s 4,500 years old.
Hatshepsut is an 18th Dynasty Pharaoh who first ruled as her step-son Tutmosis IV’s regent when he was under age, and subsequently ruled in her own name as Pharaoh (with him as co-ruler but in the junior role). Fletcher mostly talked about how Hatshepsut used the propaganda machinery of Ancient Egypt to legitimise herself – her temple walls were covered with herself as Pharaoh (with all the accessories including the false beard). And also with references to her divine parentage and birth. Fletcher also talked about Hatshepsut as a military commander and suggested there’s evidence she may’ve seen battle.
Nefertari was Rameses II’s most important wife – she is the woman to whom the secondary temple at Abu Simbel is dedicated. She seems to’ve been involved in the diplomacy of the time – Fletcher showed us a letter from Nefertari to a Queen in Mesopotamia. And of course you can’t have a programme about Nefertari without visiting her tomb which is one of the most spectacularly decorated tombs that’s been found. (And we’re going to see it later this year!)
The last of Fletcher’s powerful women was Arsinoe, who was the daughter of the first Ptolemy to be Pharaoh of Egypt and later ruled herself – as co-ruler with her brother Ptolemy (who was also her second husband, her first was king of Macedon). At the end of this section of the programme Fletcher talked about how Arsinoe’s iconography references that of the earlier queens – with a crown formed from the crowns that these previous women wore in their own iconography. She was positioning that as a deliberate reference on Arsinoe’s part but I would’ve thought it more likely that Arsinoe and her predecessors were referencing the same gods and the same iconography as each other rather than a more direct link.
I’m torn about what I think about this programme. On the one hand it’s very well filmed and talks about a lot of interesting stuff, some of which I hadn’t seen before. On the other hand I did spend a fair amount of time thinking “well, yeah, but …”. In simplifying things to emphasise her point I sometimes feel Fletcher goes too far towards misrepresenting things.
We also finished off a couple of series this week. One of these was Talk to the Animals – a two part series about animal communication presented by Lucy Cooke. These programmes were an overview of the many ways that animals communicate both within their own species and between species. So there were segments on things like how can hippos communicate both underwater and above water simulataneously, or how does a particular species of bird lie to meerkats, or how banded mongoose calls are a bit like a twitter feed. One of the things Cooke was emphasising was how animal communication is a lot more complex than one might expect and certainly more complex than early researchers had assumed. She also met a lot of just slightly oddball scientists (of which there are plenty – I know I’ve met many that fit that categorisation – but that did seem to be a theme).
A fun series with a good blend of “isn’t that cute!” and science (with actual experiments, too).
The other series we finished was John Bishop’s Australia. John Bishop is a British comedian, and in his 20s he did a cycle ride up the east coast of Australia. Now, 22 years on, he was repeating that ride but visiting more of the places along the way and with TV cameras in tow. I don’t really have much to say about the series – but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, it was actually rather good. On his travels he covered a fairly wide cross-section of Australian society and places. He’s a funny guy (as one would expect from a comedian) but was also serious when the subject required it.
Also watched this week:
Episode 3 of Britain’s Great War – Jeremy Paxman looking at what happened in Britain during WWI.
Episode 1 of Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: A 17th Century History for Girls – Lucy Worsley talking about late 17th Century British women.
Episode 1 of The Boats that Built Britain – Tom Cunliffe sails six boats that were important in British history.
Episode 1 of Wild China – series about Chinese wildlife & people.