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The secret gay history of Ancient Egypt

The secret gay history of Ancient Egypt

Seth and Horus adoring Rameses

Ancient Egypt was a historic civilization, dating all the way back to 3100 BC.

Sex was seen as a healthy part of existence, with even the likes of Gods getting down and dirty. There was no taboo around the act of sex. They even had Gods of sex, sexual pleasure and sexuality.

The term ‘homosexuality’ is relatively modern and so that makes it harder for historians to look for examples of LGBT in Ancient Egypt.

Historians explain: ‘Representational evidence for ancient sexualities is ambiguous.’

Regardless, there is the occasional story of a same-sex relations happening.

There is no evidence of Ancient Egyptians actively being against gay sex however they did tend to shame the male on the receiving end. He is described as lesser and submissive, submitting to the will of the other male involved.

While there are plenty of tales about homosexuality buried in the depths of history, here are just three of them.

Seth and Horus

The gods Seth (left) and Horus (right) adoring Rameses
The gods Seth (left) and Horus (right) adoring Rameses Wikicommons

Stories of homosexuality isn’t restricted to mortals when it comes to Ancient Egypt.

There’s many tales revolving around the sexual tension between Seth and Horus.

Seth is a god of the desert, storms and disorder. He lords over the deserts of Egypt, upholding balance against Horus who rules over the soil of Egypt.

The Contendings of Horus and Seth tells of particular intimacies between the pair.

Technically uncle and nephew, their feud began after the death of Horus’ father, Osiris.

It was discovered that Seth was behind the death of his brother, and so Horus vowed the avenge his father.

A long lasting battle began between the pair.

Seth and Horus were brought before the Ennead, a council of the most important and powerful gods, and told to ‘stop quarreling so every day on end.’

The uncle invited Horus to ‘make holiday in my house.’

Then things took a turn for the homoerotic.

Seth sent his nephew a very Grindr-esque papyrus message. The message eventually persuaded Horus to sleep with Seth.

The cheeky message read: ‘How lovely are your buttocks! And how muscular your thighs…’

‘Ointment to Horus’ phallus’

Sexual tensions were already high following the flirtatious messages exchanged between the pair.

A passage in The Contendings of Horus and Seth tells of the night Horus stayed at his uncle’s home.

‘But during the night, Seth caused his phallus to become stiff and inserted it between Horus’s thighs.

‘Then Horus placed his hands between his thighs and received Seth’s semen.

‘Horus went to tell his mother Isis: “Help me, Isis, my mother, come and see what Seth has done to me.”

‘And he opened his hands and let her see Seth’s semen.

‘She let out a loud shriek, seized a copper knife and cut off his hands that were equivalent.

‘Then she fetched some fragrant ointment and applied it to Horus’s phallus.

‘She caused it to become stiff and inserted it into a pot, and he caused his semen to flow down into it.’

Horus and his mother concocted a plan to make it instead appear like Seth had been in the passive one in the coitus.

The next morning Horus’ mother, Isis, went to Seth’s garden and poured her son’s semen on lettuce.

His gardener had explained Seth ‘doesn’t eat any vegetable here in my company except lettuce.’

So then, Seth became a carrier of Horus’ semen.

A golden solar disk of semen

Seth then arrived to tell Horus ‘let’s go and I may contend with you in the tribunal.’

He was under the impression Horus was a carrier of his semen and so was confident he would win the battle.

The pair went back to the Ennead to face off again in a tribunal.

Seth told the Ennead that he should be awarded the position of Rules as he had ‘performed the labor of a male against’ Horus.

The court reacted as he had expected and let out a loud cry, spitting on Horus’ face.

‘Horus laughed at them. Horus then took an oath by god as follows: “All that Seth has said is false. Let Seth’s semen be summoned that we may see from where it answers, and my own be summoned that we may see from where it answers.”‘

And so Thoth, lord of script and scribe for truth, put his hand on Horus’ shoulder and said ‘Come out, you semen of Seth.’

The semen answered from the marshes, where it had been thrown by Isis.

Thoth put his hand on Seth’s shoulder and said ‘Come out, semen of Horus.’

Horus’ semen then responded from inside Seth, as he had eaten it when having his daily lettuce.

The tale continues: ‘And it emerged as a golden solar disk upon Seth’s head.

‘Seth became exceeding furious and extended his hands to seize the golden solar disk.

‘Thoth took it away from him and placed it as a crown upon his own head. Then the Ennead said: “Horus is right, and Seth is wrong.”‘

And so, Horus went on to become the Ruler.

Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep

Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep in an embrace
Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep in an embrace Ahmad Badr

In 1964, a tomb was discovered in an ancient burial ground. It was initially dubbed ‘Tomb of the Two Brothers.’

As the tomb was explored however, they found the two men had been buried holding hands and ’embracing intimately, noses touching.’

Translations of inscriptions revealed both Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep had been royal manicurists.

The couple were alive somewhere between 2494 to 2345 BC.

The pair had their names decoratively intertwined above the entrance to the inner chambers of the tomb, reading ‘Niankh-Khnum-Hotep.’

This could be translated to ‘joined in life and joined in death’ or ‘peace.’

Inscriptions in the tomb identified both men as ‘hm’, a gender neutral pronoun, often used to reference priests or eunuchs.

Hand in hand

Both men were palace officials and enjoyed high social status.

Both were also married and had children.

Some have suggested the pair were simply colleagues, twins or brothers. But Ancient Egyptian art rarely showed couples embracing in such a way as Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep were seen around the tomb.

This adds to the strong case the pair were in a relationship.

Throughout the tomb, the two men are depicted sitting together arm in arm, greeting visitors to their burial place. Other depictions show them walking hand in hand.

In three scenes, they are shown embracing in different positions.

A final image shows them standing with their noses touching, the same position in which they were buried.

The pair are believed to be the first homosexual couple in recorded history.

Neferkare and Sasenet

A piece of broken pottery depicting a man having sex with another man
A piece of broken pottery depicting a man having sex with another man Wikicommons

Another much debated tale of a gay couple in Ancient Egypt centers around a Pharaoh and a General.

Historians disagree on whether the Pharoah in question is Pepi II Neferkare from the Sixth Dynasty (Ruling from 2284 BC to somewhere after 2247 BC) or Neferkare Shabaka from the Twenty-fifth Dynasty (Ruling from 705 to 690 BC).

The story itself lives on only in three fragments of papyrus so its context is lost to us.

Enough if left of the tale to make certain assumptions about what happened between Neferkare and military commander,  General Sasenet.

The tale of King Neferkare and General Sasanet is one of few pieces of fiction written at the time about pharaohs.

The very start of the story has been lost however the first piece talks of Sasanet keeping the King company ‘because there was no woman, or wife, there with him.’

On the line before, there is mention of the word ‘love.’

The story then moves on to say a commoner, Teti, saw ‘the divine person of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Neferkare, going out during the night to walk on his own.’

Teti followed the King to find out where he was going, and why he was out walking alone at 10pm at night.

To Teti’s surprise, the King walked to General Sasenet’s house.

King Neferkare ‘threw up a stone and stamped his foot’ and then a ladder was lowered down for him.

He climbed up the ladder, and the story says Teti waited four hours before King Neferkare came out.

‘Royal corruption’

The secret visit alone at night by the King to his General could be read as very suspicious.

The story then reads: ‘When his divine person had done what he wanted to with the general, he returned to the palace.’

This phrase is very easily read as a sexual innuendo for the King having his way with General Sasenet.

It is thought to be an indirect way of saying ‘sexual intercourse.’

Some Egyptologists suggest the story was written to bring to light the feeling of ‘royal corruption’.

But, the tone of the tale remained ‘neutral in tone and non-judgmental.’

There are suggestions homosexuality was censored and kept secret in Ancient Egypt, although King Neferkari is ‘not criticized per se for having sex with another male.’

Not only are their disputes over which King Neferkari is mentioned, some also say the pair were merely best friends to explain their closeness.

But why would you need to visit your best friend in the dead of the night?