Khnumhotep & Niankhkhnum

By Jon Bodsworth - http://www.egyptarchive.co.uk/html/saqqara_tombs/saqqara_tombs_38.html, Copyrighted free use, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4977597The earliest recorded same-sex couple in history is believed to be Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, in the latter half of the 25th century BCE. I’ll be honest, Wikipedia has a little pronunciation thing on their article and I still can’t tell you how you’re supposed to say those names. The two were listed as “royal confidants” in their tomb (which they shared) and also served, jointly, as Overseer of the Manicurists (yes, manicurists as in fingernails) for the sixth pharaoh of the Fifth Dynasty in Egypt. They would have been highly respected — as noted, not just because they have a shared tomb, but because very few people were permitted to actually touch a pharaoh.

Ever since the tomb was discovered in 1964 by Egyptologist Ahmed Moussa, there has been some debate about whether or not Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum were actually a couple, or if they might have been brothers. Both of them had wives and children of their own, but only one set of parents has been identified from the depictions of their families.

That said, there are multiple depictions of the two together — where Khnumhotep appears in places that would typically be reserved for Niankhkhnum’s wife. There’s pictures where the two are embracing and standing nose-to-nose In one banquet scene, Niankhkhnum’s wife was depicted — but was then almost completely erased. There are also places where hieroglyphics spelling out their names seem to string them together into a single word — some historians have suggested that that implies some sort of bond that lasts through death, but I think it’s probably more along the lines of us stringing names together like “Brangelina”. The meanings of their names may be significant as well: Niankhkhnum translates to “life belonging to Khnum” and Khnumhotep means “Khnum is satisfied”. It’s also noteworthy that the two shared a tomb, as that was something usually reserved for spouses.

It’s interesting to note — again — the amount of respect these two would have held. At this point in history it can be hard to tell what day-to-day life would have been like but it seems that we’re roughly 10,000 years before the Assyrian Empire is going to adopt any laws regarding same-sex relationships — which is likely the first time any sort of systematic homophobia existed. (And even that wasn’t banning same-sex relationships, just making sure everyone stayed within their social class. Or they’d be castrated.)

(Adapted from a Facebook post.)

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