Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum: History’s first same-sex couple

Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons An intimate portrait of Niankhkhum and Khnumhotep.

September 19, 2022

A certain tomb found in 1964 in Saqqara, Egypt, stunned Egyptologists, who discovered it. This tomb, located in the sector of the Pyramid of Unas, is commonly called the Tomb of the Hairdressers or the Tomb of Two Brothers. It contained of the remains of a same-sex couple, interred together around 4,400 years ago.

With evidence found in their tomb, Egyptologists inferred that Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum may be the first gay couple documented in history. Hieroglyphs engraved throughout the tomb portray them face-to-face with their noses touching, holding hands and embracing similar to a married couple.

There has been much debate about the remains. Some academicians claim that the two were brothers, even twins. Although, there is not much proof that indicates the latter. Others assert that they were a couple, despite the illustrations of other people who are believed to be their wives and children.

The entrance to their tomb is etched with their physical depictions on opposite sides. Their names are also present, which symbolize their being together. Niankhkhnum’s name means “joined to life,” while Khnumhotep’s name means “joined to the blessed state of death.” When combined, these two names may be interpreted as “joined in life and joined in death.”

In the chapel of the tomb, at the southern end of the chamber, one of the bas-reliefs in the wall shows Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum sitting together at a banquet table usually intended for married couples. They are entertained by performers, such as musicians, singers, and dancers. Khnumhotep offers a lotus flower to Niankhkhnum. In Ancient Egyptian customs, this embodies femininity that is often exhibited by wives to their husbands. Moreover, being entombed together means that they would serve as one another’s companions in the afterlife.

Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, as stated by the hieroglyphs in their tomb, had served a pharaoh king, most likely Niusserre or Menkauhor. They bore the titles of “Prophet of Ra in the Sun Temple” and “Head of the Manicurists of the Great House.”


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