Ancient Egyptian incest

Today’s news about King Tut’'s death (it was malaria that got’m) mentioned that his mom and pop were bro and sis–and this got me wondering: how come the Egyptians were so fond of mating siblings? I’ve always assumed it was just the Royals, that they got to do what more plebian Egyptians (and the rest of the world) forebad as inherently disgusting, but maybe there was a more widespread view of that taboo than I’ve been assuming. Anyone have the dope on this?

Not just Egyptians, historically royal families of many different cultures have been very concerned about preserving royal bloodlines. Non royal blood (genetics) was considered inferior. However, as we have learned in-breeding and the non-mixing of bloodlines results in a higher incidence of birth defects and the passing of genetic abnormalities.

Someone with a better background should comment on this, but from what I’ve been able to put together, while the pharaohs were, of course, male (Hapshetsut to one side), the inheritance was matrilineal; Mrs. Pharaoh was “Great Wife” and inheritance went through her, not him. So Pharaoh’s daughter’s husband was in line to become the next pharaoh – which meant that Pharaoh’s son, wishing to take power after Dad croaks, would contract a pro forma marriage with his sister, the “Great Wife” for the next generation, then marry another wife or wives as he chooses for actual spousal purposes. Some incest, however, undoubtedly went on – and humans being what they are, it was played up by opponents.

I think the incest came into play more in the later Greek pharoahs - the Ptolemies and Cleopatras. They were all brother and sister for many generations.

When you are the bloodline of gods, it is far more important to preserve that bloodline intact than sully it with plebian peasants.

There’s the ‘keeping the bloodline pure’ angle, but there’s more to it. The sibling-marriages practiced by the pharaohs and some other ancient and modern royal families (the current king of Thailand is the grandson of a half-brother/half-sister pair) also served as a way of preventing female dynasts from becoming sexual free agents. The Egyptian dynasties in particular (the Ptolemies being the major exception) did not like marrying their princesses abroad because they felt no other king was worthy of an Egyptian princess. If the princess married a local lord, then her husband might try to move in on the throne and increase his own family’s power and influence. The easiest way to prevent this was to marry the princesses in-house, to their own brothers and fathers and uncles. Also, a sister-wife wouldn’t have any loyalties to any other kingdom or family.

For example, Laodike, the sister of the Seleukid king Demetrios I of Syria, married the king of Makedon, and after being widowed, returned to Syria. Her brother tried unsuccessfully to marry her off to the king of Kappadokia, and when that fell through gave up and married her himself. He didn’t want her marrying at home and elevating her husband’s family, or taking a lover, and also the marriage provide him with a queen of royal blood and the prospect of heirs (they went on to have three sons).

It wasn’t just Egyptian royalty. Numerous accounts dating from Ptolemic times mention marriage between siblings. For decades Egyptologists tried to pass off the references to spouses calling each other “brother” and “sister” as symbolic or honorary; only fairly recently has it been accepted that sibling marriage was really as common as the records indicate.

Also, you know for sure who the mother is. Patrimony is taken on trust.