Conceptualising mw.t between biology, gender and care – A preliminary approach based on Middle and New Kingdom Sources

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


Kinship-related lexemes in ancient Egyptian did not necessarily refer to biological bonds. Words such as sn.(t) or sA(.t) could be employed in reference to people with whom one had no apparent genealogical link. However, a few family-centred concepts have been interpreted in strictly blood-ties terms. Mw.t, ‘mother’ (Wb 2, 54.1-10) is most commonly envisaged as a woman who gives birth to a child. Whereas such a definition seems fitting when the lexeme is employed in reference to a human being, a closer look into the diverse textual sources points to attestations in which the lexeme relates neither to a human being nor to a female entity. In this paper, we intend to consider the lexeme mw.t in two textual ensembles: Middle Kingdom stelae from Abydos; and New Kingdom religious hymns. In the Abydian stelae, despite undeniable biological connotations, mw.t also comprises obligations and duties towards the child. As for New Kingdom laudatory texts, the male Creator deity can be described as a ‘mother’ (e.g., pLeiden I 350, V.3-4). While this has been understood in Egyptological literature as an argument in favour of the so-called ‘Creator’s androgyny’, it can be argued that such a characterisation could serve to emphasise the deity’s ceaseless zeal towards his creatures, without compromising his masculinity. Taking these two corpora as case studies, combining both Egyptological data and the Gender Studies theoretical background, this paper will ponder on mw.t’s possible non-biological implications, both in the human and divine spheres. Given the common practice of adoption in ancient Egypt, and in the absence of a specific lexeme for adoptive mother, could this word also be used to refer to women who performed motherly roles despite not giving birth? What would such a care-centred understanding imply vis-à-vis divine male entities labelled as mw.t? In sum: what was the ontological scope conveyed by mw.t concerning both humans and deities?
Period11 Aug 2023
Event titleXIIIth International Congress of Egyptologists: The Future of Ancient Egypt
Event typeConference
Conference numberXIII
LocationLeiden, NetherlandsShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Ancient Egypt
  • Ancient Egyptian Religion
  • Gender Studies
  • Motherhood
  • Masculinity Studies