LGBT History: Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep
2400 B.C. In the ancient Egyptian city of Saqqara, two royal court male “manicurists” are buried together in a joint tomb much like any other married couple during Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty. Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep are strongly speculated to be the first recorded same-sex couple in history.
It is the only known tomb where two men are displayed holding hands and holding each other in the most conspicuous depiction of a nose-to-nose embrace. The ancient pose representing a kiss, is supposedly the most intimate pose that was allowed in canonical Egyptian art (and one almost always portrayed by husbands and wives).
Are they the first recorded same-sex couple? Is it the first recorded “gay” kiss? Some people think so!
That’s what the headlines said in 1998, when the tomb was rediscovered or “reclaimed” by Egyptologist David Reeder. “Gay is too loaded. Homosexual is too modern, so you have to speak in terms of their relationship to one another” Reeder noted at the time. What was basically missing from the headlines was the fact that these were two men living in Africa in an early multicultural society, and that they themselves were probably black, or otherwise “of color.”
Critics argue that both men appear with their respective wives and children, suggesting the men were brothers, rather than lovers.