Hatshepsut, or Hatchepsut, meaning Foremost of Noble Ladies, was the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. She is generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful female pharaohs, reigning longer than any
Upon the death of her father in 1493 BC, Hatshepsut married her half-brother, Thutmose II, and assumed the title of Great Royal Wife. Thutmose II ruled Egypt for either 3 or 13 years, during which time it has traditionally been believed that Queen Hatshepsut exerted a strong influence over her husband.Royal lineage was traced through the women in ancient Egypt. Marriage to a queen of the royal lineage was necessary, even if the king came from outside of the lineage as happened occasionally. Secondary unions to other women in the royal family assured that there would be heirs from the lineage and women who could become the royal wives. This is the reason for all of the intermarriages. The royal women also played a pivotal role in the religion of ancient Egypt. The queen officiated at the rites in the temples, as priestess, in a culture where religion was inexorably interwoven with the roles of the rulers.
When Thutmose II died, he left behind only one son, a young Thutmose III to succeed him. The latter was born as the son of a lesser wife of Thutmose II rather than of the Great Royal Wife, Hatshepsut, as Neferure was. Due to the relative youth of Thutmose III, he was not eligible to assume the expected tasks of a pharaoh. Instead, Hatshepsut became the regent of Egypt at this time, assumed the responsibilities of state, and was recognized by the leadership in the temple. At this time, her daughter, Neferure, took over the roles Hatshepsut had played as queen in official and religious ceremonies. This political arrangement is detailed in the tomb autobiography of Ineni, a high official at court:
“He (Thutmose II) went forth to heaven in triumph, having mingled with the gods; His son stood in his place as king of the Two Lands, having become ruler upon the throne of the one who begat him. His (ie. Thutmose II’s) sister the Divine Consort, Hatshepsut settled the affairs of the Two Lands by reason of her plans. Egypt was made to labour with bowed head for her, the excellent seed of the god, which came forth from him.”
Thus, while Thutmose III was designated as a co-regent of Egypt, the royal court recognised Hatshepsut as the pharoah on the throne until she died. It is believed that Neferure became the royal wife of Thutmose III and the mother of his eldest son, Amenemhat, who did not outlive his father.
The date of her formal assumption as king is not known but this event must have occurred by her Seventh Year due to the discovery of the intact tomb of Senenmut’s parents—Ramose and Hatnofer—which contained various grave goods including several pottery jars, one of which was dated to ‘Year Seven’ and bore the seal the ‘God’s Wife Hatchepsut’ and two of which were stamped with the royal seal of ‘The Good Goddess Maatkare’, the name she took as pharaoh. Hence, by Year 7 of her regency, Hatshepsut was formally recognised to be a pharaoh of Egypt. After she ascended the throne, her name changed in some records from the feminine Hatshepsut to Hatshepsut, which is not identified as a feminine name.
Hatshepsut surrounded herself with strong and loyal advisors, many of whom are still known today the Vizier Hapuseneb, the second prophet of Amun Puyemre and her right hand man and closest advisor, the royal steward, tutor and “overseer of all Royal Works” (or architect) Senenmut. Because of the close nature of Hatshepsut and Senemut’s relationship, some Egyptologists have conjectured that they might have been lovers. Among the evidence they offer to support this claim is the fact that Hatshepsut allowed Senenmut to place his name and image behind one of the main doors in Djeser-Djeseru, which was a rare and unusual sharing of credit, and because Senenmut had two tombs constructed near Hatshepsut’s tomb. However, the latter was a standard privilege for close advisors.
Although the conjecture that Hatshepsut and Senenmut might have been lovers has been well circulated, it is highly contested among Egyptologists; all that is agreed upon is that her administrator had ready access to the pharaoh’s ear. Senenmut’s rapid rise in fortune at court and privileges extended to him including the placing of his non-royal tomb within the confines of Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el-Bahri is cited. However, it is difficult to accept that an intelligent woman such as Hatshepsut was being manipulated by Senenmut, he seems to have served her father and husband also, and it may simply be that she was rewarding her servant for his great loyalty to her and his obvious skills given the achievements accomplished in her projects in the typical fashion of pharaohs.
As Hatshepsut reestablished the trade networks that had been disrupted during the Hyksos occupation of Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period, thereby building a wealth of the Eighteenth Dynasty that has become so famous since the discovery of the burial of one of her descendants, Tutankhamun, began to be analysed.
She oversaw the preparations and funding for a mission to the Land of Punt. The expedition set out in her name with five ships, each measuring 70 feet (21 m) long bearing several sails and accommodating 210 men that included sailors and 30 rowers. Many trade goods were bought in Punt, notably myrrh, which is said to have been Hatshepsut’s favorite fragrance. Most notably, however, the Egyptians returned from the voyage bearing 31 live frankincense trees, the roots of which were carefully kept in baskets for the duration of the voyage. This was the first recorded attempt to transplant foreign trees. It is reported that Hatshepsut had these trees planted in the courts of her Deir el Bahari mortuary temple complex. She had the expedition commemorated in relief at Deir el-Bahri, which also is famous for its depiction of the Queen of the Land of Punt, who appears to have had a genetic trait called steatopygia.
Although many Egyptologists have claimed that her foreign policy was mainly peaceful, there is evidence that Hatshepsut led successful military campaigns in Nubia, the Levant, and Syria early in her career.
Djeser-Djeseru is the main building of Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple complex at Deir el-Bahri. Designed by Senemut, the building is an example of perfect symmetry that predates the Parthenon, and it was the first complex built on the site she chose, which would become the Valley of the KingsHatshepsut was one of the most prolific builder pharaohs of ancient Egypt, commissioning hundreds of construction projects throughout both Upper and Lower Egypt, that were grander and more numerous than those of any of her Middle Kingdom predecessors.
She employed two great architects: Ineni, who also had worked for her husband and father and for the royal steward Senemut. During her reign, so much statuary was produced that almost every major museum in the world has Hatshepsut statuary among their collections; for instance, the Hatshepsut Room in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is dedicated solely to these pieces.
Following the tradition of most pharaohs, Hatshepsut had monuments constructed at the Temple of Karnak. She had twin obelisks, at the time the tallest in the world, erected at the entrance to the temple. One still stands, as the tallest surviving ancient obelisk on Earth; the other has since broken in two and toppled. Karnak’s Red Chapel, or Chapelle Rouge, was intended as a barque shrine and may have stood between her two obelisks originally. She later ordered the construction of two more obelisks to celebrate her sixteenth year as pharaoh; one of the obelisks broke during construction, and thus a third was constructed to replace it. The broken obelisk was left at its quarrying site in Aswan, where it still remains, known as The Unfinished Obelisk, serving as a demonstration of just how obelisks were quarried.
In the fashion of the pharaohs, the masterpiece of Hatshepsut’s building projects was her mortuary temple complex at Deir el-Bahri. It was designed and implemented by Senemut on a site on the West Bank of the Nile River near the entrance to what is now called the Valley of the Kings because of all the pharaohs who chose to associate their complexes with the grandur of hers. Her buildings were the first planned for that location. The focal point was the Djeser-Djeseru or “the Sublime of Sublimes”, a colonnaded structure of perfect harmony nearly one thousand years before the Parthenon was built. Djeser-Djeseru sits atop a series of terraces that were once graced with lush gardens. Djeser-Djeseru is built into a cliff face that rises sharply above it. Djeser-Djeseru and the other buildings of Hatshepsut’s Deir el-Bahri complex are considered to be among the great buildings of the ancient world.
While all ancient leaders used propaganda to laud their achievements, Hatshepsut has been called the most accomplished pharaoh at promoting her accomplishments. This may have resulted from the extensive building executed during her time as pharaoh in comparison to many others because it afforded her with opportunities to laud herself, but it also reflects the wealth that her policies and administration brought to Egypt, enabling her to finance such projects. Aggrandizement of their achievements was traditional when pharaohs built temples and their tombs. The term propaganda is rarely applied to similar activities by male pharaohs, and begs the question of why it is used here. Much of her decorative reliefs had religious overtones and was supported fully by the officials at the Temple of Karnak. Since the passage of leadership was determined in advance by these same religious leaders, and enacted at the moment of the death of a pharaoh, the transition to the next occurred without question and immediately. Hence, there was no need to influence “public opinion” or for the subtle manipulation associated with the concept of “propaganda” that is implied in some scholarship about Hatshepsut. Selected by the religious leaders and assisted by an accomplished administration, she ruled over a kingdom that markedly prospered under her rule.
Women had a high status in ancient Egypt and enjoyed the legal right to own, inherit or will property. As noted previously, lineage was traced through maternal relationships. A woman becoming pharaoh was rare, however; only Khentkaues, Sobeknefru, Twosret, and possibly Nitocris preceded her in known records as ruling solely in their own name. The latter’s existence is disputed. At that point in Egyptian history, there was no word for a Queen regnant, only one for Queen consort. Hatshepsut is not unique, however, in taking the title of King. Sobekneferu, ruling six dynasties prior to Hatshepsut, also did so when she ruled Egypt. Hatshepsut had been well trained in her duties as the daughter of the pharaoh. She had taken a strong role as queen to her husband and was well experienced in the administration of her kingdom by the time she became pharaoh. There is no indication of challenges to her leadership and until her death, her co-regent remained in a secondary role, quite amicably heading her powerful army.
Hatshepsut assumed all of the regalia and symbols of the Pharaonic office in official representations: the Khat head cloth, topped with an uraeus, the traditional false beard, and shendyt kilt. Many existing statues alternatively show her in typically feminine attire as well as those that depict her in the royal ceremonial attire. Statues portraying Sobekneferu also combine elements of traditional male and female iconography and, by tradition, may have served as inspiration for these works commissioned by Hatshepsut. After this period of transition ended, however, all formal depictions of Hatshepsut as pharaoh showed her in the royal attire, with all of the pharaonic regalia, and with her breasts obscured behind her crossed arms holding the regal staffs of the two kingdoms she ruled, as the symbols of the pharaoh were much more important to be displayed traditionally.
The reasons for her breasts not being emphasized in the most formal statues were debated among early Egyptologists who never drew a parallel to the fact that many women and goddesses portrayed in ancient Egyptian art lack delineation of breasts and that the gender of pharaohs was never stressed in ancient Egyptian Art.
Modern scholars, however, have opted for an alternative theory: that by assuming the typical symbols of pharaonic power, Hatshepsut was asserting her claim to be the sovereign and not a “King’s Great Wife” or Queen consort. The gender of pharaohs was never stressed in official depictions, even the men were depicted with the highly stylized false beard associated with their position in the society.
Most of the official statues commissioned of Hatshepsut show her less symbolically and more naturally as a woman in typical dresses of the nobility of her day. Notably, even after assuming the formal regalia, Hatshepsut still described herself as a beautiful woman, often as the most beautiful of women, and although she assumed almost all of her father’s titles, she declined to take the title “The Strong Bull”, which tied the pharaoh to the goddesses Isis, the throne, and Hathor by being her son sitting on her throne — since Hatshepsut became allied with the goddesses herself. Religious concepts were tied into all of these symbols and titles.
While Hatshepsut was depicted in official art wearing regalia of a pharaoh, such as the false beard that male pharaohs also wore, it is most unlikely that she ever wore such ceremonial decorations, just as it is unlikely that the male pharaohs did. Statues such as those at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, depicting her seated wearing a tight-fitting dress and the nemes crown, are thought to be a more accurate representation of how she would have presented herself at court.
As a notable exception, only one male pharaoh abandoned the rigid symbolic depiction that had become the style of the most official artwork representing the ruler, Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (later Akhenaten) of the same Eighteenth Dynasty, whose wife, Nefertiti, also may have ruled in her own right following the death of her husband. Nefertiti is thought to have been a woman from the same lineage as Hatshepsut.
One of the most famous examples of the legends about Hatshepsut is a myth about her birth. In this myth, Amun goes to Ahmose in the form of Thutmose I and awakens her with pleasant odors. At this point Amun places the ankh, a symbol of life, to Ahmose’s nose, and Hatshepsut is conceived by Ahmose. Khnum, the god who forms the bodies of human children, is then instructed to create a body and ka, or corporal presence/life force, for Hatshepsut. Heket, the goddess of life and fertility, and Khnum then lead Ahmose along to a lion bed where she gives birth to Hatshepsut.
The Oracle of Amun proclaimed that it was the will of Amun that Hatshepsut be Pharaoh, further strengthening her position. She publicized Amun’s support by having endorsements by the god Amun carved on her monuments:
“Welcome my sweet daughter, my favorite, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Maatkare, Hatshepsut. Thou art the Pharaoh, taking possession of the Two Lands.”
Hatshepsut claimed that she was her father’s intended heir and that he made her the heir apparent of Egypt. Almost all scholars today view this as historical revisionism on Hatshepsut’s part since it was Thutmose II–a son of Thutmose I by Mutnofret–who was her father’s heir. Moreover, Thutmose I could not have foreseen that his daughter Hatshepsut would outlive his son within his own lifetime. Thutmose II soon married to Hatshepsut and the latter became both his senior royal wife and one of the most powerful women at court. Evelyn Wells, however, accepts Hatshepsut’s claim that she was her father’s intended successor. Once she became pharaoh herself, Hatshepsut supported her assertion that she was her father’s designated successor with inscriptions on the walls of her mortuary temple:
“Then his majesty said to them: “This daughter of mine, Khnumetamun Hatshepsut—may she live!—I have appointed as my successor upon my throne… she shall direct the people in every sphere of the palace; it is she indeed who shall lead you. Obey her words, unite yourselves at her command.” The royal nobles, the dignitaries, and the leaders of the people heard this proclamation of the promotion of his daughter, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Maatkare—may she live eternally.”
Death and mummification
Hatshepsut died as she was approaching, what we would consider middle age given typical contemporary lifespans, in her twenty-second regnal year. The precise date of Hatshepsut’s death–and the time when Thutmose III became sole ruler of Egypt–is considered to be Year 22, II Peret day 10 of their joint rule as recorded on a single stela erected at Armant or January 16, 1458 BC. This information validates the basic reliability of Manetho’s kinglist records since Thutmose III and Hatshepsut’s known accession date was I Shemu day 4. (ie: Hatshepsut died 9 months into her 22nd year as Manetho writes in his Epitome for a reign of 21 years and 9 months) No mention of the cause of her death has survived. If the recent identification of her mummy in KV60 is correct,however, CT scans would indicate that she died of blood infection while she was in her 50s.; it also would suggest that she had arthritis, bad teeth, and probably had diabetes.
For a long time, her mummy was believed to be missing from the Deir el-Bahri Cache. An unidentified female mummy—found with Hatshepsut’s wet nurse, In-Sitre, one of whose arms was posed in the traditional burial style of pharaohs—has led to the theory that the unidentified mummy in KV60 might be Hatshepsut. Don Ryan working with Pacific Lutheran University and The Evergreen State College reopened KV60 in 1989, which had been resealed after it was discovered at the turn of the century. The tomb had been damaged, but the mummies remained in site.
The deliberate erasures or mutilations of the numerous public celebrations of her accomplishments, but not the rarely seen ones, would be all that was necessary to obscure Hatshepsut’s accomplishments. Moreover, by the latter half of Thutmose III’s reign, the more prominent high officials who had served Hatshepsut would have died thereby eliminating the powerful bureaucratic resistance to a change in direction in a highly stratified culture. Hatshepsut’s highest official and closest supporter, Senenmut himself seems to have either retired abruptly or died around Years 16 and 20 of Hatshepsut’s reign and was never interred in either of his carefully prepared tombs. The enigma of Senenmut’s sudden disappearance “has teased Egyptologists for decades” given the lack of solid archaeological or textual evidence” and permitted “the vivid imagination of Senenmut-scholars to run wild” resulting in a variety of strongly held solutions “some of which would do credit to any fictional murder/mystery plot.” Newer court officials, appointed by Thutmose III, would also have had an interest in promoting the many achievements of their master in order to assure the continued success of their own families.
A more recent hypothesis about Hatshepsut suggests that Thutmose III’s erasures and defacement of Hatshepsut’s monuments were a cold but rational attempt on Thutmose’s part to extinguish the memory of an “unconventional female king whose reign might possibly be interpreted by future generations as a grave offence against Ma’at, and whose unorthodox coregency” could “cast serious doubt upon the legitimacy of his own right to rule. Hatshepsut’s crime need not be nothing more than the fact that she was a woman.” Thutmose III may have considered the possibility that the example of a successful female king in Egyptian history could set a dangerous precedent since it demonstrated that a woman was as capable at governing Egypt as a traditional male king. This event could, theoretically, persuade “future generations of potentially strong female kings” to not “remain content with their traditional lot as wife, sister and eventual mother of a king” instead and assume the crown. While Queen Sobekneferu of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom had enjoyed a short c.4 year reign, she ruled “at the very end of a fading [12th dynasty] Dynasty, and from the very start of her reign the odds had been stacked against her. She was therefore acceptable to conservative Egyptians as a patriotic ‘Warrior Queen’ who had failed” to rejuvenate Egypt’s fortunes–a result which underlined the traditional Egyptian view that a woman was incapable of holding the throne in her own right. Hence, few Egyptians would desire to repeat the experiment of a female monarch. In contrast, Hatshepsut’s glorious reign was a completely different case: she demonstrated that women were as equally capable as men in ruling the two lands since she successfully presided over a prosperous Egypt for more than two decades. If Thutmose III’s intent here was to forestall the possibility of a woman assuming the throne, it failed. Two female kings are known to have assumed the throne after Thutmose’s reign during the New Kingdom: Neferneferuaten and Twosret. Unlike Hatshepsut, however, both rulers enjoyed brief and short-lived reign of only 2 and 1 years respectively.