Phenomenal Female Pharaoh: Hatshepsut

The Woman Who Would Be King

Phenomenal Female Pharaoh: Hatshepsut

Born around 1503 B.C., Hatshepsut was the daughter of Pharaoh Thutmoses I. Being daughter of a pharaoh enabled Hatshepsut to receive a good education as well as training in politics and diplomacy. At about thirteen years old, she married her younger half-brother Thutmoses II and they had only one child, a daughter named Nefrure, but no sons. Luckily for the pharaoh, he did conceive a son with a concubine and named him Thutmoses III. It looked like the boy wouldn’t have to wait long to inherit the throne; three years later, Thutmoses II died.

Since the prince was far too young to rule as pharaoh, sixteen year old Hatshepsut stepped in to rule as queen regent for her stepson/nephew (she would retain control of the government and carry out orders in the prince’s name until he reached the age of maturity and then pass on the throne to him.) For the next ten years, Hatshepsut ruled as regent, overseeing the kingdom and religious rituals, and everyone assumed that when Thutmoses III became a teenager, the queen would graciously step down.

Apparently, Hatshepsut had different plans.

Right around the time when Hatshepsut would have given the throne of Egypt to her stepson in 1490 B.C., she was overseeing a religious ritual when several priests carrying an extremely heavy barque (in this case, a model boat) with the statue of the sun god and king of the gods Amen-Ra lost their footing and fell to their knees before Hatshepsut. Seeing this as an auspicious omen, Hatshepsut declared right then that the gods had chosen her to rule as pharaoh over all of Egypt. Her people were stunned; it was not unknown for a woman to declare herself pharaoh, but it was rare and hadn’t happened in many years … and besides that, the heir to the throne was still alive! How could she declare herself pharaoh when Prince Thutmoses was alive and old enough to accept responsibility?

Prince Thutmoses was as taken aback by Hatshepsut’s seizure of power, but Hatshepsut mollified him by marrying him to her daughter Nefrure (whom Hatshepsut paid enormous amounts to spy on Thutmoses and report back to her) and by making him co-king. To soothe her bewildered and unsettled subjects, Hatshepsut adopted male clothing and even a false beard and had herself depicted as a man in her artworks. Since all pharaohs were thought to be the children of the king of the gods Amen-Ra, Hatshepsut declared that her own mother had been visited by the sun god and together they had conceived the future female pharaoh. She also updated the rituals of birth and coronation to help make her claim to the throne more legitimate.

With her power solidified, Hatshepsut began a program of building, exploration, trading and conquest that launched Egypt into a new age of supremacy. With her chief advisor and Nefrure’s tutor Senenmut (and, if ancient graffiti is to be believed, Hatshepsut’s lover), Hatshepsut built several beautiful temples and shrines, particularly to her “father” the god Amen-Ra, and erected two obelisks celebrating Amen-Ra and her own power and successes. One of the temples she built, Deir el-Bahri, still stands and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Egypt, which brings to mind one of Hatshepsut’s musings, “Now my heart turns to and fro, in thinking what will people say, they who see my monument in after years and speak of what I have done.”

Trade and exploration were also of great interest to Hatshepsut, and she launched expeditions into the Sinai Desert to find turquoise, into Punt to establish new trade routes, and into various parts of Africa to retrieve animals for her zoo, “the garden of Amen.” These expeditions there and abroad were often successful, bringing back things such as cinnamon, myrrh trees, ostrich eggs, ivory, ebony, and live baboons. The explorations not only established new and safer trade routes but also opened up new opportunities for the Egyptians to trade with people around the world and introduced new crops and plants for the Egyptians to grow.

Though Hatshepsut was more interested in building and trade, she wasn’t afraid to wage war either. She built a great navy to control the Mediterranean, and when a rebellion sprang up in Nubia, she personally led her troops into battle to quash it. One scribe wrote, “I saw her overthrow the Nubian Bowmen, their chiefs brought to her as living captives.” Luckily, Hatshepsut’s rule was marked by a long period of peace, and when she began to reach the end of her reign, she passed military leadership over to Thutmoses III.

Hatshepsut was pretty crafty in keeping the public satisfied as well; the Sed festival celebrated the pharaoh’s rule after a reign of thirty years (akin to jubilees held for European monarchs), and then were held again ever two to three years afterward. Hatshepsut had her Sed festival after ruling for sixteen years, but she dated the beginning of her rule from when she assisted her father, the first Pharaoh Thutmose, making the length of her entire reign thirty years. She threw a lavish celebration for the nobles and commoners that lasted for days and participated in rituals such as the sacred run, which re-legitimized her rule.

After having ruled Egypt for almost 22 prosperous years, Pharaoh Hatshepsut, the greatest female ruler in Egyptian history and one of its greatest pharaohs, died in 1483 and was buried in the Valley of the Kings. After Hatshepsut’s death many of her images and pharaonic titles were destroyed, and for hundreds of years people believed that Thutmoses III did this in retaliation for Hatshepsut stealing his throne. On the contrary, new evidence suggests that either the ancient Egyptian people, who were strong believers in maat or truth, removed Hatshepsut’s male identity because in truth she was a woman, or Thutmose III removed or redesigned her image so that the legitimacy of his rule would pass unbroken from his grandfather, his father, himself, and finally onto his own son, who would become the grandfather of the heretical pharaoh Akhenaten—who was also married to a powerful woman who may have become pharaoh: Nefertiti.

Hatshepsut works cited:

The Woman Who Would Be King,

by Kara Cooney

The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt,

by Helen Strudwick et al

Women Warriors,

by David E. Jones

Ancient Egypt,

by Lorna Oakes and Lucia Gahlin

The Usborne Book of Famous Women,

by Richard Dungworth & Philippa Wingate

Uppity Women of Ancient Times,

by Vicki Leon

Uppity Women Speak Their Minds,

by Vicki Leon

Hatshepsut

Hatshepsut
Hatshepsut | Source

Chosen by the Gods

Right around the time when Hatshepsut would have given the throne of Egypt to her stepson in 1490 B.C., she was overseeing a religious ritual when several priests carrying an extremely heavy barque (in this case, a model boat) with the statue of the sun god and king of the gods Amen-Ra lost their footing and fell to their knees before Hatshepsut. Seeing this as an auspicious omen, Hatshepsut declared right then that the gods had chosen her to rule as pharaoh over all of Egypt. Her people were stunned; it was not unknown for a woman to declare herself pharaoh, but it was rare and hadn’t happened in many years … and besides that, the heir to the throne was still alive! How could she declare herself pharaoh when Prince Thutmoses was alive and old enough to accept responsibility?

Prince Thutmoses was as taken aback by Hatshepsut’s seizure of power, but Hatshepsut mollified him by marrying him to her daughter Nefrure (whom Hatshepsut paid enormous amounts to spy on Thutmoses and report back to her) and by making him co-king. To soothe her bewildered and unsettled subjects, Hatshepsut adopted male clothing and even a false beard and had herself depicted as a man in her artworks. Since all pharaohs were thought to be the children of the king of the gods Amen-Ra, Hatshepsut declared that her own mother had been visited by the sun god and together they had conceived the future female pharaoh. She also updated the rituals of birth and coronation to help make her claim to the throne more legitimate.

With her power solidified, Hatshepsut began a program of building, exploration, trading and conquest that launched Egypt into a new age of supremacy. With her chief advisor and Nefrure’s tutor Senenmut (and, if ancient graffiti is to be believed, Hatshepsut’s lover), Hatshepsut built several beautiful temples and shrines, particularly to her “father” the god Amen-Ra, and erected two obelisks celebrating Amen-Ra and her own power and successes. One of the temples she built, Deir el-Bahri, still stands and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Egypt, which brings to mind one of Hatshepsut’s musings, “Now my heart turns to and fro, in thinking what will people say, they who see my monument in after years and speak of what I have done.”


Deir el-Bahir, the Temple of Hatshepsut

Deir el-Bahir, the Temple of Hatshepsut
Deir el-Bahir, the Temple of Hatshepsut

Prosperity and Afterlife

Trade and exploration were also of great interest to Hatshepsut, and she launched expeditions into the Sinai Desert to find turquoise, into Punt to establish new trade routes, and into various parts of Africa to retrieve animals for her zoo, “the garden of Amen.” These expeditions there and abroad were often successful, bringing back things such as cinnamon, myrrh trees, ostrich eggs, ivory, ebony, and live baboons. The explorations not only established new and safer trade routes but also opened up new opportunities for the Egyptians to trade with people around the world and introduced new crops and plants for the Egyptians to grow.

Though Hatshepsut was more interested in building and trade, she wasn’t afraid to wage war either. She built a great navy to control the Mediterranean, and when a rebellion sprang up in Nubia, she personally led her troops into battle to quash it. One scribe wrote, “I saw her overthrow the Nubian Bowmen, their chiefs brought to her as living captives.” Luckily, Hatshepsut’s rule was marked by a long period of peace, and when she began to reach the end of her reign, she passed military leadership over to Thutmoses III.

Hatshepsut was pretty crafty in keeping the public satisfied as well; the Sed festival celebrated the pharaoh’s rule after a reign of thirty years (akin to jubilees held for European monarchs), and then were held again ever two to three years afterward. Hatshepsut had her Sed festival after ruling for sixteen years, but she dated the beginning of her rule from when she assisted her father, the first Pharaoh Thutmose, making the length of her entire reign thirty years. She threw a lavish celebration for the nobles and commoners that lasted for days and participated in rituals such as the sacred run, which re-legitimized her rule.

After having ruled Egypt for almost 22 prosperous years, Pharaoh Hatshepsut, the greatest female ruler in Egyptian history and one of its greatest pharaohs, died in 1483 and was buried in the Valley of the Kings. After Hatshepsut’s death many of her images and pharaonic titles were destroyed, and for hundreds of years people believed that Thutmoses III did this in retaliation for Hatshepsut stealing his throne. On the contrary, new evidence suggests that either the ancient Egyptian people, who were strong believers in maat or truth, removed Hatshepsut’s male identity because in truth she was a woman, or Thutmose III removed or redesigned her image so that the legitimacy of his rule would pass unbroken from his grandfather, his father, himself, and finally onto his own son, who would become the grandfather of the heretical pharaoh Akhenaten—who was also married to a powerful woman who may have become pharaoh: Nefertiti.

Hatshepsut works cited:

The Woman Who Would Be King,

by Kara Cooney

The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt,

by Helen Strudwick et al

Women Warriors,

by David E. Jones

Ancient Egypt,

by Lorna Oakes and Lucia Gahlin

The Usborne Book of Famous Women,

by Richard Dungworth & Philippa Wingate

Uppity Women of Ancient Times,

by Vicki Leon

Uppity Women Speak Their Minds,

by Vicki Leon

Hatshepsut's "Red Chapel"

"Red Chapel" built by Hatshepsut
"Red Chapel" built by Hatshepsut

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