Senmut – Courtier or Lover of Queen Hatshepsut?

Ostracon thought to depict Senmut
Ostracon thought to depict Senmut | Source

Who Were Senmut and Hatshepsut?

Many of you will know the story of Queen Hatshepsut, but have you heard of Senmut the ancient Egyptian who rose from fairly humble origins to be a prominent courtier and maybe even the lover of the controversial female Pharaoh?

I have written several articles about famous royal mistresses, but sometimes we can forget that royal ladies have also had their love affairs and created scandals. Hatshepsut is famous because it was incredibly rare for a female to have assumed the male regalia and titles of an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh and rule the mighty Egyptian Empire. Hatshepsut ruled during the early 18th dynasty, at the start of Ancient Egypt’s glittering New Kingdom.

She was born a royal princess around 1502 BC and her parents were the Pharaoh Thutmosis I and his Great Royal Wife Ahmose. Hatshepsut was married at an early age to her half-brother, who became Pharaoh Thutmosis II on the death of their father, when Hatshepsut was about fifteen.

Thutmosis II was only destined to rule for a few short years, the exact length of his reign being a hotly debated topic with Egyptologists, and died at a young age. Hatshepsut and Thutmosis II produced a daughter, Neferure, during their short marriage and Thutmosis also fathered a son who would go on to become the mighty Pharaoh Thutmosis III on a minor wife Iset. This son Thutmosis III was only a young child at the time of his father’s death, and Hatshepsut at first took over as Regent and then assumed the full power of a Pharaoh in her own right.

Origins of Senmut

So how did a man like Senmut reach such an important position in the life of a pharaoh and the royal court of Egypt? He was born the son of Ramose and Hatnofer, who were probably a middle class couple from the town of Armant, just south of Thebes. Although his family were not rich or prominent, they must have been fairly prosperous as they could afford to educate their son Senmut and he was literate, which was a rarity in Ancient Egypt.

Senmut is known to have had three brothers Amenemhat, Minhotep and Pairy and a couple of sisters named Ahhotep and Nofrethor. Luckily for our knowledge of this ancient family, the tomb of Senmut’s parents was one of the very few to have been discovered intact in the Theban necropolis, by an expedition mounted in 1935-1936 by the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The mummies of both of his parents were recovered intact and showed that Ramose was around sixty when he died, and that his mother was also elderly when she died as her mummy had very grey hair.

Interestingly, Senmut’s mother’s burial was much richer than that of his father, which suggests that she had been buried when her son was at the height of his power and riches, and that maybe the mummy of her husband had been disinterred from a humbler grave and reburied in this newer, more prestigious tomb.

The Career of Senmut

It would seem that he started his career in the royal administration during the reign of Thutmosis II and that his ability and talent were soon recognised and he rose rapidly through the ranks gaining titles and wealth as he went. The first prestigious titles held by Senmut that have been recorded are ‘Steward of the God’s Wife’ and ‘Steward of the King’s Daughter’. ‘God’s Wife’ was a very important religious title held by Hatshepsut, and the King’s Daughter was the young princess Neferure.

He was Neferure’s tutor and it would seem that the pair had a close and affectionate relationship, as he had several block statues carved depicting him holding the princess in an embrace. He would accumulate around eighty important titles during his glittering career and was instrumental in the construction of Hatshepsut’s unique and incredibly beautiful mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri, where he claimed that he was the Chief Architect on the project. He was also responsible for supervising the erection of two huge obelisks that adorned the gateway to the temple of Karnak.

Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri
Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri | Source
Mortuary temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri
Mortuary temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri | Source

The Tombs of Senmut

He started constructing his own tomb in the Theban necropolis, known as TT71, which was located very close to that of his parent’s, in around year 7 of Hatshepsut’s reign, and the prestigious position of this tomb is another sign of the favour in which he was held by the female pharaoh. This tomb does not appear to have been finished, as there are no burial chambers.

The decorations in this tomb are very badly damaged, but in those that have been copied or still remain in situ, he makes frequent references to his exalted position at Hatshepsut’s court and lists his many titles.

However, he also had another tomb dug for himself, which was regarded as a secret tomb, underneath the mortuary temple of Deir el-Bahri itself, known as TT353. This tomb was first excavated in 1927 and was found in a fairly good state of preservation, because it had been hidden away under the courtyard of the temple. This tomb at Deir el-Bahri comprises of a descending stepped corridor and three rooms, one of which contains an astronomical ceiling decoration of a calendar of the lunar months, the constellations of the zodiac, and the planets, which is the earliest astrological ceiling yet found in Egypt.

This tomb was never completed and only one of the rooms was decorated, and also there was no open forecourt or chapel as was customary in Theban tombs of this period. There is no definitive evidence as to which of these tombs he was buried in, but it is feasible that TT71 is Senmut’s public tomb chapel where people could bring offerings after his death, and that TT353, which has no outside chapel, was designed to receive his burial.

Ceiling decoration from the tomb of Senmut in the  Theban Necropolis
Ceiling decoration from the tomb of Senmut in the Theban Necropolis | Source
Detail from the walls of the tomb of Senmut in the Theban Necropolis
Detail from the walls of the tomb of Senmut in the Theban Necropolis | Source

Was Senmut the Lover of Hatshepsut?

So although he had clearly enjoyed a swift and successful career path and had risen to be one of the most important officials at the court of Queen Hatshepsut, is there any proof that he and the queen were lovers?

From the wealth of inscriptions and the proximity of his tomb under her mortuary temple, it is obvious that the couple enjoyed a close and trusting relationship. Hatshepsut seemed happy to acknowledge to the world that he was a very favoured courtier, and he was entrusted with important building projects and even with the tutoring and care of the little princess Neferure. There also appears to be no evidence that he ever married or had any children, which was highly unusual for a man of his high position in Ancient Egypt.

In the various inscriptions which have survived, he is depicted with his parents or one of his brothers, but never with a wife. However, none of this is definitive proof that he enjoyed a romantic relationship with Hatshepsut. One of the main pieces of evidence that is used to support the theory that Senmut and Hatshepsut were lovers is the fact that she allowed him to place an image of himself and his inscribed name in a concealed spot on the walls of Deir el-Bahri, a previously unthinkable thing for a commoner to do in a royal mortuary temple.

There is also some graffiti in an unused tomb that was used by the workmen who built Deir el-Bahri as a rest room, showing a man and a hermaphrodite figure dressed in the garb of a pharaoh engaged in sexual activity. Now the ancient Egyptians may not have had tabloid newspapers, but, human nature being what it is, gossip and rumours would have abounded and no doubt the workmen used to laugh among themselves about the latest rumours coming out of the royal court.

Quartzite statue of Senmut in the British Musem
Quartzite statue of Senmut in the British Musem | Source

The End of Senmut?

Towards the end of Hatshepsut’s reign he appears to have fallen out of favour at the Egyptian court, although there is no evidence as to why. It could have simply been that he died of natural causes or that it was felt by some factions at the royal court that he was becoming too powerful, and so was driven out of favour.

But there are many other theories as to what may have happened to him, including falling out with his royal lover Hatshepsut and her ordering his death, or Thutmosis III, as he became more politically sure of himself and started working to regain his crown from his stepmother, getting his agents to kill him as he regarded Senmut as a serious rival, or even that he died when he was on an expedition abroad.

As there is no real evidence that he had been buried in either of his tombs, and that these monuments had been vandalised after he had disappeared from the scene, it would seem that he had made some powerful enemies.

Could it be that there were elements within the Egyptian Court who were scandalised by the royal love affair, and wanted to make an end of Senmut? Or was it that Hatshepsut’s power and influence was beginning to wane and so it was felt that it was now safe to get rid of one of her most powerful supporters?

Reviving Hatshepsut - Mummy Reconstruction

The sands of Egypt undoubtedly still cover many mysteries, so hopefully more evidence will emerge that will help us to learn more about the relationship between the powerful courtier Senmut and his ruler, the female pharaoh Hatshepsut. We have much to find out about what happened to Senmut at the end of his life and where, or even if, he was buried. So do you think that Senmut was a famous royal lover, or just a steadfast and loyal courtier of his pharaoh?

Copyright 2011 CMHypno on HubPages


Senmut Ostrocon image Captmondo Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic

Senmut statue image Captmondo Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic


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Comments 22 comments

CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 20 months ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Thanks for rading the hub CPAinNewYork and leaving such a thoughtful, detailed comment. Hopefully more evidence will come to light as to what really happened in the last years of Hatshepsut's reign, though we may never know the full story


CPAinNewYork 20 months ago

I've read a lot about Hatshepsut, including a full length book. Most of it is out of date, because it's only recently that Hatshepsut's mummy has been discovered.

Its condition disproves the assertion that Hatshepsut was murdered by violent means, although I don't believe that poisoning has been disproven. Senenmut's fate is less certain. He made an enemy of Thutmosis III simply by being close to Hatshepsut, so he could have been murdered by violent means and his body disposed of.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 4 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Glad you enjoyed the videos htodd


htodd profile image

htodd 4 years ago from United States

Great collection of videos..Thanks


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Hi prasetio, thanks for your kind comments on the hub about Senmut and Hatshepsut. Glad that you enjoyed the videos and thanks for rating it up.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Hi Dolores, I think that the story of Hatshepsut and Senmut shows that there have been very strong women throughout history and even back then there was material for a summer bonkbuster! Thanks for reading the hub and leaving a comment


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

Nice information and I really enjoy how you describe this very well. I love all videos here. I learn much from you. Rated up!

Prasetio


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 5 years ago from East Coast, United States

So amazing that all those years ago, a female ruler reigned over Egypt. Hatshepsut must have been a hell of a gal. That a kind of tabloid scandal may have existed over her relationship with Senmut is so interesting. And I loved the bathroom graffitti angle. Some things never change. Voted up! Such a cool story.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Glad that you enjoyed the maybe love story between Senmut and Quenn Hatshepsut. Thanks for reading the hub and leaving a comment


Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 5 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Love reading about this history and the mystery of Senenmut and Hatshepsut.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Hi Nell, maybe your next hub should be on Champollion and translating the hieroglyphs? Glad that you liked the mystery of whether or not Senenmut and Hatshepsut were lovers, shows that human nature never really changes!


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, fascinating history, we can learn so much from the great writings that have been found thanks to champoulion, not sure if that's how you spell his name! the man who first translated the hyroglyphics, and the architecture, I love the video, so spooky, it brought her back to life, and made us realise that they mummies that they find were real people with real complex lives, thanks, I really enjoyed this, I have always wanted to go to Egypt, cheers nell


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

No problems Sandyspider. Thanks for reading about Senmut and Hatshepsut and leaving a great comment


Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 5 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Thanks for refreshing my memory. Great history info.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Hi case1worker, thanks for reading the hub on Senmut and Hatshepsut. I agree that we can only speculate from the evidence what type of relationship that Senmut really enjoyed with Hatshepsut, and we do not really know if a love affair would have been tolerated for a female royal. I bet that she wasn't allowed to have a harem full of hot young men, like the male Pharaohs had harems full of women though!


CASE1WORKER profile image

CASE1WORKER 5 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

great hub- we can only infer from what evidence we do have what the relationship was, Ancient eqyptian relationships are difficult to understand i think mainly because close family marriages were accepted, maybe she loved him but could not marry him as he was common and not family, who knows?


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Glad that you enjoyed the story of Senmut and his maybe royal lover, Hello,hello and thanks for leaving a comment


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

Thankyou for your super hub including the video. Very inerestingly written and informative.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Hi Alicia, glad that you enjoyed reading about Senenmut and Hatshepsut and watching the videos.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is a fascinating and very enjoyable hub with great videos, CMHypno! I love reading your hubs about Ancient Egypt.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Hi drbj, thanks for reading the story of Senmut and Hatshepsut and glad that you enjoyed it. The joy of Ancient Egypt is that there is so much to write about!


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

What a wonderful ancient Egyptian history lesson, CM, thank you. I enjoyed both your well-written account and the Reviving Hatshepsut video. Voted up, of course.

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