Hatshepsut (1479 to 1458 B.C.): Her Family, Life and Reign

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Queen Hatshephut
as a small sphinx
Queen Hatshepsut was the only female to rule Egypt as a full pharaoh in a period when Egypt was strong. Often depicted as a man with a false beard, she rose to power after claiming divine birth. Her name means “the first, repeatable lady.” Other women ruled but they did so in weak period. Twosret was another female ruler. She ruled from 1198 B.C. to 1190 B.C. One, possibly two, other female pharaohs ruled briefly. Cleopatra came along 14 centuries after Hatshepsut. She wasn’t a Pharaoh or even full-blooded Egyptian but rather a Greek that ruled over the remains of a kingdom established by Alexander the Great. [Source: Chip Brown, National Geographic. April 2009; Elizabeth Wilson, Smithsonian magazine, September 2006; Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker]

Hatshepsut was the Queen of Egypt during the 18th Dynasty. The daughter of Thutmose I, she married Thutmose II. When he ascended to the throne she became the real ruler. When he died she acted as regent for his son, Thutmose III, then had herself crowned as Pharaoh. Maintaining the fiction that she was a male, she was represented with the regular pharaonic attributes, including a beard.[Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com +]

Queen Hatshepsut ruled from 1479 to 1458 B.C. She was referred to by both male and female pronouns depending on the situation but was regarded politically as an “honorary man.” There was no Egyptian word for "Her Majesty." People addressed her as "His Majesty." Bas-reliefs and statues often depict her with a lion’s mane and a male headdress in addition to the false beard.

Hatshepsut is thought to have been quite beautiful when she was young. At least that way it seems when you see images of her early in her rule. Even when she is portrayed a man she has soft feminine, features, a rounded chin and gently protruding breasts. Her mummy indicated she had an overbite as did other members of her family. Images of her when she was older depict her as heavy and haggard.

On seeing her in a number of art works at an exhibition. The New Yorker’s Peter Schjeldahl wrote, “Hatshepsut is no Nefertiti. Even in colossal statuary, she’s more pleasant-looking than anything else — a woman whose appearance except for over-the-top eye make-up would not have startled one in a Midwestern mall...She often smiles slightly, projecting confident oneness with divinity.”

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Ancient Egypt Magazine ancientegyptmagazine.co.uk; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Egyptian Study Society, Denver egyptianstudysociety.com; The Ancient Egypt Site ancient-egypt.org; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk

Hatshepsut’s Family Background

Seniseneb, Hatshepsut's grandmother

Joyce Tyldesley of the University of Manchester wrote for the BBC: “ Hatshepsut was a royal princess, the eldest daughter of the great general Thutmose I and his consort Queen Ahmose. Ahmose had failed to provide her husband with a male heir, but that did not matter overmuch; the royal harem could furnish an acceptable substitute. Prince Thutmose, son of a respected secondary queen, was married to his half sister Hatshepsut, and eventually succeeded to the throne unchallenged as Thutmose II.” [Source: Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester, BBC, February 17, 2011]

Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “Hatshepsut was descended from a number of strong women, including Aahotep, the mother of King Ahmose I. Aahotep was a military leader and she received the “Golden Flies” awarded to soldiers who fought courageously. When Ahmose died, his son Amenhotep became pharaoh but he left no male heirs. Thutmose I, a commoner and army general, became king by marrying Amenhotep’s sister Nefertiri. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com ^^^]

Although Thutmose had three sons and two daughters by his great wife, only one of these children was alive when he died: the twelve-year-old Hatshepsut. Thutmose did have a son by a minor wife, also called Thutmose, and to strengthen his claim to the throne, this son was married to Hatshepsut. However, Thutmose II suffered from poor health and reigned for only fourteen years. He left a daughter by Hatshepsut and a son, again called Thutmose, by Isis, a harem girl. It is possible that Thutmose II realized Hatshepsut was ambitious for power because he proclaimed the young Thutmose his successor. But when he died Thutmose III was still a child, and his aunt and stepmother, Hatshepsut, acted as regent for him. ^^^

Tyldesley wrote for the BBC: “Hatshepsut, now queen of Egypt, bore her husband/brother a daughter, Princess Neferure, but no son. When Thutmose II died suddenly, after a mere three years on the throne, a dynastic crisis threatened. Again there was a prince in the royal harem, but this time the prince was a baby. Under normal circumstances the royal mother would act as regent for her son; unfortunately the mother in this case was a lady of unacceptably low status. A compromise was reached. The infant Thutmose III would become king under the temporary guidance of his stepmother, the dowager Queen Hatshepsut. |::|

Queen Hatshepsut’s Family

Thutmose I

Queen Hatshepsut was the daughter of Thutmose I, who had no royal blood, and Ahmose, his principal and most blue-blooded wife. Ahmose was the daughter of a great Pharaoh, also named Ahmose, which gave Hatshepsut a unique advantage because she had more royal blood in her than either Thutmose I, or his son Thutmose II or grandson Thutmose III.

Hatshepsut was born around the time of her father’s coronation in 1504 B.C. She appears to have idolized her father, later having him reburied in a tomb she built for herself, and claimed that soon after her birth he selected her to succeed him — a claim that seems unlikely.

When Hatshepsut was about 12 she married her half-brother — Thutmose II, the son of Thutmose I by a different wife — making her the Queen of Egypt before she was a teenager. When Thutmose II died young, probably when he was in his 20s, Hatshepsut became the regent for Thutmose III, her stepson, nephew and the legitimate heir. Thutmose III was still a child when his father Thutmose II died. His mother was a harem girl.

Hatshepsut gave birth to a single child, a daughter named Neferure, with Thutmose II. Some archaeologists and historians believe that Senenmut, Hatshepsut’s chief advisor and the architect of her great mortuary temple, was the father. Statues exist that show him cuddling Neferure, who died when she was 16. There is also a crude drawing scrawled in the tomb of man thought to be Senemut having sex with a woman in pharaonic headdress. Most historians think Hatshepsut was not involved with him physically because she had too much to lose if word got she was. In any case, Senemut was a very important figure; 25 known monuments were raised to honor him, a staggering number for a non-royal, and some even claim he was the brain and real power behind the throne. More likely, in the words of The New Yorker’s Peter Schjeldahl, he was her Sir Walter Raleigh.

Hatshepsut’s Divine Birth

The following is an account of Hatsheput’s “divine” birth inscribed with reliefs at mortuary temple: “Amun summoned the Great Ennead in heaven to him and proclaimed to them his decision to procreate for the land of Egypt a new king, and he promised to the gods all good through it. As successor, Hatshepsut was chosen the unique woman; the royal office for her was claimed. "She builds your chapels," said Amun to the Ennead. "She consecrates your temples . . . she makes you rich offerings . . . the dew of heaven shall fall in her time . . . and the Nile shall be high in her time. Surround her with your protection, with life, happiness unto eternity." [Source: Translated from Emma Brunner-Traut, AltEgyptische Marchen, 5th ed. (Dusseldorf und Ksln, 1979), pp. 76-87. Internet Archive, fromCreighton] “The Ennead answered, "We have come herewith. We surround her with our protection, with life and happiness . . . " Amun charged Thoth, the god of wisdom and messenger, to seek Queen Iahmes, the wife of the reigning king, whom he selected as the future mother of the successor, and Thoth answered him as follows: "This young woman is a princess. She is called Iahmes. She is more beautiful than all the women in the whole land. She is the wife of the king, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Thutmose I, and his majesty is still a youth. Go therefore to her . . ." Then Thoth led Amun to Queen Iahmes.

“There came the ruling god, Amun, Lord of the throne of the Two Lands, after he had assumed the form of the majesty of her husband, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Thutmose I. He found her as she rested in the innermost (area) of her palace. Then she awoke because of the scent of the god, and she smiled at his majesty. At the same time, he went there to her and was full of desire for her. He gave her his heart and allowed her to recognize him in his divine form, after which he approached her. She rejoiced to show her beauty, and his love went over into her body. The palace was flooded with the fragrance of the god. All his scent was the fragrance from Punt.

Thutmose III and Hatshepsut

Hatshepsut before Amun

“The royal wife and king's mother Iahmes spoke to the majesty of the splendid god Amun, to the lord of the throne of the Two Lands, "My lord, how great is your glory. How splendid it is to see your face. You have enclosed my majesty with your glance. Your fragrance is in all my parts." [Thus she spoke,] after the majesty of this god had done with her all which he wished. Then Amun, the lord of the throne of the Two Lands spoke to her, "Hatshepsut is thus the name of this your daughter whom I have laid in your body, according to the speech of your mouth. She will exercise the splendid kingship in the whole land. My glory will belong to her, my authority will belong to her, and my crown will belong to her. She will rule the Two Lands (Egypt) . . . I will surround her every day with my protection in common with the god of the respective day."

“After Amun attended the queen, determined the name of the child, and promised her the lordship over Egypt, he spoke with the creator god Khnum who would form the child on the potter's wheel from mud. Thereby he commissioned him to create for the child a ka. And Khnum answered him : "I form this your daughter prepared for life, prosperity, and health, for food, nourishment, for respect, popularity, and all good. I distinguish her form from the gods in her great dignity of king of Upper and Lower Egypt."

“Then according to the divine instruction, Khnum created the royal child Hatshepsut and her ka on the potter's wheel, and the goddess of birth, the frog-headed Heket, proffered life to her. Khnum spoke in addition, "I form you with this divine body . . . I have come to you to form you completely as all gods (Kings), give to you all life and prosperity, give to you enduring and joy . . . and give to you all health, deliver to you all flat lands and all mountain lands as well as all subjects, give to you every food and nourishment and cause that you appear on the throne of Horus like (the sun god) Re (himself). I cause that you stand as the head of all the living when you appear as king of Upper and Lower Egypt. Thus as your father Amun-Re who loves you has commanded it."

“Khnum's divine companion Heket concluded with speeches of blessing and gave the child with her word, life, enduring, and happiness in all eternity. The divine messenger Thoth, dispatched by Amun, proclaimed to the royal mother Iahmes the office and title which heaven had conferred on her. He called her "the daughter of Geb, heir of Osiris, princess of Egypt, and mother of the king of Egypt. Amun the lord of the throne of the Two Lands is content with your great dignity of Princess who is great of favor, cheerfulness, charm, loveliness, and popularity," and his message to the great royal wife Iahmes concluded with the wish that she live, endure, be happy and everlastingly joyful in heart.

“Khnum, the creator god, and his divine companion Heket conducted the pregnant queen to the birth and the birth place and there pronounced their blessings. Khnum spoke to her, "I surround your daughter with my protection. You are great, but the one who opens your womb will be greater than all kings till now . . . " Thus spoke Khnum, the potter . . . and Heket, the deliverer. The queen who accordingly immediately became pregnant and now suffers the birth pains was delivered in the presence of the god Amun and goddess of the birth place Mesekhnet with the assistance of many spirits and divine nurses. After a long speech by Amun, Mesekhnet executed her blessing on the child.”

Hatshepsut Seizes the Throne

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Queen Hatshephut
with a beard
Not content with being the power behind the throne, Hatshepsut proclaimed herself pharaoh, while serving as regent for Thutmose III. Tyldesley wrote for the BBC: “For a couple of years Hatshepsut behaved as a totally conventional regent, acknowledging the young Thutmose III as the one and only pharaoh. Then, with no explanation, she was crowned king. Hatshepsut now took precedence over her stepson, and Thutmose was relegated to the background. He would languish in obscurity for some 20 years. From this point onwards, Hatshepsut enjoyed a conventional reign. Military campaigns were scarce; it seems that few enemies were prepared to challenge pharaoh's might..... When she died, after 22 years on the throne, Hatshepsut was buried with all due honour alongside her father in the Valley of the Kings. [Source: Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester, BBC, February 17, 2011]

Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “Hatshepsut dressed as a king, even affecting a false beard, but it was never her intention to pass herself off as a man; rather, she referred to herself as the “female falcon.” Her success was due, at least in part, to the respect of the people for her father’s memory and the loyal support of influential officials who controlled all the key positions of government. [Source :Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com ^^^]

“To support her cause, Hatshepsut claimed that the god Amun had taken the form of her father and visited her mother, and she herself was the result of this divine union. As the self-proclaimed daughter of God, she further justified her right to the throne by declaring that the god Amun-Ra had spoken to her, saying, “Welcome my sweet daughter, my favorite, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Maatkare, Hatshepsut. Thou art the king, taking possession of the Two Lands.”“ ^^^

In 2016, Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities and German Archaeological Institute announced the discovery of blocks that likely belonged to one of her buildings Egypt's Elephantine Island near Aswan that provides insight into her early years as a pharaoh. Elahe Izadi wrote in the Washington Post, “Early in her career, Hatshepsut was depicted as a woman, but later on her likeness was of a powerful, muscular ruler who had the same false beard that male pharaohs would wear.” The blocks found near Aswan are different. “Believed to have been part of a waystation for the deity, Khnum, several of the blocks show Hatshepsut as a woman."The building must therefore have been erected during the early years of her reign, before she began to be represented as a male king," the antiquities ministry said. "Only very few buildings from this early stage of her career have been discovered so far." [Source: Elahe Izadi, Washington Post, April 23 2016]

“At first, Hatshepsut acted on her stepson's behalf, careful to respect the conventions under which previous queens had handled political affairs while juvenile offspring learned the ropes. But before long, signs emerged that Hatshepsut's regency would be different. Early reliefs show her performing kingly functions such as making offerings to the gods and ordering up obelisks from red granite quarries at Aswan. ...As Thutmose III grew up, Hatshepsut's depiction changed. As Smithsonian Magazine noted, "the formerly slim, graceful queen appears as a full-blown, flail-and-crook-wielding king, with the broad, bare chest of a man and the pharaonic false beard."”

Why Did Hatsheput Usurp the Throne from Thutmose III?

Thutmose III and Hatshepsut

Why did Hatsheput usurp the throne from Thutmose III? Joyce Tyldesley of the University of Manchester wrote for the BBC: What could have caused her to take such unprecedented action? Legally, there was no prohibition on a woman ruling Egypt. Although the ideal pharaoh was male-a handsome, athletic, brave, pious and wise male-it was recognised that occasionally a woman might need to act to preserve the dynastic line. When Sobeknofru ruled as king at the end of the troubled 12th Dynasty she was applauded as a national heroine. Mothers who deputised for their infant sons, and queens who substituted for husbands absent on the battlefield, were totally acceptable. What was never anticipated was that a regent would promote herself to a permanent position of power. [Source: Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester, BBC, February 17, 2011] “Morally Hatshepsut must have known that Thutmose was the rightful king. She had, after all, accepted him as such for the first two years of his reign. We must therefore deduce that something happened in year three to upset the status quo and to encourage her to take power. Unfortunately, Hatshepsut never apologises and never explains. Instead she provides endless justification of her changed status, claiming on her temple walls (falsely) that both her earthly father Thutmose and her heavenly father, the great god Amen, intended her to rule Egypt. She goes to a great deal of trouble to appear as a typical pharaoh, even changing her official appearance so that her formal images now show her with the stereotyped king's male body, down to the false beard. Hatshepsut has realised that others will eventually question her actions, and is carving her defence in stone. |::|

“What are we to make of Hatshepsut's actions? It is too simplistic to condemn her as a ruthless power-seeker. She could not have succeeded without the backing of Egypt's elite, the men who effectively ruled Egypt on behalf of the king, so they at least must have recognised some merit in her case. Her treatment of Thutmose is instructive. While the boy-king lived he was a permanent threat to her reign yet, while an 'accidental' death would have been easy to arrange, she took no steps to remove him. Indeed, seemingly oblivious to the dangers of a coup, she had him trained as a soldier. |::|

“It seems that Hatshepsut did not fear Thutmose winning the trust of the army and seizing power. Presumably, she felt that he had no reason to hate her. Indeed, seen from her own point of view, her actions were entirely acceptable. She had not deposed her stepson, merely created an old fashioned co-regency, possibly in response to some national emergency. The co-regency, or joint reign, had been a feature of Middle Kingdom royal life, when an older king would associate himself with the more junior partner who would share the state rituals and learn his trade. As her intended successor, Thutmose had only to wait for his throne; no one could have foreseen that she would reign for over two decades.”|::|

Queen Hatshepsut’s Rule

Queen Hatshepsut took power from Thutmose III and attained unprecedented power for a woman. She ruled for 21 years (from 1479 B.C. to 1473 B.C. as the regent of Thutmose III and 1473 B.C. to 1458 B.C. as Pharaoh and co-ruler with Thutmose III). Her father, Thutmose II, did not rule for long. When he died Thutmose III was just a boy and Hatshepsut was named his regent and took effective control of the kingdom. Early on she seemed to play her role as expected. She was careful to respect convention and did not overstep her herself. The earliest reliefs depict her as a queen standing by Thutmose III, who is portrayed as an adult king performing pharaonic duties.

But as time went on Hatshepsut became bolder. Early reliefs after Thutmose II’s death show her making offering to the gods and ordering an obelisk from Aswan. Within a few years she assumed the role of “king” and relegated her stepson to second-in-command. It is not clear what her motive was. Some have suggested it was a hunger for power. Other have said it was an effort to reinstate royal blood — and the divinity associated with it — to the ruling dynasty. Yet others say she took power to avoid a palace coup brewing while her stepson was still too young to act. During Hatsheput’s rule, the Egyptian economy expanded and trade flourished. She dispatched a major sea-borne expedition to Punt (Somalia) on the African coast and the southern part of the Red Sea. The walls her mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri are illustrated with a colorful account of expedition to Punt. There are images of ships, a marching army led by her general, Nehsi. Based on drawings, expedition brought back gold, ebony, animal skins, baboons, and refined myrrh as well as living myrrh trees that were then planted around the temple. The walls at Deir el Bahri also depict the houses seen in Punt and an image of its obese queen. [Source :Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]

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Queen Hatshephut and Thutmose I's family

Queen Hatshepsut led the expedition to Punt (Somalia) and is thought to have led a military campaign into Nubia (Sudan). Overall though she presided over an extended period of peace and prosperity and helped Egypt get back on its feet in the wake of a string of military campaigns fought by her predecessors. Under Hatshepsut’s rule trade blossomed as timber poured in from Lebanon, turquoise mining was stepped up the Sinai and luxuries such as gold, ivory, spices, ebony, myrrh, panther skins and live baboons came in from Punt and Africa. Egypt became rich. The gold that was used in the making of the tomb of King Tutankhamun was accumulated during Hatshepsut’s reign.

There is also some evidence that Hatshepsut embraced “the common people” and this may have been the key to her lasting as long as she did. A word that pops up time and again in her hieroglyphic text is “rekhyt” — a common Nile marsh bird associated with ordinary people. Egyptologist Kenneth Griffin of Swansea University in Wales told National Geographic, “her inscriptions seemed to show a personal association with the rekhyt which at this stage is unrivaled.”

Hatshepsut often spoke possessively of “my rekhyt” and asked for the approval of the rekhyt. On one of he obelisks at Karnak she confided, “Now my heart turns this way and that, as I think what the people will say. Those who see my monuments in years to come, and who shall speak of what I have done.”

Queen Hatshepsut as the Woman-King

20120211-Queen Hatsephut  Senenmut_2_Kimbell.jpg Hatshepsut got around the issue of her gender and the implication that it made her unfit to rule by calling herself not the King’s Wife but rather the Wife of the god Amun (based on the premise that the king and Amun were one). During her rule Hatshepsut took the name Maatkare, sometimes translated as “Truth is the Soul of the Sun God” — with “maat” meaning “Truth,” “ka” meaning “Soul” and “Re” being the “the Sun God” — an ancient Egyptians expression for order and justice which she seemed to have adopted to legitimize her position. She declared that the god Amun not only had chosen her to be the next pharaoh but also impregnated her mother to produce her divine birth. She thanked Amun by raising obelisks devoted to him at Karnak that were covered with electum, a mixture of gold and silver.

Early images of Hatshepsut were clearly feminine with a few kingly touches .She wore an ankle-length skirt like that worn by women and had a feminine face and bust but struck the pose of a king and wore the king’s cobra headdress. As time went on she became more masculine, wearing a pharaoh’s “shendyt” kilt and a false beard, and displaying a broad, open, manly chest, without any feminine touches. The text that accompanied her images were lists of accomplishments like those found with traditional male pharaohs and featured statements like: “My command stands firm like the mountains.” Even so, in most texts she was referred to as a woman, using feminine wordings that sometimes produced things like, “His Majesty, Herself.”

For a long time Hatshepsut was caste by historians as the evil stepmother to Thutmose III, with historian William Hayes, the curator of Egyptian art a the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the 1950s, calling her a “vain, ambitious and unscrupulous woman” and the “vilest type of usurper.” This view of Hatshepsut is based primarily on Thutmose III’s ruthless campaign to deface Hatshepsut’s monuments and destroy all evidence of her rule after her death. These days many historians say Thutmose III likely carried out the defacements to boost his image, arguing that because most of the defacing was done late in his career it was not done out of malice, suggesting that if he had done it out of spite he would have done it earlier on.

Catharine Roehrig, the curator of Egyptian art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, told National Geographic, “nobody can know what she was like, She ruled for 20 years because she was capable of making things work. I believe she was very canny and that she knew how play one person off against the next — without murdering them or getting murdered herself.”

Hatshepsut’s Official Image

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Hatshepsut statue in her Mortuary Temple
Dimitri, Laboury of the University of Liège in Belgium wrote: “Hatshepsut. The evolution of Hatshepsut’s official image is probably the best illustration of how ancient Egyptian portraiture could deviate from the model’s actual appearance. As Tefnin has demonstrated, it occurred in three phases. When the regent queen Hatshepsut assumed full kingship, she was depicted with royal titulary as well as traditional regalia, but still as a woman with female dress and anatomy. Her face was a feminine version of the official physiognomy of her three direct predecessors, which was itself inspired by the iconography of Senusret I, who had reigned five centuries earlier. Shortly into her reign, this genealogical mask started to change into a previously unattested and very personalized triangular face, with more elongated feline eyes under curved eyebrows, a small mouth, which was narrow at the corners, and an ostensibly hooked nose. At the same time, the queen emphasized her royal insignia, wearing a broader nemes- headgear and exchanging her female dress for the shendyt-loincloth of male pharaohs, while her anatomy was only allusively feminine, with orange-painted skin—a tone halfway between the yellow of women and the red of men. [Source: Dimitri, Laboury, University of Liège, Belgium, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org ]

“As Tefnin stressed, this second stage in the evolution of Hatshepsut’s iconography clearly expresses the queen’s desire to assert her own personality as a king. Nevertheless, the metamorphosis resumed rather quickly and ended in a definitely male royal image, for which Hatshepsut completely waived her femininity. Even if a few epithets or pronouns relating to the queen sporadically remained feminine in the inscriptions from her reign, her images are absolutely masculine from that phase on. They exhibit an explicitly virile musculature, red skin, and a physiognomy that appears as a synthesis of her two first official faces, i.e., a compromise between her very individualized previous portrait, plausibly inspired by her own facial appearance, and the iconography common to her three male predecessors, including young king Thutmose III with whom she decided to share the throne.

“This evolution, indubitably motivated by Hatshepsut’s will and need for legitimation, is of course a very extreme case, due to very exceptional political circumstances. However, it demonstrates that even the sexual identity could be remodeled in ancient Egyptian portraiture according to an ideal image, here the one of the traditional legitimate king. Hatshepsut was the only reigning queen in ancient Egypt who felt the need for such iconographic fiction, i.e., to depict herself as a male pharaoh. In regard to the rendering of the physiognomy, the reigning queen offered a very good case if not of a borrowed personality, at least of a partly borrowed identity. As the heir of specific predecessors, she integrated into her own official visage some of their recognized facial Portrait versus Ideal features to emphasize her legitimacy—like a physiognomic signature accentuating her lineage.

“A similar phenomenon seems to have linked royal portraiture and portrayals of the elite or high officials, which often imitated the former closely. Good examples of this kind of allegiance portraits from the time of Hatshepsut are the numerous statues of Senenmut—most of them, if not all, made in royal workshops—which followed the evolution of the queen’s physiognomy, whereas a few two-dimensional sketches provide a much more individualized face of he same person.”

Queen Hatshepsut Temples and Monuments

20120211-Queen_Hatshepsut_in_Luxor Temple_of_.jpg Hatshepsut launched an extensive building program. She oversaw the repair of damage casued by the invading Hyksos and built magnificent temples from scratch. She renovated her father’s hall in the Temple of Karnak, added a chapel and erecting four great obelisks nearly 100 feet (30m) tall. Her greatest achievement was her mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri, one of the most beautiful temples in Egypt. She called it the ‘Most Sacred of Sacred Places’. [Source :Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]

Hatshepsut began her rule by erecting two 30-meter-high, 450-ton obelisks at the great temple in Karnak. Reliefs commemorating the event show 27 ships manned by 850 oarsmen towing the obelisks up the Nile. Hatshepsut reportedly spared no expenses and poured in "as many bushels of gold as sacks of wheat" to get the obelisk completed. One of the Karnak obelisks is the tallest one in the world. Both were originally covered in glistening electrum, a combination of gold and silver.

On Hatshepsut’s monument-building efforts Chip Brown wrote in National Geographic, “She seems to have been more afraid of anonymity than death. She raised and renovated temples and shrines from the Sinai to Nubia. The grandest obelisks she erected at the vast temple of the great god Amum at Karnak were among the most magnificent ever constructed. She commissioned hundreds of statues of herself and left accounts in stone of her lineage, her titles, her history , both real and concocted, even her thoughts and hopes, which at times she confided with uncommon candor.”

Most of her building projects, which included a network of grand processional roadways and sanctuaries, constructed in and around Thebes (present-day Luxor), the center of he Thutmoside dynasty. A lot of great art was created during her reign, some of which — including granite sphinxes with her likeness, fabulous cartouche jewelry, reliefs, sarcophagi, paintings, manuscripts, vessels, and amulets, “were the subject of a 300-piece exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2006.

Hatshepsut's Temple

Hatshepsut's Temple is a mortuary temple built into the side of a cliff near the Valley of the Kings in Luxor) while Hatshepsut was still alive. Named Djeser Djeseru, "the Splendor of Splendors" or “Holy of Holies” and known today as Deir el-Bahri, it is regarded as one of the great architectural achievements of the ancient world and was designed to be a place for people to gather for special religious rites connected with the cult of Hatshepsut to guarantee that she live on in the afterlife.

Hatshepsut's Temple was built in 1480 B.C., and dedicated to Amum and several other deities. Built into a dramatic lion-colored sandstone cliff on the eastern face of desert mountain, the temple is comprised of three terraces of colonnades, connected by massive ramps, and a small chamber tunneled deep into the rock and reached by a long ramp. The last set colonnades is set into the face of the cliff. Queen Hatshepsut planted botanical gardens at the site and had incense burners on the terraces.

Hatshepsut’s temple is huge, roughly the length of 2½ football fields, but the overall effect of the architecture is surprisingly light, especially in comparison to heavy fortress-like temples erected by her predecessors. A ramp sided by pillars leads from a large first courtyard to a second courtyard. At the back of this is a colonnade with walls and small enclosures with engravings and reliefs showing episodes from the queen’s life and images of gods.

The lower levels featured pools and gardens planted with fragrant trees. Some 100 statues of Hatshepsut as a sphinx guarded the processional way. The majority of these were smashed by Hatshepsut’s successor and stepson Thutmose III and thrown in a pit in front of the temple.

During her funeral Queen Hatshepsut was carried up the ramps to a funerary chamber inside the temple. The rear wall of the second courtyard consist of the Birth Colonnade on one side of the ramp and the Punt Colonnade on the other. The Birth Colonnade is a small sheltered area at the top of the terrace that describes the preparation for and birth of Queen Hatshepsut. Particularly interesting is the scene of birds being captured in nets. The Punt Colonnade depicts a trading expedition to Punt, with boats piled high with luxuries such as gold, ebony, ivory and exotic animals. In the 7th century the Copts used the temple as a monastery.

Journey to Punt

Karnak Temple Under Queen Hatshepsut

Elaine Sullivan of UCLA wrote: “The wadjet hall would be dramatically changed during the reign of Hatshepsut. The queen removed her father’s numerous stone columns and replaced them with five gilded- wood papyriform wadj-columns (wadj being the Egyptian term for papyrus). In the center of the hall she erected two red granite obelisks (one remains standing today) with electrum overlay. These tall monuments prevented her from roofing the hall completely, but she covered the side aisles of the hall with a wooden ceiling. The queen’s obelisks were dedicated to the celebration of her Sed Festival in the 16th year of her reign. [Source: Elaine Sullivan, UCLA, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org ]

“Hatshepsut transformed the very core of Karnak, removing the Osiride portico of the Middle Kingdom temple and most of the forecourt constructions of Amenhotep I, including his entrance gate and bark chapels. To the front of Senusret’s temple, she appended a suite of rooms, her “Palace of Maat”. The queen ordered a beautiful two-roomed bark chapel of rose quartzite and black diorite, the Red Chapel, as a showpiece for Amun-Ra. In their recent republication of the chapel, CFEETK scholars concluded that the chapel’s placement was, as traditionally thought, within the Palace of Maat. As the insertion of the chapel into the Palace of Maat would only have been possible if renovations to the palace’s original rooms (including the removal of a number of the walls on the northern side) took place during the reign of the queen, it seems that Hatshepsut re-envisioned these rooms expressly to expand the area for her Red Chapel, finished only sometime around year 17 of her reign.

“Over 200 limestone blocks recovered primarily from the “cachette court” have been identified by Gabolde as part of a multiple- roomed structure (named the Netjery-Menu) dated to the early co-regency of the queen. Relief scenes and inscriptions depict Thutmose II, Hatshepsut, her daughter Neferura, and Thutmose III involved in the temple’s daily ritual. ....Another recently rediscovered monument of the queen’s was composed of a number of limestone niches dedicated to the royal statuary cult. These niches, also dated to the early years of the queen’s co-regency, were seemingly removed before she ascended to the throne as king. “Hatshepsut placed another pair of obelisks at the eastern edge of Karnak, outside the stone enclosure walls of Thutmose I. Although now destroyed, the obelisks are mentioned in a quarry inscription at Aswan and depicted in the queen’s temple at Deir el Bahri. Luc Gabolde and scholars from the CFEETK have been working on documenting pieces from these obelisks, and they have reconstructed their appearance as displaying a central line of hieroglyphs, flanked by scenes of Hatshepsut (and sometimes her nephew) with the god Amun-Ra. “A large stone pylon, the eighth, was constructed by the queen to the south of the temple, along what appears to have been the established north-south processional route...Reused blocks from the queen’s temple of Mut have recently been discovered during excavations at that site, and the Thutmoside temple and an accompanying triple bark-shrine at Luxor are known to have played a role in the queen’s Opet Festival ceremonies.”

Hatshepsut’s Death

20120211-Queen Hatshepsut Relief_in_Mortuary_Temple_of_.JPG
defaced Hatshepsut Relief
Harshepsut died suddenly around 1480 B.C. Whether she died naturally or was deposed and eliminated is not known. As Hatshepsut and her political allies aged, her hold on the throne weakened. The early death of her daughter, whom she had married to Thutmose III, may have contributed to her decline. Eventually, her nephew took his rightful place as pharaoh, though the circumstances of this event are unknown.

Egyptian officials have said that the mummy of Hatshepsut suggests the woman was obese, probably suffered from diabetes, had liver cancer and died in her 50s. In 2011, Associated Press reported that researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany discovered a carcinogenic substance in a flask of lotion believed to have belonged to Queen Hatshepsut, raising a possibility she may have accidentally poisoned herself. The university said it spent two years researching the dried-out contents of the flask, which is part of its Egyptian Museum's collection and bears an inscription saying it belonged to Hatshepshut. [Source: Associated Press, August 19, 2011]

Researchers said the flask contains what appears to have been a lotion or medicine used to tackle skin disorders such as eczema. The contents included palm and nutmeg oil, along with fatty acids of the kind that can relieve such disorders. There are known to have been cases of skin diseases in Hatshepsut's family, the university said.

Researchers also found benzopyrene, an aromatic and highly carcinogenic hydrocarbon. "If one imagines that the queen had a chronic skin disease and the ointment gave her short-term relief, then she may have exposed herself to a major risk over the course of a few years," Helmut Wiedenfeld of the university's pharmaceutical institute said in a statement.

Identifying Queen Hatshepsut’s Lost Mummy

For decades archaeologists looked for the mummy of Hatshepsut and had no luck finding it. Howard Carter, the discoverer of King Tut’s tomb, found two sarcophagus’s bearing Hatshepsut’s name along with some limestone wall panels and a canopic chest in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings labeled KV20 in 1903 but found no mummy. He did however find “two much denuded mummies of women and some mummified geese” nearby in a minor tomb known as KV60 in 1920. One of the mummies — a fat one — was in a coffin. The other — a skinny one — lay on the floor. Carter took the geese and closed the tomb. Three years later another archaeologist took the fat mummy in the coffin to the Egyptian Museum. The inscription on the coffin was later linked to Hatshepsut’s nurse. The skinny mummy on the floor was left where it was.

In the late 2000s, an effort was launched to identify Queen Hatshepsut’s mummy with CT (computerized tomography) scans and DNA analysis. There were four possible candidates. The two mummies found KV60. The one brought to the Egyptian Museum in the 1920s was still sitting there unidentified for decades. The second skinny one was brought to the museum. The two other candidates came from a cemetery next to Hatshepsut’s funerary temple. They were selected because a small box with Hatshepsut’s name on it was found in the tomb that housed them.

20120211-Queen Hatshepsut Wall_painting_in_Mortuary_Temple_of_.jpg
Queen Hatshepsut in a wall painting
in her mortuary temple
The whole thing was set up, of course, by Egyptologist Zahi Hawass. CT scans were taken of the four mummy candidates and their images where compared with images of mummies belonging to Hatshepsut relatives. The scans revealed little that was conclusive in identifying them. The key to identifying Hatshepsut’s mummy turned out to be a small box with Hatshepsut’s cartouche inscribed on it. Sealed with embalming fluid, the box was thought to contain some of Hatshepsut’s organs, most likely her liver. Because it was regarded as inappropriate to break open the box, a CT scan was taken instead. It showed the box contained a tooth — a secondary molar with part of its root missing.

As it tuned out the molar perfectly fit into a gap in the jaw of one of the mummies — the fat one that had been brought to the Egyptian Museum in the 1920s — thus identifying it, as best as could be expected, a Hatshepsut’s mummy. Not everyone saw the tooth as slam-dunk proof. Some scholars, for example, raised questions about the box with the tooth as it was not a typical canopic vessel.

The investigation of the mummies also provided clues on how Hatshepsut died. Evidence from the CT scan of her mummy seemed to indicate she died from an infected abscess in her gums, perhaps worsened by bone cancer or diabetes. The mummy itself seemed to lack the elaborate send off you would expect of a royal burial. There was no golden mask, no jewelry, none of the things found in burial of King Tutankhamun. Hawass initially thought that Hatshepsut’s mummy was the least likely of the four candidates to be her because she was fat and had “huge pendulous breast” of the sort more likely to be found on the queen’s wet nurse.

After Queen Hatshepsut’s Death

After Harshepsut died, Thutmose III became the leader of Egypt. About 20 years after he became pharaoh, someone ordered the defacing of Hatshepsut’s monuments and replaced her name with Thutmose I, II, or III — her father, her husband and stepson — in an effort to erase her name from history. Many believe the defacement was ordered by Thutmose III. Ironically, some of the best-preserved obelisks in Egypt are those of Hatshepsut. Thutmose III had stone walls built around them to hide them from public view, but these walls also helped preserve and protect them.

After Hatshepsut’s death there was a massive defacing campaign. Eyes were gouged out of reliefs. Images of her as king were systematically chiseled of temples, monuments and obelisks. Heads were loped off statues. Entire rows of statues were toppled over into pits. As we said before it is believed that Thutmose III was behind it. Images of Senenmut, Hatshepsut’s chief advisor, were also defaced.

It is ironic that Thutmose III inherited an economically strong Egypt from Hatshepsut, that provided the foundation for his accomplishments and the greatness of the New Kingdom achieved. With his military training and a strong, stable Egypt to stand on, Thutmose III conquered foreign lands and brought such great wealth to Egypt that he, arguably, made making it the world’s first super power.

Did Thutmose III Order the Attacks on Hatsheput’s Monuments

Thutmose III

Joyce Tyldesley of the University of Manchester wrote for the BBC: “Soon after her death in 1457 B.C., Hatshepsut's monuments were attacked, her statues dragged down and smashed and her image and titles defaced. The female king vanished from Egyptian history. She would remain lost until, almost three thousand years later, modern Egyptologists reconstructed her damaged inscriptions and restored her to her rightful dynastic place. |[Source: Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester, BBC, February 17, 2011]

“The Egyptians believed that the spirit could live beyond the grave, but only if some remembrance-a body, a statue, or even a name-of the deceased remained in the land of the living. Hatshepsut had effectively been cursed with endless death. Who could have done such a terrible thing, and why? Thutmose III, stepson and successor to Hatshepsut, seems the obvious culprit, but we should not condemn him unheard. There are two major crimes to be considered before we draw any conclusion. |::|

“It is undeniable that someone attacked Hatshepsut's monuments after her death. Archaeology indicates that the bulk of the vandalism occurred during Thutmose' reign. Why would he do this? At first it was imagined that this was the new king's immediate revenge against his stepmother; he was indeed cursing her with permanent death. The image of the young Thutmose seething with impotent rage as Hatshepsut ruled in his place is one which has attracted amateur psychologists for many years. However, it does not entirely fit with the known facts. |::|

“Thutmose was to prove himself a calm and prudent general, a brave man not given to hasty or irrational actions. He did not start his solo reign with an assault on Hatshepsut's memory; indeed, he allowed her a traditional funeral, and waited until it was convenient to fit the desecration into his schedule. Some of the destruction was even carried out by his son, after his death, when most of those who remembered Hatshepsut had also died. It is a remote, rather than an immediate, attack. Furthermore the attack is not a thorough one. Enough remained of Hatshepsut to allow us to recreate her reign in some detail. Her tomb, the most obvious place to start the attack, still housed her name. Hatshepsut may have been erased from Egypt's official record, but she was never hated as Akhenaten 'The Great Criminal' would later be. |::|

“What can we conclude from this tangled tale? We should perhaps rethink our assumptions. Hatshepsut did not fear Thutmose; instead of killing him, she raised him as her successor. Thutmose may not have hated Hatshepsut. Initially he may even have been grateful to her, as she had protected his land while training him for greatness. But, as he grew older and looked back over his life, his perspective would shift. Would Egypt's most successful general, a stickler for tradition, have wished to be associated with a woman co-regent, even a woman as strong as Hatshepsut? |::|

“By removing all obvious references to his co-ruler Thutmose could incorporate her reign into his own. He would then become Egypt's greatest pharaoh; the only successor to Thutmose II. Hatshepsut would become the unfortunate victim, not of a personal attack, but of an impersonal attempt at retrospective political correctness. |Thutmose set his masons to re-write history. Their labours would last well into the reign of his successor, Amenhotep II, a king who could not remember Hatshepsut, and who had no reason to respect her memory. Meanwhile, hidden in the Valley of the Kings, Hatshepsut still rested in her coffin. Thutmose I had been taken from their joint tomb and re-buried, but she had been left alone. Thutmose knew that as long as her body survived, Hatshepsut was ensured eternal life.” |::|

Hatshepsut’s Mummy Reveals She Was a Fat and Balding

Describing Hatshepsut’s mummy after it was put on display at the Egyptian Museum, Chip Brown wrote in National Geographic, “her mouth, with the upper lip shoved over the lower, was a gruesome crimp...her eye socket was packed with blind black resin, her nostrils unbecomingly plugged with tight rolls of cloth, her left ear had sunk into the flesh in the left side of her skull, and her head was almost completely without hair...The only human touch was in the bone shine of her nailed fingertips, where the mummified flesh had shrink back, creating the illusion of a manicure.”

The CT scans of Hatshepsut’s mummy also revealed that she was a fat, balding and bearded Meredith F. Small, an anthropologist at Cornell, wrote in Live Science: “Turns out, Hatshepsut...was a 50-year-old fat lady; apparently she used her power over the Upper and Lower Nile to eat well and abundantly. Archaeologists also claim that she probably had diabetes, just like many obese women today. Hatshepsut also suffered from what all women over 40 need—a stylist. She was balding in front but let the hair on the back of her head to grow really long, like an aging female Dead Head with alopecia. This Queen of Egypt also sported black and red nail polish, a rather Goth look for someone past middle age. [Source: Meredith F. Small, Live Science, July 6, 2007]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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