Flourished Circa 1478/1472-1458 b.c.e.
Regent, dynasty 18
Female Pharaoh. Hatshepsut’s reign (circa 1478/1472-1458 b.c.e.) was once viewed as a period of feuds and hostility within the royal family. Scholars now understand that it was a time of political and social consolidation building on the accomplishments of Thutmose I. Hatshepsut was an unconventional female king rather than a traditional regent. Her accomplishments, however, would have been the envy of any Egyptian monarch, for she saved her family’s claim to the throne during the New Kingdom (circa 1539-1075 b.c.e.).
Family. Hatshepsut was the daughter of Thutmose I and wife of Thutmose II. Her one daughter Neferure probably became God’s Wife of Amun, as was the custom in this period. There is no reason to believe, as some have argued, that Hatshepsut’s plans for Neferure were any different than what was normal for a royal daughter. Had Hatshepsut’s husband not died young, she most likely would have served as a typical queen of the period. Yet, Thutmose II’s early death when his male heir Thutmose III was still a child created the circumstances for Hatshepsut to play a more prominent part in history. At first, she acted as regent to Thutmose III, providing him with the military education a royal heir normally received. Hatshepsut’s actions followed Old Kingdom (circa 2675-2130 b.c.e.) and Middle Kingdom (circa 1980-1630 b.c.e.) patterns. For unexplained reasons, she declared herself senior co-regent some time between Year 2 and Year 7 of Thutmose Ill’s reign (circa 1479-1425 b.c.e.). Until her death, Hatshepsut would rule Egypt with the same prerogatives as any other king. Her behavior was perhaps not as surprising to her contemporaries as it has been to modern commentators. She clearly provided effective leadership, ensuring the royal family’s position until Thutmose III was old enough to assume control. There remains no evidence for Thutmose Ill’s attitude toward this change at the time. He was a child being trained by the army, the normal procedure for royal heirs. It seems unlikely that Hatshepsut would have left Thutmose III in the care of the army if she had any reason to feel insecure on the throne.
New Men. Many of the administrators who served Thutmose II and Thutmose III continued in office after Thutmose Ill’s Year 7. When a vacancy occurred, Hatshepsut appointed her own men. Many of these men continued to serve Thutmose III when he assumed sole rule in his Year 21. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that there was peace and continuity during this twenty-year period. Earlier reconstructions of this period as a time of civil war were far more influenced by early twentieth-century C.E. scholars’ discomfort with a woman as pharaoh than actual evidence. Hatshepsut probably stressed her links to Thutmose I rather than Thutmose II in her propaganda to establish her legitimacy through her father, the most successful pharaoh in recent memory. She represented herself as a man because a Pharaonic iconography did not exist for a female pharaoh.
Building Program. Hatshepsut accepted the task of rebuilding Egypt’s monuments following the Hyksos domination. Though she restored temples throughout the country, her work at Thebes was most important. She commissioned two twenty-nine-and-a-half-meter (ninety-six feet, nine inches) obelisks for the Karnak temple and a pylon. She built a series of central chapels and the barque shrine of the temple—a structure that stood until the beginning of the Ptolemaic period about 1,200 years later. Her most impressive accomplishment, however, remains her mortuary temple located at Deir el Bahri on the west bank of the Nile, neighboring the mortuary temple of King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II. Lavishly decorated with relief and inscriptions, the building represents a major source for the history of her reign as well as an original architectural achievement. Here Hatshepsut recorded the triumph of her trading expedition to the land of Punt in the Horn of Africa and explained her accession as divinely chosen king. Her most important administrator, Senenmut, was also honored with a chapel at this building.
Erasing History. Toward the end of his reign, Thutmose III selectively erased inscriptions carved by Hatshepsut, probably in an effort to ensure the succession of his son Amunhotep II to the throne by stressing the male line of succession. Though often accused of personal animosity toward his stepmother, the reasons for his actions were almost surely political.
Interpretations. The shift in understanding Hatshepsut’s reign has been caused by changing views in the twentieth century C.E. Early German commentators were shocked by Hatshepsut’s actions because their sensibilities were affronted by evidence of a woman actively ruling a prosperous country. They brought their feelings about the British queen Victoria into their interpretations of ancient Egypt. Recently, changed attitudes toward women in politics in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have allowed for a more positive reading of the evidence.
Evelyn Wells, Hatshepsut (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969).
Ruth Whitman, Hatshepsut, Speak to Me (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1992).
Hatshepsut (reigned 1503-1482 B.C.) was an Egyptian queen of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Usurping the throne after her husband's death, she held effective power for over 20 years.
The daughter of Thutmose I by his queen Ahmose, Hatshepsut was married to her half brother Thutmose II, a son of Thutmose I by a lesser queen named Mutnofre. During Thutmose II's lifetime Hatshepsut was merely a principal queen bearing the titles King's Daughter, King's Sister, God's Wife, and King's Great Wife.
On the death of Thutmose II the youthful Thutmose III, a son of Thutmose II by a concubine named Ese (Isis), came to the throne but under the tutelage of Hatshepsut, who for a number of years thereafter succeeded in keeping him in the background. At the beginning she had only queenly status but soon assumed the double crown of Egypt and, after some initial hesitation, had herself depicted in male dress.
Although both she, and later Thutmose III, counted their reigns from the beginning of their partnership, Hatshepsut was the dominant ruler until Year Twenty. Thutmose III was also shown as a king but only as a junior coregent. In an inscription of Year Twenty in Sinai, however, Thutmose III is shown on an equal footing with his aunt.
For obvious reasons warlike activities were barred even to so virile a woman as Hatshepsut, and with the exception of a minor expedition into Nubia, her reign was devoid of military undertakings. But an inscription on the facade of a small rock temple in Middle Egypt, known to the Greeks as Speos Artemidos, records her pride in having restored the sanctuaries in that part of Egypt, which she claimed had been neglected since the time of the alien Hyksos rulers.
Among the many officials on whose support Hatshepsut must have depended at least initially was one Senmut, whom she entrusted with the guardianship of the heir to the throne, the princess Ranefru, her daughter by her marriage to Thutmose II. According to Senmut himself, he was responsible for the many buildings erected by the Queen at Thebes. Among these was her splendid terraced temple at Deir el-Bahri, which was inspired by the earlier structure there of the Eleventh Dynasty king Mentuhotpe I.
Apart from the customary ritual ceremonies, the colored reliefs on the walls of this temple depicted the two main events of Hatshepsut's reign, the transport of two great red granite obelisks from Elephantine to Karnak and the famous expedition of Year Nine to the land of Punt, an unidentified locality which probably lay somewhere on the African Red Sea littoral.
Once having proclaimed herself king, Hatshepsut had a tomb excavated for herself in the Valley of the Kings. How she died is unknown, but after her death her memory was execrated by Thutmose III, who caused her name to be erased from the monuments wherever it could be found.
The reign of Hatshepsut is discussed in some detail in James H. Breasted, A History of Egypt from the Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest (1905; 2d ed. 1909), and by William C. Hayes in The Cambridge Ancient History (12 vols., 1923-1939). Leonard Cottrell, Queens of the Pharaohs (1966), discusses Hatshepsut. On the Queen's temple see E. Naville, The Temple of Deir el Bahari (7 vols., 1894-1906). □