Hatshepsut (c. 1515–1468 BCE)

views updated

Hatshepsut (c. 1515–1468 bce)

Female pharaoh of Egypt's 18th Dynasty who served as regent for a designated heir, later ousted him from power, then reigned for 20 more years in an era that saw significant political, cultural and economic achievements. Name variations: Hatasu; Hatchepsout; Hatchepsut; Hatshepset; Hatshepsout; Hashepsowe; throne name was Ma-Ka-Re or Makare. Born around 1515 bce; died around 1468 bce; eldest daughter and only surviving child of Thutmose I and Queen Ahmose; married half-brother Thutmose II; children: daughter Neferure; possibly a second daughter; (stepson) Thutmose III.

Hatshepsut, whose throne name was Ma-Ka-Re, was born around 1515 bce probably in the great palace, founded by her father Thutmose I, at Egypt's capital city of Memphis, located at the apex of the Nile Delta, southwest of modern Cairo. Her father—a military leader of common ancestry married to a royal princess, Ahmose —succeeded his heirless brother-in-law Amenhotep I on the throne. Thutmose I had two sons and two daughters with Queen Ahmose, but the sons predeceased him, which led Thutmose to promote his son by a secondary wife as his heir, because the kingship of Egypt was, by tradition and religious myth, a male prerogative. His eldest daughter Hatshepsut was thus forced to marry her half-brother Thutmose II; brother-sister marriages were frequent among Egyptian royalty as a means of keeping the throne within the ruling family. Only one child, a daughter, is known to have been born to Hatshepsut and Thutmose II. However, a concubine had borne Thutmose II a son, and this youth, also named Thutmose (III), was designated as his father's heir before Thutmose II died about 1490 bce after a reign of at least four and possibly as many as twelve years. This left Hatshepsut to rule the country, because her husband's designated heir was too young to assume the kingship. Hatshepsut should have been in her 20s, at least, by this time. During its long history, many of Egypt's queens acted as regent for minors, but only five women are known to have assumed the kingship. Hatshepsut was one of these five.

Among the greatest female figures known from the ancient world, Hatshepsut has left us many monuments, making her one of the best-documented personalities from ancient Egypt's 3,000-year history. The monuments emphasize her public image and divine status, however, and tell us little about her as a human being.

The strong-willed daughter of a great warrior king, Hatshepsut no doubt felt that her credentials to rule her country were far stronger than those of the son of her husband's concubine. Already as a young girl, she could reflect on the distinguished line of her mother's family, who had rid Egypt of a humiliating and century-long foreign domination by the Hyksos. Among her female ancestors were several formidable women who were honored, not only by their sons and husbands, but by the nation as well, for the roles they played in the liberation of their country from this hated domination. Her grandmother Ahmose-Nefertari had become a goddess whose cult was popular among common people for centuries. Judging from the education she provided her own daughter, Hatshepsut must have been trained to read the difficult hieroglyphic script and memorize the revered aphorisms of the sages of yore, which were part of the usual school curriculum available to promising young men of the time. Her leadership qualities, self-confidence, and ambition would not have allowed her contentment in the arranged marriage to Thutmose II, who was the son of a non-royal mother and could not boast of such a distinguished royal lineage, but his early death offered her an opportunity that she could not resist.

Women of the royal household were not secluded but were involved in temple, court, and national activities. Thus it was quite acceptable, in Egyptian tradition, for a senior royal female to rule on behalf of an infant prince. By doing this, they avoided a dynastic crisis and kept power in the hands of the ruling family. Hatshepsut's distinguished grandmother Ahmose-Nefertari had done this successfully for her son Amenhotep I. It was quite another thing for a woman to claim all the titles and powers of kingship itself, however.

Ahmose-Nefertari (c. 1570–1535 bce)

Queen of Egypt at the start of the New Kingdom, her husband being the first king of the illustrious 18th Dynasty, who, upon widowhood, ruled the land as regent for her under-aged son. Name variations: Ahmose-Nofretari; Ahmes-Nefertary. Ruled with her mother Ahhotep around 1570 to 1546 bce; daughter of Ahhotep; married her brother Ahmose I; children: Ahmose (the mother of Hatshepsut), and Amenhotep I.

Ahmose-Nefertari was an Egyptian queen and wife of Ahmose I who founded the 18th Dynasty (1567–1320 bce). Since she was often portrayed posthumously with black skin, her parentage is debated. After ridding the country of foreign overlords, Ahmose I died young, leaving Ahmose-Nefertari to rule the country as regent for her son Amenhotep I. She bore the title Female Chieftain of Upper and Lower Egypt. Ahmose-Nefertari is credited with restoring temples and official cults throughout the land after decades of neglect by the Hyksos dynasty. She also founded a college of Divine Votaresses at the Karnak temple where she was herself a high priestess, holding the title of God's Wife of Amun. When she died, she was placed in a coffin 12 feet long and fitted with a lofty plumed crown which may indicate it was kept upright for some time to facilitate viewing by her subjects. Because her husband founded the dynasty which brought Egypt to the pinnacle of world power, Ahmose-Nefertari may well have been regarded as the mother of her country. She was deified after death, and her cult was popular among the common people, particularly in Upper Egypt, for at least four centuries.

Barbara S. Lesko, Department of Egyptology, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

Hatshepsut must have plotted her claim to kingship for some time, as the pair of great obelisks which she contributed to Karnak temple to celebrate her assumption of supreme power, in only the second year of the supposed joint rule with the child Thutmose, were ordered early in her career, while she still was known as Great Royal Wife and depicted as the God's Wife of Amun. The product of seven-months' labor at the Aswan quarry, these monolithic shafts of stone, each 185 feet long, required for their transport downstream exceptional barges over 300 feet long towed by 27 ships, manned by 864 rowers. Once at Karnak temple (home of Amun-Re, the King of the Gods), the obelisks were sheathed with gold and erected at the eastern entrance of the great

surrounding wall of the temple. The engineer in charge of the entire operation was a commoner named Senenmut, who apparently had served Hatshepsut as a steward during Thutmose II's reign. His successful completion of this difficult mission won him the admiration and confidence of his sovereign to the extent that she promoted him to many high positions in her realm and gave him the tutelage of her daughter and designated heir, Princess Neferure , and possibly also the oversight of the young Thutmose III.

Problems with reconstructing Hatshepsut's personal life are many due to the uncertain chronology of events and the silence of the monuments. For example, Senenmut is depicted in ten statues holding Neferure portrayed as an infant. Yet if the princess was the daughter of Thutmose II, she should have been older than three years by the time Senenmut was assigned to her education. The artistic canon of the Egyptians tended to depict minors as much smaller than adults, and thus such portrayals were not truly accurate. No one has suggested that Neferure was not the child of Thutmose II, but both ancient and modern observers have commented upon the close relationship between Hatshepsut and the courtier who rose from humble origins to hold 20 important positions under the female pharaoh. It has also been observed that a number of important men in her court remained bachelors, as did Senenmut.

Iwas foretold for an eternity as 'she will become a conqueror.'


Some historians of the past have denounced Hatshepsut as both a cruel and unreasonable woman, while others have decided she was talented and charming as well as a pacifist. Hatshepsut's personal daring and courage is, however, clearly documented. Because of her father's wars, which terrorized Nubia and penetrated western Asia further than the pharaohs had ever gone, Hatshepsut inherited a large and stable realm and seldom had to contend with uprisings. Nonetheless, three eyewitness accounts place the queen with her troops on a campaign south into the Land of Kush (northern Sudan), control of which was essential for economic reasons, it being a prime source of gold and other luxury products. There is a reference to her armies' protecting Egypt's eastern flank as well. Thus her foreign policy was not one of benign neglect. Rather she attempted to preserve her father's empire. Her artists portrayed Hatshepsut as a lion trampling Egypt's enemies and the more than 100 sphinxes (recumbent lion statues with Hatshepsut's head) created for just one of her temples emphasized her invincible pharaonic power.

She did not eye the outside world as entirely hostile, however, and sought the products of foreign lands through peaceful trading expeditions. International trade was well established throughout the eastern Mediterranean at this time, and Egypt ruled the Red Sea and its routes to equatorial regions. In her fifth year of reign, she sent a mining expedition to Sinai in search of turquoise. In her ninth year of reign, Hatshepsut's navy sailed to Eritrea, then known as Punt, on the east coast of Africa and the southern end of the Red Sea, from which it brought back myrrh trees, piles of frankincense, and other African products like ebony wood, gold, and ivory. Her claims to foreign victories, her trading expeditions, and the transport of the obelisks were recorded on the walls of Hatshepsut's magnificent terraced temple built for the funerary cult of her father and herself on the western bank of Thebes (modern Luxor), erected in a natural amphitheater against a curtain of towering limestone cliffs. The site is known today as Deir el Bahri. This innovative temple on three levels was spectacularly decorated with detailed painted wall scenes commemorating major events of Hatshepsut's life and was outfitted with hundreds of colossal images of the queen in various guises—Osiride statues and sphinxes, male and female images. Groves of incense trees and reflection pools created a park-like setting in front of it on the arid plain. Senenmut, her steward, is credited with the innovative design of the funerary temple.

While this was his most spectacular production, Senenmut was in charge of all the numerous building projects in the region of the religious capital. Nearby on the West Bank, a temple to Amun-Re was erected at Medinet Habu and to the south, in Senenmut's own home town of Armant, was built a temple to its patron god Montu. On the East Bank in the great religious center of Thebes itself, Hatshepsut contributed several rooms and central shrines to Karnak temple, including the now dismantled Red Chapel of which some 300 inscribed blocks survive. The eastern sanctuary of Amun-Re was cut from a single huge block of alabaster. Stations for the sacred bark along the processional ways to the temple were built, and she inaugurated the southern axis of approach between this major temple and the area sacred to Amun's consort, the goddess Mut, and thus was responsible for the 8th pyloned gateway at Karnak. Mut was known as the Lady of the Crowns and often was portrayed wearing the great double red-and-white crown of Egypt—for the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt—just as Hatshepsut herself would have. Rock cut shrines were hewn to the north near Beni Hasan (Speos Artemidos); in Nubia, Elephantine and Kom Ombo, Gebel es Silsileh and Faras, Qasr Ibrim and Semna-Kumma all received her attention.

Just as significant as the number of her buildings is the fact that her reign introduced innovations in architecture and in art, particularly in the naturalistic style of royal portraiture in sculpture, the detailed, lively, and expansive wall scenes of the temples, and in the design of royal sarcophagi. The female pharaoh also proclaims in one inscription that she spent much effort throughout the land repairing older temples which had fallen into a dilapidated state. Hatshepsut no doubt wanted the priesthood solidly behind her, as they made up a large proportion of the educated elite of her country, but she would also have needed the approval of the great gods themselves, and thus she built and equipped temples throughout the kingdom, using the gold of Nubia and the bountiful harvests of Egypt (collected as royal-tax revenues) to employ the labor of a large proportion of the peasantry during the long and idle months of the annual Nile inundation. Hatshepsut made the rounds of her country escorted by troops, heralds, fan bearers, and grooms with hunting leopards and a traveling throne which was carried on a portable platform. The remains of a chair bearing her name, inlaid with ivory and fitted with gold, is now in the British Museum.

Women of ancient Egypt were full legal personalities and many led active lives outside the home, laboring in temple and palace workshops, for instance, and some are found in palace and temple administration as well. Numerous women belonged to temple cultic phylae, and it is believed that the presence of a woman on the throne opened up more positions of leadership in the cults for the elite women of her realm, as there is a noticeable increase in the portrayal of priestesses at this time.

The king of Egypt was regarded as the living incarnation of the god Horus, son of the deities Osiris and Isis, and also as the son of the sungod Re. Hatshepsut's inscriptions often employ masculine titles as well, mixed with feminine pronouns. Thus Hatshepsut was truly flying in the face of age old tradition by proclaiming herself the "Daughter of Re" and the "Female Horus." On religious monuments, she frequently had herself portrayed as being crowned by Amun-Re, the king of the gods, and also in texts claimed that her own father, Thutmose I, had publicly proclaimed her as his heir. On the walls of her temple at Deir el Bahri, Hatshepsut's divine lineage is emphasized: showing her father, in the guise of Amun-Re, cohabiting with her mother, Queen Ahmose, and explaining that the queen was impregnated by the god. Once the queen gave birth, her daughter is shown being nursed by goddesses.

It is doubtful that Thutmose I truly intended his daughter to be his heir when he had sired a son who, indeed, did succeed him. However, political support for her unconventional rule came from former officials of her father, such as Ineni who had been his chief advisor, as well as new men of talent who were promoted by Hatshepsut herself. Whether she and her father had been truly close is impossible to say, but she certainly used their blood relationship for all it was worth and went to great lengths to demonstrate her love for him.

Even though she defied tradition by her claim of what was supposed to be only a male-held office, no one apparently dared to dissuade the fully royal scion of a preceding pharaoh. The circumstances that precipitated her move toward greater power were unusual, but later ages remembered her as a co-regent with the younger Thutmose III. Hatshepsut never disposed of this young stepson, who, while he began life as a temple acolyte, was later put in charge of the army and still did not make a move against Hatshepsut while she lived. Being younger than she, he could obviously see that his opportunity to rule would come eventually, and were it not for later actions taken against her memory on his behalf long after her demise, one would think that the royal family got along together fairly well.

Princess Neferure, the sole daughter who inherited her mother's supreme religious role as God's Wife in the Amun cult, seems to have played the ceremonial role of "queen" in this regime, and may well have been intended originally to follow her mother as ruler in a true and innovative matriarchy. She is often shown alone on monuments and bore the queenly title of Mistress of the Two Lands, and that of Regent of the South and North. There is no evidence that she married Thutmose III. However, Neferure seems to have died as a young woman, probably still in her teens, and Hatshepsut then had to bow to political necessity and accept the inevitability of a Thutmoside succession. The universal belief in the divinity of pharaoh had probably protected Hatshepsut from an organized revolt, but also the spectacular feats of her career, Egypt's secure borders, prosperity, wonderful buildings and awe-inspiring monuments would have silenced the doubters and demonstrated that the gods still loved Egypt even if it was ruled unconventionally by a woman. By her 16th year (counting from the time she succeeded her husband), Hatshepsut was ready to celebrate a royal jubilee with the ages old sed festival of kingly renewal. To mark the occasion, she again stressed her early enjoyment of her father's support by erecting another pair of obelisks inside the hall he had built at Karnak temple. However, these were but 90-feet tall and were covered with a gold alloy only at their tips which extended above the roof line of the temple to reflect the sun's rays.

Often Hatshepsut, as female pharaoh, was portrayed with the same kingly costume as a male ruler, including the false beard that kings donned for special occasions. Statues will show her with the cloth nemes headdress and short kilt of archaic times, used in portraits of male kings. Her body is then shown naked to the waist, just as male kings would have appeared. Wall reliefs do not emphasize a female figure and often give her the helmet-shaped Blue Crown popular with Empire period kings. Only a few of Hatshepsut's statues portray her in feminine dress. Yet she tells us she was attractive and her delicate face with its arched eyebrows and dimpled chin is easily recognized and probably authentically portrayed by her sculptors. Thus it is the artistic canon of traditional ways of presenting a pharaoh that has influenced much of her portrayals. There is no reason to believe Hatshepsut did not wear clothing appropriate for females.

Although Hatshepsut had a tomb created for her, high in the cliffs south of Deir el Bahri when she was Thutmose II's queen, once she became a full-fledged king she desired her final resting place to be in the secluded valley inaugurated by her father as a royal necropolis. Eventually the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank opposite Thebes would hold 62 tombs, all of the Empire period. Of these, Hatshepsut's (KV20) would be one of the longest, descending some 214 meters (700 feet). Presumably planned on the same axis as her temple so as to penetrate and end up with the burial crypt beneath her great mortuary temple on the other side of the cliffs from the necropolis, the rock proved too friable and the excavators changed course, curving the corridors and bringing the succession of steps and galleries around in a half circle. Her father's reign had seen, not only the first tomb in the Valley of the Kings, but also the first documented use of inscribed chapters of the royal book of the Netherworld, the spells of the Amduat. The walls of Hatshepsut's tomb were also provided with slabs of stone upon which such texts were inscribed, to ensure her safe progress through an eternity of traveling with the sun god. Howard Carter excavated her tomb in 1903 and two sarcophagi were found in it, as the daughter wanted her illustrious father buried with her, just as she provided for his funerary cult in her grand mortuary temple.

This temple's construction and design were taken over by Senenmut from her regnal year seven. In this same year, he began an immense tomb with a portico for himself prominently placed high in the necropolis of nobles nearby, on a hill now known as Sheikh Abd el Gurna. However, Senenmut decided to have more than one tomb and his hubris led him to cut one within the sacred precinct of his sovereign's mortuary temple. He also had his image placed behind open door leafs of shrines within the temple whose construction he oversaw. At some point, these transgressions were discovered and firmly countermanded. The name and titles of the royal steward were hacked from his tomb, but those of Hatshepsut were not, leaving little else as explanation other than that she was the one who retaliated against his presumption. With this episode came his fall from grace, around year 16, although at least three of Senenmut's statues bear the name of Thutmose III, which suggests he may have lived on into the next reign, even if he had lost his official positions, or at any rate Senenmut may have been remembered with honor by Thutmose III himself.

The betrayal by Senenmut was the second blow endured by the female pharaoh, as surely the early death of her daughter was of the severest disappointment to her. With Neferure's demise, Hatshepsut began to allow more prominence to Thutmose III in ceremonies and in temple wall scenes, and their rule became a true coregency, an arrangement resorted to by many Egyptian kings before and after. Hatshepsut died during their 22nd regnal year, probably of natural causes, but no details have survived. Many years after she died, Thutmose III replaced his stepmother's names on her monuments with those of his father and erased most of the images and ordered the statues of the female pharaoh to be destroyed.

However, Hatshepsut's reign was not forgotten. Her temple at Deir el Bahri remained in use as the most important focal point for annual religious celebrations on the West Bank for centuries to come. Women named their daughters after her for generations, and a thousand years later the presence of a female on the throne of the pharaohs, who reigned nearly 22 years, was still recounted by historians, even though Hatshepsut was ignored on some monumental king lists in temples of the 18th and 19th dynasties, probably because they deemed her only a regent for the man whose military exploits made him Egypt's most illustrious ruler. However, Hatshepsut had managed her realm successfully and handed over to Thutmose a country so stable and prosperous that he was able immediately to launch an aggressive foreign policy involving 17 war campaigns that took him out of the country for many years. Politically, Thutmose III would prove to be a worthy successor of his stepmother and her line of warrior kings, as he aggressively expanded and organized the Egyptian empire to the furthest extent it ever enjoyed, making Egypt the most powerful kingdom in the world during the second half of the second millennium bce. Hatshepsut's reputation has also stood the test of time; she is known as one of the greatest of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt.


Callender, V.G. "Ancient and Modern Perceptions of Female sovereignty in Pharaonic Egypt," in Shadow. Vol. 9, 1992, pp. 49–66.

——. "Female Officials in Ancient Egypt and Egyptian Historians," in Stereotypes of Women in Power: Historical Perspectives and Revisionist Views. Edited by B. Garlick, S. Dixon, and P. Allen. NY: Greenwood Press, 1992.

Dorman, P.F. The Monuments of Senenmut. London: Kegan Paul International, 1988.

Gardiner, A.H. "Davies's copy of the great Speos Artemidos Inscription," in Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. Vol. 32, 1946, pp. 43–56 and double plate.

——. Egypt of the Pharaohs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961, pp. 177–198.

Habachi, L. The Obelisks of Egypt: Skyscrapers of the Past. NY: Scribner, 1977.

——. "Two Graffiti at Sehel from the Reign of Queen Hatshepsut," in Journal of Near Eastern Studies. Vol. 16, 1957, pp. 88–104.

Hayes, Wm. C. "Varia from the Time of Hatshepsut," in Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Kairo. Vol. 15, 1957, pp. 78–82.

Karkowski, J. "Notes on the Beautiful Feast of the Valley as represented in Hatshepsut's Temple at Deir el Bahari," in 50 Years of Polish Excavations in Egypt and the Near East. Warsaw: Centre d'Archéologie Mediterranéenne de l'Académie Polonaise des Sciences, 1992, pp. 155–166.

Lacau, P., and H. Chevrier. Une chapelle d'Hatshepsout a Karnak. Vol. I. Cairo: Le Service des Antiquités de l'Égypte, 1977.

Lesko, B.S. "The Senenmut Problem," in Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt. Vol. 6, 1967, pp. 113–118.

Naville, E. The Temple of Deir el Bahari. 7 vols. London: Egypt Exploration Fund, 1894–1908.

Nims, C.F. "The Date of the Dishonoring of Hatshepsut," in Zeitschrift für aegyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde. Vol. 93, 1966, pp. 97–100.

Ratie, S. La reine Hatchepsout: Sources et problemes. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1979.

Redford, D.B. History and Chronology of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt: Seven studies. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967, pp. 58–87.

Seipel, W. "Hatschepsut I," in Lexikon der Ägyptologie. Vol. II, Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1977, pp. 1045–1051.

Wysocki, S. "The Temple of Queen Hatshepsut at Deir el Bahari: its original form," in Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Kairo. Vol. 42, 1986, pp. 213–228.

Yoyotte, J. "La date supposée du couronnement d'Hatchepsout," in Kemi. Vol. 18, 1968, pp. 85–91.

suggested reading:

Desroches Noblecourt, Ch. La femme au temps des Pharaons. Paris: Éditions Stock, 1993, pp. 124–162.

Frank, G. "Pharaoh Hatshepsut: History's First Liberated Woman," in Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin. September, 1974, pp. 3–13.

Hayes, Wm. C. "Egypt: Internal Affairs from Tuthmosis I to the Death of Amenophis III." Chapter IX in Edwards, I.E.S., Gadd, C.J. and Hammond, N.G. eds. Cambridge Ancient History II. 1–2: History of the Middle East. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973, pp. 313–332.

Lesko, B. The Remarkable Women of Ancient Egypt. 3rd ed. Providence: B.C. Scribe Publications, 1996.

——. "Women's Monumental Mark on Ancient Egypt," in Biblical Archaeologist. Vol. 54, no. 1, 1991, pp. 4–15.

Robins, G. Women in Ancient Egypt. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Roehrig, C. "Hatshepsut and the Metropolitan Museum of Art," in KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt. Spring 1990, pp. 28–33.

Teeter, E. "The Wearer of the Royal Uraeus: Hatshepsut," in KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt. Spring 1990, pp. 4–13, 56–57.

Tefnin, R. La Statuaire d'Hatshepsout. Monumenta Aegyptiaca IV, Bruxelles: Fondation Égyptologique Reine Élisabeth, 1979.

Tyldesley, Joyce. Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh. NY: Viking, 1996.


The largest assemblage of Hatshepsut's statuary, from her temple at Deir el Bahri, is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Barbara S. Lesko , Administrative Research Assistant, Department of Egyptology, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island