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Pharaoh Hatshepsut

Hatshepsut: Female Pharaoh of Egypt

by Caroline Seawright


Ma'at-ka-Ra - 'Truth/Order/Balance ("Ma'at") is the Spirit/Double ("ka") of Ra'
Hatshepsut-Khnumet-Amen - 'Foremost of Female Nobles, Joined With Amen'

Hathor Suckling Hatshepsut - Photo and Line Drawing of the Scene Although not the only female ruler of Egypt, Ma'at-ka-Ra Hatshepsut (1473-1458 BC) is one of the best known (next to Cleopatra). She was an 18th dynasty Pharaoh, daughter of Thutmose I and Queen Ahmose. When her father died her half brother, Thutmose II, ascended to the throne. He was young, apparently younger than Hatshepsut herself.

The Egyptian tradition of having the Pharaoh marry a royal woman led Thutmose II to marry Hatshepsut. (The women in Egypt may have carried the royal blood, not the males. To become Pharaoh, the man had to marry a female of royal blood, often a sister, half sister or other near relative. Usually it was the eldest daughter of the previous Pharaoh.) Thutmose II died soon after becoming Pharaoh, leaving the widow Hatshepsut, a daughter Neferura... and a son by another wife - Thutmose III.

Due to the young age of the Pharaoh, Hatshepsut became his regent. They ruled together for a number of years until she proclaimed herself Pharaoh (perhaps when Thutmose III was reaching manhood) - something almost unheard of, despite the higher status of women in Egypt compared to women in other cultures at the time. Women could own land, inherit from family members, and even go to court to defend her rights. But before Hatshepsut, there were queens who had ruled Egypt... but not a female Pharaoh.

She managed to rule for about twenty years, before disappearing from history... coinciding with Thutmose III's becoming Pharaoh in his own right.

But what happened in those twenty years?

Inscriptions on the Walls of Hatshepsut's Temple

Amen and Queen Ahmose Sit Above the Queen's Bed, Held Up by two images Hemuset (Hemsut), a goddess of Fate Hatshepsut, with the backing of the temple of Amen, proclaimed that she was the divine daughter of the god Amen:

Amen took the form of the noble King Thutmose and found the queen sleeping in her room. When the pleasant odours that proceeded from him announced his presence she woke. She smiled at his majest. He went to her, his penis erect. He gave her his heart to her and showed himself in his godlike splendour. When he approached the queen she wept for joy at his strength and beauty. His love passed into her limbs. The palace was flooded with the god's fragrance, and all his perfumes were as from Punt.

On the walls of her temple, Hatshepsut describes how Thutmose I made her his heir:

Then his majesty said to them: "This daughter of mine, Khnumet-Amen Hatshepsut - may she live! - I have appointed as my successor upon my throne...she shall direct the people in every sphere of the palace; it is she indeed who shall lead you. Obey her words, unite yourselves at her command." The royal nobles, the dignitaries, and the leaders of the people heard this proclamation of the promotion of his daughter, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Ma'at-ka-Ra - may she live eternally!

Khnum, a Pregnant Queen Ahmose and Heqet The Birth Colonnade depicts Queen Ahmose in subtle images with the words of Hatshepsut's conception and birth. From an image of Queen Ahmose and Amen seated together while the queen breaths in life from the god, to one of the rare examples of a pregnant woman - Khnum and Heqet lead the queen to the birthing room. The stomach of the queen is only slightly rounded, despite the fact that she is shown going to the birthing room to give birth to Hatshepsut. Another scene shows a goddess handing the baby girl to the queen, with the goddess Meskhenet, the goddess of the birth bricks, kneeling behind the queen, and deities all around. Finally there is a scene showing Hatshepsut being brought before the gods, and before her father, Amen.

Hatshepsut began to adopt several male attributes, after the Oracle of Amen pronounced it Amen's will that Hatshepsut should be Pharaoh. She gradually took on the new role, rather than appearing all at once as the Pharaoh. That would have been a drastic step - she was rather cautious. She dropped her titles relating to those only a woman could hold, and took on those of the Pharaoh, and slowly started the trend towards appearing like a male, wearing the shendyt kilt, nemes headdress with its uraeus, khat head cloth and false beard. She even, eventually, dropped the female ending from her name ('t') and became His Majesty, Hatshepsu 'Foremost of Nobles'.

Hatshepsut's Daughters

Neferura, Daughter of Hatshepsut On becoming Pharaoh, Hatshepsut had to give up her title - not just a title, but a special job with specific duties - of "God's Wife". She granted her daughter Neferura ('Beauties of Ra'), Thutmose II's daughter, this title. Unfortunately Neferura died young, but Hatshepsut apparently was grooming her daughter as a prince, rather than a princess, despite the title. There is a beautiful block statue of Senmut, holding the child Neferura enfolded in his arms. Neferura is wearing the royal false beard, and the side lock of a youth.

One of Neferura's tutors was a soldier, Ahmose, who wrote:

Hatshepsut gave me repeated honours. I raised her eldest daughter, Princess Neferura, while she was still a child at the breast.

Merira-Hatshepset ('Beloved of Ra'), Hatshepsut's who may or may not have been second daughter (there are different schools of thought on this matter), became the wife of Thutmose III, and married him just before or during his coronation after Thutmose II died. Little else is known about her, other than she may have been the mother of Amenhotep II.

Senmut and Other Officials

When Neferura was still a child, Senmut ('Brother of Mut') was her tutor. It is unknown as to his relationship with Hatshepsut, but he was one of her strongest supporters, probably even one of her top advisers... During his time, he gained over 40 titles, including chief architect. He disappeared some time before the end of Hatshepsut's reign, and it is unknown what actually happened to him.

A Block Statue of Senmut The backing of the priesthood of Amen was very important to raise and keep Hatshepsut in power. Hapuseneb was the High Priest of Amen, and Hatshepsut also put him in charge of her monuments at Ipet-Isut (Karnak). He may have even been vizier to Hatshepsut, but she certainly gave him power.

Nehsy was one of her Chancellor, known for leading Hatshepsut's expedition to the Land of Punt.

One inscription that Senmut himself left proclaimed of himself:

Companion greatly beloved, Keeper of the Palace, Keeper of the Heart of the King, making content the Lady of Both Lands, making all things come to pass for the Spirit of Her Majesty.

But, from his titles, it may be a true statement. Senmut was a lowly born man who rose to power with Hatshepsut. Some of his many titles included Overseer of the Works, Overseer of the Fields, Overseer of the Double Gold House, Overseer of the Gardens of Amen, Controller of Works, Overseer of the Administrative Office of the Mansion, Conductor of Festivals, Overseer of the Cattle of Amen, Steward of the King's Daughter Neferura, Chief of the King, Magnate of the Tens of Upper and Lower Egypt, Chief of the Mansion of the Red Crown, Privy Councillor, Chief Steward of Amen, Overseer of the Double Granary of Amen and Hereditary Prince and Count.

Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple and Other Works

Djeser Djeseru After becoming Pharaoh, Hatshepsut ordered many works, carrying on from her father's works. Her first were two obelisks, cut at Swentet (Aswan) and transported to Ipet-Isut. There is not much left of these, as most of her things were vandalised after Thutmose III took over. She later ordered three more to be cut (one of which cracked before it was carved from the rock, so it still remains at Swentet till this day!). These were to celebrate her 16th year as Pharaoh.

At Ipet-Isut, she carried out many repairs to the temples, assuring herself the favours of the priests. It was a continuation of the works of her father, but her own restorations included a pylon to the temple and obelisks. Somewhat further north, she built a small temple in the rock, with more inscriptions of her reign. This is a most beautiful temple, again.

She also ordered a tomb made for herself, while married to Thutmose II. It was a queen's tomb in the Valley of the Kings, but it was never completed. Supposedly she and her father, Thutmose I, were actually buried there until the priests moved the bodies elsewhere, to stop thieves from desecrating the tombs. (There was a first, small tomb that was also unfinished, built behind the Valley of the Queens, but this was abandoned when Hatshepsut married Thutmose II and became queen.)

After the Valley of the Kings tomb was abandoned, work at the beautiful Deir el-Bahri tomb was started. This was to be her famous Mortuary Temple - Djeser Djeseru. It was built at the site of an even older temple - Montuhotep II's mortuary temple from the 11th Dynasty. This is the place where the inscriptions of her life and achievements can be found, although they, too, were vandalised.

The Pyramidion from the Top of One of Hatshepsut's Obelisks, Showing the god Amen It was modelled on Montuhotep II's temple, but Senmut, the architect, improved on the design, blending in with the cliffs around the area. It is a three-terraced building with porticoes, with chapels to the gods at the top - one to Hathor, Anubis, Ra-Horakhty and, of course, Amen-Ra.

Inscriptions at the temple say:

When you rest in your building where your beauties are worshipped, Amen-Ra, the Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, give Hatshepsut Ma'at-ka-Ra life, duration and happiness. For you she has made this building fine, great, pure and lasting...

It most certainly is lasting.

Her temple was filled with many beautiful scenes that prove herself as Pharaoh. There was even some reference to military activity at the temple, even though she is often portrayed as a peaceful queen. She did, in fact, have some conquest, like the rest of her seemingly war-loving family.

This refers to a campaign in Nubia. She even sent Thutmose III out with the army, on various campaigns (many of which little is known at all!). One inscription even says that Hatshepsut herself led one of her Nubian campaigns. The inscription at Setet Island (Sehel Island) suggest that Ty, the treasurer of Lower Egypt, went into battle under Hatshepsut herself. She had to prove herself as a warrior Pharaoh to her people.

The Obese Queen of Punt Following the King of Punt It also depicts her expedition to the Land of Punt.

The Expedition to Punt

Hatshepsut ordered a trading expedition, her ships reaching the Land of Punt (perhaps to present day Somalia), as commanded by the god Amen-Ra. This was a land rich in products Egyptians desired - myrrh, frankincense, woods, sweet-smelling resin, spices, gold, ebony, ivory and aromatic trees. Even animals and fish, many of which can be identified today.

There are also reliefs of the homes and people of Punt. The huts of the people, and the native flora, resemble the huts of the Toquls (according to some) near Somalia. The fish and other animals are not natives of Egypt, leading to evidence that Hatshepsut's people had actually visited such a place. Even the people are shown - the most obvious of the people, though, would have to be the ruler of Punt's wife - she is depicted as an obese woman. But their outfits and the fashion shown of the people seem to describe the ancient peoples of Somali.

The chief and his wife, quoted on Hatshepsut's mortuary temple, say:

How have you arrived at this land unknown to the men of Egypt? Have you come down from the roads of the Heavens? Or have you navigated the sea of Ta-nuter? You must have followed the path of the sun. As for the King of Egypt, there is no road which is inaccessible to His Majesty; we live by the breath he grants to us.

On the return of the expedition, Hatshepsut held a procession to the Temple of Amen-Ra, where her inscriptions stated that the god himself, and Hathor (Lady of Punt), guided the expedition to the new lands. After the appropriate sacrifices had been made, tributes from the Land of Punt were transferred to the temple.

Is this the Mummy of Hatshepsut or Queen Tiy or Someone Else Entierly? She recorded this on the walls of her temple at Deir el-Bahri, and many of the scenes can still be seen today. (Unfortunately many were damaged or destroyed when someone - most likely Thutmose III - tried to erase her name and image from every monument that may have had her name.)

Though this seems a little drastic, there was obviously bitter feelings against Hatshepsut. No-one knows if she was murdered, died or retired from politics to let Thutmose III and her second daughter rule, but she disappeared when Thutmose III became Pharaoh in his own right. Her body has not been positively identified, so it is difficult to prove one way or another. There are a mummies that are a good candidates to be the pharaoh herself, though. An elder woman found in the cache of Amenhotep II; the second female mummy found in the tomb of Hatshepsut's nurse, Sitra-In; and a female mummy found in a cache of mummies along with Hatshepsut's canopic chest containing the remains of her liver.

But, despite all the damage, the people of today still know of Egypt's first female Pharaoh - Hatshepsut*.

For more information on this pharaoh, see my published article, 'Hatshepsut, the Woman who would be King' (2008).

* Technically, the term 'pharaoh' came into use during the 18th Dynasty, but after the reign of Hatshepsut (see Dodson, Aidan and Hilton, Dyan, "The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt"). As such, she cannot really be known as the first female pharaoh, nor can she be called the first female ruler as there were other women rulers prior, making it a complex task to reword the last sentence of the article. And so, the sentiment remains.

© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2000 - present

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