“I never slumbered as one forgetful, but have made strong what was decayed. I have raised up what was dismembered.”
Princess Hatshepsut was born to rule. As the only child of the Pharaoh and his Great Royal Wife, Hatshepsut had the strongest claim to the throne and during her father’s reign held the important office of God’s Wife. Her name meant Foremost of the Noble Ladies and by the time she was fifteen the princess was an experienced and capable administrator.
There was only one problem; she was not a man. When her father Pharaoh Thutmose I died, Hatshepsut was obliged to marry her younger half-brother, whose mother was a minor wife of the Pharaoh. Still, the teenage Queen took an active role in the affairs of the Kingdom, knowing that it was only through marriage to her that Thutmose II was King at all.
Thirteen years into his reign, Thutmose II died of an illness. He and Hatshepsut had a daughter, Neferure, together, but it was his son Thutmose III, who he fathered with a secondary wife, who would inherit the throne. However, Thutmose III was very young and would need a regent to run the kingdom until he reached maturity. With her royal bloodline and wealth of experience, thirty year old Hatshepsut was the logical choice. Two years later, she declared herself King of Egypt.
Pharaoh Hatshepsut ruled Egypt for over twenty years in her own right, and is regarded as one of the most successful of Egypt’s rulers. While her father had spent his reign at war with the Hyksos in the Nile Delta, Hatshepsut maintained a largely peaceful foreign policy and took the opportunity to establish important trade routes, building the wealth of her dynasty.
She oversaw expeditions to the land of Punt, bringing frankincense and myrrh to Egypt for the first time. The frankincense she used for kohl
eyeliner, and the myrrh trees were planted in her extensive funeral complex at Deir el-Bahri. Her mortuary temple was to become the envy of all Pharaohs who followed her, and is now the entrance to the Valley of the Kings.
Hatshepsut, like her father, was an extensive builder. The wealth brought into Egypt from her international trade routes was put towards funding hundreds of construction projects, grander than any of her predecessors, raising the standard of Egyptian architecture. So much statutory was produced that today every major museum in the world contains at least one statue built by Hatshepsut.
To assert herself as Pharaoh, rather than a Queen, images of Hatshepsut portray her with all of the traditional symbols and regalia of kingship – including the khat headcloth, shendyt kilt and false beard. There is no indication that Hatshepsut dressed as a man, and it is thought that in statues and carvings she is depicted in this way so that there can be no doubt she is Pharaoh.
Meanwhile, her step-son Thutmose III was also Pharaoh, in title only. Though he had little power over the empire, Hatshepsut appointed him head of her armies. There is no indication that Hatshepsut’s leadership was ever challenged, and until her death Thutmose III remained in a secondary role quite amicably. As head of her powerful armies, he would have had the power to overthrow her at any time, and clearly never chose to.
It is true that towards the end of his own reign Thutmose III began to remove Hatshepsut from historical records, chiseling her name and images away from stone walls, leaving obvious gaps in artwork. Her statues were also torn down or disfigured and buried in a pit that would not be discovered for many centuries.
It’s not clear why Thutmose chose to do this, especially as he did not seem to take issue with Hatshepsut during her rule. One theory is that he was simply doing what he believed to be correct at the time – as at the time it was not considered possible for a woman to be Pharaoh, he may have been attempting to return her to her place as his co-regent.
Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt: From Early Dynastic Times to the Death of Cleopatra – Joyce Tyldesley
Tausret: Forgotten Queen and Pharaoh of Egypt – Richard H. Wilkinson
Hatshepsut: from Queen to Pharaoh – Metropolitan Museum of Art
Child of the Morning by Pauline Gedge
The Hatshepsut Trilogy by Patricia O’Neill