Egypt: Hatshepsut, Female Pharaoh of Egypt

Hatshepsut, Female Pharaoh of Egypt

by Caroline Seawright


Hatshepsut Ma'at-ka-Ra Hatshepsut, Female Pharaoh of Egypt

Ma'at-ka-Ra - 'Truth/Order/Balance ("Ma'at") is the Spirit/Double ("ka") of Ra' Hatshepsut - 'Foremost of Noble Women'

Although not the only female ruler of Egypt, Ma'at-ka-Ra Hatshepsut (18th Dynasty) is one of the best known (next to Cleopatra).

She was an 18th dynasty Pharaoh, daughter of Thuthmose I and Ahmes. When her father died her half brother, Thuthmose 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 Thuthmose II to marry Hatshepsut. (The women in Egypt 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.) Thuthmose II died soon after becoming Pharaoh, leaving the widow Hatshepsut, a daughter Neferura... and a son by another wife - Thuthmose 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 Thuthmose 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 Thuthmose III's becoming Pharaoh in his own right.

But what happened in those twenty years?

Inscriptions on the Walls of Hatshepsut's Temple

Hatshepsut, with the backing of the temple of Amun, proclaimed that she was the divine Wife of the god Amun:

Amun took the form of the noble King Thuthmose and found the queen sleeping in her room. When the pleasant odours that proceeded from him announced his presence she woke. He gave her his heart and showed himself in his godlike splendour. When he approached the queen she wept for joy at his strength and beauty and he gave her his love...

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

Then his majesty said to them: "This daughter of mine, Khnumetamun 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!

Hatshepsut began to adopt several male attributes, after the Oracle of Amun pronounced it Amun'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.

Hatshepsut's Daughters

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 (Thuthmose 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, Hatshepsut's second daughter, became the wife of Thuthmose III, and married him just before or during his coronation after Thuthmose 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 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.

The backing of the priesthood of Amun was very important to raise and keep Hatshepsut in power. Hapuseneb was the High Priest of Amun, and Hatshepsut also put him in charge of her monuments at 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 Amun, Controller of Works, Overseer of the Administrative Office of the Mansion, Conductor of Festivals, Overseer of the Cattle of Amun, 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 Amun, Overseer of the Double Granary of Amun and Hereditary Prince and Count.

Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple and Other Works

After becoming Pharaoh, Hatshepsut ordered many works, carrying on from her father's works. Her first were two obelisks, cut at Aswan and transported to Karnak. There is not much left of these, as most of her things were vandalised after Thuthmose 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 Aswan till this day!). These were to celebrate her 16th year as Pharaoh.

At Karnak, 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 (KV20) made for herself, while married to Thuthmose II. It was a queen's tomb in the Valley of the Kings, but it was never completed. Supposedly she and her father, Thuthmose 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 Thuthmose II and became queen.)

After the Valley of the Kings tomb was abandoned, work at beautiful Deir el-Bahri was started. This was to be her famous Mortuary Temple - Djeser Djeseru. It was built at the site of an even older temple - Mentuhotep I'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.

It was modelled on Mentuhotep I'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-Horakhte and, of course, Amun-Ra.

Inscriptions at the temple say:

When you rest in your building where your beauties are worshiped, Amun-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 Thuthmose 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 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.

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 Amun-Ra. This was a land rich in products Egyptians desired - myrrh, frankincense, woods, sweet-smelling resin, ivory, 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 Amun-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.

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 Thuthmose 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 Thuthmose III and her second daughter rule, but she disappeared when Thuthmose III became Pharaoh in his own right. Her body has not been found, so it is difficult to prove one way or another.

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

Caroline Seawright is a full time worker, part time traveler, anime and manga lover and HTML programmer! She writes many articles on or about Egypt.

See Also:

Tour Egypt Original Information on Hatshepsut
Queens of Egypt Part I
and Part II by Dr. Sameh Arab
Red Chapel at Karnak