Hatshepsut was one of the most successful pharaohs in Ancient Egypt, a woman who took the name pharaoh after serving as Thutmose III’s regency for seven years. She oversaw the expansion of Ancient Egypt’s trade, a great reign of peace, and oversaw a series of large building projects such as one of the architectural wonders of Ancient Egypt, the Temple of Deir el-Bahri. Her reign was revolutionary in every sense, requiring Hatshepsut to use all her wits and skills to justify.
Born to Pharaoh Thutmose I, Hatshepsut was named the God’s Wife of Amen at an incredibly young age. In her book, the Woman Who Would be King, Kara Cooney this was her first taste. In this position, Hatshepsut was the highest-ranking priestess in the cult of Amun, and with it came land and property, allowing her to manage a large estate at a young age. Cooney argues that this prepared her to act as pharaoh’s wife, queen regent, and, eventually, pharaoh. It also provided her with the religious and legal knowledge required to explain why she could take the name pharaoh when there was already a living heir.
After her father died, Hatshepsut was married to her half-brother, Thutmose II, and bore him a daughter, Neferure. However, in Ancient Egypt, only male children mattered and so the throne passed onto Hatshepsut’s nephew, Thutmose III. Hatshepsut’s husband did not live long, dying when Thutmose III was only a child. It was normal for women to rule as regents while the pharaoh grow into age, but Hatshepsut was different.
Her regency started off as normal, but at some point, the sources differ as to whether it was the third or fifth year of her regency, Hatshepsut became pharaoh. Originally, her portrayals were a combination of the feminine and the masculine. She would wear the beard, but her figure was feminine in form. Over time, her form became more masculine and there were warnings that “he who shall do her homage shall live; he who shall speak evil in blasphemy of her Majesty shall die”. She also changed how she was addressed to include the grammatically feminine participles. When she was drawn with Thutmose III, she was ahead of him when he was younger, but as he grew older, she became more masculine, and they became almost indistinguishable. By studying the remains of Hatshepsut’s reign, we can see how Ancient Egypt dealt with having a woman as a pharaoh, especially as Thutmose III grew old enough to properly exercise his power.
It seems that one of the reasons Hatshepsut was able to keep power, besides her own cleverness and abilities, but also because she knew how to promote loyalty amongst her own staff. She seemed to promote men who came from middle class to lower class families who would rely on her for their positions. Her most famous staff member was Senenmut, a man of a lower class family who was named Neferure’s tutor and worked his way up to official overseer of one of Hatshepsut’s largest building project: Deir el-Bahri as well as the Great Steward of Amun, making him in charge of all of Karnak’s building and business activities. He created a total of 25 monuments in his own honor, sometimes showing him embracing a childlike Neferure, as if to highlight his closeness with Hatshepsut’s family. He even built a splendid tomb for himself near Hatshepsut’s tomb, even though it doesn’t seem he ever occupied it. There used to be a theory that Senenmut was the true power behind Hatshepsut, but it seems that the opposite is true. Senenmut would have been nothing without Hatshepsut, which explains his loyalty to her, and his sudden and dramatic fall from power after she died.
Another reason she was able to rule as Pharaoh, was because of how delicately she handled the elephant in the room: Thutmose III. She never tried to downplay his role nor did she try to kill him or lead a coup. Instead, she seemed to have created a joint pharaohship, Thutmose utilizing her reign to learn how to rule and how to lead an army by fighting in Nubia. It seems that Hatshepsut knew she could never truly rule as a solitary pharaoh while Thutmose III was alive and seemed unwilling to kill him, so the only solution was to install two pharaohs.
It seems that Hatshepsut died around 1458 BC and was buried in the Valley of the Kings. Her body was never found, so her cause of death is unknown. Before she died, she had her father’s body moved to her tomb, so they could lay together. Thutmose III ruled for 30 years after Hatshepsut’s death, and while, we will never know Hatshepsut’s relationship with Thutmose III, there is no reason to think he had anything to do with her death or if he was glad to see her die. He would later destroy almost all records of Hatshepsut’s reign after her death, but it would only be towards the end of his reign. This suggests that something happened that required Thutmose III to eradicate Hatshepsut’s name. Maybe he needed to legitimize his own region so his son could take over as pharaoh. Maybe he wanted to prevent other strong female members of his own family or future families from taking the throne. Without further evidence, it seems that the decision was politically as oppose to personally motivated. Because of Thutmose III’s efforts, the world would not know about Hatshepsut until the 1822 and has continued to challenge our understanding of the nature of the pharaoh, leadership in Ancient Egypt, and feminine power within the ancient world.
Cooney, Kara the Woman Who Would be King, 2014 Crown Publishing