Queen Hatshepsut And Her Reign In Egypt

In today's era, both in Africa and around the world, the role of women across differing cultures show a variety of similarities and differences. Many countries around the world have embraced women's equalities, while others have not. As we look to the region of the Nile, we look to Egypt. Today, Egyptian women may hold different roles, or they might be similar as compared to other cultures. When we look back into the ancient times of Egypt, we might be surprised that the roles of women were quite different when compared to other cultures of that time. 'When Herodotus visited ancient Egypt and the end of the dynastic period, he was intrigued never before seeing women appearing to be free as their men folk'. From the most commonly known Cleopatra to Queen Hatshepsut, women have played significant roles in Ancient Egypt. Four queens are recorded as having ruled in their own right. It was the most famous female pharaoh Hatshepsut and her reign that spanned one of Egypt's most prosperous periods. Women held titles suggesting responsibility and independence. Many of these women also owned land and held secular positions (Ikram). Increasing evidence confirms through textual and archaeological findings that the feminine element was vital to the survival of the king (Tyldesley 2006). For the purpose of this paper, I will elaborate briefly on the political history of women in ancient Egypt but specifically, focus on Queen Hatshepsut and her reign. Through a chronological journey, I will discuss how she became Queen regent, provide evidence to her significant political influence on Egypt during her reign, and explore her adversity during that time leading to her unfortunate and mysterious end. 

Throughout the 3000-year history of Egypt, everyone - whether they were commoner or king, were expected to marry. 'Girls were raised to be, first and foremost, good wives and mothers. A man without a wife was seen as immature and incomplet.' Women in ancient Egypt were free and able to proceed in life much like their male counterparts. As Herodotus found in his travels, women were free as menfolk. Egypt seemed to be ahead of its times in many ways. Not only were they profoundly advanced in technology, but unknowingly advanced in equality. Women's rights included were but not limited to owning property, executing a will, adopting children, and initiate a lawsuit. On the other hand, women seemed to have been second place to man, undertaking duties within the household while the man was outside the home (Williams). In a male dominated Ancient Egypt there were at times a female ruler. It was at these times a woman would change her traditional roles from queen to queen regent. Typically, the royal women would be second to the king and support him and bear children to carry the 'royal blood' and pass on the lineage. On the other hand, when placed into power by death of a king with no rightful heir, the queen would assume the roles of the king as queen regent. This happened 4 times in the history of Egypt. Queen Nitocris in the 6th Dynasty, Queen Sobekneferu in the 12th Dynasty, Queen Hatshepsut in the 18th Dynasty, and lastly, Queen Twosret in the 19th Dynasty. There is one other Queen Khentkaus from the 4th Dynasty, but there is limited information or evidence of her reign (Hawass). Other research shows possible evidence of seven total queens but due to lack of evidence will not be supported or discussed in this research. Of the Queens mentioned, there is one that stands apart far from the others - Queen Hatshepsut. Who was she and how did she come to be Queen of Egypt? 

In the 18th Dynasty, Hatshepsut's father, King Thutmose, was a strong ruler and conqueror of Egypt (Grimal). He had many military achievements ranging from: extending the borders from the Euphrates to Nubia and killing the Nubian king. These were the furthest conquests of any king. He also completed significant building projects in the temple of Karnak. He was also the first to be buried in the Valley of the Kings. Hatshepsut was one of four children to survive before Thutmose's eventual death. We shall ponder the thought of young Hatshepsut growing up in a great time within the realm of a successful Egypt. A royal family at this time was very rich. There were luxurious accommodations, great food, and clothing, not to mention exotic jewelry. This was the wealth of Egypt. What sort of upbringing did Hatshepsut have? Who were her role models and what goals were given to her? When Thutmose I died, he had a son, Thutmose II. Thutmose II was born from a secondary wife, not of royal blood. Thutmose II served 13 years and married his half-sister Hatshepsut. Thutmose III a was son of Thutmose II, yet again born to a second wife and not of royal blood. Hatshepsut was the only living child by blood and Thutmose III was not old enough to be king. Thus, Hatshepsut was stepmother to the young Thutmose III and became queen regent until he became of age in 1479 BC. Queen Hatshepsut was regent for a period of 7 years (Tyldesley 2006). While confusing it was not out of the ordinary for kings to have multiple wives and from the same family. Obviously, being a queen regent was not a goal of hers in a land where a man was king; yet perhaps coming to power might have enticed her desire to retain the title. During her reign as Queen Regent, she sanctioned various constructions such as statues, temples, and obelisks. Her most prestigious was the Royal Temple of Deir El-Bahari. Queen Hatshepsut built the mortuary temple for herself. The great pyramids of Egypt were grand and built with defense in mind while the Temple of Deir El-Bahari was an open floor plan with great technological and architectural advancement. She additionally, much like her predecessors, had many statues built in her likeness. This was not uncommon for pharaohs to build statues and tell their stories and histories in the form of hieroglyphs on the walls of their temples. She also sanctioned the construction of three obelisks. Today, only one still stands in the Temple of Karnak. The second has fallen and is on display while the third is still in its quarry incomplete. Hatshepsut also sanctioned The Red Chapel in Karnak, which shows writings on the wall that she built these obelisks to present to the god Amun. The third obelisk measuring 42 meters long and weighing approximately 1200 tons cracked during construction and was left unfinished (The Unfinished Obelisk). It is said that a king's success is measured by his wealth and constructions within Egypt. 

There is no doubt the size and grandeur of Hatshepsut's endeavors show that she was successful politically as a leader in the economy in Egypt and accepted by her peoples. It would seem that her political stance was to restore and rebuild Egypt. Her constructions in Egypt were not her only political strength. She also built her trade relationships. After a foreign occupation, there were difficulties with trade routes. She sanctioned an expedition to the land of Punt. Now believed to be known as Ethiopia, this was the furthest any ruler of Egypt had traveled to establish trade. It was her accomplishments that restored the riches of Egypt and economically gave her the ability to construct such great items. Thutmose III was growing up and there seems to be no historical conflict between him and his stepmother Hatshepsut. Thutmose III was termed the Napoleon of Egypt and they seemed to coexist together while Hatshepsut took care of everything else in Egypt. As we stated before she may have enjoyed the title of regent and the possibility as ruler of Egypt. She must have realized that as the young king grew older she would have to hand back her powers as regent and let him rule alone. Could she control the young Thutmose III? Killing him would not be an option. Did Hatshepsut fear she was going to lose her title? There is no evidence, but it is within her temples and on the walls that a story is told where she was of divine birth. Could divine birth be the answer to her problems? 

During reign as regent, she was given the right to attend many religious sacred meetings among elders. Perhaps she learned the value, power, and influence of religion. The walls of the temple within Deir El-Bahari depict a story that the God Amun came to her mother Queen Ahmose (Tyldesley 2006). Amun tells Ahmose that she has been chosen to bear his daughter the future king of Egypt. Was it under her direction to write this story on the walls to ensure acceptance? Early statues of Hatshepsut depict a feminine queen yet as time progresses we find that the statues and images on the walls of temples depict Hatshepsut taking a more masculine appearance with the most prominent feature being that of a beard. It seemed that the appearance of a male king was of importance to her. Seven years after being Queen Regent, Hatshepsut named herself King. Perhaps her experimentation in changing her appearance was to retain her title as Thutmose III came of age. Various images depict her asking, but we must also state images showed her as co-king alongside that of Thutmose III (Robins). She is however depicted in these images as first or alongside that of Thutmose III Robins). King Hatshepsut continued her prosperous reign. She inherited great advisors but selected Senenmut a man of low status. It is said that an advisor would work harder for their king to ensure the king remained king otherwise their job would be gone as well (Tyldesley 2006). The story of Senenmut is not the focus of this study, but his relationship with Hatshepsut is important and at times mysterious. Senenmut is depicted on the walls as her most influential advisor. He also was a private tutor to her daughter Neferure. It was her education that was important because King Hatshepsut needed a Queen. It was Neferure that assumed this role handed down by Hatshepsut. Without Senenmut this may have not been possible. Senenmut seems to have more than an advisory role to Hatshepsut. A sexual image was found that depicts Hatshepsut and Senenmut possibly having a relationship. Was Senenmut Hatshepsut's lover? While this image may be a form of ancient Egyptian gossip it only adds to the evidence that Senenmut's burial tomb was found not far from that of the temple of Deir El-Bahari. One would believe that Hatshepsut must have approved this. King Hatshepsut's reign ended in 1458 BC. It was at that time that Thutmose III was the sole ruler of Egypt. Hatshepsut's body was not buried in the tomb she built for herself. 

There is no evidence or reason pertaining to her death. Was she killed, or did she die of natural causes? While we may never know, it is interesting that it seems that it was nearly 20 years after Thutmose III assumed sole reign, that statues and images of Hatshepsut on the walls were changed. Statues outside her temple were beheaded and the hieroglyphs were etched clear of presence. As if she were erased from history, we ponder the thoughts of why the images of her were removed. Did Thutmose III request her removal? Was he upset with her all this time? Was he influenced by others to support the idea of a male ruler of Egypt? We shall never know, but whatever the case, these changes were not made until some 20 years later. Archaeological evidence from 2006 found nine gold cartouches with Thutmose and Hatshepsut names on them. These cartouches may reveal additional information regarding Thutmose III and his son Amenhotep II and their attempts to remove her from history (Mensan). Today, we have recently found her remains. It is revealed that she had bad teeth and died of cancer. For nearly 3000 years there was no Hatshepsut other than legend or myth. In 1922, Archaeologists then found a quarry behind her temple with thousands of fragments of statues. Many were pieced together to prove that Hatshepsut did exist, and she was both a queen of Egypt in the feminine likeness as well as that of a King in a masculine form. Currently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art holds the greatest evidence of her reign. Statues standing and sitting, a sphinx, and busts of Hatshepsut lie within the museum. 

With all the kings in the history of Egypt, Hatshepsut's 20-year reign is known as the most successful. It is unfortunate that we have no real evidence to tell us why there was an attempt to remove her from history. From her birth to her mysterious death, Hatshepsut's' life is impressive and mysterious. Her great temple and subsequent buildings measure her political influence on Egypt. It is obvious the economy in Egypt was rich and prolific. Did Thutmose III attempt to take credit for her accomplishments? Or was he trying to restore the manliness of Egypt? Was it he and his son alone, or was it a secret group, that was destined to remove her feminine reign from history. And what of Senenmut, was he her lover? Not only was Hatshepsut unusual being female in her reign, but also she might have had a lover, which would have been forbidden by elders and the people of Egypt. Only the kings could have a harem or concubines. While women were respected in ancient Egypt, they were respected as women in their place as mother or owner and perhaps even mother to a king. Yet when a woman is king of Egypt, many may have not enjoyed her reign simply because she was not a man. The female King Hatshepsut endured many unusual challenges during her reign to overcome a male-dominated Egypt. Both accepted and unaccepted from birth to her death, Hatshepsut's story should not be forgotten, as it is perhaps the most intriguing and mysterious story in the history of Egypt.  

16 December 2021
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