PROFILE: Hetshepsut, First Queen of Ancient Egypt

(ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN 2016 MARCH EDITION)

By Jennafer Chloe Bohne Campus Press Co-Editor and Columnist

Hatshepsut, also spelled Hatchepsut, female king of Egypt (reigned in her own right c. 1507–1458 BC) and attained unprecedented power for a woman, adopting the full titles and regalia of a pharaoh or king.  She was the elder daughter of the 18th dynasty king Thutmost I, and his consort Ahmose, who was married to her half-brother Thutmost II, son of the Lady Mutnofret. Hatshepsut bore one daughter, Neferure, but no son. When her husband died about 1479 BC, the throne passed to his son Thutmose III, born to Isis, a lesser harem queen. As Thutmose III was an infant, Hatshepsut acted as regent for the young king.

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Traditional Ruling Pharaoh  For the first few years of her stepson’s reign, Hatshepsut was an entirely conventional regent. But by the end of his seventh regnal year, she had been crowned king and adopted a full royal titular (the royal protocol adopted by Egyptian sovereigns). Yet now, after a brief period of experimentation that involved combining a female body with kingly (male) regalia, her formal portraits began to show Hatshepsut with a male body, wearing the traditional regalia of kilt, crown or head-cloth, and false beard. To dismiss this as a serious attempt to pass herself off as a man is to misunderstand Egyptian artistic convention, which showed things not as they were but as they should be.

In causing herself to be depicted as a traditional king, Hatshepsut ensured that this is what she would become. An example of the legends about Hatshepsut is a myth about her birth. This myth would tell us that the god Amun goes to Ahmose in the form of Thutmose I and wakes her with pleasant odors. Then, Amun places the ankh, a symbol of life, up to Ahmose’s nose and Hatshepsut is conceived. Khnum, the god who forms up the bodies of human children, is then told to create a body and Ka, or corporal presence/life force, for Hatshepsut. Heket, the goddess of life and fertility, and Khnum then lead Ahmose along to a lioness’ bed where she gives birth to Hetshepsut. Reliefs depicting each step in these events are at Karnak and in her mortuary temple, according to wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatshepsut.

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Hatshepsut and Cleopatra  Now, although it was uncommon for Egypt to have a female ruler, and though Hatshepsut was the first official queen, it wasn’t unprecedented. As a regent, Hatshepsut was preceded by Merneith of the first dynasty, who was buried with the full honors of a pharaoh and may have ruled in her own right. Among the later, non-indigenous Egyptian dynasties, the most notable example of another woman who became pharaoh was Cleopatra VII, the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt.

Hatshepsut had begun construction of a tomb when she was the Great Royal Wife of Thutmose II, but the scale of this was not suitable for a pharaoh, so when she ascended the throne, preparation for another burial started. For this, KV20 (tomb in the Valley of the Kings of Egypt), originally quarried for her father, Thutmose I, and the first royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings, was extended with a new burial chamber. Hatshepsut died as she was approaching what we would consider middle age given typical contemporary lifespans, in her twenty-second regnal year.

Removal of Her Image   Toward the end of the reign of Thutmose III and into the reign of his son, an attempt was made to remove Hatshepsut from certain historical and pharaonic records. This elimination was carried out in the most literal way possible. Her cartouches and images were chiseled off some stone walls, leaving very obvious Hatshepsut-shaped gaps in the artwork.

For many years, presuming that it was Thutmose III acting out of resentment once he became pharaoh, early modern Egyptologists presumed that the erasures were similar to the Roman damnatio memoriae. This appeared to make sense when thinking that Thutmose might have been an unwilling co-regent for years. This assessment of the situation probably is too simplistic, however. It is highly unlikely that the determined and focused Thutmose—not only Egypt’s most successful general, but an acclaimed athlete, author, historian, botanist, and architect—would have brooded for two decades of his own reign before attempting to avenge himself on his stepmother and aunt.

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