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Hatshepsut, Female Pharaoh of Egypt

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Although not the only female ruler of Egypt, Ma'at-ka-Ra Hatshepsut is one of the best known (next to Cleopatra).
She was an 18th dynasty Pharaoh, daughter of Thuthmose I and Aahmes. 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. (It was the women in Egypt who 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 their rights. 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.
What happened in those twenty years?

Inscriptions on the Walls of Hatshepsut's Temple

Hatshepsut, with the backing of the temple of Amon, proclaimed that she was the divine daughter of the god Amon:

Amon 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 Amon pronounced it Amon's will that Hatshepsut should be Pharaoh. She took on the new role gradually, rather than appearing all at once as the Pharaoh, which would have been a drastic step. She dropped her titles relating to those only a woman could hold, 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 that 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 Amon was very important to raise and keep Hatshepsut in power. Hapuseneb was the High Priest of Amon, and Hatshepsut also put him in charge of her monuments at Karnak. He may have even been vizier to Hatshepsut.

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.

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By Caroline Seawright

Features Main Page Hatshepsut, Female Pharaoh of Egypt