Hatshepsut – challenging the judgements of history
Hatshepsut, a prominent figure in Egyptian history, initially intrigued me after approximately a year of residing in Luxor. My fascination with her grew because, similar to Hatshepsut, I was now adapting to living life in a man’s world. Looking back on it now, the Ireland I had left was also a male-dominated society, albeit unnoticed by me at the time. While Hatshepsut ruled a nation, my challenge revolved around persuading Egyptian workers to stack blocks the way I wanted them at the fledgling Mara House. But, like Hatshepsut, I also eventually achieved success.
In my heart I feel that the conclusions drawn about Hatshepsut and the individuals in her orbit, based on the limited facts available, may have been shaped by individuals who had a limited understanding of women and, more broadly, human nature. It’s possible that these conclusions were influenced by their own perspectives and worldviews. In any case, I am inspired to offer my own interpretation of her story.
Hatshepsut growing up
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, in the ancient land of Egypt, there lived a young girl named Hatshepsut. Her father was a mighty pharaoh named Thutmose I and her mother was Ahmose; she was Thutmose”s half sister as well as his wife. In those days, the right to rulership in Egypt was through the female line. Hatshepsut lived the carefree life of a happy princess, educated in the arts, literature, and horsemanship, as were all the royal children. At the age of twelve, she was officially married to her half brother, Thutmoses II, and was given the title ‘Great Royal Wife’. This is an important title to take note of because there is one Great Royal Wife at a time, while there are many lesser wives or concubines.
In time, Hatshepsut gave birth to a beautiful, healthy daughter they named Neferure.
When Thutmose I died, Thutmose II took to himself another wife named Iset, who gave him a son named Thutmose III.
Death of Pharaoh Thutmoses II
Tragedy struck when Pharaoh Tutmoses II, at the age of 30, succumbed to a mysterious disease. The affliction left traces on his skin—marks that even the skilled embalmers could not erase. With his passing, the future of Egypt rested in the hands of a two-year-old boy, Thutmose III. I think we can assume that his affliction and death were sudden, as there was no co-regent being trained to take over, and it was left to Hatshepsut to concoct a story to validate her taking over the role of pharaoh some years later.
Hatshepsut becomes Regent
Because Thutmose III was only an infant and Hatshepsut was about 30 when Thutmose II died, Hatshepsut stepped into the role of Queen Regent, only the second in pharaonic history. When Thutmoses III was seven, Hatshepsut entrusted him to the guardianship of the military commander, under the care of his nurses and tutors, to further his education. While some suggest she sent him to the army to keep him out of her way, it’s equally plausible that she did so to educate and groom him as a future leader. I don’t believe Hatshepsut felt any animosity towards Thutmose III or against him becoming pharaoh one day in his own right. If she harbored any such thoughts, she could easily have arranged for the young boy to meet with a fatal “accident” or “terminal illness” at any time.
Hatshepsut first tested the waters to ensure she would be accepted as Queen Regent by the nobles, priests, and ordinary people. When this was accomplished, she took a bold step, donned a false beard, put on the royal robes, and declared herself pharaoh. This would not have been possible without the support of key people holding government offices, and she had been careful to groom them while she was Queen Regent.
Divine Narrative of Hatshepsut’s birth
As part of the preparations for Hatshepsut to become pharaoh, a mystical narrative was composed. This narrative was engraved on the walls of the mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri and later in one of the side rooms near the Holy of Holies at Luxor Temple. The mystical narrative of Hatshepsut’s conception adds a layer of mystique to her rule.
The story goes that Amun, the chief god, gathered the other gods to prophesy the arrival of a remarkable queen. He requested their protection and riches for her and promised to grant her great power: “I will join for her the two lands in peace… I will give her all lands and all countries.”
Amun learned from Thoth, the god of wisdom and keeper of the records, that Queen Ahmose would give birth to this divine child. Amun then sought out Hatshepsut’s mother, Ahmose, and gave her the “breath of life.” He told Ahmose that she would give birth to a queen who would rule both Upper and Lower Egypt. After their meeting, Amun instructed Khnum, the divine potter, to fashion a body for the Ka (spirit) of Hatshepsut from clay. This Khnum did and blessed Hatshepsut with life, health, strength, and many gifts, making her divine.
Khnum then offered Hatshepsut and her ka to Heket, who granted her the ankh, the key of life. Thoth conveyed to Ahmose that she herself would receive dignities and titles for being the mother of such an illustrious queen, including the title “the friend and consort of Horus.”
When the time came for Hatshepsut to be born, the birth was attended by 12 gods and goddesses to assist with the birth and protect the baby. Then the baby was nourished by the gods, giving her life and divinity. This is similar to the life of Sety I as recorded in the Temple at Abydos.
Having declared herself pharaoh, that meant there were religious duties and political roles, normally carried out by the pharaoh’s wife, that needed someone to fulfill them. To sort out this problem, Hatshepsut appointed her daughter Neferure to these positions. Neferure had a tutor— tutors were also guardians of a sort—from infancy named Senenmut.
Hatshepsut’s coronation was also engraved on the walls of Deir el Bahri, her mortuary temple which is part of all our tours to the West Bank. In addition to claiming divine birth, Hatshepsut sought to prove her right to rule by showcasing her father Thutmose I’s endorsement, leaving no room for doubt in the minds of the populous. In the depictions on the wall, her coronation begins with Thutmose I acknowledging Hatshepsut as the rightful monarch due to her royal lineage, despite opposition. In scenes of her public coronation, she is shown as a male with a female body, or, in other words, as a female dressed as a boy, wearing the king’s headdress. After the coronation, Hatshepsut took her throne in front of dignitaries as high priests bestowed upon her the five coronation names. This ceremony was essential to legitimizing her reign as pharaoh. Only the priests of the temple had access to these areas of the temple, and it was left to them to convey the message to the people.
Senenmut: Advisor, Protector, Treasurer, and Lover?
Senenmut held several titles, including ‘Great Treasurer of the Queen’, ‘Chief Steward of the King’, and ‘Overseer of the Treasury, Granary, Fields, and Cattle of Amun’. He was also Hatshepsut’s chief architect and is credited with designing her mortuary temple at Deir-el-Bairi on the West Bank of the Nile in Luxor. It is unknown how Senefer came to the attention of Hatshepsut, for he was not of noble birth but a commoner from Armant, about 15 km from Luxor, whose parents we know were named Ramose and Hatnofer. There is conjecture that perhaps Ramose held a low position in government or the royal household because of Senenmut’s education and also because his father’s position was the most obvious way for him to meet Hatshepsut.
There is no proof, but it is widely accepted that perhaps Senenmut was Hatshepsut’s lover, and some of this speculation is related to graphic graffiti of a sexual nature found at Deir-el-Bahri. While it is not obvious that these two in the grafitti are Hatshepsut and Senenmut, popular opinion has it that they are. It is obvious that Hatshepsut and Senenmut were in some kind of relationship, whether sexual or not—how else to explain the closeness between Hatshepsut, Senenmut, and Neferure. If we consider that the only reason for the marriage of Hatshepsut to her half brother Thutmose II was to ensure his line of succession and that he only fathered two children with Hatshepsut, then is it unlikely that Hatshepsut could not also have had a lover in her life? Could it even be possible that Senenmut, instead of Thutmose II fathered Neferure? There are an uncommon number of statues of Senenmut with the young Neferure and it seems he held the position of her guardian/tutor as his highest honor. He also became custodian of her estates and later the protector of the Pharaoh Hatshepsut.
Then there is the fact that Senenmut’s name was also found carved on one of the doors of Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri. It is highly doubtful that such actions would likely have occurred without Hatshepsut’s consent.
Hatshepsut: pretending to be a man or something else?
Hatshepsut’s reign is shrouded in intrigue, particularly regarding her portrayal in historical records. While some inscriptions depict her as a man with the traditional false beard, other inscriptions clearly describe her as a female ruler. It seems to me that although she was, on occasion, wearing the apparal of a male pharaoh, Hatshepsut was not pretending to be an actual man—how could she? Rather, she was gently and gradually acclimating the populace to the notion that women could rule as well as men. And as long as she was bringing wealth to the country and ruling without controversy, why would anyone object?
The Punt Expedition: One of Hatshepsut’s most famous accomplishments was her expedition to the land of Punt, and she shared the glory of this success with Thutmose III as he led the expedition himself. This journey yielded a rich bounty of exotic goods, including fruits, vegetables, and even live trees, all of which enriched Egypt’s resources. The root of one of those trees is still visible at Deir el Bahri.
Hatsheput and Thutmose III: their relationship
We know that Thutmoses III was named on monuments as the co-regent with Hatshepsut for 22 years, neither of them being designated as the prime or main regent. Thutmose III ended his military career before becoming sole pharaoh at the head of Hatshepsut’s military. We can assume he earned it since he has been training since the age of 7. That would mean Thutmoses III was about 24 when he became pharaoh, and he ruled Egypt for a further 34 years, mainly continuing the legacy of Hatshepsut. We don’t know what happened that he became Pharaoh in his own right—did Hatshepsut die?
The guides will all tell you, when visiting Deir dl Bahri and telling the story of Hatshepsut, that Thutmose III set about obliterating her name from the monuments and thereby her existence from history. However, I doubt that, and instinctively, I always have, since the first time I visited Hatshepsut’s Temple. My logical reasons for doubting it would be:
- Hatshepsut had to have the support of the nobles and the military commanders to rule as Pharaoh and to appoint her daughter Neferure to carry out the duties traditionally performed by the ‘Royal Wife’. They would all have nothing to gain by filling the young Thutmose III’s head with anything except love, honor, and respect for Hatshepsut. So, I doubt he was angry for 22 years.
- Thutmose III was proud of his military accomplishments and the wealth that both himself in the army and Hatshepsut in the Capital had worked to bring to Egypt. He was not inheriting a broken-down country but a wealthy and prosperous one—something to be thankful for.
- If Thutmose III felt animosity towards Hatshepsut he could have had her disposed of at any time. There is no sign he did.
- Hatshepsut’s name and titles are not all obliterated; this could not be because Thutmose III didn’t have time, didn’t know where they all were, or was incompetent in the task. Many remain in places that are not so obvious as some of the defaced ones. In fact, one famous one remains intact at Karnak Temple.
- The defacements are dated to have happened in the latter part of Thutmose III’s reign rather than the earlier years.
- Thutmoses III would have needed to marry Hatshepsut’s daughter, Neferure, to claim rightful succession to the throne; if there were any animosity, this could have been in jeopardy, – there is no evidence of that. But there is some small evidence that he did marry Neferure.
The Rise of Amenhotep II
For the last two years of his life, Thutmose III raised Amenhotep II his son, from a lesser wife named Merytre-Hatshepsut, to be his co-regent. His succession was a bit dodgy because his mother was not of royal blood and he was not the first in line to succeed Thutmose III. He only came prominently into the line of succession due to the death of Amenemhat, who is speculated to have been the son of Thutmose III and Neferure. I think it is more likely that Amenhotep II would have been the one to want to make people forget Hatshepsut.
Furthermore, it would seem from various documents found that Amenhotep II held non-Egyptians in very low esteem. And it may be that he held similar views on women, even among the royal family. While his wife Tiaa bore him 10 children, including his successor, she was attributed no status or titles during his lifetime. She had to wait until her son became pharaoh to receive titles and be included in statues of the royal family. Or it could be that he feared another female similar to Hatshepsut might rise from the family ranks and usurp his position, an occurrence he would want to avoid, and points to another possibility that it was he who instituted the defacing of Hatshepsut on the monuments.
Disappearance of Hatshepsut, Neferure and Senenmut
By the time, or around the time, that Amenhotep II became sole pharaoh, Hatshepsut, Senenmut, and Neferure no longer seemed to be around. They are not mentioned on any monuments or any hitherto discovered objects. At the time Thutmoses III died, he would have been 54 himself, Hatshepsut about the same age, and Senenmut about 64–74, which would have been very old for an Egyptian as the average age for nobility deaths was 50ish and for commoners about 35–40. Neferure would have been about 35–40.
We have no information about the deaths of Hatshepsut, Neferure, or Senenmut. Senenmut had a chapel and a tomb constructed for himself. The chapel is TT71 in the Tombs of the Nobles, and the tomb is TT353, near Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple—further proof of the relationship between them. But there are no mummies, no evidence the tombs were ever occupied, and no evidence of their burials. A tomb that may have been for Neferure was being constructed in the tombs of the Nobles, and there is another possible tomb, which I think is more likely, near Deir el Bahri, but both were never occupied.
So, what happened to Hatshepsut, Neferure and Senenmut? It seems like too much of a coincidence to me that they all suddenly ceased to exist around the same time and lacking burial records, evidence or mummies.
Discovery of Hatshepsut’s mummy
In 1903, Howard Carter found two female mummies in tomb KV60 in the Valley of the Kings. . One was identified as Hatshepsut’s nurse and other remained unidentified. In 2007, Dr. Zahi Hawass took the unidentified mummy to Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. The mummy was missing a tooth, and the gap in its jaw matched a molar found in a canopic box bearing Hatshepsut’s cartouche. Hawass took this as confirmation the mummy was Hatshepsut’s but there was no DNA confirmation.
However, in 2011, they realized that the tooth found in the canopic box was from the lower jaw, while the missing molar in the mummy believed to have been Hatshepsut was in the upper jaw. So it is not yet certain that Hatshepsut’s mummy has been identified.
The life and reign of Hatshepsut, the audacious female pharaoh of ancient Egypt, remain, in my mind, a mystery shrouded in intrigue. Her extraordinary journey, from a young princess to a powerful ruler, challenges conventional historical narratives. While her reign featured bold moves, divine narratives, and the extraordinary presence of Senenmut, the truth behind her disappearance, along with that of her daughter Neferure and Senenmut, continues to elude us. The ongoing quest to unravel the secrets of Hatshepsut’s life, her rise to power, and her eventual fate reminds us that history, especially the stories of remarkable women, often conceals more than it reveals. Hatshepsut’s legacy is a testament to her vision and resilience, a testament that transcends time, leaving us with an enduring fascination for one of Egypt’s most fascinating rulers.
If you want to add a little more imagination to the story of Hatshepsut – I recommend reading the book Daughter of the Gods