The Pharaoh Sex: Hatshepsut, Woman Pharaoh of Egypt

Hail Hatshepsut, (pron: hat-shep-sut, or hatch-ep-sut) Foremost of Noble Ladies, fifth pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty.  I’d like to tell you a little about Hatshepsut, one of the most famous female pharaohs of Egypt. Most of the Pharaohs are male, but ever so occasionally there comes along a very special woman, who is allowed to take the role.  Hatshepsut is in good company, even if you haven’t heard of Sobekneferu, or Nimaethap, you’ll probably have encountered the Ptolemaic ruler Cleopatra (VII) at some point.  Egyptologists class Hatshepsut as one of the most successful builders and peacemakers of all the Pharaohs.  She also reigned longer than any other female pharaoh of an indigenous dynasty.  Here she is, looking regal:



Notice she doesn’t have much in the boob department?  I’ll come to that in a bit.

Her reign had previously been described as that of a co-regent to Thutmose III, but is now recognised as a Pharaoh in her own right.  She lived and died in ancient Egypt, coming to power in 1479BC , ruling for 21 years, 9 months until Jan 16th 1458BC, and dying of probable bone cancer or diabetes somewhere in her fifties.  Her surviving body also indicates that she had arthritis and bad teeth.  Bad teeth aside, she was celebrated for achieving quite a lot in her reign, not least of which was the political and social wrangling which allowed her to be recognised and buried as a pharaoh with full honours accorded to her status.  She was daughter to Thutmose I, wife to Thutmose II (her half brother) and was succeeded by Thutmose III, so at least that’s nice and easy… During her father’s reign, she held the powerful title of God’s Wife (not in the Abramic sense, but a title which was passed down the maternal line during the 18th Dynasty) and went on to become King’s Great Wife.  Here she is again: Thutmose III (classed officially as her co-regent) is the smaller figure on the left, Hatshepsut is the grander one on the right with the big hat:

Thutmose III and Hatshepsut

Thutmose III and Hatshepsut

She was known for two aspects of her reign, that of trade and building.  Trade wise, she re-established trade networks which had been disrupted by the Hyksos occupation of Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period (naughty Hyksos).  She commanded that a great expedition be sent to the Land of Punt, a group of five ships each 70ft long, carrying 210 men.  The expedition duly went, and came back with not only ivory, wood,myrrh, monkeys, gold and a trade agreement, but also trees.  31 live Myrrh trees to be precise, their roots kept in baskets for the voyage and presented to Hatshepsut on their arrival, who promptly had them planted in the courts of her Deir el Bahri mortuary temple complex. The expedition was commemorated at Deir el Bahri, with a realistic depiction of the Queen of Punt (how awesome a title is that?!), Queen Iti, who had steatopygia (like the Venus of Willendorf).  The majority of her reign and foreign policy is understood to have been peaceful, but there is some evidence to suggest that she led successful military campaigns in Nubia, the Levant and Syria early in her reign.

Building wise, she went a tad OTT to say the least.  She was a prolific builder in both Lower and Upper Egypt.  Buildings, stele, inscriptions and statuary went up everywhere, proclaiming her name and great works.  She had a lot to shout about, and although a lot of works containing her image have been deliberately destroyed by the succeeding Pharaohs (so much cheaper to erase a name and put your own on, rather than commissioning a whole new building. stele or obelisk) pretty much every major museum has some of her statuary.  There’s a whole room of her stuff at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Following the tradition of most Pharaohs, she had monuments constructed at the Temple of Karnak, having twin obelisks raised (at the time the tallest in the world, one remains the tallest ancient obelisk still standing) and restored the original Precinct of Mut, which had been previously ravaged by the Hyksos rulers (naughty Hyksos again).  Under her orders, the Temple of Pahket (a goddess in the form of a lioness) was built at Beni Hassan, The cavernous underground temple, cut into the rock cliffs on the eastern side of the Nile, was admired and called the Speos Artemidos by the Greeks during their occupation of Egypt, known as the Ptolemaic Dynasty. They saw the goddess as a parallel to their hunter goddess Artemis.  Later on, Seti I tried to erase Hatshepsut’s name, and claim the great  building as his own achievement.

Her biggest achievement was her funerary complex, built at the entrance to what is now known as The Valley of Kings, as subsequent Pharaohs wanted to associate their burial complexes with the majesty of hers. Her complex is officially located at Deir el-Bahri, just in case you want to get technical.  The focal point was the Djeser-Djeseru or “the Sublime of Sublimes”, it sits atop a series of terraces that once were graced with lush gardens and is built into a cliff face.  What’s left is still spectacular:

Hatshetsup's mortuary temple

Hapshetsut's mortuary temple

One of the remaining pieces of inscription reads:

When you rest in your building where your beauties are worshiped, Amen-Ra, the Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, give Hatshepsut Ma’at-ka-Ra life, duration and happiness. For you she has made this building fine, great, pure and lasting…

But how did she accomplish all of this, whilst occupying a role traditionally held by a man?  Let’s take a closer look at some of her statuary.  It’s traditional for Pharaohs to carve their likenesses onto the bodies of lions, creating a sphinx.  Here’s one belonging to the lady herself, and at first glance, it looks nice and sphinx-like.  There are some subtle differences though, there’s the rounded ears for one, and the ruff around the sides of the face, giving an impression of a lioness, not a lion.  She’s wearing the false beard though (which even male pharaohs were depicted wearing even though they didn’t wear them in real life – it’s a false beard of power thing).

Hatshepsut Sphinx

Hatshepsut Sphinx

Hatshepsut was firstly depicted in feminine dress of the period, but as she grew in power and status, she assumed all of the regalia and symbols of the pharaonic office in official representations: the Khat head cloth, topped with the uraeus (the cobra at the front of the headdress), the traditional false beard, and shendyt kilt.  Here are two of the remaining statues from her funerary complex:

Hatshepsut as Osiris

Hatshepsut as Osiris

It was traditional for Pharaoh to associate himself heavily with Osiris, usually being depicted as him, and Hatshepsut was no different.  Above she is depicted as Osiris, complete with crook and flail, and the false beard of power.  Note that the lower half of the body is wrapped in funerary wrappings, and just above the faces are the broken off remains of where the uraeus once was.

She also took on the traditional titles of the Pharaoh and had them placed into inscriptions.  When women ruled as regent for their sons, they were officially given the titile of ‘Pharaoh’s Mother’.  After her husbands death, the heir to the throne was Thutmose III, the son of a minor wife called Isis.  Isis held the title Pharaoh’s Mother, but Hatshepsut had a stronger claim to the throne, and proceeded to give herself titles connected with Pharaoh.  Politically this was a dangerous thing to do, but Hatshepsut firstly dropped the titles which only a woman could hold, took the smaller titles first, and then depicted herself with more and more trappings of Pharaoh, culminating in depictions of herself as Pharaoh, together with the divine right to rule all of Egypt.  Her funerary complex proclaimed her right to rule, carving a dedication from her father:

“Then his majesty said to them: ‘This daughter of mine, Khnumet-Amen 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!”.

She also depicted her own conception as having been aided by the god Amun, with pictures of her mother being aided by deities during her birth.   Finally she dropped the female ending from her name (-t), giving Hatshepsu – and became His Majesty, Foremost of all Nobles.

About that boob thing: most Egytian artwork only contains very slight definitions of breasts for women, most figures aren’t gender defined at all.  So, the lack of boobs on Hatshepsut’s depictions isn’t her conscious decision to reduce them (or cover them with her arms and hide them), and thus look more like a man, but more the artwork style of the time. I knew if I mentioned it first up, you’d read this far ;p


One thought on “The Pharaoh Sex: Hatshepsut, Woman Pharaoh of Egypt

  1. Pingback: The Dudley Dorito: The Changing Shape of UFOs « Chesterfield Pagans

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