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The Pharaohs

Hatshepsut
Birth name: Hatshepsut ("Foremost of the Noble Ladies")
Throne name: Maatkare ("Truth is the Soul of Re")
Rule: 1498 - 1483 BC (queen of the 4th king of the 18th dynasty; regent of the 5th king; self-declared pharaoh after that. New Kingdom)
Noteworthy relatives: Tuthmosis I (father), Tuthmosis II (half-brother/husband), Tuthmosis III (step-son)

 

Hatshepsut and her two brothers were the children of the great pharaoh Tuthmosis I and his main queen Ahmose. Her brothers were in line to inherit their father's throne, but they missed their chance when they died before he did. Hatshepsut was his only child of "pure" royal blood, but wouldn't inherit the throne because she wasn't male. Instead, it went to her half-brother Tuthmosis II, the son of Tuthmosis I and a lesser queen. Tuthmosis II took her as his "great royal wife" to strengthen his connection to the throne. They had a daughter (Neferure) but no sons, although Tuthmosis II did have a son (Tuthmosis III) with a harem girl.

 

Tuthmosis II was sickly and fragile, totally unlike his father. When he died, his son Tuthmosis III inherited the throne as a very young child. Because he was so young, Queen Hatshepsut acted as his regent. A regent is a person who rules for a child until the child is old enough to take over.

After about two years of "helping" him, Hatshepsut made a bold move. She declared herself pharaoh- so she was now the king, not the queen! This put Tuthmosis III out of the picture, so we don't know much about how he spent his childhood, although he did join the army as a young man.

Even though ancient Egyptian women had more rights than women in other cultures at the time, the title of pharaoh had always been reserved for a man. Hatshepsut played along by having herself portrayed with a false beard, a male body, and a king's headdress in all statues, paintings, and carvings. Some writings even refer to her as a "him"! How could a woman in ancient times get away with such a radical move? Simple: it was allowed because she did an excellent job. She was a bold leader who brought peace and economic success to Egypt.

 

Pharaohs before Hatshepsut boasted about their military adventures by having them carved and painted all over the place. Since she had never been personally involved in any wars, she chose to brag about the expedition she sent to Punt, a far-off land to the south. Engravings on one of the walls in her temple at Deir el-Bahari show huge ships bringing back lots of African treasures: ivory, gold, live myrrh trees, ebony, exotic animals, spices, resins, gums, and wood.

 

Hatshepsut commissioned many building projects. She restored temples that were damaged when the Hyksos invaded Egypt in the Second Intermediate Period. She added on to the Temple of Amun and erected two gold-tipped obelisks to commemorate her greatness. At Deir el-Bahari, she built a huge mortuary temple (a place where she could be worshiped after her death) at the base of the huge cliffs.

 

When she was the Queen of Tuthmosis II, Hatshepsut had a tomb built over 200 feet up the side of a cliff. She never used it, opting instead to join her father Tuthmosis I in his tomb, KV20 ("the 20th tomb in the Valley of the Kings") which faced her mortuary temple. Hatshepsut ordered further excavation to enlarge the tomb in order to fit them both. When Howard Carter (the guy who found King Tut's tomb) discovered KV20 in 1903, it had already been robbed. He found some broken pieces of pottery, fragments of furniture, and bits of burnt wood. The burial chamber contained two yellow quartzite sarcophagi: one for Hatshepsut, and the other for her dad. But both mummies were missing. Tuthmosis I was finally found in a secret burial place in 1881, safely tucked away from tomb robbers along with 39 other hidden royal mummies. Hatshepsut's mummy was never found.

 

Tuthmosis III rightfully became pharaoh after Hatshepsut died in 1483 BC. Since her mummy is missing, no one knows how she died, but many speculate that Tuthmosis III may have had a part in her death. He hated her so much for swiping his position that he ordered her monuments destroyed, her statues smashed, and her name and image scratched out wherever it appeared. Ancient Egyptians had a strong belief in the power of images. By destroying her statues and wiping out her name, he was both erasing the memory of her life and also canceling her existence in the afterlife!

Limestone sculpture of Hatshepsut. Postdlf from w [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Watch: "The Hidden History of Hatshepsut." 

Watch "Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen."