Hatshepsut: The Queen Who became Pharaoh
Hatshepsut was the longest reigning female pharaoh. Under her reign, Egypt prospered. Known as “The Woman Who Was King,” the Egyptian economy flourished during her time as pharaoh. She directed the construction and repairs of many buildings, memorials, and temples. However, upon her death, Hatshepsut’s successors tried to erase any memory of her. While the goal may have been to eradicate her from memory, these attempts only fueled the desire of modern civilizations to know more about her. More than 3,000 years after her death, archaeologists were intrigued and mystified as they attempted to locate and identify her remains.
Born to a Pharaoh and Rose to be Pharaoh Herself
Born in 1508 BC, Hatshepsut was the only child born to Egyptian king Thutmose I and his principal wife and queen, Ahmose. When Hatshepsut was 12 years old, her father passed away. She married her half-brother Thutmose II, and assumed the role of principal wife and queen.
Relief of Hatshepsut and her husband, Thutmose II. (Reydekish)
She remained Thutmose II’s queen until he passed away 15 years later, leaving Hatshepsut a widow at age 27. Hatshepsut and Thutmose II had one child together – a daughter named Neferure. Thutmose II also had a son, Thutmose III, born to a concubine. Thutmose III was an infant upon Thutmose II’s death, so Hatshepsut served as his regent. Eventually, she stepped up and assumed the role of pharaoh.
This was highly unusual at the time. Egypt’s gods had supposedly decreed that the king’s role could never be fulfilled by a woman ruling on her own. But Hatshepsut refused to submit to this and in around 1437 BC, she had herself crowned as pharaoh, changing her name from the female version Hatshepsut - which means Foremost of the Noble Ladies - to the male version, Hatshepsu. She had herself declared as the “Son of [the sun god] Re, Hatshepsut Khenemet-Amun , given life by Re forever.”
Large kneeling statue of Hatshepsut, by Peter Roan. (CC BY NC 2.0)
What were Hatshepsut’s Achievements as Pharaoh?
During her reign as pharaoh, Hatshepsut was often depicted in a male form, with a beard, male body, and wearing the traditional king’s kilt and crown. This was likely due to a lack of words or symbols to portray a woman with a pharaoh’s status, and not due to a desire to trick people into thinking she was a man.
As pharaoh, Hatshepsut re-established trade routes that had been disrupted by the Hyksos occupation of Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period (1650-1550 BC). She was also responsible for the first recorded attempt to transplant foreign trees, when she brought 31 live myrrh trees from Punt.
The ‘Punt colonnade’ on Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el-Bahri suggest that trade and not military matters led the pharaoh to Punt. The pharaoh claimed that the expedition was conducted to extract tribute from the people of Punt, but what we see on the walls is that her people brought myrrh trees, gold, ivory, panther skins, and apes back to her kingdom.
Relief of Hatshepsut's Trading Expedition to the Land of Punt. (Dietmar /Adobe Stock)
Hatshepsut also commissioned hundreds of building projects throughout Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. Her buildings were considered to be much grander than those of her predecessors, and many of her successors attempted to claim them as their own. Hatshepsut’s greatest building accomplishment was a mortuary temple built in a complex at Deir el-Bahri, located on the West bank of the Nile. This is still considered one of the architectural marvels of ancient Egypt.
The Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri. (Witr/Dreamstime.com)
The ancient Egyptians called Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple Djeser-Djeseru – the Holy of Holies. It’s said that construction of the temple took 15 years, between the 7th and 22nd years of Hatshepsut’s reign. Senenmut, Hatshepsut’s royal architect, who was possibly also her lover, oversaw the work on the magnificent temple as well as the erection of Hatshepsut’s obelisks at Karnak. A monument in the British Museum calls Senenmut the “Overseer of All Works of the King.”
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In 2015, archaeologists identified another temple said to have been commissioned by Hatshepsut. It is in the Gebelein complex 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) southwest of Luxor and dedicated to Hathor and possibly Amun-Ra. Evidence the researchers have found supporting the idea that Hatshepsut is behind the temple’s construction comes in the form of the time of the temple’s creation, fragments of hieroglyphs with feminine word endings, and a cartouche.
Death of the Formidable Female Pharaoh
22 years after taking her reign as pharaoh, in around 1458 BC, Hatshepsut died, aged in her late 40s. It is believed that she died of bone cancer, possibly related to her usage of a carcinogenic skin cream. Scans of her mummy also show that she had suffered from diabetes and arthritis. She was buried in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, in the hills behind Deir el-Bahri. She had her father’s sarcophagus relocated into her tomb as well, so they could lie together in death.
After her passing, Thutmose III, Hatshepsut’s stepson, claimed the role of pharaoh, ruling for 30 years beyond Hatshepsut’s death. It was Thutmose III who demanded that evidence of Hatshepsut’s rule be eradicated. He arranged for her image as pharaoh to be removed from temples and monuments.
It is likely that Thutmose III wanted to remove any evidence that they had been led by a strong female ruler. For this reason, scholars knew very little of Hatshepsut’s existence prior to 1822 AD, when the hieroglyphics on the walls of Deir el-Bahri were decoded.
Statue of Hatshepsut at her temple at Deir el-Bahri. (Alicia McDermott)
Upon discovery of her existence, there was much speculation and wonder as to the location of her remains. In 1902, archaeologist Howard Carter discovered Hatshepsut’s sarcophagus, but it was empty. He had also found fragmented remains of funerary furniture and some broken stone vessels at the site, including the only known shabti of Hatshepsut. Many researchers believe that tomb KV20 in the Valley of the Kings could have been her original burial place.
Many years later, Dr. Zahi Hawass began searching for Hatshepsut’s mummy. First, he searched tomb KV20 too. When he did not find anything, he moved onto another tomb, located at Deir el-Bahari, near Hatshepsut's famous mortuary temple, known as DB320.
One of the two sarcophagi found in KV20, originally intended for Hatshepsut, but re-inscribed for her father Thutmose I. By Keith Schengili-Roberts. (CC BY SA 2.5)
While this tomb did not date back to Hatshepsut’s reign, it was a tomb where many royal mummies had been reburied after their tombs had been ransacked during the 21st and 22nd Dynasties. While Thutmose I, II, and III were all discovered at DB320, Hatshepsut was nowhere to be found.
Dr. Hawass visited one final tomb within the Valley of the Kings, known as KV60, where two mummies had been discovered by Howard Carter. After several tests and scans, with no answers, Dr. Hawass was unsure how to proceed with identifying the mummies.
He then remembered a small box which he thought might contain a decomposed internal organ. Upon scanning the box, he discovered the organ was accompanied by a tooth. The researchers reviewed the scans of the female mummies and discovered that one of the mummies had an empty tooth socket, to which the discovered tooth was a perfect match. Further testing was conducted, and through the power of modern forensic science, the mummy was positively identified as Hatshepsut in 2007.
Remains of Pharaoh Hatshepsut. A DNA test of a single tooth was key to solving one of the greatest mysteries of ancient Egypt. (CC BY SA 4.0)
The identification of Hatshepsut’s mummy is an archaeological wonder. While her son had gone to great lengths to erase Hatshepsut from the memory of her people and from the pages of history, modern science has ensured that this did not happen.
Top Image: Pharaoh Hatshepsut. Source: Miguel Cabezon /Adobe Stock
By M R Reese
Updated on October 14, 2020.
Hatshepsut’s ascent to power – Biography.com. Available from: http://www.biography.com/people/hatshepsut-9331094#ascent-to-power
Hatshepsut – History.com. Available from: http://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/hatshepsut
Hatshepsut – Discovering Egypt. Available from: http://discoveringegypt.com/ancient-egyptian-kings-queens/hatshepsut/
Tooth solves Hatshepsut mummy mystery – The Guardian. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/jun/27/egypt.science
Hatshepsut – Encyclopedia Britannica. Available from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/256896/Hatshepsut
The Quest for Hatshepsut – Zahi Hawass. Available from: http://www.drhawass.com/events/quest-hatshepsut-discovering-mummy-egypts-greatest-female-pharaoh