What better way to start off The Egypt Geek than with a profile of one of the most interesting, powerful, and inspiring figures in Egyptian history: the female pharaoh Maatake Hatshepsut.
Hatshepsut was the daughter of a pharaoh, the wife of a pharaoh, and the stepmother of a pharaoh before becoming one herself. She was born in the 16th century B.C.E., to Pharaoh Thutmose I and Queen Ahmes, hundreds of years before Nefertiti and Tutankhamun, and more than a thousand years before Cleopatra. During Hatshepsut’s lifetime, the great pyramids were already ancient.
Her name, which means “Foremost of the Noble Women,” indicated Hatshepsut’s great potential from the start. As a child, the princess was exposed to the duties of kingship and the inner workings of Egyptian politics, by watching her father in the throne room. Before she was a teenager, Hatshepsut held the title of God’s Wife of Amun, one of the most prestigious priestess positions in the land. When her father died in 1492 B.C.E., Hatshepsut married her half-brother Thutmose II, and became the Queen of Egypt. She had at least one child, a daughter named Neferure. Thutmose II died young, only a few years after his ascension to the throne. He had only one male heir, Thutmose III, his son by a secondary wife. Under normal circumstances, Thutmose III would immediately take his father’s place as the rightful king of Egypt. Here, however, there was a slight problem: Thutmose III was only a toddler.
Queen Hatshepsut was presented with a dilemma. Though Thutmose would still be given the title of pharaoh, someone needed to rule Egypt in his place until he came of age. Typically, this would be one of the late king’s brothers or sons from lesser wives. In this case, in the absence of an appropriate royal male, tradition dictated that the dowager Queen would govern Egypt until the child was ready. So, Thutmose III was coronated pharaoh, and Hatshepsut proclaimed Queen Regent.
For the first few years of her nephew’s reign, Hatshepsut ensured that the government ran smoothly, and that Thutmose received the proper education and military training required for kingship. After seven years of this arrangement, things began to change. Hatshepsut suddenly proclaimed herself the pharaoh of Egypt alongside Thutmose III, taking on the throne name “Maatkare,” which means “Truth is the Soul of the Sun.” From then on, Egypt would be ruled by two co-kings of “equal” stature; this, of course, was a lie. While he still held the title of pharaoh, it was clear to the public who the real ruler was. It is not known exactly why Hatshepsut made this decision, but one important fact must be taken into account: as Queen Regent, Hatshepsut would have had to hand over power to her stepson when he reached maturity. By crowning herself pharaoh, she’d never have to.
Hatshepsut ruled Egypt for over twenty-two years, ushering in a period of peace and prosperity in her country. Though she was neither the first nor last female pharaoh in Egyptian history, Hatshepsut was by far the most successful: fueled by devotion to the gods, she renovated and rebuilt temples up and down the Nile. Her political savvy also led her to expand Egypt’s trade and diplomatic relations with other nations. As a testament to her many achievements, Hatshepsut built a mortuary temple at Deir-el-Bahri, near the Valley of the Kings. There, her many exploits were enshrined for eternity, ensuring that she would never be forgotten (sadly, after her death many images of Hatshepsut were destroyed by her successor, to reinforce the idea of male primogeniture in Egyptian kingship). Hatshepsut died around 1468 B.C.E., and Thutmose III assumed sole rule of Egypt. Her end is shrouded in mystery, and her mummy has never been officially identified.