The reign of Hatshepsut

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Last updated: April 11, 2019

The history of Egypt is an intriguing collage of triumphant warriors, battlefield tacticians and imperialist transgressors.

Hatshepsut, the 5th King of the 18th dynasty, however stands out as an ambiguous personality, a rare yet prominent female ruler in a history dominated by men. My focus is to establish how her reign is understood, her accomplishments, and her relationship to Thutmose III. Hatshepsut was born as the result of the union between the King Tuthmose I and his ‘principal wife’, Amose.The 18th dynasty laid great importance to the role of the queen, giving her special rights in assigning priestly duties and it is not farfetched to assume that the queens of the dynasty held considerable control over certain matters of state and official appointments. The principal wife was seen as a repository to regality as succession to the throne was seen to pass to the progeny of the principal wife(Redford 1967:71).

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Since Tuthmose did not have any male successors from Amose, the succession passed on to Tuthmose II, his son from a lesser wife, and was legitimized through marriage to Hatshepsut, his half sister and subsequent ‘principal wife’. Hatshepsut proved to be a strong willed woman, well versed in matters of the state, probably owing to her upbringing, and exercised many stately duties even as queen. As inferred from available records, Hatshepsut was satisfied with the titulary associated with being Tuthmose II’s principal wife, as we see no records of her associated with any other royal titles during his reign(Redford 1967:74).However, we see a divergence with normal Egyptian accord of the time, shortly after the passing of Tuthmose II. Hatshepsut comes into prominence during this time and is considered by most as fulfilling co-regency duties with her successor to the throne, Tuthmose III, the son of Tuthmose II from a ‘lesser wife’. Her role in this co-regency is debated as being that of either a rival claimant to the throne(Gardiner 1961:183) or a queen effectively fulfilling kingly duties till Tuthmose III came of age.We see the queen becoming co-regent in other cases throughout Egyptian history, this ‘matriarchal streak’ attributed by some to the possible Nubian influence on the 17th and18th dynasties, given the influence that the high influx of Nubians into Egypt during the 17th dynasty, must have had(Redford 1967:67). We observe this earlier with Hatshepsut’s grandmother, Ahmose-Nofretari enacting the king’s duties till her son Amenhotep came of age.

Hatshepsut’s reign was, however, the first instance that a queen had proclaimed the throne and become king(Redford 1967:72).Given the amount of evidence we have with her mortuary temple at Deir-al-Bahri, and the obelisks erected at Karnak, and inscriptions from other tombs we can definitely infer that she was definitely considered by many of her officials as a full-fledged king. Her mortuary temple built at Deir-al Bahri is unrivalled in its scale and splendor relative to those of principle wives preceding her. It is lined with magnificent reliefs and carved inscriptions corroborating and in cases exaggerating her claim and ascension to the throne and her consequent accomplishments as King.

With the records of her reign being limited and not well reserved, we are left with a very tough task in deciphering what truly transpired. Her ascension to the throne is known to have been peaceful(Redford 1967:57). Once established as coregent she is known to have completely abandoned all her titles as queen and adopted a five-fold titulary of a king and is consequently depicted in masculine attire in a number of her monuments. As is known of the time, a woman, be it the queen, would have found it significantly hard to take the Egyptian throne and establish control without masculine support(Gardiner, 1961: 184).We can infer that Hatshepsut chose her officials and depended on them considerably.

Senenmut stands out amongst them as her closest advisor, and is known to have been appointed steward of Hatshepsut’s daughter with Tuthmose II, princess Neferure. He is known to have been of humble origin, and his meteoric rise may be attributed to Hatshepsut(Gardiner 1961:184). He held a number of prominent offices, most importantly ‘Steward of Amun’. He also oversaw the construction of Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple at Deir al Bahri.Senenmut’s position was definitely fairly strong and it would not be wrong to assume that he enjoyed a fair deal of control over the administrative ongoing of Egypt at the time, and with the trust that Hatshepsut is known to have placed on Senenmut, he definitely played a key role in establishing her rule. His record however disappears near year 16, coinciding with Tuthmose III’s ascent to power(Redford 1961:86). Establishing legitimacy for the accession was a great concern for Hatshepsut, given the fact that she was a woman in what was considered essentially a man’s role in Egypt.In a lot of cases the throne was passed on to an able military general in the absence of a male heir, as in the case of Amenhotep passing on his crown to Thutmose I.

We know that the 18th dynasty gave great importance to the cult of Amun and the seed of the king was known to pass through to the principal queen through the god Amun, hence the queen’s primary title, ‘god’s wife'(Redford, 1967:71). This fact was employed in a number of propaganda reliefs by Hatshepsut.Most important among these was the scene at Deir-al Bahri, depicting a union between Hatshepsut’s mother Amun and her mother Ahmose, and leading to the ‘divine birth’ of Hatshepsut.

This concept of divine birth was later employed by Amenhotep III in his temple at Karnak(Shaw, 2000:267). Given the dichotomy in the interpretation of the two cases, whether this was ingenuity or part of Hatshepsut or part of the ruler’s divine birth cycle is unclear. Another important inscription is recorded at Deir-al Bahri, where the speaker, possibly Thutmose I, speaks of passing his throne to Hatshepsut.This inscription is corroborated by a relief showing Hatshepsut’s coronation under the presence of Amun, at the Red Chapel in Karnak.

Hence, through adequate use of the beliefs of the time and the fact that she was of direct royal descendancy, she managed to give both divine and royal legitimacy to her rule(Redford 1967:82). The primary concern and accomplishment during Hatshepsut’s reign were her building and restoration programs. These included her great temple at Deir-al Bahri, with its awe-inspiring splendor and innovative architecture.She ordered the quarrying and erection of the obelisks at Karnak depicting scenes of her directly offering to the gods, an act normally reserved for kings(Robins 1993:46).

We see many records of her restoring Middle Kingdom temples desolated under the Hyksos(Carter 1994:107). She also focused on the economic needs of the Kingdom and we know through a relief at Deir al Bahri of a lucrative trade expedition to Punt, where the Egyptian acquired incense, ebony, and gold. Military campaigns were kept to a minimum but we do see records of some notable campaigns.The first was a punitive campaign in Nubia, where the queen is believed to have participated, and it can be inferred from Tiy’s text that this expedition had a certain connection to her father, Thutmose I’s campaign against the Nubians(Gardiner,1961: 58).

The second campaign was a minor one in Syro Palestine. Towards the end of her reign, when Thutmose III is believed to have matured, come two other military campaigns as referenced t. These were the capture of Gaza led by Thutmose III and a subsequent Nubian expedition led by Tuthmose III close to Hatshepsut’s death, referenced to in the Armant stela(Gardiner 1961:62).

We observe a certain trend of her military campaigns being non-expansive. This conservative policy may be viewed as a deliberate decision on part of Hatshepsut given her lack of battlefield experience and the fact that she was a female ruler(Redford 1967:64). When observed relative to her counterparts Thutmose I and Thutmose III, she may be seen as continuing her father’s campaign in Nubia, and Thutmose III’s military policy merely an extension of her own(Redford,1967:81).She handed him a stable Egypt, with newer trade routes, one rich in resources, and with its architecture and honor restored, so that he may expand it, which he definitely did, as Egypt acquired a considerable number of territories, significantly stretching its borders during his aggressive expansionist reign. Hatshepsut’s reign is viewed as that of a usurper(Gardiner 1961:183). It is true that she abandoned her titulary as queen for that of a king, adopting the title of the ‘female Horus’, and is the first queen to be shown in masculine form in a number of her monuments(Robins 1993:51).

Her mortuary temple offers an image of a woman with great architectural taste as evidenced by its scale and design, who was chosen by the gods and her father to be king, and who oversaw a stable and prospering Egypt. I contend that contrary to popular belief and in light of the patchy evidence presented, mainly the records of her mortuary temple at Deir-al Bahri, and the Red Chapel at Karnak, Hatshepsut was not a usurper. Both Hatshepsut and Thutmose III recorded events in their respective regnal years, the transfer of power to Thutmose III was peaceful, and he did undertake campaigns as general during her reign..She is depicted in many earlier scenes alongside Tuthmose III where it is obvious that she is superior, however later in her reign Tuthmose appears more frequently and they’re shown as equals(Redford 1967:86). This alludes to a transfer of power as Tuthmose III came of age and stepped into his role as general and king.

We know that Hatshepsut was omitted from the carved ‘King’s list’, and many of the inscriptions and reliefs showing her as king have been carefully altered. The involvement of any malice or hatred here at Thutmose III’s part, however, is uncertain.It is unlikely that her death was anything but natural. The erasures were carefully undertaken, such as the ones of her coronation scenes, and the obelisks at Karnak were carefully walled up. Had he sought revenge or been directed by hatred, Thutmose III could have definitely obliterated any sign of Hatshepsut from history, but he did not, and most of the erasures came later in this sole reign.

The images of Hatshepsut as king were altered to but those as queen were not harmed either(Robins 1993:51).This may have been a tact directed to conform with ma’at: ‘the natural order of the world'(Robins 1993:50), or an action borne out of political necessity, we cannot be certain. It is however certain that Hatshepsut did become a complete king, active trading building while keeping Egypt secure.. Her many depictions as a ‘masculine’ king, her decision to have her tomb in ‘the valley of kings'(Clayton 1994:107), and the number of inscriptions and reliefs that have been found, corroborate the fact. How the events transpired, and what motivated the parties involved to act the way they did, however, remains open to debate.

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