Biography of Hatshepsut, Pharaoh of Egypt

Sphinx of Hatshepsut in a museum with dramatic lighting.

User:Postdlf / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

Hatshepsut (1507-1458 B.C.) was one of the rare female pharaohs of Egypt. She had a long and successful reign marked by incredible building projects and lucrative trading expeditions. She campaigned in Nubia (perhaps not in person), sent a fleet of ships to the land of Punt, and had an impressive temple and mortuary complex built in the Valley of the Kings.

Fast Facts: Hatshepsut

Known For: Pharaoh of Egypt

Also Known As: Wosretkau, Maat-ka-re, Khnemetamun Hatshepsut, Hatshepsowe

Born: c. 1507 B.C., Egypt

Parents: Tuthmose I and Aahmes

Died: c. 1458 B.C., Egypt

Spouse: Thutmoses III

Children: Princess Neferure

Early Life

Hatshepsut was the oldest daughter of Tuthmose I and Aahmes. She married her half-brother Thutmose II (who died after only a few years on the throne) when their father died. She was the mother of Princess Neferure. Hatshepsut's nephew and stepson, Thutmose III, was in line for the throne of Egypt. He was still young, so Hatshepsut took over.

Being a woman was an obstacle. However, a Middle Kingdom female pharaoh (Sobekneferu/Neferusobek) had ruled before her in the 12th dynasty. Therefore, Hatshepsut had precedent.

After her death, but not immediately after, Hatshepsut's name was erased and her tomb destroyed. The reasons continue to be debated.

Dates and Titles

Hatshepsut lived in the 15th century B.C. and ruled in the early part of the 18th Dynasty in Egypt. This was during the period known as the New Kingdom. The dates of her rule are variously given as 1504-1482, 1490/88-1468, 1479-1457, and 1473-1458 B.C. Her reign dates from the start of Thutmose III, her stepson and nephew, with whom she was co-regent.

Hatshepsut was a pharaoh, or king, of Egypt for about 15 to 20 years. The dating is uncertain. Josephus, quoting Manetho (the father of Egyptian history), says her reign lasted about 22 years. Before becoming pharaoh, Hatshepsut had been Thutmose II's main, or Great Royal, wife. She had not produced a male heir. He did have sons by other wives, including Thutmoses III.

Feminine or Masculine Appearance

A fascinating New Kingdom ruler, Hatshepsut is depicted in a short kilt, a crown or headcloth, a collar, and a false beard. One limestone statue shows her without a beard and with breasts. Usually, her body is masculine. Tyldesley says a childhood depiction presents her with male genitalia. The pharaoh seems to have appeared female or male as need dictated. The pharaoh was expected to be a male in order to maintain the right order of the world — Maat. A female upset this order. Besides being male, a pharaoh was expected to intervene with the gods on behalf of the people and to be fit.

Hatshepsut's Athletic Skill

During the Sed festival, pharaohs, including Hatshepsut, made a circuit of the pyramid complex of Djoser. The pharaoh's run had three functions: to demonstrate the pharaoh's fitness after 30 years in power, to make a symbolic circuit of his territory, and to symbolically rejuvenate him.

It is worth noting that the mummified body, thought to be that of the female pharaoh, was middle-aged and obese.

Deir El Bahari

Hatshepsut had a mortuary temple known, without hyperbole, as Djeser-Djeseru, or Sublime of the Sublimes. It was built out of limestone at Deir el-Bahri, near where she had her tombs built, in the Valley of the Kings. The temple was primarily dedicated to Amun (as a garden to her so-called divine father Amun) but also to the gods Hathor and Anubis. Its architect was Senenmut (Senmut), who may have been her consort and seems to have predeceased his queen. Hatshepsut also restored Amun's temples elsewhere in Egypt.

Sometime after Hatshepsut's death, all temple references to her were chiseled off.

Hatshepsut's Mummy

In the Valley of the Kings is a tomb called KV60 that Howard Carter found in 1903. It contained two badly damaged mummies of women. One was of Hatshepsut's nurse Sitre. The other was an obese middle-aged woman about five feet, 11 inches tall with her left arm across her chest in a "royal" position. Evisceration had been performed through her pelvic floor instead of the normal side cut because of her obesity. Sitre's mummy was removed in 1906 but the obese mummy was left. American Egyptologist Donald P. Ryan rediscovered the tomb in 1989.

It has been suggested that this mummy is that of Hatshepsut and that it was removed to this tomb from KV20 either following a robbery or to protect her from the attempted obliteration of her memory. Egypt's Minister of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, believes a tooth in a box and other DNA evidence proves this is the body of the female pharaoh.

Death

The cause of Hatshepsut's death is thought to be bone cancer. She also appears to have been diabetic and obese, with bad teeth. She was about 50 years old.

Sources

  • Clayton, Peter A. "Chronicle of the Pharaohs: The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt With 350 Illustrations 130 in Color." Chronicles, 2nd Edition Edition, Thames & Hudson, 1 October 1994.
  • Hawass, Zahi. "Silent Images: Women in Pharaonic Egypt." The American University in Cairo Press, 1 April 2009.
  • Tyldesley, Joyce A. "Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh." Paperback, Revised ed. edition, Penguin Books, 1 July 1998.
  • Wilford, John Noble. "Tooth May Have Solved Mummy Mystery." The New York Times, 27 June 2007.