Hatshepsut's Life and Kingship - When Were They?

Dates for Hatshepsut

Hatshepsut as King, Offering Food to the God Horus
Hatshepsut as King, Offering Food to the God Horus: Image from the Temple of Hatshepsut, Luxor, Egypt. Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images

The dates for Hatshepsut's life and reign are disputed. In ancient Egypt, dates were recorded according to the start of the current Pharaoh's reign. Egyptologists have attempted to correlate these dates to known dates in other cultures. But it's not that simple. If the relative death date of the Pharaoh is not recorded, or if there are disputed reigns which may or may not be interspersed between known reigns, the dates may be incorrect.

Further, the date of birth of a child of a Pharaoh has rarely been recorded, and can only be guessed at by circumstantial evidence, such as when the child's name first appears in the record.

The end of Hatshepsut's reign is one of those dates not recorded, and even the beginning date is not clear. We have no record of her birth date. There is only one known inscription that may indicate when she died, and that is only relative to the beginning of her co-rule with her stepson.

Common Theories

By one commonly-accepted reckoning, Hatshepsut reigned from 1473 to 1458 BCE. However, other sources use a different dating scheme for the 18th dynasty, of which Hatshepsut is a part, and in sources that accept that dating scheme, Hatshepsut's rule is given as 1503-1482. However, other sources give such dates as 1491-1479, 1479-1458, and 1486-1468.

It's commonly accepted that Hapshetsut was about 15 when her father died, and a few years older when her husband died.

Her husband is likely to have been younger than her (her father was unlikely to have taken the minor wife until after he became pharaoh), but we don't know at what age he became pharaoh. One common conclusion is that Thutmose II was about 12 at his father's death.

It's also unsure when Thutmose II's son by a minor wife, Thutmose III, was born; it's also unsure when the daughter of Hatshepsut and Thutmose II, Neferure, was born.

But many put the age of Thutmost III at between 2 and 10 years old when Thutmose II died.

Neferure appears to have died after year 11 of Hatshepsut's reign. She is not in any depictions that can be dated after that time. But we don't know how much earlier than the death of her father (Thutmose II) Neferure was born.

We can guess that Senenmut predeceased Hatshepsut, because someone else is named as doing what had been Senenmut's responsibilities, a couple of years before Hatshepsut seems to have died.

How Long Did She Reign?

It seems that Hatshepsut's rule came to an end about the 22nd year of her reign, though others give later or earlier dates. Her stepson, nephew, successor, and co-ruler Thutmose III was perhaps 25 years old at that time. Hatshepsut was about 50 at her death, which may have been of natural causes, though generations of Egyptologists guessed that she might have been helped to death by a supposedly-resentful and hate-filled stepson.

Hatshepsut in History: Lost and Found

Some years (10-20, by current estimates) after Hatshepsut's death, images and inscriptions which recognized her as a king were defaced or destroyed. This began the long process of forgetting that Egypt had had a woman who ruled as a king.

Thutmose III was co-ruler and successor as well as nephew and stepson to Hatshepsut. While the older "evil stepmother" story of supposed resentment and hate has been largely abandoned, it's still likely that, for other reasons, he did the preside over the "erasure" of Hatshepsut's kingship.

When Thutmose III listed the kings of Egypt in what's called the Chamber of the Ancestors at Karnak, Hatshepsut was not listed.

Other references to Hatshepsut were defaced during the Amarna period. These attacks were targeted not specifically at Hatshepsut, but at references to gods, especially Amun.

At the end of the Amarna period, the following kings Seti I and Ramesses II restored some of Hatshepsut's building, apparently undertaking to restore damage done in the name of Aten. Thus, references to Amun were restored, but not these changes didn't restore references to Hatshepsut as king.

Later lists of Egyptian rulers which do include two female rulers ( Meryt-Neith and Sobeknefru), and which include the foreign rulers called the Hyksos, don't include Hatshepsut.

In the third century BCE, Egyptian priest Manetho wrote a history. He included a sister of Thutmose II, whom he calls Amessis, and notes that she ruled for 21 years between Thutmose II and Thutmose III. This comes a millennium after the life of Hatshepsut.

By the beginning of the common era, how to read hieroglyphics was forgotten. With that loss, it was impossible to read any of the inscriptions which might have survived the destruction after Hatshepsut's death.

19th Century and Hieroglyphics

In the early 19th century, Jean-Francis Champollion (1790-1832) began to decipher the hieroglyphics. In 1828-1829 at Deir el-Bahri, Champollion was confused by finding images of a male king he called Amenenthe with inscriptions that had female gender word endings. Champollion then consulted Manetho and found his story of Amessis.

For decades, Egyptologists were confused by the order of the inscriptions of the runes. The order in which the different kings' names were inscribed was intermixed—we know now that earlier names were inscribed over later names in the attempts to revise history. Egyptologists first interpreted as passing power back and forth between the Thutmoses kings.

By 1858, the evidence of the defacements of Deir el-Bahri began to be recognized, and these seemed to lend credence to the "wicked stepmother" story of Hatshepsut.

Late Twentieth Century

By the 1960s, Egyptologists began to find more evidence, and they realized that Thutmose III had not immediately removed the evidence of his stepmother/aunt's rule as king. In the 1970s, Suzanne Rati é and Roland Tefnin published their work on Hatshepsut, including a more sympathetic view of her. In 1988, Peter Dorman dismissed the view that Hatshepsut's relationship with Senenmut was necessarily a romantic relationship. And in the 1990s, Emily Teeter, Alfterd Gunim, and Sylvia Schoske continued to reshape the image of Hatshepsut, based on recent discoveries.

Perhaps the June, 2007 identification of Hatshepsut's mummy, as announced by the Discovery Channel and Dr. Zahi Hawass of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, will lead to further controversy and rethinking of Hatshepsut's story.

Sources consulted include:

  • Zahi Hawass. "The Search for Hatshepsut and the Discovery of Her Mummy." June 2007.
  • Zahi Hawass. "Quest for the Mummy of Hatshepsut." June 2006.
  • John Ray. "Hatshepsut: the Female Pharaoh." History Today. Volume 44 number 5, May 1994.
  • Gay Robins. Women in Ancient Egypt. 1993.
  • Catharine H. Roehrig, editor. Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh. 2005. Article contributors include Ann Macy Roth, James P. Allen, Peter F. Dorman, Cathleen A. Keller, Catharine H. Roehrig, Dieter Arnold, Dorothea Arnold.
  • Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen. First aired: 7/15/07. Discovery Channel. Brando Quilico, executive producer. ( Review: Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen )
  • Joyce Tyldesley. Hatchepsut the Female Pharaoh. 1996.