The Story of Hatshepsut

Hatshepsut, who lived between 1508 and 1458 BC, ruled Egypt for about two decades. Among the first female monarchs to reign anywhere in the world, she is regarded as one of the most successful pharaohs in Egypt’s long history. Hatshepsut’s prosperous reign helped shape her country into a stronger power and prepare it for future expansion into a great empire. Thanks to plenty of accounts by contemporaries and historians of the ancient world, her story remains well-known today.

Hatshepsut’s Family

Hatshepsut was the daughter of King Thutmose I and Queen Ahmose. A military leader who served the previous pharaoh, Thutmose I was known for his wartime accomplishments. Of his wife, Ahmose, less is known; whether she was the sister or daughter of the previous pharaoh is not clear. Hatshepsut was close to her parents and held important posts in their court. On her father’s death, his young son Thutmose II became pharaoh. Because royal lineage was traced through women, Thutmose II married his half-sister, Hatshepsut. Thutmose II died young, leaving the infant Thutmose III, his son by another wife, his heir. This set the stage for Hatshepsut to become regent and later declare herself pharaoh. Hatshepsut had other half-brothers, and at least one sister – but history does not record many details of their lives.

Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh: Archived information, photographs and audio from this special exhibit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Hatshepsut at Merritt College: Biographical sketch with a selection of artifacts depicting Hatshepsut.

Her Lovers

The intimate details of Hatshepsut’s life are sometimes hard to pin down. It is not known, for example, how she persuaded Egypt’s elites to accept her as pharaoh. But one man, Senenmut, may have played a large role – and he is widely believed to have been her lover. Senenmut was of common descent, but he was also one of many officials Hatshepsut selected herself while paving the way to become pharaoh. He is referred to in records as the “Steward of the God’s Wife” – meaning Hatshepsut – and other lofty titles. Senenmut was the architect for many of Hatshepsut’s building projects. Hatshepsut also shared a relationship with Thutmose II, but his death makes the specifics mysterious.

Senenmut: Historical Data: In-depth information on Senenmut’s life and work by Dr. Karl H. Leser.

Thutmose II: Article about the reign and person of Thutmose II, a lesser-known pharaoh.

Her Children

Hatshepsut’s only child was Neferure, her daughter by Thutmose II. Neferure was born during Thutmose II’s reign. In her early life she was cared for by Senemut, who was her tutor, and other officials. During her mother’s reign, Princess Neferure was active in the Egyptian court and held many royal titles bestowing important religious duties. The time of Neferure’s death and her place of burial are not yet known, though research suggests it may have occurred between 11 and 16 AD. Sculptures suggest Neferure may have married Thutmose III.

Granite Statue of Senmut Holding Princess Neferure: From the British Museum, information and photographs of a well-preserved statue that has contributed to speculation about Senemut’s role at Hatshepsut’s court.

Thutmosis III: On the family life and reign of Thutmose III, whom Neferure is believed to have married. Includes several excellent photographic illustrations of related artifacts and archaeological sites.

The Pharaoh

Hatshepsut worked hard to be seen as a legitimate pharaoh. She was very charismatic, and the memory of her popular parents added to her good reputation. She also had the support of a network of powerful officials whom she had either chosen herself or known since their service to her parents. In order to be accepted as the “true” pharaoh, she is legendary for taking on the costume of male pharaohs, including traditional kilt, headdress, and a fake beard in royal style. The people of Egypt seemed to accept her as their ruler. However, some officials remained close to Thutmose III and may have plotted against her.

Hatshepsut: The Female Pharaoh: About Hatshepsut’s reign and royal costume.

Egypt’s Golden Empire: Overview of Hatshepsut’s rise to power and her rule, from the PBS documentary series.

Accomplishments

Hatshepsut’s reign was marked by some great achievements. She sponsored many voyages to the African land of Punt in search of treasures like ivory and spices. She expanded trade and continued the building traditions of Thutmose I. There were no wars or insurrections during Hatshepsut’s reign. Egypt’s borders did not expand, but they remained secure, offering the Egyptian people peace and plenty before the wars of Thutmose III, who would come to be thought of as “the Napoleon of ancient Egypt.”

Punt: Illustrated overview of the importance of this locale in the ancient world and information on Hatshepsut’s expeditions there. Written by a highly-published Belgian Egyptologist.

Virtual Egyptian Museum: “Online museum” featuring Egyptian antiquities throughout ancient Egyptian history. Features royal depictions of Hatshepsut. From the California Institute of World Archaeology.

Construction Projects

Hatshepsut built up and restored the ancient temple at Karnak, which had been sacked by foreign occupiers. At the door of this temple she ordered two obelisks constructed that were, at the time, the tallest in the world – one of these remains today. Her greatest project was her own burial temple, Deir El-Bahri. It was built on the western bank of the Nile River. The temple is a large and beautiful complex that features many terraces and porticos. It was decorated with plants and trees brought from the pharaoh’s foreign expeditions. Unfortunately, Hatshepsut was never laid to rest here.

Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut: Detailed description and high-quality photographs of the exterior and interior of the temple at Deir El-Bahri. Part of the Digital Imaging Project at Bluffton University.

Eternal Egypt: Searchable archive of photographs depicting Egyptian artifacts, including artifacts from the reign and memorial of Hatshepsut.

Death and Mummy

Hatshepsut could not eliminate Thutmose III if she wanted to remain in the people’s favor, and with time, he became influential. The circumstances of Hatshepsut’s death have not been uncovered, but it is known that Thutmose III seized power quickly after her death. Thutmose III presided over the removal of art and monuments bearing Hatshepsut’s name and likeness, and the location of her body was lost. In June of 2007, Dr. Zahi Hawass, leader of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, announced that her mummy had been identified after a search of funerary sites linked to Hatshepsut. If this mummy is in fact the body of the great Pharoah, it would seem Hatshepsut died after an abscess in her gums ruptured after the removal of a tooth. However, Egyptologists continue to sort through the evidence. 

Hatshepsut Found, Thutmose Lost: On the search for Hatshepsut’s mummy, from Archaeology, the journal of the Archaeological Institute of America.

Hatshepsut: Wicked Stepmother or Joan of Arc?: Scholarly article challenging the view that Hatshepsut’s cruelty against Thutmose III prompted him to take revenge by defacing her monuments after her death.

Though her story was cloaked in secrecy soon after she died, scholars of Egyptian culture continue to make progress learning more about Hatshepsut. Her contributions to Egypt, the world, and women’s history are increasingly known and celebrated. In part because of efforts to conceal Hatshepsut’s rule, her legend has grown to proportions worthy of a great pharaoh. 

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