“Amum…He made me rule…No one rebels against me in all lands. All foreign lands are my subjects. He placed my border at the limits of heaven.”
-Section from the obelisk inscriptions of Hatshepsut, Karnak (trans. Lichtheim). Hatshepsut here emphasises her destined, god-given right to rule Egypt. In which and beyond, she is all-powerful.
A quick look at: Hatshepsut (r. c. 1479–1458 BC), king of Egypt.
When talking about aspects of ancient Egyptian history, I find that people are often surprised to hear that Egypt had female rulers aside from Cleopatra. Perhaps one of the most significant of these was Hatshepsut of Dynasty 18, some 1400 years before Cleopatra. Her life deserves far more recognition that it has typically received.
Hatshepsut was the daughter of king Thutmose I and his wife Ahmose. She had a younger half-brother: Thutmose II, who succeeded his father as king. She married her half-brother, an act that seems strange to us today, but it was not unusual for Egyptian royalty to marry family members. With the title “God’s wife”, Hatshepsut was extremely prominent during the reign of Thutmose II. Her husband had a son (Thutmose III) by another woman, who became king upon his father’s death. At this time Thutmose III was still a young child, and so Hatshepsut took care of Egypt, acting as regent. About 7 years into the regency, things started to change. Hatshepsut began using royal names and titles, which she made into feminine form. She was crowned king of Egypt.
Her reign was accepted by a flourishing Egypt. As far as we know, there does not seem to have been foul play in her rise to kingship; there is no evidence for social trauma or bloodshed. Some Egyptologists have argued that she already held the strings of power during the reign of her husband. As king, she also acknowledged the kingship of Thutmose III -he is, for example, often depicted alongside her on monuments (although his inferior status is made clear by being placed behind her). Her reign as king was prosperous, and included trade expeditions (such as to Punt), and some military action, such as in Nubia. Her reign introduced a period of particularly outstanding artistic creativity, and her mortuary temple Deir el-Bahari is now one of the most visited monuments in Egypt.
Hatshepsut ruled as king for about 15 years. After this she seemingly disappears, and Thutmose III becomes sole king. It is not clear what happened to her; we do not know whether she died naturally, or was removed. Whatever occurred, her memory was wiped from Egyptian history. Thutmose III had her images and names removed from many of her monuments, and her statues at Deir el-Bahari were smashed. In addition, she was left out of later Egyptian king lists. Why this happened is much debated and not straight-forward, although the unconventional nature of her rule probably at least played a part in this. Manetho, however, much later during the Ptolemaic era, recognises her reign as king in his famous History of Egypt.
Much of this write-up draws from the work and interpretations of Egyptologist Marc Van De Mieroop. His publication ‘A History of Ancient Egypt’ (2010) is recommended. The shown sculpture of Hatshepsut is courtesy of & can be viewed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Via their online collections: 29.3.2.