– TRACING THE LIFE AND WORK OF “THE GREATEST PHARAOH OF EGYPT.”
• DECODING THE SANDS OF TIME – THE MUMMY
It was a hot, dusty day in Egypt in early 1927. Temperature outside was a scorching 40˚C.
The atmosphere inside the great Deir el-Bahri Temple complex in Thebes, Egypt was, however, was charged with excitement and speculation.
HERBERT WINLOCK, an American Egyptologist and the head of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s archaeological team in Egypt, was staring at a scene of brutal destruction that had all the hallmarks of a vicious personal attack. Signs of desecration were everywhere; eyes had been gouged out, heads lopped off, the cobra-like symbol of royalty hacked from foreheads.
Winlock had unearthed a pit in the great temple complex at Deir el-Bahri and found smashed statues of a pharaoh—pieces “from the size of a fingertip,” Winlock noted, “to others weighing a ton or more.” The images had suffered “almost every conceivable indignity,” he wrote, as the violators vented “their spite on the brilliantly chiselled, smiling features of the Pharaoh.”
The actual mummy, however, was nowhere to be seen.
It would take almost 80 years after this incident when the greatest pharaoh would finally get to see the light of the day again after resting for nearly 3000 years. For many years, it was believed that nothing was left of the body, save some fragments found in a Canopic jar along with the Pharaoh’s nurse Sitire- Ra.
In 2006, however, the Egyptologist Zahi Hawass claimed to have located the legendary Pharaoh’s mummy on the third floor of the Cairo museum. Researchers identified the mummy by matching a tooth known to be the Pharaoh’s with an empty socket in the mummy’s jaw and DNA testing with the Pharaoh’s grandmother.
The mystery of a 3000 year old puzzle was finally solved.
The legend was real.
The greatest pharaoh to have ever ruled Egypt was finally known to the world, after 3000 years of obscurity.
She was Queen Hatshepsut.
• HAIL TO THE QUEEN
Her name meant “Foremost of Noblewomen.”
Pharaoh Hatshepsut ruled Egypt as a pharaoh (king) for more than 20 years. Under her, Egypt, already a prosperous land, reached its pinnacle of glory. Although technically, she wasn’t the first female Pharaoh of Egypt, there is no doubt that she was the greatest among all, both men and women. Her name became synonymous with wealth, prosperity, architecture and greatness. Achieving almost a mystical goddess like aura, no other pharaoh, before or after, could even come close to her greatness in the temples she built. She came from a long line of Pharaohs and was the first to break the norm, then prevalent in Egypt, of having only male rulers to the throne. She had long been acquainted with a position of power and chose instead to have herself crowned pharaoh of Egypt, instead of simply being “the wife of the pharaoh.”
She was a woman in a man’s position and understood she needed to take measures to protect herself as ruler so she chose to depict herself as a daughter of the god Amun, the most popular and powerful deity of the time. What is most ironical is the fact that after her death, the subsequent rulers didn’t want to have their pharaoh rule ‘tarnished’ by the name of a female pharaoh. So, Thutmose III, the next Pharaoh, ordered every temple and every monument in her name to be defaced and forgotten.
What they couldn’t realize was the fact that the greatest pharaoh in the whole of Egypt had already carved up her name in gold in the annals of History, impossible to erase.
Depicted (at her own orders) as a male in many contemporary images and sculptures, she remained largely unknown to scholars until the 19th century, but when she was found, it left the world stunned and in awe.
“In the history of Egypt during the dynastic period (3000 to 332 B.C.) there were only two or three women who managed to rule as pharaohs, rather than wielding power as the ‘great wife’ of a male king. And there is no doubt that Hatshepsut is the greatest of them all.”~ Egyptologist Ian Shaw.
• A DIVINE BIRTH – “GOD’S WIFE OF AMUN”
Egyptians held Sun as a powerful deity whom they named as AMUN or AMUN – RA. The people who followed the religion of the sun was the long line of Pharaohs that started with Pharaoh Amenhotep I, who ruled Egypt from 1526-1506 BC. Amenhotep I and his wife Senseneb had a child who was named as Thutmose I, who ruled as the Pharaoh of Egypt from 1506-1493 BC. Thutmose I and his wife Queen Ahmose were the parents of the future pharaoh Hatshepsut. The couple had 3 more children of which Nefrubity was the sister of Hatshepsut. Thutmose I also had a second mistress named Mutnofret, who bore him Thutmose II, Hatshepsut’s future husband.
After Hatshepsut became the pharaoh of Egypt, she claimed to be of divine birth, the result of a union between her mother and the god Amun. She also claimed that Thutmose I had named her as his successor before his death.
Archaeologists have indeed found a relief decorating Hatshepsut’s enormous funerary complex, depicting Thutmose I crowning her daughter as king in the presence of the Egyptian gods, chief among them is the Sun god Amun, confirming the fact that Thutmose I indeed wanted her daughter Hatshepshut to be the Pharaoh of Egypt.
Still, Hatshepsut didn’t ascend to being a Pharaoh, immediately after her father’s death. After the demise of Pharaoh Thutmose I, the Egyptian throne passed to Thutmose II, Hatshepsut’s half-brother and husband. In ancient Egypt, it was not unusual for royalty to marry within their family. Hatshepsut was appointed “God’s Wife of Amun” by her mother and came to know the intricacies of the cult first hand as well as the power of authority. The royal family had a daughter by the name of Neferure, who would go on to assume official duties in temples.
• ENTER HATSHEPSHUT – THE PHARAOH OF EGYPT
Pharaoh Thutmose II had another wife Iset, who bore him Thutmose III. When Thutmose II died in 1479 BCE, Thutmose III was just a child. He couldn’t assume the throne so Hatshepsut acted as a regent (temporary ruler) to the young pharaoh. She did this for three years.
Then, for reasons yet unknown, Hatshepsut took on the mantle of the Pharaoh. She took on the full regalia of an Egyptian pharaoh and even adopted a new throne name of Maatkare, sometimes translated as Truth (maat) is the Soul (ka) of the Sun God (Re). By calling herself Maatkare, Hatshepsut was likely reassuring her people that they had a legitimate ruler on the throne. Statues were created depicting her as a male king, right down to the beard. However, she did allow some feminine traits to come through as the names that she used as king were formed with grammatically feminine participles, thus openly acknowledging her female status.
It is generally agreed upon by Egyptologists that Hatshepsut was never pretending to be a man, when a pharaoh. In fact, she was proud to be a female pharaoh as inscriptions on her erected monuments reads proudly, “Daughter of Re and His Majesty, Herself.” Her attire as a male ruler is believed to have been motivated by the presence of a male co-ruler (still infant Thutmose III)—a circumstance with which no previous female ruler had ever contended. Hatshepsut married her daughter Neferure to the young Thutmose III, a marriage that would last for 11 years until her death.
As a God’s Wife of Amun, Hatshepsut would have known of the oracles of the god – oracles which would eventually be taken so seriously that Amun was the de-facto (patron) ruler of Thebes and Upper Egypt – and so she claimed of an oracle predicting her rise to power. The legitimacy of her rule as Amun’s daughter would have carried a great deal of weight with the people of Egypt. Having married her daughter to her successor, and established herself as the daughter of the most powerful god in Egypt (Amun), Hatshepsut set about to rule her country and create her legacy.
• “THOSE WHO SEE MY MONUMENTS IN YEARS TO COME, AND WHO SHALL SPEAK OF WHAT I HAVE DONE.”
After crowning herself as the Pharaoh, Hatshepsut immediately went to work on great public works projects. She employed the great architect Ineni, who also had worked for her father, her husband, and for the royal steward Senemut. Her reign included no great military conquests; the art produced under her authority was soft and delicate; and she constructed one of the most elegant temples in Egypt against the cliffs outside the Valley of the Kings.
✓ Following the tradition of most pharaohs, Hatshepsut had monuments constructed at the Temple of Karnak. She also restored the original Precinct of Mut, the ancient great goddess of Egypt, at Karnak that had been ravaged by the foreign rulers during the Hyksos occupation. She had twin obelisks, at the time the tallest in the world, erected at the entrance to the temple. One still stands, as the tallest surviving ancient obelisk on Earth; the other has broken in two and toppled.
✓Another project, Karnak’s Red Chapel, or Chapelle Rouge, was intended as a barque shrine and originally may have stood between her two obelisks. It was lined with carved stones that depicted significant events in Hatshepsut’s life.
✓ The Temple of Pakhet was built by Hatshepsut at Beni Hasan in the Minya Governorate south of Al Minya. The name, Pakhet, was a synthesis that occurred by combining Bast and Sekhmet, who were similar lioness war goddesses, in an area that bordered the north and south division of their cults. The cavernous underground temple, cut into the rock cliffs on the eastern side of the Nile.
✓ Perhaps, her most famous and grandest legacy is the commissioning of her exquisite temple at Deir el-Bahri at Thebes early on. Despite the enormous scale of the complex—roughly the length of two and a half football fields—its overall impression is one of lightness and grace, unlike the fortresslike temples of her predecessors. The temple’s lower levels featured pools and gardens planted with fragrant trees. Supersized images of Hatshepsut were everywhere. Some 100 colossal statues of the female pharaoh as a sphinx guarded the processional way.
Lining the terraces were more images of the ruler (some more than 10 feet tall) in various devotional attitudes—kneeling with offerings to the gods, striding into eternity or in the guise of Osiris, god of death and resurrection. Most statues are massive, masculine and meant to be seen from a distance. Atop its columned halls, whose walls were covered with lovely carvings, stood the temple proper whose smaller rooms contained statues of the queen. Some wall scenes showed her birth as a divine event in which the god Amun, disguised as her father Thuthmose I, impregnated her mother, indicating that the god had personally placed her on the throne. Hatshepsut herself inscribed on one of her obelisks at Karnak which still resonate with almost charming insecurity:
“Now my heart turns this way and that as I think what the people will say. Those who see my monuments in years to come, and who shall speak of what I have done.”~ QUEEN HATSHEPSUT.
So beautiful were her buildings that later pharaohs claimed them as their own and so numerous were her monuments and temple projects that, today, there are few museums in the world which do not house works she commissioned.
• “NEVER WAS BROUGHT THE LIKE OF THIS FOR ANY KING WHO HAD BEEN SINCE THE BEGINNING.”
Hatshepsut understood that the prosperity of Egypt lay in trade and business. Hatshepsut’s temple also featured a series of reliefs marking the achievements of her reign, including a storied trading expedition to the mysterious and distant land called Punt, believed to be somewhere on the coast of the Red Sea, perhaps in current-day Eritrea. This trading expedition to Punt was roughly during the 9th year of Hatshepsut’s reign. It set out in her name with five ships, each measuring 70 feet (21 m) long, bearing several sails and accommodating 210 men that included sailors and 30 rowers. Many trade goods were bought in Punt, notably frankincense and myrrh.
Hatshepsut’s delegation returned from Punt bearing 31 live myrrh trees, the roots of which were carefully kept in baskets for the duration of the voyage. This was the first recorded attempt to transplant foreign trees. It is reported that Hatshepsut had these trees planted in the courts of her mortuary temple complex. Egyptians also returned with a number of other gifts from Punt, among which was frankincense. Hatshepsut would grind the charred frankincense into kohl eyeliner. This is the first recorded use of the resin. Hieroglyphs even show the queen of the land of Punt, Queen Ati. The reliefs show the Egyptians loading their boats in Punt with an array of highly prized luxury goods—ebony, ivory, gold, exotic animals and incense trees.
“Never was brought the like of this for any king who had been since the beginning.”~ Inscription from “Seagoing Ships and Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant.” by Shelley Wachsmann.
Hatshepsut also sent raiding expeditions to Byblos and the Sinai Peninsula shortly after the Punt expedition.
Under the peaceful foreign policy of Pharaoh Hatshepsut, Egypt thrived, people were happy and prosperity reached its pinnacle. It was the golden age of the Egyptian civilization.
• DEATH, DENIAL, DEFACEMENT
Hatshepsut probably died around 1458 B.C., when she would have been in her mid-40s. She was buried in the Valley of the Kings (also home to Tutankhamen, the famous boy-king), located in the hills behind Deir el-Bahri. It was her last wish to be with her beloved father so she had his sarcophagus reburied in her tomb so they could lie together in death. Thutmose III went on to rule for 30 more years, proving to be both an ambitious builder like his stepmother and a great warrior. However, Egyptologists agree that he came nowhere close to the achievements of Hatshepsut.
Late in his reign, Thutmose III had almost all of the evidence of Hatshepsut’s rule–including the images of her as king on the temples and monuments she had built eradicated. “We believe that because it happened so late in Thutmose III’s reign, that it wasn’t personal enmity or jealousy,” says Dorman of the rampage. For some reason, Thutmose III must have decided it was necessary to essentially rewrite the official record of Hatshepsut’s kingship —which meant eradicating all traces of it to suggest that the throne had gone directly from his father to him. While numerous theories abound, most contemporary Egyptologists believe Pharaoh Thutmose III undertook this endeavour to possibly to erase her example as a powerful female ruler, or to close the gap in the dynasty’s line of male succession.
Egyptologists believe that Hatshepsut’s unconventional reign may have been too successful, a fact which Thutmose III considered a dangerous precedent, best be erased to prevent the possibility of another powerful female ever inserting herself into the long line of Egyptian male kings.
As a consequence of this denial and defacement, scholars of ancient Egypt knew little of Hatshepsut’s existence until 1927, when they were able to decode and read the hieroglyphics on the walls of Deir el-Bahri.
• THE ETERNAL LEGACY OF THE QUEEN
Examination of the mummy showed that Hatshepsut died from an abscess following the removal of a tooth. Some scholars are of the opinion that Hatshepsut died from bone cancer, attributing this to a carcinogenic skin lotion found in possession of the Pharaoh. Other members of the queen’s family are thought to have suffered from inflammatory skin diseases that tend to be genetic. It is likely that Hatshepsut inadvertently poisoned herself while trying to soothe her itchy, irritated skin.
Still, whatever is the cause of her death, Hatshepsut’s legacy still reverberates on. Under her, the land reached its golden era, in every aspect of life. The success of her incredible reign is due entirely to her personal abilities as a leader who saw what needed to be done and was able to do it well.
The story of Hatshepsut will probably never be complete. Her eternal legacy is important to note, not only for women who are competing with men for positions of power, but for anyone who feels disenfranchised and powerless in society. Certainly Hatshepsut began her life with advantages, being the daughter of a king, but she refused the traditional role assigned to women and discarded even her parentage in order to become who she knew she really was: the daughter of Amun and pharaoh of Egypt.
She’s like an iceberg. On the surface we know quite a lot about her. But there’s so much we don’t know. One thing, however, we do know for sure: In ancient Egypt, just like today, you simply can never keep a good woman down.~ Joyce Tyldesley, scholar and author of the 1996 biography Hatshepsut: The Female Pharaoh.
Hatshepsut’s image couldn’t be erased because even with the weight, the beard, and the nail polish, she was a pharaoh, and a grand one. And she will forever be remembered, honoured and respected as the Greatest Pharaoh in the history of the great Egyptian civilization.