Queen Hatshepsut of the 18th dynasty was one of the few female pharaohs of Egypt. There were female pharaohs prior to her, as well as female pharaohs after her. However, Queen Hatshepsut was in many respects special. The question is, how was a woman able to establish such power during a time when societies were predominantly ruled by men? To answer this question we must take a closer look at the social climate for the "common" woman in ancient Egypt.
Back to "Ancient Egypt" Chronology
Women in Egypt had an advantage over their contemporaries in other societies, such as Mesopotamia and Greece. Egyptian women were allowed to own property, to hold official positions, and to inherit from their parents or late husbands. Furthermore, in the case of a dispute a woman was entitled to take her case to court and defend her legal rights. Based on these facts it seems clear women possessed the right to move about in public, unlike her counterparts in Greece whose designated area was the home.
This social climate of Egypt, while male-dominated allowed women a significant amount of freedom and legal rights compared to women in other ancient societies. This made it possible for a number of queens, prior to and after Hatshepsut, to gain some influence over the kingdom of Egypt as regents. Hatshepsut was preceded by a number of important and seemingly influential queens in the 17th dynasty. Tetisheri, Ahhotep II, and Ahmose-Nefertary were all likely to have had some control over the government of Egypt. (1) Succeeded by each other, they had an impact on the general view of women as powerful, and were able to maintain stability and order. They led the way for Hatshepsut, who was probably the most extraordinary female to hold the title of Pharaoh in ancient Egypt.
Hatshepsut was the daughter of Thutmose I and his Queen Ahmose. When Thutmose died he was succeeded by his son Thutmose II, who was also the stepbrother of Hatshepsut. As was customary in Egyptian royal families, the succeeding Pharaoh married the oldest daughter of his father, who in this case was Hatshepsut. Thutmose II died, possibly in the year of 1479 BC, (2) and Thutmose III became Pharaoh. With Thutmose III being a minor at this time, his aunt, Hatshepsut, stepped in as his regent. Thutmose III and Hatshepsut ruled together until 1473 BC, when she appointed herself Pharaoh. (3)
Hatshepsut used a number of strategies to legitimate her role as Pharaoh. In Hapshepsut's temple at Beir el-Bahri, near Luxor in the Valley of Kings, the birth and coronation of the queen is described in paintings and other works of art. From this source, experts have been able to decipher that in order to make her leadership legitimate, Hatshepsut claimed that the god Amon-Ra had visited her mother while she was pregnant with Hatshepsut, thus making her a divine child. Through her supposed divinity it would seem the queen also had some influence over the priesthood in Egypt. This was important since the priests' support further legitimated her role as Pharaoh. (4) Queen Hatshepsut adopted several male attributes including a fake beard, male clothing, as well as having herself illustrated and treated like a man. It can be argued that this behavior was yet another instrument practiced by the queen in her pursuit for respect. However, this is truly a "chicken and the egg" problem because we do not know whether this behavior was the reason or the effect of holding a male position in society.
Our most reliable source detailing the life and achievements of Hatshepsut is her temple at Beir el-Bahri. This temple was begun by Thutmose II, and later finished by his Queen Hatshepsut during her time as Pharaoh. One major achievement that appears on the walls of the temple is the expedition to the Land of Punt, located near the Red Sea, possibly in present-day Somalia. Ebony, ivory, myrrh saplings, animal skins, gold, and perfumes were brought back on this trading expedition. Another achievement, also described through vivid paintings, is the transportation of two granite obelisks, cut at Aswan, to the temple of Karnak. Obelisks were used as religious monuments in ancient Egypt.
This powerful and admirable woman, Hatshepsut, mysteriously disappeared, possibly in 1458 BC, when Thutmose III regained his title as Pharaoh. (5) Her mummy has never been found, and her name and images were forever lost when obliterated by Thutmose III. (6)
(1) Callander, V.G. Queen Hapshepsut [c.1503-1483]. http://hsc.csu.edu.au/ancthist/courses/23unit/pers_grp/hatshep/8/page4.htm
(2) Hapshepsut. http://www.horus.ks.org.eg/html/queen_hatshepsut.html. 1996.
(3) Hatshepsut. http://www.horus.ks.org.eg/html/queen_hatshepsut.html. 1996. There seem to be a dispute among scholars. Some sources claim that Hatshepsut reigned in the years, c.1503- 1483 BC, while others claim, 1473-1458 BC. This document will use the former, since those dates correlate with the date for the death of Thutmose II.
(4) Callander, V.G. Queen Hapshepsut [c.1503-1483]. http://hsc.csu.edu.au/ancthist/courses/23unit/pers_grp/hatshep/8/page4.htm
(5) Hapshepsut. http://www.horus.ks.org.eg/html/queen_hatshepsut.html. 1996.
(6) Despite this, experts have been able to decipher a significant amount of information about Queen Hatshepsut. This information is derived mostly from her temple at Beir el-Bahri.