If you’re at all interested in Ancient Egypt and archaeology, you may have heard about the discovery of a tomb in Abu Sir, belonging to Khentakawess III. There isn’t a lot of information about her as of yet, but inscriptions from her tomb and other artifacts found at the site indicate that she was possibly Pharaoh Neferefre’s (of the Fifth Dynasty) wife and queen.
Archaeology has fascinated me since I was a child, and my interest in ancient civilizations has only grown since then. Learning about female rulers and their rightful place in history has, personally, become an increasingly important subject as well, since women and women’s roles have historically been marginalized, trivialized or almost struck entirely from the historical record for their accomplishments. Thus, this week’s Gal-lery is going to stray from its usual theme of artists and designers so that I may present to you Hatshepsut, Egypt’s longest-reigning female pharaoh.
Who was Hatshepsut?
Born in the 16th century BC, Hatshepsut, as the primary wife, customarily became queen regent when her husband, the Pharaoh Thutmose II, died c. 1479 BC, since his son (whose mother was a lesser wife) was not old enough to assume the role of pharaoh. Centuries before Pharaoh Cleopatra VII (yes, THAT Cleopatra whom so many people know), Hatshepsut ruled during the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom, a time of prosperity for ancient Egypt that is due, in part, to her successful and peaceful 20-plus year reign.
Technically, Hatshepsut and Thutmose II reigned jointly over Egypt until her death around 1458 BC, but is was she who held the primary position of power, which she wielded with the purpose of bettering the kingdom she governed: Grand monuments were built and restored, the kingdom expanded, and Egypt’s economic status flourished.
Naturally, historians have tried to sully Hatshepsut’s name, condemning her as a ‘usurper’ to Thutmose II’s throne, but, as the curator of ancient art and interpretation at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Renée Dreyfus states, “…so much of what was written about Hatshepsut, I think, had to do with who the archaeologists were…gentlemen scholars of a certain generation.”
Conversely, some historians ponder if what she was actually doing was protecting the kingship for her stepson, for during the time of Hatshepsut’s reign, he was not holed-away somewhere, but instead honing his skills as a warrior, which would become entirely useful during the time of his own ascendancy. Donning the outward male aspects of a pharaoh– the ceremonial false beard, shenti (frequently referred to as a ‘kilt’ for ease of association) and headpiece–she also took the name Maatkare to legitimize her position (according to Webster’s dictionary, “maat” is the personification of truth, justice, and the cosmic order in ancient Egypt). Yet, on her statues, she maintained clues to her gender, like references to being a daughter of Re. I find it remarkable and inspiring, the lengths at which she went to do what she had to do.
Perhaps most famously, after her death, Thutmose III did try to eradicate any trace of Hatshepsut possible–her statues were vandalized and demolished, and her name expunged from records. Why? Previously it was thought that he held a grudge against the “usurper,” but some current archaeologists and historians suggest that it was simply to maintain an uninterrupted line of male pharaohs.
The puzzle that is Hatshepsut and her reign is gradually being unraveled, no thanks to the intervening millennia and those who tried to erase her from history or those who misinterpreted and romanticized their [sexist] speculations as to what actually happened so long ago. For instance, utilizing DNA from a tooth, her mummy was finally identified within the last decade, even though her tomb was actually discovered by the ubiquitous Howard Carter back in 1902.
As a commanding, savvy, intelligent and resourceful woman from history, Hatshepsut rates pretty much as high as possible on my scale of admiration. The links in the Sources section have even more insightful and interesting information on my favorite lady-pharaoh, and I highly recommend that you check them out!
Tomb of previously unknown pharaonic queen found in Egypt. Retrieved from Al Jazeera America. January 5th, 2015.
Hatshepsut. [Internet]. 2015. The Biography.com website. Available from: http://www.biography.com/people/hatshepsut-9331094 [Accessed 06 Jan 2015].
Wilson, Elizabeth B. ‘The Queen Who Would be King’. Smithsonian. 2006. The Smithsonian.com website. Available from: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-queen-who-would-be-king-130328511/?no-ist=&page=1 .[Accessed 06 Jan 2015]
Brown, C. “The King Herself.” National Geographic. April, 2009. NationalGeographic.com. [Accessed 06 Jan 2015].
Who would you like to see represented here? Do you have a particularly inspirational woman from history whom you positively admire? Let us know in the comments below!