Queen Hatshepsut

Queen Hatshepsut was the most successful female monarch Egypt ever had. There had been a number of queens regnant(reigning) prior to her time: the generally accepted ones are Queen Neitkrety (whom Herodotos calls 'Nitokris') of the late Sixth Dynasty, and Queen Sebekneferu from the end of Dynasty XII. There were also Queens Neithotep and Meryt-Neit of Dynasty I, both of whom may have ruled Egypt in Dynasty I, for both had serekhs (a box sign in which the name of the pharaoh was written. It contained the Horus name of a king.) and tombs that suggest they were monarchs. Although we know very little about these four queens - especially the first two - we can say that the neither Neitkrety nor Sobekneferu had very lengthy reigns. Even the later pharaoh, Queen Twosret (Dynasty XIX), reigned very briefly, and has left us minimal material by which we may judge her achievements. With Hatshepsut, however, the picture is quite different.

She was the supreme priestess at Karnak, at a time when few women were priestesses of gods. As God's Wife of Amen we know that she actually selected the second prophet of the god (in other words, the deputy high priest) at Karnak. By this time Karnak was growing into the single most important temple in the whole of Egypt, so her right to select the deputy administrator was a signal of great religious (if not political) power. So prestigious was this queen that, after her death, she was deemed to be a god. In spite of the fertility of Ahmose-Nefertary (who had many children), her line died out with her own children, Amenhotep I and Merytamen, and the next king of Egypt was Thutmose I. We are ignorant about his background, other than that his mother was a woman named Senseneb - a woman otherwise without title or rank. Thutmose himself is just as mysterious. Who was he? What post had he held in Egypt that made him the successor to Amenhotep? We know none of these answers. Neither do we know any details about his chief queen, Ahmose. She was not a princess, in spite of what numbers of scholars have said. Her only relationship is as King's Wife and `the King's sister.

From this period onwards sister was a proper title for the wife to have, as we know from countless records, but we are unsure whether or not at this early date Ahmose was the actual sister of Thutmose I. Two daughters are known for this couple: Hatshepsut and her sister Neferubity. In addition, the king had two sons, Wadjmose and Ahmose. The elder boy seems to have been the son of the king's second wife, Queen Mutnofret. Both boys died before their father. Another son, Thutmose II, was a younger son of Queen Mutnofret, a woman who, in spite of being a princess, was only a minor queen. Owing to the premature deaths of his brothers (or half- brothers) Thutmose II succeeded to the throne when his father  died. Presumably, it was at this time that he was married to his half-sister, Hatshepsut, who was probably some years older than he. Hatshepsut grew up in the king's palace, which was built by Thutmose I beside the north entrance of the temple of Amen at Karnak, where the great column of Tarharka exists today, inside the court built by Rameses II. The name of the palace was "I am not far from him" (meaning that the king was close to the god Amen). During her youth Hatshepsut saw the deaths of her two brothers (or half-brothers) Ahmose and Wadjmose, as well as the death of her sister, Neferubity.

It may well be that after these deaths Thutmose I presented his daughter Hatshepsut to his court and announced that she was his heir; she left an inscription telling us of this event at Deir el Bahri.  Rameses II also said he presented to court in a similar way at a much later time and, although both inscriptions recording this information were written long after each ruler ascended the throne, they may in fact describe actual occurrences. In neither instance was this introduction a true coregency (having two rulers, a senior and a junior partner, operating together), for then the monuments would record the double dates and names of the rulers, but both inscriptions do suggest this may have been the formula for declaring a royal heir. At Deir el Bahri, in Hatshepsut's mortuary temple, the inscription runs: `Then his majesty [ie. Thutmose I] said to them: "This daughter of mine, Khnumetamun Hatshepsut - may she live! - I have appointed as my successor upon my throne...she shall direct the people in every sphere of the palace; it is she indeed who shall lead you. Obey her words, unite yourselves at her command."

The same expression is used for both Thutmose III and Amenhotep III, both of whom were children at their accession, as we know. The number of children fathered by the king is another indication of both his youth and his brevity of reign. Hatshepsut's only child, Princess Neferure, was a babe in arms when her mother was regent for Thutmose III, the only son of Thutmose II that we know about. Thutmose III was also a young child when he came to the throne; his mother was Isis, a minor queen, it seems. One other child is known, a female named Mutnefer. [Urk. IV.154, 7 - 12 - engraved on a statue of her father] Her mother is unknown. The reign of Thutmose II was short, although the exact length is debatable; the majority of scholars accord him no more than three years. The rarity of scarabs (a seal which is carved in the shape of a beetle but has a flat undersurface. Short messages were carved on this flat surface) for this king also suggest a brief reign, as do the calculated ages of some of the officials who lived through these times.

In view of his youth it is surprising that Thutmose II did not have a regent, but there is the possibility that the king had reached the age of maturity (perhaps 12 or 13 years) by the time of his coronation. Certainly, during the lifetime of Thutmose II, Hatshepsut was never entitled anything other than 'King's GreatWife', and 'God's Wife of Amen' - she preferred using the latter title. After the death of Thutmose II, Thutmose III became the next king. Being a minor, Thutmose III had as his regent the senior queen, Hatshepsut. At first she was content to carry on governmental affairs on his behalf entitling herself as 'King's Great Wife' and 'God's Wife of Amen'. But, at some stage during her regency, this queen had herself crowned, and adopted the full titulary (list of titles) of a pharaoh. The date for Hatshepsut's coronation is problematic, ranging from Year 2 to Year 7. The reason for her assumption of full regal status is not known, but perhaps the queen felt that her control would slip away from her when Thutmose III reached the age of an adult, for then she would have to give up her regency. As further propaganda to support her legitimation in regard to the throne, Hatshepsut claimed to be a divine child. The conception and stages of her own illustrious birth appear on the walls of her temple at Deir el Bahri.

With reliefs and inscriptions the story was told that her mother, the King's Great Wife, Ahmose, had been visited by the god Amen, and he was responsible for Hatshepsut's conception. On the walls of the Red Chapel, too, Hatshepsut is at pains to stress her godly parentage.  In thus linking her claim to the throne with the cult of Amen, the great god of Thebes Hatshepsut would undoubtedly have had the endorsement of the priesthood, which must have been supporting her in this bid for control. As the God's Wife of Amen, Hatshepsut would have had some influence over some of the priesthood, and perhaps her familiarity with the priests, or her religious position in respect to them was the reason for their support. The queen was to reward the temple and its staff for this help by installing the priests of Amen into the highest positions of her court. Circumstances have provided us with a most dramatic account of the day on which the God's decision reading her coronation was reached. A ceremony had first been celebrated in the temple, after which the statue of the god was placed in its barque and, hoisted upon the shoulders of the priests, carried along the processional route within the temple.

Custom had it that the procession would stop in various places to deliver an oracle (an order from a god revealing the god's intentions) in answer to petitions that were written on ostraka (broken bits of pottery used as slates) and laid out along the floor of the processional way. But, on this occasion, the barque (sacred boat) of the god swept past all of these petitions and went out beyond the very gates of the temple. "His Majesty [the god] set out on an oracular procession, his ennead in his following, without, however, giving his oracle at the Stations of the Lord of the king. The whole land, it became silent. `One does not know", said the royal noblemen; the palace officials had heads bowed, [the god's] entourage asking `Why?', the wise had become empty-headed, their hearts trembling as a result of [the god's] wonders. His Majesty [the god] reached the head of the canal, giving a very great oracle at the double gate of the royal palace which is at the side of the Way of Offerings. After this, one turned northwards, not knowing what he would do ..... Thereupon the majesty of the Lord of All turned his face to the east and gave a very great oracle at the western double gate of the palace of the courtyard of I am not far from Him [the name of Hatshepsut's palace], which is at the side of the canal.

Thereupon, the Lady of the Two Lands [Hatshepsut] came from within the seclusion of her palace, whereupon she gave praise at the approach of the Lord of Gods. Thereupon she placed herself upon her belly before His Majesty saying, `How much greater is this than the [other?] counsels of Your Majesty! You are my father, who plans all that is. What is it that you wish to happen, that I might do that which you command?' Thereupon, the majesty of this god gave great oracles, very numerous and very important. After this he placed her before him, taking her up to the Mansion of Maat, she having received the adornments of her majesty ...." P. Lacau & H. Chevrier, Une chapelle d'Hatshepsout Karnak I (Cairo, 1977), (trans. B. Ockinga). So, we here have the earliest account of a ruler accepting an oracle from a god. Another block from Hatshepsut's Red Chapel also speaks of "... a very great oracle in the presence of this good god [ie. an unnamed ruler], proclaiming for me the kingship of the Two Lands, Upper and Lower Egypt being under the fear of me, and giving to me all the foreign lands, causing the victories of my majesty to shine.' (Dorman, Senenmut, p.22).

The famous religious scholar, Jan Assmann, has said that oracles like this one are telling us what the god's intentions are: in this case, it is the god's intention to put Hatshepsut on the throne. It was not a new idea for such oracles to be given, but it was a new idea for an oracle to set out a course of action which the king should follow. From this time forwards, Egypt's rulers frequently referred to oracles which expressed what Amen-Re's intentions were.  It does not necessarily mean that religion was dictating to the state, as happened in mediaeval times in Euro-centred history, but it does mean that the queen felt sufficient humility or piety to submit to the will of the god. Nevertheless, we must realise that the priesthood of the god would never have acted in this way without the express permission of the queen. After this day Hatshepsut gradually assumed the titles and accoutrements (costumes or ceremonial clothing) of a male pharaoh. It was this gradual acquisition which has been documented by her titulary and her statuary that is remarkable. Instead of emerging as a newly-hatched pharaoh, the queen took a cautious approach to monarchic status.

It appears to me that this could have been another of those many keys to her success as a ruler. She thus avoided any possible resistance to her assumption of power by this step-by-step approach, gradually leading up to her later portrayal as a male monarch. The account of this gradual accumulation of male identity has been well-documented by Roland Tefnin in his study of Hatshepsut.  Events during Hatshepsut's reign About the same time as Hatshepsut became king she dropped her title, God's Wife, and this was transferred to her daughter, Neferure. Neferure herself was given many titles over the following years, and in reliefs depicting her she appeared as a crown prince, rather than a princess. When the princess appears on official monuments after this time they often carry her own regnal date, as if she shared a coregency with her mother. While she was still a babe in arms, Neferure had a tutor who was the well-known soldier, Ahmose Pennekhbet, who had served every king from Ahmose to Thutmose III.

In his biography Ahmose says: "Hatshepsut gave me repeated honours. I raised her eldest daughter, Princess Neferure, while she was still a child at the breast." [Breasted, J.H. Records of Ancient Egypt. II.344] Neferure was Hatshepsut's only child. Her last dated record was made in Year 10 of her mother's reign. We do not know any of the circumstances concerning her death. In all likelihood the princess was only about twelve years of age at this time. The works of the queen Shortly after her accession Hatshepsut ordered two obelisks (tall, finger-like, single blocks of stone used as religious monuments) to be cut at Aswan and transported to Karnak, where they were erected outside the temple wall. Apart from this fragment of the top of one of the obelisks which is now in front of Cairo Museum, these obelisks no longer exist. Another three obelisks were cut at Aswan - this one developed a crack and remains in situ in its quarry. It would have been the tallest obelisk ever made, had it been erected. Two other obelisks were prepared for the celebration of the queen's sed festival (rejuvenation festival for the pharaoh) in Year 16.

One of them still stands, the other fell during an earthquake, snapping into two. The upper section preserves examples of the fine relief work of this period that was possible even on a stone as hard and intractable as red granite. Funerary preparations for the queen began after her marriage to Thutmose II. A large bab tomb was constructed in a remote valley behind the Valley of the Queens. It was abandoned unfinished after the queen's coronation.  A second tomb - the deepest in the Valley of the Kings - was then excavated for the queen. Although it was never finished, both she and her father were buried within it. Neither mummy was recovered from the tomb, but Thutmose I and his son were both among the mummies found in the Deir el Bahri cache at the end of the last century. There were a number of unidentified females in the cache, and it was supposed that Hatshepsut would have been one of these, but no-one knows which one. Work had started on the mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri during the time of Thutmose II, and what may have been designed to be a twin mortuary temple for the king and his wife soon became primarily a temple for the queen.

The decoration of this building was given over to reliefs and inscriptions recording the queen's early life and her achievements. The erection of her obelisks (mentioned a moment ago) appears on the walls of the lowest terrace, together with badly damaged references to military activity. The pictures of the queen's miraculous birth, as daughter of the god Amen, and her father's presentation of his daughter before the court are in one wing of the middle terrace, the journey to Punt in another. This great expedition took place in Year 9 of the queen's reign - one of the few events that is datable. Nehesy led the party, which included a large contingent of troops that traveled by land and water to Punt.

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