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Ancient Egypt - Queen Hatshepsut

Updated: Nov 5, 2020


This biography highlights Queen Hatshepsut who was one of Egypt's greatest and least known rulers. She was more powerful than Cleopatra and created one of the most unique temples in Egyptian History.

Queen Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple

Constructed under the supervision of her steward, Senenmut, Hatshepsut's temple took its basic inspiration from the 12th Dynasty temple of Mentuhotep II, adjacent to the site on the south. When completed, it was unique to Egyptian architecture. As described by Peter Clayton:

“The Temple was built largely of limestone, it rose in three broad,

colonnade-fronted terraces to a central rock-cut sanctuary on the

upper terrace. The primary dedication was to Amun, but there were

also smaller shrines to Hathor and Anubis, respectively located on the

south and north sides of the second terrace.”

A feature of the Temple was its alignment to the east directly with the Great Temple of Amun across the Nile at Karnak. The site of her Temple had originally been a small cave shrine to the goddess Hathor.

Expedition to Punt

With her title as 'King of Egypt' no longer contested, Hatshepsut re-established the trade routes that had been disrupted during the Hyksos Period, thereby building the wealth of the 18th Dynasty. The most famous expedition, as recorded on the walls of her temple, was sent to the Land of Punt, notably for frankincense and myrrh. The relief on the wall displays a realistic depiction of the Queen of the Land of Punt, Queen Ati. The delegation returned with 31 live myrrh trees, the roots of which were carefully kept in baskets for the duration of the visit. This was the first recorded attempt to transplant foreign trees, which were planted in the courts of her mortuary temple complex.

Hatshepsut was one of the most prolific builders in Ancient Egypt, commissioning hundreds of construction projects throughout the country. At Karnak, she erected two twin red granite obelisks, which were, at the time, the tallest in the world. One still stands as the tallest surviving ancient obelisk; the other has broken in two and toppled. Their removal from the quarries at Aswan is recorded on the walls of her mortuary temple and is about the only scene we have of how they transported them. They were created at Aswan in seven months, then placed on a barge (end to end) and towed by 27 ships with three pilot ships leading until they are unloaded at Karnak.

Hatshepsut had begun construction of a tomb while the royal wife of Tuthmosis II, but the scale of this was not suitable for a pharaoh. This tomb, located 220 feet up a 350 foot cliff face in a remote valley west of the Valley of the Kings, was discovered by local people in 1916 and investigated by English Archaeologist Howard Carter in dangerous circumstances.

Carter had first been alerted to the fact that tomb robbers had located a previously undiscovered tomb. He and his workmen made their way to this new tomb during the night, moonlight guiding their way. On reaching the tomb they discovered a rope leading down the cliffside and could hear the tomb robbers at work, in Howard Carter's own words:

"Listening, we could hear the robbers actually at work, so I first severed

their rope, thereby cutting off their means of escape, and then, making

secure a good stout rope of my own, I lowered myself down the cliff.

Shinning down a rope at midnight, into a nestful of industrious tomb-robbers,

is a pastime which at least does not lack excitement. There were eight at work,

and when I reached the bottom there was an awkward moment or two. I gave

them the alternative of clearing out by means of my rope, or else of staying

where they were without a rope at all, and eventually they saw reason and

departed. The rest of the night I spent on the spot, and, as soon as it was light

enough, climbed down into the tomb again to make a thorough examination."

Tomb (KV20)

As Pharaoh, Hatshepsut had her second tomb (KV20) dug in the Valley of the Kings by her vizier and High Priest of Amun, Hapuseneb. This tomb was originally quarried for her father, Tuthmosis I, most likely used by Tuthmosis II, and refurbished and taken over by Hatshepsut, who was most likely buried in this tomb upon her death. During the reign of Tuthmosis III, a new tomb was built for Tuthmosis I (KV38) and he was removed. At the same time, Hatshepsut's mummy was most likely moved into the tomb of her nurse, who had been given royal honors and buried in her own tomb in the Valley of the Kings in (KV60). Standing in her original tomb cut for her as a royal wife, in 1916, Carter wrote:

“As a king, it was clearly necessary for her to have her own tomb

in the Valley like all other kings – as a matter of fact, I found

it there myself in 1903 – and the present tomb was abandoned.

She would have been better advised to hold to her original

plan. In this secret spot her mummy would have had a

reasonable chance of avoiding disturbance: in the Valley it

had none. A king she would be, and a king's fate she shared.”

-Howard Carter, 1916

Hatshepsut's Mummy

The precise date for Hatshepsut's death, January 16, 1458 B.C., is given on a stele found at Armant, a town located about 12 miles south of Thebes. No contemporary mention of the cause of her death has survived. The medical examination of her mummy indicates that she suffered from diabetes and died from bone cancer which had spread throughout her body while she was in her fifties.

Reign Suppression

Toward the end of the reign of Tuthmosis III and into the reign of his son, an attempt was made to remove Hatshepsut from certain historical and pharaonic records. Her cartouches and images were chiseled out of stone walls. Her numerous statues were removed and buried in a pit in front of her temple at Deir el-Bahari. At Karnak, there was even an attempt to wall up her obelisks.

While it is clear that much of this rewriting occurred only during the close of Tuthmosis III's reign, it is not clear why it happened, other than the typical self-promotion that existed among the Pharaohs. For many years, the early modern Egyptologists presumed that the erasures were from Tuthmosis III acting out of resentment once he became pharaoh. But her accomplishments and images remained featured on all of the public buildings she constructed for 20 years after her death. He does not attempt to erase her images and name from the king lists until he sets his son up as successor.

Again, the reasons are unknown, but the most plausible answer is that they did not want to show that Egypt had been ruled by a woman. They wanted the previous status-quo to remain, nothing personal against Hatshepsut's rule, except the fact that a woman had been king. They did not want to establish the precedent for that to happen again, for tradition demanded that kings be male. Their attempts would be in vain, for history would remember her thousands of years later, and declare Hatshepsut as one of the most power female rulers in world history, greater than even the more famous Cleopatra.


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