Seated Statue of Hatshepsut
Limestone sculpture of Hatshepsut which resides in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art

Hatshepsut, who ruled from 1478 to 1458 BC, was the second female Pharaoh of Egypt. Her name, in Egyptian, literally meant “The Foremost of Noble Women”. Even at a very young age, she was noticed by her family, and especially her father, as a very capable tactician and politician in the royal courts. However, Ancient Egyptian society was patriarchal and women were often not allowed access to power without proving themselves first.

Her father, Thothmes I (also a Pharaoh) appointed her co-ruler of Egypt after noticing her aptitude for both politics and strategy. Her half-brother Thothmes II died before he could inherit the throne from Thothmes I, despite his pending inheritance to the throne. As Thothmes III (Thothmes I’s grandson and son of Thothmes II) was too young to rule, Hatshepsut assumed her role as regent of Egypt. However, she soon disliked this position and assumed full sovereignty over Egypt for the next twenty years.

As the second ever female Pharaoh, Hatshepsut fought against many social norms of her day. She destroyed the stereotype of weak and incapable women. She often dressed as a man, donning the fake beard and headdress used by other Pharaohs. She appointed her half-nephew, Thothmes III, as the general of her armies. Ancient documents contain possible evidence that at close to the end of Hatshepsut’s reign, Thothmes III had planned a coup against his half-aunt and had subsequently ordered her assassination as Thothmes III had grown much older and had the backing of the army to seize the throne.

Although she is not known today as a major Pharaoh due to her gender and the distant era in which she ruled, she is majorly responsible for enabling the formation of trade routes in and out of Africa. The first Greeks to land in Egypt considered her a goddess and she made Greece a valuable trade partner across the Mediterranean Sea. She also sent a naval trade expedition to the Land of Punt (pronounced Pwent).

A map of where the land of Punt could be located

While the exact location of Punt is unknown, ancient sources indicate that this place was south of Egypt, either on the north-eastern coast of Africa (in modern-day Sudan, Eritrea, or Ethiopia) or on the western coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Her massive trade networks extended west into modern-day Libya and into the north-western portions of Sudan. Through these trade connections, Egypt later saw a boom in commerce and trading, serving as the major middleman between Europe, Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, and the rest of Africa, later enabling the formation of the Silk Road.

Her other major contribution was to Egyptian architecture and art. While she had many temples built, there are only a few remaining today. The Temple of Karnak, also known as the Chapelle Rouge (Red Chapel in English) in the Precinct of Mut was one of the largest temple complexes built during her reign. The Djeser-Djeseru was the most elaborate, complex, and massive structure built during her reign. While this structure has other names such as the Temple of Pakhet or the Speos Artemidos, its original name (Djeser-Djeseru) means “Sublime of Sublimes,” referring to its size, detail, and complexity. When the Greeks sailed to Egypt and saw this temple, they were amazed and asked to become trade partners with Egypt (at least, that is what the ancient sources say). Built as Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple, the temple complex is perfectly symmetrical, which was unusual during the 1500s BC, and was one of the inspirations for Greek temple construction, and eventually European architecture. Obelisks and other smaller relics created during her reign have been transported to and displayed at many museums around the world.

An artist’s rendition of the Temple of Karnak
The Djeser-Djeseru, which still stands today

Under her rule, artisans flourished and architects were highly valued; in fact, her chief chancellor was the head architect of the Djeser-Djeseru. She united a majority of Egypt as well as portions of the Arabian Peninsula, Libya, and Sudan using Egypt’s military might. She enabled an age of Egyptian flourishing through the early trade networks. Long after her unfortunate death, she is still recognized as the longest reigning female Pharaoh who had sole sovereignty on the throne (there were female co-regents and co-rulers who had longer reigns, but never truly held power).

The first great woman of whom we are informed. – James Henry Breasted, Egyptologist

Works Cited

Bunson, Margaret. Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, p. 161.

Clarke, John Henrik. “QUEEN HATSHEPSUT (1500 B.C.).” QUEEN HATSHEPSUT (1500 B.C.). Ed. Phillip True, Jr. DuBois Learning Center

Njoku, Raphael Chijioke. The History of Somalia. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2013. 29-31. Print

Sullivan, Mary Ann. “Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.” Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Bluffton University

Image Sources:

#1 : A limestone sculpture of Hatshepsut now residing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/29.3.2/

#2: Aerial View of the Temple of Karnak http://www.natgeocreative.com/ngs/photography/gallery.jsf?l=tbxMXVxysas=

#3 Frontal View of the Temple at Pakhet / Djeser-Djeseru https://africaday.se/2015/03/26/egypt-women-in-the-history-of-egypt-hatshepsut/

#4 Map of the Possible Location of the Land of Punt https://www.ancient.eu/punt/

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