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Forgotten Women: Hatshepsut

As Tutankhamun’s ancestor, Hatshepsut amassed much of the wealth that he was to inherit. She ruled Egypt, the largest kingdom of the ancient world during its golden age and its most powerful dynasty. Her trade expeditions were ground breaking, her building programme was unprecedented. She ruled Egypt as a Pharaoh, not as a queen, but her statues were smashed, her name was deleted and her mummy was removed from her tomb in the Valley of the Kings, Tomb KV20. It was lost until very recently, when she was found in KV60, the tomb of her nanny by a team led by Doctor Zahi Hawass, the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt.

There are images left ont he temple walls that clearly show the space where she once was. For example, I have a picture from the temple of Hatshepsut on the West Bank showing Ra Hor Achti and Ma’at leading an empty space where Hatshepsut would have been. You can clearly see the chisel marks on the wall.

Her tomb was the first to be built in the Valley of the Kings, and it is the deepest tomb that tunnels deep under the mountain. But her body was removed, and was then lost in time. Not just in the temple at Karnak (large portions of which she built) but in every temple in the Theban region, and indeed all of Egypt, her name had systematically been removed.

What did she do to warrant being erased and being made to cease to exist in all of Egyptian history? One statue alone has been found buried in the sand beneath a monument she built that bears her face and a royal cartouche bearing her name. The tallest obelisk in Egypt is that of Hatshepsut, and it is here that the statue was found, holding hands with another. The statue she is holding hands with is that of Neferhotep, an earlier Pharaoh she identified with who had struggled also.

As the daughter of Tutmoses I, Hatshepsut was brought up as a daughter of the King would be, but because she was a woman, she could not inherit the throne. Her half brother instead was crowned Tutmoses II, but since his mother was not royal, he was not really of royal blood, so he married Hatshepsut to further bolster his claim. She then became the Royal wife, which is not really all that powerful. However, he was weak, and he died when she was 15 and was thrust into the position of having to be a regent for her stepson, Tutmoses III, but as her stepson reached the age where he could take over, she took matters into her own hands. At 22, she took the daring step of taking the throne as a woman, and she was now no longer Queen but Pharaoh, and in order to do this she had to morph herself into a man – wearing a false beard was one of the symbols of this. Her other name was “Ka-Ma’at Ra” which means the lover or spirit of Amun Ra, and she paid money to the priests of Amun to accept her as pharaoh. This may have been why she was erased from history.

She looks beautiful even with a beard.

She built at Karnack, Luxor, the West Bank and many other places. When a Pharaoh’s building programme is extensive, it shows their reign is successful. She recorded her achievements in many extensive pictures in the temples.

Hatshepsut’s Obelisk at Karnak temple. The obelisk clearly has two different colours on the top half and the bottom half. This is because Tutmoses III could not destroy the obelisk and instead he built a wall around it to hide it from sight, however, the wall was only built as high as the line where the colours change.


Sennenmut was the architect of some of her biggest projects, but his name has also been deleted except for hidden pictures he left behind a closed door which was never meant to be seen. Some speculate that their relationship was that of lovers, but he never married or had children, and there is little evidence either way. However, Sennenmut built his own tomb directly below Hatshepsut’s own mortuary temple which suggests he would be travelling to the afterlife with her, and he a commoner. Also, it contains the first ever astrological ceiling, and an inscription which is a love poem.

It was common for people to express admiration for their Pharaoh’s, but this is unusually demonstrative. His tomb contains one of the only images of the two of them together, but the picture has been destroyed, which could suggest a motive. It was not acceptable for a Pharaoh to have a relationship with a commoner. This could also have been why she was deleted from history.

By the time Hatshepsut approached the end of her reign, her stepson Tutmoses III took power. It is possible that he hated her for taking his throne, and destroyed her name and her history. However, Amenhotep was the son of Tutmoses III, and Hatshepsut was probably deleted for the purposes of propaganda. It is not necessarily that they hated her or disapproved of her, but to ensure the smooth succession of Tutmoses III to his son Amenhotep, to ensure his succession and that of his children.

Her daughter Neferuray was likely to have been groomed as her successor. However, she too vanished, and may have been taken down by Hashepsut’s enemies. She may have been too radical, and this would have placed her at risk. Howard Carter found Neferuray’s tomb. However, it should also be remembered that it was quite common during pharonic times for a pharaoh to chisel off the cartouches of his predecessor and claim the work as his own, so it Hatshepsut’s attempted deletion may have had nothing to do with gender or choice of lovers. By some historians, she is seen as a usurper, who took something that was not hers by right.

Recent tests show that at her death Hatshepsut had arthritis, osteoporosis, and a cancerous tumour on her lower body. However, an infection of the gums probably killed her, as the infection entered the bloodstream. Her last months must have been painful, but ironically, it was this tooth that helped modern scientists to identify her.

What remains fascinating though is how despite the efforts of another Pharoah to wipe her out of history, her temple and her work remain as testament that she lived and breathed and achieved many things. We still stand in awe and look at her achievements and know who she is, and we still speak her name with reverence. .

Image: The Pharonic picture of the space that was once Hatshepsut being blessed with long life (the arch of ankhs) by Horus and Thoth


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