Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hatshepsut: The Woman Who Was King.

Hatshepsut, who lived between 1508 and 1458 BC, ruled Egypt for about two decades. Among the first female monarchs to reign anywhere in the world, she is regarded as one of the most successful pharaohs in Egypt’s long history. Hatshepsut’s prosperous reign helped shape her country into a stronger power and prepare it for future expansion into a great empire. Thanks to plenty of accounts by contemporaries and historians of the ancient world, her story remains well-known today.

Early Life.
Born circa 1508 B.C., Queen Hatshepsut reigned over Egypt for more than 20 years. She served as queen alongside her husband, Thutmose II, but after his death claimed the role of pharaoh while acting as regent to her nephew, Thutmose III. She reigned peaceably, building temples and monuments, resulting in the flourish of Egypt. After her death, Thutmose III erased her inscriptions and tried to eradicate her memory.

Hatshepsut was the daughter of King Thutmose I and Queen Ahmose. A military leader who served the previous pharaoh, Thutmose I was known for his wartime accomplishments. Of his wife, Ahmose, less is known; whether she was the sister or daughter of the previous pharaoh is not clear. Hatshepsut was close to her parents and held important posts in their court. On her father’s death, his young son Thutmose II became pharaoh. Because royal lineage was traced through women, Thutmose II married his half-sister, Hatshepsut. Thutmose II died young, leaving the infant Thutmose III, his son by another wife, his heir. This set the stage for Hatshepsut to become regent and later declare herself pharaoh. Hatshepsut had other half-brothers, and at least one sister – but history does not record many details of their lives.

How did she become Queen.

Thutmose II died after a 15 year reign, making Hatshepsut a widow before the age of 30. Hatshepsut had no sons -- only a daughter, Neferure -- and the male heir was an infant, born to a concubine named Isis.

Since Thutmose III was too young to assume the throne unaided, Hatshepsut served as his regent. Initially, Hatshepsut bore this role traditionally until, for reasons that are unclear, she claimed the role of pharaoh. Technically, Hatshepsut did not ‘usurp’ the crown, as Thutmose the III was never deposed and was considered co-ruler throughout her life, but it is clear that Hatshepsut was the principal ruler in power.

She began having herself depicted in the traditional king’s kilt and crown, along with a fake beard and male body. This was not an attempt to trick people into thinking she was male; rather, since there were no words or images to portray a woman with this status, it was a way of asserting her authority.

Pharaoh and Reign.
Hatshepsut’s successful transition from queen to pharaoh was, in part, due to her ability to recruit influential supporters, and many of the men she chose had been favored officials of her father, Thutmose I. One of her most important advisors was Senenmut. He had been among the queen’s servants and rose with her in power, and some speculate he was her lover as well.

Hatshepsut’s reign was marked by some great achievements. She sponsored many voyages to the African land of Punt in search of treasures like ivory and spices. She expanded trade and continued the building traditions of Thutmose I. There were no wars or insurrections during Hatshepsut’s reign. Egypt’s borders did not expand, but they remained secure, offering the Egyptian people peace and plenty before the wars of Thutmose III, who would come to be thought of as “the Napoleon of ancient Egypt.”

Death and Legacy.

The queen died in early February of 1458 B.C. of unknown causes.

Hatshepsut could not eliminate Thutmose III if she wanted to remain in the people’s favor, and with time, he became influential. The circumstances of Hatshepsut’s death have not been uncovered, but it is known that Thutmose III seized power quickly after her death. Late in his reign, Thutmose III began a campaign to eradicate Hatshepsut’s memory: He destroyed or defaced her monuments, erased many of her inscriptions and constructed a wall around her obelisks.

While some believe this was the result of a long-held grudge, it was more likely a strictly political effort to emphasize his line of succession and ensure that no one challenged his son Amunhotep II for the throne.

She remained in power for twenty years and during this time the Egyptian economy flourished, she expanded trading relations and built magnificent temples as well as restoring many others. Eventually her nephew grew into a man and took his rightful place as pharaoh. The circumstances of this event are unknown and what became of Hatshepsut is a mystery.

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