Owen Jarus, LiveScience ContributorDate: 05 April 2013 Time: 05:51 PM ET

Hatshepsut
A sphinx with the face of Queen Hatshepsut.
CREDIT: Miguel Cabezón | Shutterstock

Hatshepsut was the first female pharaoh of Egypt. She reigned between 1473 and 1458 B.C. Her name means “foremost of noblewomen.”

Her rule was relatively peaceful and she was able to launch a building program that would see the construction of a great temple at Deir el-Bahari at Luxor. She also launched a successful sea voyage to the land of Punt, a place located somewhere on the northeast coast of Africa, where they traded with the inhabitants, bringing back “marvels.”

Despite the apparent success of her reign, and a burial in the Valley of the Kings, her monuments would be defaced after her death, apparently by her co-ruler and step-son/nephew Thutmose III.

The fact that a woman became pharaoh of Egypt was very unusual. “In the history of Egypt during the dynastic period (3000 to 332 B.C.) there were only two or three women who managed to rule as pharaohs, rather than wielding power as the ‘great wife’ of a male king,” writes Egyptologist Ian Shaw in his book “Exploring Ancient Egypt” (Oxford University Press, 2003).

Birth

Hatshepsut, along with her sister Nefrubity, was the daughter of Pharaoh Thutmose I and his wife Ahmose. Thutmose I was a warrior king who launched successful campaigns into Nubia and Syria, expanding the territory under Egyptian rule.

After Hatshepsut became co-ruler of Egypt, she claimed to be of divine birth, the result of a union between her mother and the god Amun. She also claimed that Thutmose I had named her as his successor before his death.

“Underscoring her claim, one of the reliefs decorating Hatshepsut’s enormous funerary complex depicts Thutmose I crowning her daughter as king in the presence of the Egyptian gods,” write Helen Gardner and Fred Kleiner in “Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective” (Cengage, 2010).

Queen to Thutmose II

After the death of her father, the Egyptian throne passed to Thutmose II, Hatshepsut’s half-brother and husband. In ancient Egypt, it was not unusual for royalty to marry within their family. Like his predecessor, he fought in Nubia. “The Egyptian army continued to quell uprisings in Nubia and brought about the final demise of the kingdom of Kush at Kerma,” writes Betsy Bryan in a section of “The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt” (Oxford University Press, 2000).

In their personal life, the couple had a daughter named Neferure who would go on to assume royal duties. She “appears during her mother’s reign officiating as ‘God’s Wife of Amun’…”writes Michael Rice in “Who’s Who in Ancient Egypt” (Routledge, 1999).

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