Hatshepsut the Female Pharaoh

Hatshepsut was the only female ruler of Ancient Egypt to assume the title of Pharaoh. While Egypt certainly had other sole female rulers, none of them took up that title.

To enforce her title of Pharaoh, Hatshepsut wore the ceremonial beard and appeared in full (male) Pharaonic costume. She had statues cast of herself in that costume to ensure that that vision of her would endure.

The first image, a bust, shows Hatshepsut with the pharaonic beard, but with decidedly feminine features. Whereas, in the second image, a close-up of a statue, she is shown with much more generic (in terms of Egyptian statuary), male features.

Hatshepsut was the fifth Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty. She had been the principal wife of the Pharaoh Thutmose II. When he died, his only son was Thutmose III who he’d had with Aset, a minor wife. Because Hatshepsut had been Thutmose II’s principal wife, she served as regent for Thutmose III starting in 1479 BCE.

However, Hatshepsut seized the throne for herself and did not relinquish it to Thutmose III when he came of age. She insisted on being referred to as the king, and had her daughter, Neferura, given the title of God’s Wife and portrayed in art as her queen.

After about 20 years, Hatshepsut disappeared from the records. This coincided with Thutmose III’s regaining of the throne. It does not seem that he had Hatshepsut killed; it is likely that the respect accorded to queen mothers in the region kept him from executing her. However, he worked very hard to have her name and likeness removed from as many monuments as possible.

Hatshepsut was a very successful ruler–both economically and militarily–and commissioned many impressive building projects. Including this temple, called the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut:

This temple is located on the west bank of the Nile near the Valley of the Kings; it is dedicated to the sun god Amun-Ra. The sculptures and reliefs in this temple tell the story of the divine birth of the first female Pharaoh. In commissioning those reliefs Hatshepsut was presenting herself as a living god, just as male pharaohs did.

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