|Hatshepsut c.1507–1458 BC|
I had gone to great lengths to make it to this NADFAS as I am on a mission to not miss any and despite the disappointing start to the year I was not going to let that influence me. So I changed rotas in the shop, re-booked deliveries, and left with plenty of time. Nadfas is wonderful but it’s a daytime gig and that’s difficult if you work or have small children and that’s reflected in the average age of the audience. However, if you are able to be flexible or to find a babysitter I would highly recommend visiting your local group. Anyway I parked in plenty of time, with plenty of change for the car park and headed towards the door feeling all righteous and smug. Then my phone rang, the shop was closed, my staff were sick and where did I want these beds! Ugh, 5 seconds more and I’d have switched off my phone. Ten minutes later I slid everything back into place and dashed in late again reminding myself to not be so cocky in future.
Today’s talk was about Hatshepsut by Lucia Gahlin, Egyptologist from the Petrie Museum. It was enjoyable to hear her name properly pronounced as I have always referred to her as Happy Batshit, which I’m aware is lazy and disrespectful of me. In order to set the scene the lecturer needed to stress how unusual it was to have a female ruler in Egypt and after many slides of bulls, athletes and mighty erections she rammed the point home. Egypt was a masculine culture ruled by men. Once that point was emphatically made and underlined twice we went on to discover how she had become pharaoh. This then descended into the most complicated family tree made worse by the fact that Pharaohs can have multiple wives and that sisters can marry brothers. Eventually we got to the point where Pharaoh Thutmose II had died leaving his young son, Thutmose III, from his second wife as Pharaoh, and Hatshepsut, his first wife, as regent Pharaoh. This had happened previously so there was precedence but in both cases the regent had been the upcoming Pharaoh’s actual mother and she stepped away from the role when the boy reached majority, and as he was Pharaoh that was pretty much whenever he wanted it to be.
Hatshepsut was different though. She herself was the daughter of a Pharaoh, Thutmose I, was a wife of Amun, their chief God and first wife of the Pharaoh, these were powerful titles but as we have seen in a male dominated society these titles may have just been window dressing. In becoming ruler she either chose to do so and out-trumped the mother, or she stepped up to the challenge as the mother didn’t want to rule. Given her subsequent rule I would say the former, she was born in power and lived in power, the death of her husband wasn’t going to prevent that but that is wild speculation based on a very cloudy glass.
|Djeser-Djeseru is the main building of Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple complex at Deir el-Bahri. Designed by Senemut, her vizier, the building is an example of perfect symmetry that predates the Parthenon, and it was the first complex built on the site she chose, which would become the Valley of the Kings|
The physical evidence of Hatshepsut’s reign is in her buildings and the words and images upon them as well as statues of her. She is always depicted as Pharaoh alongside Thutmose III but most importantly as “first” Pharaoh. In all imagery of the pair of them she is named first and is always standing in the more powerful position. Their joint rule appears harmonious and only ended on her death. At any point before that Thutmose could have called it a day but didn’t. Again we can only speculate. Maybe she was a power hungry tyrant as some would paint her but that holds no water on close inspection. Her power was only what she was given to her by a patriarchal society, had she been a problem she would have soon been made to step down.
|Thutmose III out smiting his enemies|
It seems much more likely the young boy was growing up and enjoying being a teenager, total freedom, playing and fighting. Many images depict him as an athletic warrior. Maybe he went off to battle knowing he had a damned good regent running the country, maybe he was lazy and didn’t actually want the responsibility. Again we don’t know, but what we do know is there was a time of stability and prosperity during this joint reign. We know that he was engaged in some large battles following her death and this could have been evidence of the tight lead that she kept Thutmose on. It could also be evidence that she was a great diplomat and peace keeper and without her rule enemies sought to take advantage.
We can see that the earliest depictions of her as Pharaoh are clearly as female but after about 7 years she starts to look identical to Thutmose III, she is shown wearing male dress, a beard and virtually flat chested. Doubtless as she was ruing at the time she approved of this image change.
|This early depiction of Hatshepsut shows her in female dress with a female figure.|
|In this later depiction she is in the male kilt, wearing the beard and is pretty flat chested.|
Following her death all seems fine until about 25 years later when she is suddenly and comprehensively rubbed off the wall. Her name and images where she was depicted as Pharaoh were chipped off, her statues were thrown into a ditch and covered over and every mention of her as a Pharaoh was removed. As a wife and daughter she remained in evidence but as a Pharaoh she was excised. For a long time it was suggested that this was evidence to prove that she was indeed a wicked tyrant from whose tyranny Thutmose III was glad to escape. One or two years maybe but 25? That speaks to me more of an inheritance issue looming. Maybe there was a very strong wife or daughter somewhere in the background and the powers that be didn’t want her to be able to claim any sort of precedent. Maybe, Thutmose III was growing petulant and senile and wanted to rewrite history. More likely the destruction came from Amenhotep II, his son. Who can tell?
A hundred years ago we weren’t even aware of how powerful Hatshepsut actually was. And before we start moaning about lack of evidence let’s remember that when she came to the throne the pyramids of Giza were already 1500 years old, her country had been flourishing during all that time. She came to the throne in c.1350BC. In Britain in this time we know that Britons lived in wooden huts, some of them built structures out of non interlacing stones and that’s pretty much it. We don’t know the name of a single person, let alone what they got up to, their history or the history of their nation. In fact the first named person living in Britain is Imanuentius mentioned by Caesar in his campaigns in 54BC. Prior to this we are a mystery and we have to rely on an invader to shed any light on us. So if we are concerned that so much of this seems sketchy and prone to speculation we are talking 3000 years ago, 25 years give or take is within certain statistical parameters.
One very interesting sidebar, and there were many in the lecture, was the discussion of the land of Punt and the imagery used to portray foreigners. Although Egyptians appear in a very formalised way, and require name tags to denote who is being represented they were far more descriptive in their portrayal of foreigners. One particular portrait is the queen of Punt, she is displayed as being vastly overweight, whether this was a positive, negative or neutral message is hard to say. What we do know about Punt was that it was viewed by the Egyptians as a land of milk and honey, with great resources and was the source of their incense. Enjoyably we have no idea where Punt was. I imagine that the reason we have a culture of lost cities and and lands is because we have an actual history of lost cities and lands!
|Trade mission to Punt. These images show the first recorded transplantation of fauna.|
|The residents of Punt lived in stilt houses.|
|King Perahu and Queen Ati of Punt.|
What we can say about Hatshepsut is that she reigned during a time of growth and stability. Her country was rich and stable enough to have an expansive building regime. She was clever and politically astute, she was quick to emphasise her relationship to Amun thereby engaging the support of the priests, a considerable power force in Ancient Egypt. We don’t know how she died but she was believed to have been around 50 years old. We know that the relationship between her and Thutmose III was probably good as nothing was done to efface her reign until a quarter of a century had passed.
I really enjoyed this lecture and have failed to mention half of what Lucia spoke of so please, if you are interested have a look at some of these links for more information.
(This talk was given in 2016)
Gahlin, L. 2009. Egypt. In D. Rathbone (ed.) Civilisations of the Ancient World. London: Thames and Hudson.
The Woman Who Would be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt