Hatshepsut: part two

Under normal circumstances, Thuthmosis III would have been the obvious successor for his father – but his mother was a minor wife, so raising her to the position of regent would have been problematic.

Hatshepsut seems to have wielded considerable power as the wife of Thuthmosis II, so supplanting her would have been difficult and potentially destabilizing. Hatshepsut’s position as regent depended on her being the wife of Thuthmosis II, but her right to rule Egypt derived from the fact that she was the daughter of Thuthmosis I, and thus his nearest relative by matrilineal descent. There is no evidence that her legitimacy was questioned until many years after her death. Despite this it is implied by many scholars that she usurped the throne from the legitimate contender (Thuthmosis) and needed to wage a war of “propaganda” to maintain her position.

There is no doubt that she was happy to bend the truth and embellish the facts in order to assert that the gods supported her rule, and it would be naive to suggest that she was not aware of a need to reassure everyone that she could do the job despite her gender.

However, she was by no means the only pharaoh to act in this way, and it was not entirely a selfish move. Every pharaoh was responsible for ensuring that Ma’at was preserved and that everything was as it should be. Hatshepsut ruled over a wealthy and prolific administration and did not miss the opportunity to confirm her place in the world, but was no more guilty of this than rulers such as, Ramses II or Thuthmosis IV.


According to an inscription in Karnak, her father appointed her as his successor before his death (although its historical authenticity is debatable). He (allegedly) said..

“This daughter of mine, Khnumetamun Hatshepsut, may she live, I have appointed as my successor upon my throne… she shall direct the people in every sphere of the palace; it is she indeed who shall lead you. Obey her words, unite yourselves at her command.” The royal nobles, the dignitaries, and the leaders of the people heard this proclamation of the promotion of his daughter, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Maatkare – may she live eternally.

Much of her propaganda was undertaken with the clear support of the priesthood of Amun. The Oracle of Amun announced that it was the will of Amun that Hatshepsut be Pharaoh. In return, Hatshepsut covered her monuments with references to him and made lavish offerings to his temple. Thus, her suggestions that she is in fact the daughter of Amun are not intended as a slight to her father but as confirmation that Amun was the chief national god and that he (and his priests) supported her rule. In one inscription Amun says …

“Welcome my sweet daughter, my favourite, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Maatkare, Hatshepsut. Thou art the Pharaoh, taking possession of the Two Lands.”

Hatshepsut would not have been able to rule Egypt without the support of the nobles and the priesthood (in particular the priests of Amun). She was supported by a number of loyal advisors many of whom had also served her husband and her father including; the Viziers Hapuseneb and Useramun, Royal Steward Senenmut, Nubian general Nehsi, Seal bearer Ahmose Pen Nekhbet, second prophet of Amun Puyemre, Senimen and Ineni. She supported and was supported by the priests of Amun and her position as pharaoh was confirmed by the Siwa oracle.

Relationship with Senenmut

It is often implied that she had a sexual relationship with the official Senenmut because;

Senenmut holding a rebus of Hatshepsut's name
Senenmut holding a rebus of Hatshepsut’s name
  1. Graffiti found in an unfinished tomb used by the workers building her Deir el Bahri tomb depicted a pharaoh (possibly Hatshepsut) engaging in sexual activity with a man (possibly Senenmut).
  2. Senenmut inscribed his name and image behind one of the main doors in her mortuary temple (although it is sometimes suggested that he did this without receiving permission).
  3. Senenmut had two tombs constructed near Hatshepsut’s tomb (although this was not uncommon for close advisors).

Some have even suggested that Neferure was the daughter of Senenmut rather than the daughter of Thuthmosis II. As evidence the statues of Senenmut enveloping the young girl are put forward. This seems very unlikely as it implies that any sexual relationship predates the death of the king. If that was the case it is hard to see why the priesthood and nobles would have allowed Hatshepsut to act as regent and then king, and without their support her rule would have been untenable.

Some commentators have suggested that Senenmut was the power behind the throne. This seems rather unfair to Hatshesput and may also reflect a certain reluctance on the part of modern commentators to recognise the power of a strong female ruler. Others have seen their relationship as that of equals, while still others see Senenmut as a devoted servant with only a platonic relationship with his queen. The true extent of their relationship is impossible to know, but has been the subject of much speculation.


Hatshepsut may not have “expelled the Hyksos from Egypt” as she claimed, but she can be credited with reestablishing the trade networks that had not fully recovered from their expulsion at the end of the Second Intermediate Period. She sent expeditions to the Sinai to obtain precious gems and other supplies and her name was recorded in the turquoise mines at Serabit el Khadim. She also sent an expedition to Punt (thought to be Somalia) which returned with a huge variety of precious gems, incense, trees, animals and other luxuries. This triumph was recorded in her Mortuary Temple at Deir el-Bahari.


A vast quantity of beautifully executed statuary was created during her reign. Examples can be found in museums all over the world. Hatshepsut was one of the most prolific builders of all of the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.

To achieve her ambitious building plans she employed two great architects; Ineni (who had been employed by both her husband and father) and Senenmut. She placed two huge obelisk at the entrance of the Temple of Amun at Karnak and built the Red Chapel (or Chapelle Rouge) within the temple precinct. To celebrate her sixteenth year as pharaoh she ordered the construction of two more huge obelisks. One of them broke during construction and can still be seen at the quarry near Aswan (The Unfinished Obelisk).

She also restored a number of smaller cult shrines in Middle Egypt, in particular the shrine of Speos Artemidos (at Beni Hasan) dedicated to the lion-goddess Pakhet. Senenmut designed her crowning glory, Djeser-djeseru (her Mortuary Temple at Deir el Bahari). The temple precincts are rightly considered to be among the most beautiful ever constructed.

Hatshepsut and Thuthmosis III in the Red Chapel
Hatshepsut (right) and Thuthmosis III (left) in the Red Chapel

It is often claimed that as a woman Hatshepsut was not interested in military achievements and that the expedition to Punt was simply a way of keeping the army occupied. Alternatively, it is proposed that she sent the army off on unimportant missions in order to keep the young Thuthmosis out of the way. In her defence, it has been pointed out that there was no attempted revolt by the vassals of Egypt when Hatshepsut became pharaoh – a sure indication that she was not considered to be weak or vulnerable. In fact, a number of them became restless in the period after her death.

There is some evidence that she led campaigns in Nubia, the Levant, and Syria. Furthermore, there is evidence that Thuthmosis III became the Commander in Chief of Hatshepsut’s army and conducted a short, victorious campaign in the Levant on her behalf. As the junior co-regent pharaoh this would be entirely consistent with the training he needed to act as sole pharaoh. It also makes it less likely that she intended to rob him of his right to rule (rather than delay his accession as sole pharaoh) because placing your enemies in charge of the army is rarely a prudent move.

Proscription of Hatshepsut

There is no doubt that after her death Thuthmosis III made efforts to deface her monuments and damage her image and titles. However, the situation is not as clear cut as it may seem. It was initially proposed that the proscription was an act of retribution against a hated step-mother and usurper, but Thuthmosis took no such action for between 10 and 20 years after her death.

Lintle from rule of Hatshepsut and Thuthmosis III with Hatshepsut's cartouches erased
Lintle from rule of Hatshepsut and Thuthmosis III with Hatshepsut’s cartouches erased @Miguel Hermoso Cuesta CC BY-SA 4.0

The treatment of Hatshepsut’s name and image is also very different in different places. Images of her as a queen were not defaced, only images and titles which referred to her as a pharaoh. There is no evidence that her burial was attacked in any way. Furthermore, when Thuthosis III removed her name from scenes he hardly ever replaced it with his own. Instead he replaced Hatshepsut with his father (Thutmosis II) or grandfather (Thuthmosis I). There are also numerous instances when the removal was haphazard or incomplete and no replacement was made. The scenes in her mortuary temple, in which she claims divine birth and recorded her achievements as a pharaoh, are still easy to read because the damage to them was superficial.

None of Hatshepsut’s statues were altered to represent another person, and almost all of the inscriptions on her statues were left intact. Yet a huge number of the beautiful Osiride statues of her from her mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri were smashed and buried.

The damage at Deir el Bahri seems to have started with the removal of the royal ureas from a number of granite sphinx and seated statues. This is an odd move as the ureas was often placed on the brow of royal women, and not just kings. Removing it may have been an attempt to deny that she was even of royal blood.

This was followed by the removal of the element Ma’at in her throne name (again denying her legitimacy) and damage to her cartouche on some but not all statues. This may have taken place some time between year 30 and year 42. Some time after, her statues were hacked to pieces and dumped in deep pits.

Osiride Hatshepsut
Osiride Hatshepsut @Postdlf CC BY-SA 3.0

The dismantling of the Chapelle Rouge at Karnak seems to have started around year 42 of the reign of Thuthmosis III. Yet there is evidence that the proscription was abandoned by the time that Amenhotep II was securely installed as his successor. Some have suggested that the proscription was a political move intended to protect the succession to Amenhotep. However, as there is no obvious rival who could have a right to rule though Hatshepsut, this seems unlikely.

Another possibility is that Thuthmosis was actually trying to erase the memory and precedent of a female pharaoh and prevent such a situation from occurring again. The fact that the title God’s Wife of Amun (which gave Hatshepsut significant power as a queen before she ever became regent) was abandoned after her reign may be significant.

Copyright J Hill 2010