Queen Maatkare Hatshepsut, Pharaoh of Egypt during the 18th dynasty, from 1473 BC to 1458 BC, was one of only a handful of female rulers of ancient Egypt. Her story is unique in Egyptian history, and has been the source of many disputes among scholars. Hatshepsut reigned longer than any other female pharaoh. Among the legacies she left behind, none is greater than the mortuary temple she erected at Deir el Bahari in Thebes, the ruins of which still stand in present-day Luxor. The temple, designed by Senenmut, reflects the adjacent mortuary temple of Mentuhotep II, but is much larger. Reliefs and inscriptions on the temple walls tell stories from Hatshepsut’s life, and profess her connection to the divine. Based on current knowledge, this essay will provide detailed information about Queen Hatshepsut and her mortuary temple.
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Hatshepsut was born around 1502 BC to Thutmose I and Ahmose. Both of her parents were from a royal background, and Thutmose I was Pharaoh when she was born. Her two brothers died in accidents, which meant that she was in a position to take over the throne after her father died. This was an unusual situation because very few women had ever become pharaohs. However, Hatshepsut was favored by her parents over her brothers, and she was beautiful and had a charismatic personality. Thus, despite her being a female, she had the makings to become a queen.
Thutmose II was Hatshepsut’s half-brother and husband, a common situation in ancient Egypt, where brother-sister and father-daughter marriages were accepted. When Thutmose I died, Hatshepsut was about 15 years old, and Thutmose II took over as pharaoh. Thutmose II died after only three or four years of rule, most likely of a skin disease. Hatshepsut had a daughter, named Neferure, but Thutmose II also had a son with a commoner named Aset. It is thought that even during the reign of Thutmose II, Hatshepsut may actually have been in power. When Thutmose II died, Thutmose III was about three years old, still too young to rule, and Hatshepsut began to reign as Queen Regent, using the title “God’s Wife.” The popularity of her father and her own charismatic presence enabled her to gain a following that led her to become a full pharaoh about seven years into the reign of Thutmose III. Hatshepsut assumed the pharaoh costume, which was intended for males and included a false beard, the shendyt kilt, and the nemes headdress with its uraeus and khat headcloth. At her coronation, she adopted the five great names: Horus Powerful of Kas, Two Ladies Flourishing of Years, Female Horus of Fine Gold, Divine of Diadems, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Maatkare, Daughter of Ra, Khenmet-Amen Hatshepsut.
Hatshepsut’s reign was basically a peaceful one. The lack of frantic military activity during her years in power is one of the outstanding and defining characteristics of her rule. She focused more on activities like trade and construction. She expanded trade with Nubia, Libya, and countries in Asia. She also ordered expeditions to present-day Somalia, which was then called Punt, to acquire special goods like ivory, spices, and gold. Stories from these expeditions are featured on the walls of her temple. One scene shows the Queen of the Puntites, who has a crooked back, a curved nose, and rolls of fat hanging over her knees and elbows, in stark contrast to Egyptians who were generally short and thin.
Hatshepsut also restored and renovated several old buildings that had been damaged or destroyed by invading armies. One of these was the temple at Ipet-Issut, now known as Karnak. In addition to the renovations, she built the Red Chapel for the holy barge of Amun (discussed below). Hatshepsut put up two huge obelisks that were covered in gold foil, reflecting the sun’s rays all around. The inscription on the obelisks makes clear her determination to achieve posterity:
Those who shall see my monument in
future years, and shall speak of what I
have done, beware of saying, “I know
not, I know not how this has been
done, fashioning a mountain of gold
throughout, like something of nature”
… Nor shall he who hears this say it
was a boast, but rather, “How like her
this is, how worthy of her father”. (Ray)
However, no construction work ordered by Hatshepsut is more significant or more impressive than her mortuary temple. The temple was discovered several centuries after its completion, buried beneath hundreds of tons of sand. It was designed around 1473 BC by Senenmut, who was Hatshepsut’s consort, and took about fifteen years to complete. As mentioned earlier, the temple is next to that of Mentuhotep II, which is from the eleventh dynasty. Hatshepsut’s temple was built for herself and her father, and was dedicated to the gods Anubis and Hathor, with chapels for other gods and goddesses.
The temple is set at Deir el Bahari, across the Nile River from Thebes, in a valley known as the Valley of the Kings. It is made of rock and consists of three layered terraces against the natural backdrop of the huge cliffs at Deir el Bahari. The rows of colonnades that Senenmut designed play off the vertical patterns on the cliffs. Thus, the temple’s setting is not only stunning in itself, but harmonizes well with the architecture.
An avenue lined by trees and sphinxes leads to the forecourt, which was a garden with vines and fragrant trees from Punt. There was also a huge gate, which was later destroyed. The three terraces are divided by columns and linked to each other by ramps. The walls of the temple bore painted reliefs that told of Hatshepsut’s accomplishments. Since construction started at the beginning of Hatshepsut’s reign, these scenes were filled in as the accomplishments took place.
On either side of the first level ramp are papyrus pools and a galleries, with a double row of columns supporting the roofs. The porticoes on this terrace were restored in 1906 to protect the reliefs that show the giant obelisks being transported by barge to Karnak. Thus, these porticoes are a different color and are out of proportion compared with the rest of the building. Another gallery runs along the west side of the second level court, and holds the chapels for Anubis and Hathor. A shrine for Amun, the sun god, is cut out of rock. The south side of this terrace had the reliefs depicting the expeditions into Punt, across the Red Sea. The third level is a hall of columns with chapels on either side, including one for Hatshepsut’s parents. Along its front is a series of large statues of Queen Hatshepsut that look out over the valley. Behind the top terrace, built into the cliff, is a sanctuary.
Statues and sphinxes of the queen were numerous throughout the temple. In some places, Hatshepsut was represented as a lion, clawing at her enemies and capturing evil birds. Many of the statues have been carefully restored from broken fragments. These and other important artworks from the temple reside mainly at the Cairo Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
As Pharaoh, Hatshepsut continued to honor her nephew maintaining his status as her co-ruler, another situation acceptable under ancient Egyptian law. Some scholars even believe that their power was divided, Hatshepsut looking after commercial and administrative affairs while Thutmose III dealt with military affairs. However, as Thutmose III grew up, he became more envious of Hatshepsut’s position and wanted the throne for himself. Hatshepsut used several tactics to reconfirm and strengthen her status as ruler.
One of the tactics she used was to emphasize her relationship to the popular Pharaoh Thutmose I. She claimed that he had favored her over her two brothers and her half-brother. The words of the divine potter Khnum are written in her temple:
I will make you to be the first of all living creatures, you will rise as king of Upper and Lower Egypt, as your father Amon, who loves you, did ordain. (Bediz)
In addition to her first claim, Hatshepsut also proclaimed her true father to be Amun-Ra, the sun god, who had impregnated her mother through divine conception. In her temple is depicted the story of the night when Amun-Ra came to Ahmose in the form of Tuthmose I. The walls also recount the story of Amun-Ra speaking through an oracle and requesting Hatshepsut to rule Egypt. This assertion cannot be validated like the first can, but it did have important effects on Egyptian society. Her reign saw an increase in the number of priests of Amun, and gave new life to the Opet festival of Amun. Although all pharaohs were considered sons of Amun-Ra, Hatshepsut contributed to the expansion of his worship and strengthened her rule with the myth of her birth.
As Thutmose III grew older, he also grew more powerful, and eventually staged a revolt against Hatshepsut in 1458 BC, at which time she disappeared. Whether Thutmose III murdered her or not is unknown. Hatshepsut’s tomb was destroyed, and her mummy stolen. Only her liver, preserved in a canopic jar, was found. Thutmose III had also resented the presence of Senenmut, and Senenmut’s sarcophagus, housed in his own tomb near Hatshepsut’s, was also destroyed, and his mummy has never been found.
It is likely that Thutmose III arranged for the removal of Hatshepsut’s name from all her constructions. As most of the images of her pictured her as male (in the traditional pharaoh costume), these could remain, and only the name underneath was changed to Thutmose I, II, or III. Senenmut’s name was also removed. Historians can only speculate as to the reasons Thutmose III would have had for removing his aunt’s name. One sensible explanation is that he wanted to ensure a smooth transition of power to his own son, and therefore attempted to erase the history of Hatshepsut’s rule, along with any changes to the system of lineage it might have brought about.
As one of the few female pharaohs, Hatshepsut’s 15-year reign is a significant one in the history of ancient Egypt. Her period of rule was marked by an absence of military campaigns and a focus on commerce, renovation, and construction. This legacy is both exemplified by and depicted in the building of her mortuary temple at Dier el Bahari, a monument of grandeur both in its scale and its representation.
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