Before she was erased from history, Hatshepsut had been both queen and king of Egypt.
Hat-who? Was what? We’ve heard of pharaohs and Cleopatra but who was Hatshepsut, how could she be both king and queen of Egypt?
She was king in Egypt’s 18th dynasty, nearly 3,500 years ago. Daughter of King Thutmose I, she married her half-brother (a common practice in Egyptian royal lineage) but as King Thutmose II’s queen, had no power of her own. When he died early in his reign, the crown prince Thutmose III, a mere toddler (not her son) was designated successor.
Hapshetsut was the daughter of a highly successful king; raised in the royal house she may have learned how to play Egypt’s political game expertly. As the highest priestess of the highest god, she may have understood how to pull the religious levers of Egyptian society.
When the child king was to be crowned, Hapshetsut was perfectly positioned to be his “co-regent,” ruling both on his behalf and on her own, a delicate balance. Justifying her rule through divine oracles, she was accepted and installed as king.
She engaged in an immense building program while increasing her empire’s prosperity and memorialized herself in religious texts, statues and temples, first as a woman, later as a man, sometimes with crown or beard, with and without breasts.
“She had to act like a man, dress like a man, and we don’t have details of this, but she had to present herself as a man. No matter how much she could transcend her femininity and become king, as a woman she was still cognizant of the way the system worked. She knew she had to transform herself, rather than expect the system to mold itself to her.”
Hatshepsut is forgotten because most statues of her were smashed posthumously, and images on temple walls scraped off and substituted, even though her name can still be seen beneath the scrape-offs. We know about her through her remaining texts. And thanks to great detective work done by devoted archeologists over the past 100 years, a number of smashed statues discovered in a pit have been painstakingly reassembled, piece by piece.
by Santa Monica-based author and Egyptologist Kara Cooney in her new book “The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt.” Delving deep into the life of this nearly forgotten ruler, the book may raise some eyebrows amongst scholars.