The Woman Who Was King

Samuel Sullivan

Queen Hatshepsut, the "Female Falcon," became King of Egypt and her successor tried to erase her from history.

The title of this article is not a misprint; Queen Hatshepsut was the King of Egypt. The concept of Queen did not exist in Ancient Egypt. I refer to Hatshepsut as Queen in this article only to help the modern reader.

Queen Hatshepsut ruled one of the wealthiest kingdoms in the world at a time when women rarely got that opportunity. She ruled during the 18th dynasty of Egypt around 1500 B.C. and was a historically notable ruler. Her reign lasted twenty-one years, marked by the construction of temples and monuments across Egypt, exemplifying her greatness. Some of the projects she commissioned still stand 3,500 years later.

Calling her accomplishments impressive is an understatement. For example, Hatshepsut had two mind-blowingly giant obelisks constructed out of single pieces of pink granite. They stand 90 feet tall and weigh 343–tons. Once built, she transported them down the Nile River on a custom-built boat with the two obelisks laid flat, top to bottom. In other words, the vessel was at least an impressive 180 feet long. Moreover, she managed to get the massive structures on and off the boat without any modern technology.

One of the Wives

Today we refer to female monarchs as Queens. However, in ancient Egypt, Kings, referred to as Pharaohs, had many wives and concubines. One wife was above the rest of the wives, and she was called the King's "Great Wife." In many cases, the great wife was a member of the King's own family, commonly their sister or half-sister.

Egyptians believed their Kings were gods in the flesh. Kings liked to associate themselves with the gods, and the practices of mummification and burial in tombs were all part of the belief that they would come back to life and live on in the next world. Under those beliefs, if you were a King, marrying your sister was sensible. There weren't other families in the population whose bloodline was from a god.

Becoming King

Hatshepsut had an exciting path to the throne. She was the daughter of King Thutmosis I and his great wife, so she had a natural right to the throne. If she had been a male, she likely would have been named her father's heir.

When Thutmosis I died, it was instead Hatshepsut's half-brother Thutmosis II that became King. He was the son of Thutmosis I and one of his other wives. Hatshepsut, however, was not wholly passed over. On the contrary, she was closer to the throne than ever because she became Thutmosis II's wife. Thus, Hatshepsut went from King's daughter to King's wife.

Thutmosis II died after only thirteen years of reigning, and this time Hatshepsut would not be passed over. Hatshepsut was not named the sole heir to the throne but co-heir. Her rival was Thutmosis II's son by another wife, Thutmosis III.

Thutmosis III was only two years old when his father died, so Hatshepsut could easily take control of the throne. The young child was not executed or exiled. Instead, he had a royal upbringing and kept his place in line for the throne. After Hatshepsut's death, he had his turn on the throne.

Hatshepsut had an exciting path to the throne. She was the daughter of King Thutmosis I and his great wife, so she had a natural right to the throne. If she had been a male, she likely would have been named her father's heir.

It's unknown why, but upon ascending to the throne, Thutmosis III did his best to erase Hatshepsut from history. During his rule, anywhere he saw Hatshepsut's name on temples or structures, he erased it and wrote the name of another of his ancestors Thutmosis I or II.

Was he bitter about being passed over for so many years, or was he unhappy that a female ruled as his predecessor? It is unclear, but one theory that makes sense is that he wanted to trace his lineage directly to the past kings to prove his godliness to the people of Egypt.

Thutmosis II and Thutmosis I were his father and grandfather, respectively. Hatshepsut, on the other hand, was his step-aunt and step-mother. To boot, she was his mother's rival, and she had a more pure bloodline than him.

Unfortunately for Thutmosis III, he could not erase her. Her reign had lasted twenty-one years, and she had completed a lot of building projects. As a result, her name was in a lot of places. One notable example of where Thutmosis III failed to erase Hatshupset was on the 90-foot obelisks she constructed. One was dedicated to herself and proved too tall for a name swap. So Thutmosis III tried the next best thing of walling in the monument. Ironically, his attempt to erase her legacy helped preserve it. The walled-in obelisk still stands today, along with part of the structure meant to obscure it from the world.

Misconceptions about Hatshepsut

The Great Courses presented, History of Ancient Egypt, a 48 part lecture series by Bob Brier, Ph. D. Brier, an Egyptologist, and professor at the University of Long Island. In the course, he reveals many insights on Queen Hatshepsut.

For instance, Brier explains that many people have the misconception that Queen Hepsheput pretended to be a man when she ruled as King because she wore the traditional beard of the Pharoah. However, wearing the false beard was a symbol that the Pharoah was living as a god. Even most of the male Pharaohs were clean-shaven and donned a fake beard. In Ancient Egypt, the beard of the Pharaoh was not a statement on gender but a display of power and godliness.

Hatshepsut had a job reserved for men, so it is no wonder many of the customs revolved around being a man. She was one of the only female rulers of Egypt in 18 dynasties stretching 600 years.

The Female Falcon

The Egyptian God Horus has the body of a man with the head of a falcon. Horus wears the double crown of the combined kingdoms of upper and lower Egypt, also worn by the Pharaohs. Egyptian Pharaohs associated themselves with Horus, and the Kings of the 18th dynasty were no different.

Horus was the son of two of the most powerful Gods in Egypt, Osiris, and Isis. Horus represents being above, with one eye being the sun and the other the moon. Horus was male, so the Pharaoh was assumed to be male. Hatshepsut broke that pattern, but she still embraced Horus. She called herself "The Female Falcon."

Hatshepsut was not trying to be a man. Instead, she ruled Egypt proudly as a woman.

Hatshepsut's Legacy

Queen Hatshepsut is striking in how similar she was to the other strong Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Her power was unchallenged during her rule, and she left her mark on the world that can still be seen and experienced today.

During her reign as King, Hatshepsut visited the conquered nation of Nubia. There she met the female Nubian leader and her daughter. Both Nubian women strangely suffered from Elephantitis, but the visit shows that not all ancient cultures operated under patriarchy. Women as world leaders is not a modern concept.

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