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Hatshepsut in History: Lost and Found

Hatshepsut from Death to Today


Statue at the Temple of Hatshepsut

Statue at the Temple of Hatshepsut

iStockphoto / Mary Lane

The Egyptian female king, Hatshepsut, died at about age 50. Some years (10-20, by current estimates) after Hatshepsut's death, images and inscriptions which recognized her as a king were defaced or destroyed. This began the long process of forgetting that Egypt had had a woman who ruled as a king.

Thutmose III was co-ruler and successor as well as nephew and stepson to Hatshepsut. While the older "evil stepmother" story of supposed resentment and hate has been largely abandoned, it's still likely that, for other reasons, he did the preside over the "erasure" of Hatshepsut's kingship.

When Thutmose III listed the kings of Egypt in what's called the Chamber of the Ancestors at Karnak, Hatshepsut was not listed.

Other references to Hatshepsut were defaced during the Amarna period. These attacks were targeted not specifically at Hatshepsut, but at references to gods, especially Amun.

At the end of the Amarna period, the following kings Seti I and Ramesses II restored sone of Hatshepsut's building, apparently undertaking to restore damage done in the name of Aten. Thus, references to Amun were restored, but not these changes didn't restore references to Hatshepsut as king.

Later lists of Egyptian rulers which do include two female rulers ( Meryt-Neith and Sobeknefru), and which include the foreign rulers called the Hyksos, don't include Hatshepsut.

In the third century BCE, Egyptian priest Manetho wrote a history. He included a sister of Thutmose II, whom he calls Amessis, and notes that she ruled for 21 years between Thutmose II and Thutmose III. This comes a millennium after the life of Hatshepsut.

By the beginning of the common era, how to read hieroglyphics was forgotten. With that loss, it was impossible to read any of the inscriptions which might have survived the destruction after Hatshepsut's death.

In the early 19th century, Jean-Francis Champollion (1790-1832) began to decipher the hieroglphyics. In 1828-1829 at Deir el-Bahri, Champollion was confused by finding images of a male king he called Amenenthe with inscriptions that had female gender word endings. Champollion then consulted Manetho and found his story of Amessis.

For decades, Egyptologists were confused by the order of the inscriptions of the runes. The order in which the different kings' names were inscribed was intermixed -- we know now that earlier names were inscribed over later names in the attempts to revise history. Egyptologists first interpreted as passing power back and forth between the Thutmoses kings.

By 1858, the evidence of the defacements of Deir el-Bahri began to be recognized, and these seemed to lend credence to the "wicked stepmother" story of Hatshepsut.

By the 1960s, Egyptologists began to find more evidence, and they realized that Thutmose III had not immediately removed the evidence of his stepmother/aunt's rule as king. In the 1970s, Suzanne Rati é and Roland Tefnin published their work on Hatshepsut, including a more sympathetic view of her. In 1988, Peter Dorman dismissed the view that Hatshepsut's relationship with Senenmut was necessarily a romantic relationship. And in the 1990s, Emily Teeter, Alfterd Gunim, and Sylvia Schoske continued to reshape the image of Hatshepsut, based on recent discoveries.

Perhaps the June, 2007, identification of Hatshepsut's mummy, as announced by the Discovery Channel and Dr. Zahi Hawass of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, will lead to further controversy and rethinking of Hatshepsut's story.

Sources consulted include:

  • Zahi Hawass. "The Search for Hatshepsut and the Discovery of Her Mummy." June 2007.
  • Zahi Hawass. "Quest for the Mummy of Hatshepsut." June 2006.
  • John Ray. "Hatshepsut: the Female Pharaoh." History Today. Volume 44 number 5, May 1994.
  • Gay Robins. Women in Ancient Egypt. 1993.
  • Catharine H. Roehrig, editor. Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh. 2005. Article contributors include Ann Macy Roth, James P. Allen, Peter F. Dorman, Cathleen A. Keller, Catharine H. Roehrig, Dieter Arnold, Dorothea Arnold.
  • Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen. First aired: 7/15/07. Discovery Channel. Brando Quilico, executive producer. ( Review: Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen )
  • Joyce Tyldesley. Hatchepsut the Female Pharaoh. 1996.

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