Saturday, April 18, 2009

Being "the She-King of Egypt"

The grand regal symmetrical mortuary temple which housed the body of the great female pharaoh Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt for 21 years from 1479 to 1458 B.C., sits amid the desert surrounded by ancient rock at Deir el Bahri. Having been of royal blood but a woman her stepson, Thutmose III, was next in line for ascension to the throne. Hatshepsut and Thutmose II had one daughter but no sons.

Upon the death of her brother and husband Thutmose II his stepson was elevated to the throne. It is asserted that she was, in fact, the chief heir of her father's throne, not merely the royal queen of her brother. Chip Brown, in an article for the National Geographic, "The King Herself," writes, "Remember, Hatshepsut was a true blue blood, related to pharaoh Ahmose, while her husband-brother was the offspring of an adopted king. The Egyptians believed in the divinity of the pharaoh; only Hatshepsut, not her stepson, had a biological line to divine royalty."

Hatshepsut went along with the male ascension to the throne initially. As Thutmose III was too young to govern, Hatshepsut, in the tradition of the time, assumed the duties of pharaoh on behalf of her stepson. But after two years it was evident that she was performing the duties of the pharaoh on her own accord. As her stepson grew, he became co-regent with Hatshepsut. But it was obvious who was ruling. She was the pharoah king of Egypt. This would be a different kind of reign. After all, she was of royal lineage. Thutmose III was her husband's son with another and Thutmose II himself, as noted earlier, was the offspring of adoption.

Hatsheput's reign is considered one of the most remarkable Egyptian dynasties, but she is perhaps readily known as the woman "who had the audacity to portray herself as a man." According to Brown, she "was concerned about how others would view her many years later." Inscribed on one of the obelisks at Karnak are these words: "Now my heart turns this way and that, as I think what the people will say. Those who see my monuments in years to come and who shall speak of what I have done."

In an effort to be remembered Brown writes that she "raised and renovated temples and shrines from the Sinai to Nubia. The four granite obelisks she erected at the vast temple of the great god Amun at Karnak were among the most magnificent ever constructed. She commissioned hundreds of statues of her self and left accounts in stone of her lineage, her titles, her history, both real and concocted even her thoughts and hopes, which at times she confided with uncommon candor."

So, what was this "She-King of Egypt like?" Once thought of as "ruthless," she is emerging differently today. Catharine Roehig, a curator of Egyptian art at Metropolitan Museum of Art, writes, "Nobody can know what she was like. She ruled for 20 years because she was capable of making things work. I believe she was very canny and that she knew how to play one person off against the next-without murdering them or getting murdered herself."

After Hatshepsut's death Thutmose III achieved a great name for himself as a warrior pharaoh. "Her stepson," writes Brown, "went on to secure his destiny as one of the great pharaohs in Egyptian history. Thutmose II was a a monument maker like his stepmother but also a warrior without peer, the so-called Napoleon of ancient Egypt...In the latter part of his life, when other men might be content to reminisce about bygone adventures, Thutmose III appears to have taken up another pastime. He decided to methodically wipe his stepmother, the king, out of history."

While Hatshepsut's stepson sought to erase all memories of his stepmother, who by all indications ruled pretty much as a sovereign pharaoh, though he performed duties as alongside her as the co-regent, the bend of her neck, the height of her regal cheeks, the enormity of her eye sockets, the elegance of her profile, the symmetry of her face, the strength of her bone structure, the round perfection of her head, the pride in her chin after these many years all bespeak a woman of strength, renown and grace.

Hatshepsut is not only remembered; in death she speaks.


Rhi said...

Thank you for posting this. I enjoyed it so much! However, I do wonder about two things. Is the first photo of Hatshepsut and the second of her stepson? Additionally, it is obvious that Thutmose III did not completely wipe Hatshepsut out of history. Do historians know what Thutmose III did to try to "erase" her, or if he succeeded in any way? (Kind of a crazy question.) Thanks again for sharing this! It's great to "hear from you" again, especially since I have been away for so long. Have a great day. =)

judith ellis said...

Ah, Rhi, beauitful young lady, it is good too see you again. From what I've heard you have been very busy. Glad you're back.

Yes, Thumose III had "almost all the images of her as king were systematically chisled off temples, monuments, and obelisks."

Hatshepsut knew that this would happen so she went through great pains of securing herself in history. In her temple she wanted it known that she is of royal blood and who her father is. A tale is written where her father the royal king Thutmose I tells "Khnum, the ram-headed god or creation who models the clay of mankind on his potter's will: "'Go, to fashion her better than all gods; shape for me, this my daughter, whom I have begotten.'"

Hatshepsut "had herself depicted solely as a male king, in the pharoah's headdress, the pharaoh's shendyt kilt, and the pharoah's false beard-without male traits." After the two year that she acted as the king, she performed all of the duties as king herself.

It must also be noted that during her reign as king there was peace and prosperity in Egypt and its neighbors. When her stepson. Thutmose II ascended the throne, war began. As noted in the post he was like the Napoleon of ancient times. In one post someone wrote that it is a fallacy that women are no less war-like than men. This I highly doubt by nature or nurture.

Have you posted anything? For a while there I was checking in quite a lot if only to be reminded of my young beautiful friend. I'll pop over soon. Blessings!

judith ellis said...

By the way, all photos are of the great female pharoah, except, of course, the temple itself. :-) On her own bequest, she is depicted as male purposely. But is the face of the figure donned in the regalram headdress not that of a female? I guess it could be a young boy. But it is she.

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