Question: Where in the world did a woman build a magnificent temple for a king—where no man was ever buried?
Answer: The Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor, Egypt
The sixth pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, Hatshepsut came to power in the usual way: by inheriting it—and by marrying it. Her father, Thutmose I, ruled Egypt during its “Golden Age,” a time of unity and prosperity. In a civilization that was far advanced for its time, women had legal and social rights equal to men’s, and, although male succession was the norm, women had ruled the country previously—though none had achieved the godlike status of pharaoh.
Born around 1507 BCE, Hatshepsut was the second daughter of Thutmose I and his Royal Wife, Queen Ahmos. No sons from that marriage survived the pharaoh, so when Thutmose I died, when Hatshepsut was about twelve, Thutmose II—her half-brother (by a secondary wife)—succeeded the popular monarch. To strengthen the royal lineage, Hatshepsut and Thutmose II were married. She ruled alongside her husband until his death, 14 years later.
Thutmose II’s son by a minor wife, the seven-year-old Thutmose III, ascended to the throne. As was common in that era, Hatshepsut became the young king’s regent, holding the reins of government until he came of age.
The trouble was, when it came time to hand those reins over, Hatshepsut was unwilling to do so. So, in 1473 BCE, she took the bold step of proclaiming herself pharaoh. Was she hungry for power? Or was a political crisis, such as a threat from a rival branch of the royal family, prompting her to preserve the throne for her callow, untested stepson? The latter is becoming the more accepted theory among scholars. Whatever the reason, the rule of Egypt’s first female pharaoh was not without controversy.
The Woman Who Would Be King: The Reign of Hatshepsut
- Her official title was King of Upper and Lower Egypt—which immediately begs a question: Why wasn’t she called the Queen of Egypt instead of King? Experts disagree, though most today believe that she was establishing herself as the person in charge, not simply the “Great Royal Wife.”
- To strengthen her claim to the title of pharaoh, she began blurring the gender line. She changed her name to its male form, Hatshepsu, and began referring to herself in writing as both “he” and “she.” She took to dressing in men’s clothing, had herself depicted as wearing a king’s royal headdress, and even donned a false beard.
- When Hatshepsut died around 1458 BCE, she was not only the longest-serving female ruler in Egyptian history, she was also one of the most effective. During her 22-year reign (including her term as regent for Thutmose III), she was a prolific builder of magnificent temples and monuments—including one dedicated to herself.
- She also restored important trade routes, helping to establish the 18th Dynasty as an era of prosperity. The arts flourished with her encouragement. And though hers was generally a peaceful rule, she did oversee several successful military campaigns.
- Yet, Thutmose III did his best to obliterate any trace of her existence. Royal documents were revised, statues of his stepmother were smashed, her cartouches and images were erased from all monuments, and her mortuary temple stood empty.
- Was it an act of revenge? Scholarship has revealed that the destruction didn’t occur until 20 years after Hatshepsut’s death, near the end of Thutmose III’s reign. Some historians now believe that Thutmose III wasn’t motivated by hatred, but rather by challenges to the royal lineage, and he needed to make it appear that he had inherited the throne directly from his father. Or perhaps the ancient Egyptians simply weren’t ready for another female pharaoh.
Delve further into this history with O.A.T. during Egypt & the Eternal Nile by Private, Classic River-Yacht.