Search

Is This the Ultimate Woman-In-A-Man's-World...?



Have you ever heard of Hatshepsut, who has been described as "the first great woman of history" (by Egyptologist James Henry Breasted)?


As a former historian, I love tales of brave and brilliant women from days gone by - especially women who learned how to thrive in a man's world.


And can there be any better example than the (female) Pharaoh Hatshepsut?

Read on to find out more, in this first of my new #SummerStories series, all about inspirational women from history*...



Who was Hatshepsut?


For a long time, Hatshepsut was believed to be co-regent of Egypt - a Queen, ruling alongside her nephew Pharaoh Thutmose III.


But there were strange inconsistencies in the historical record...


🤔 Sometimes she was referred to as "Pharaoh" which means specifically "King" (not Queen).


🤔 Sometimes the Pharaoh of that era, depicted with all his Pharaonic accoutrements (including a beard), was talked about with the female pronoun.


🤔 And some of the statues of her had clearly been torn down or defaced, not long after her death - but only some, not all...


So what was going on?



Statue of Hatshepsut with the Uraeus (the cobra, a symbol of Pharaonic power) removed from her headdress.



Hatshepsut the Pharaoh


Hatshepsut was the daughter, sister and wife of a king. She knew and understood stratified Egyptian society, and used it to her advantage.


During her father's reign, she gave herself a unique position of power by calling herself "the God's Wife of Amun" (the Egyptian god of the sun).


She then learned about statecraft through her years as Queen, while her husband Thutmose II ruled as Pharaoh.


So when he died, she was in the perfect position to take the throne herself.


And historians now believe she did!


And very successfully too...



Her reign


Hatshepsut was a prolific builder, commissioning hundreds of building projects throughout Egypt


She sent exploratory missions abroad, which brought back valuable frankincense, myrrh, and and even 31 live myrrh trees (the first recorded attempt to transplant foreign trees).


She ordered the creation of so many statues that they appear in Egyptian collection all over the world (there is even a Hatshepsut room in New York's Museum of Modern Art).


Plus she reigned apparently peacefully and profitably for 21 years, re-establishing trade networks that rebuilt the wealth of the Egyptian kingdom.


She was one of the most successful Pharaohs - despite being of the wrong gender.


And only the second woman to be Pharaoh in over 1500 years of the Ancient Egyptian Kingdom.


She was definitely thriving in a man's world!


So why the confusion and inconsistencies about her reign, and her legacy...?



The Tyldesley hypothesis


Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley suggests that this was a deliberate attempt to erase Hatshepsut's reign as Pharaoh from history - because she was a woman.


After she died, Thutmose III became Pharaoh - and he wanted to pretend that he was Thutmose II's direct successor, to give himself greater legitimacy (ignoring Hatshepsut's 21 years as Pharaoh).


And because after all, if one woman could do it, who's to say "future generations of potentially strong female kings" wouldn't appear -

not happy to "remain content with their traditional lot as wife, sister and eventual mother of a king"...

(quotes from Joyce Tyldesley).


So Thutmose III appeared to order a campaign of deliberate removal or defacement of the public statues of Hatshepsut, removing the signs she was a Pharaoh, such as the beard, the cobra on the headdress (the Uraeus), and the Double Crown.



Statues of Hatshepsut, on the L after the Pharaonic symbols have been removed, and on the R with the symbols intact (eg the beard, and the Double Crown).