Hatshepsut Research Paper

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Historians debate the significance of Hatshepsut, one of few female rulers of ancient Egypt. Traditionally she has been viewed as a schemer who usurped the throne, while more recent scholarship acknowledges the complex difficulties she would have faced as a female ruler some 3,500 years ago. Her seemingly uninhibited access to natural and human resources, however, allowed her to engage in a substantial building program throughout Egypt.

Hatshepsut was queen of ancient Egypt during the eighteenth dynasty (c. 1540–c. 1307 BCE). She was the daughter of pharaoh Thutmose I, half sister and wife of Thutmose II, and stepmother of Thutmose III, with whom she ruled over Egypt for a period of about twenty years. Although the precise nature and circumstances of her rule and subsequent demise are unclear, she is one of the most outstanding and controversial figures in the long history of pharaonic Egypt.

With only few female examples to follow, she ascended the throne of Egypt, first as regent on behalf of her young stepson Thutmose III, the official successor to Thutmose II, and subsequently had herself crowned as ruler of Egypt with all necessary royal titles and regalia. This she was able to legitimize in two ways. First, there was her pure royal bloodline and fine genealogy, which are well expressed in her original queenly titles before she assumed kingship: “daughter of the king,” “sister of the king,” “the god’s wife,” “great royal wife,” and “mistress of the Two Lands” (Seipel 1977, 1045; Bryan 2000, 238). Second, she presented herself as the explicitly designated heir to her father Thutmose I, a political claim that was theologically reinforced by the story of her divine conception and birth to the god Amun, artistically depicted on the walls of her funerary temple in Deir el-Bahari (western Thebes).

The political success of her otherwise conservative and traditional reign can be measured by a relatively stable foreign policy, active interaction with Egypt’s neighbors Nubia (present-day northern Sudan and southern Egypt) and the Levant (present-day Syria and Lebanon, and her seemingly uninhibited access to natural and human resources, which allowed her to engage in a substantial building program throughout Egypt. The great temple to her divine father Amun at Karnak received particularly generous additions in form of chapels, shrines, obelisks, and a monumental gateway (the Eighth Pylon). Her own funerary temple at Deir el-Bahari has been described as “the most complete statement in material form of her reign” (Bryan 2000, 241) and is one of the finest examples of ancient Egyptian architecture, combining elements of previous periods with unique artistic representations of her time. Famous is the detailed depiction of her naval expedition to the land of Punt in East Africa, which brought back such exotic goods as wild animals and live incense trees. Also represented is the transport of two monumental obelisks from the granite quarries in Aswan to the temple at Karnak on a large barge, which even by today’s standards represents a major engineering feat, given their estimated weight of about 144 metric tons each. Her court obviously enjoyed a rule of affluence and generous economic support from their queen, which is reflected in an increase in wealthy and richly decorated private tombs of officials and the large number of private statues of such individuals produced during her reign.

Interestingly, numerous art representations of her time document how she slowly abandoned her feminine features in favor of more male—that is, kingly—attributes, including beard, bare and masculine upper torso, and kilt, which has often been interpreted by some scholars as a desperate attempt for political acceptance as ruler. That her rule may not have been fully endorsed by her contemporaries is supported by her successor Thutmose III’s deliberate destruction of her monuments and radical efforts to erase her from public memory, although this evidently happened only decades after her death. Other evidence that her rule may not have been fully endorsed includes inscriptions from her funerary temple, in which she expressly requests her officials’ loyalty and support.

There is no record of the causes and circumstances of Hatshepsut’s death and no royal mummy has as yet been attributed to her, which could provide forensic evidence for the nature of her death. There is also considerable scholarly confusion over the place of her burial, as there exist at least three sarcophagi and two tombs, one in the Valley of the Queens (probably made during her time as wife of Thutmose II), the other in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor.

Hatshepsut was one of the very few female rulers of Egypt, and her historical significance has been widely debated by scholars. She has traditionally been viewed as a schemer who usurped the throne and had a disastrous reign. More recent scholarship views her as a “remarkable woman” (Tyldesley 1996, 1), acknowledging the complex difficulties she would have faced as a female ruler some 3,500 years ago.

Just as she might have been subjected to the prejudices of a predominantly male royal court culture during and after her lifetime, Hatshepsut’s historiography has equally suffered from the tangible, underlying gender biases expressed in nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholarship, which may make any historiographical assertions about her rule more revealing of the prejudices afflicting scholarship at different points in time than of the actual nature and significance of Hatshepsut’s rule on the throne of the pharaohs.


  1. Bryan, B. (2000). The 18th dynasty before the Amarna period. In I. Shaw (Ed.), Oxford history of ancient Egypt (pp. 237–243). Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.
  2. Dorman, P. F. (1988), The monuments of Senenmut: Problems in historical methodology. London: Kegan Paul International.
  3. Grimm, A., & Schoske, S. (1999), Hatschepsut: KonigIn Agyptens [Hatshepsut: King/Queen of Egypt]. Munich, Germany: Staatliche Sammlung Agyptischer Kunst.
  4. Naville, E. (1894–1908), The temple of Deir el Bahari. London: Egypt Exploration Fund.
  5. Ratie, S. (1979). La reine Hatchepsout: Sources et problemes [Queen Hatshepsut: sources and problems]. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.
  6. Seipel, W. (1977). Hatshepsut I. In W. Helck & E. Otto (Eds.), Lexikon der Agyptologie [Dictionary of Egyptology], 2, 1045– 1051. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz.
  7. Tyldesley, J. A. (1996). Hatchepsut: the female pharaoh. London: Viking.

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