Girls Who Rocked the World
Hatshepsut APPROXIMATELY 1500–1460 BC PHARAOH EGYPT
[Hatshepsut] had no wish to be remembered merely for her sex, which she regarded as an irrelevance; she had demanded—and for a brief time won—the right to be ranked as an equal amongst the pharaohs.
—JOYCE TYLDESLEY, HATCHEPSUT: THE FEMALE PHARAOH
The Egyptians stood shoulder to shoulder, so crowded was the plaza. The sun beat down as they awaited the unveiling of the new royal monument. As the trumpets sounded and the slaves pulled the cloth away from the stone, people in the front rows strained their eyes to get a better look at the carving. What they saw shocked them, and they whispered to those farther back. Within minutes the scandal spread like a wave through the crowd, until everyone knew the surprising details.
In previous monuments, Hatshepsut was shown standing behind her husband, fulfilling her role as his queen consort; or standing beside
her stepson, as his guardian and adviser. In this new carving, Hatshepsut stood completely alone. Even more shocking, Hatshepsut was boldly dressed as a man . . . in fact, she was dressed as the pharaoh! What could it mean? wondered the Egyptians. There had never been a woman pharaoh before. And what about her stepson, who was supposed to be pharaoh? The gods would not be pleased. The maat, the ideal state of the universe, would be disturbed.
Most Egyptians had six or seven children (but almost half died in childhood), and baby girls were just as welcome as baby boys. Popular names had meanings like “Riches Come,” “Welcome to You,” “Ruler of Her Father,” or even “He’s a Big Fellow.”
The girl who would one day become pharaoh was born the eldest daughter to the pharaoh King Tuthmosis I. When her infant sister died, she was raised as his only child. Before Hatshepsut’s family came into power, Egypt had been fragmented and often ruled by foreigners. For generations, her royal family had struggled to unite a divided Egypt. Her father eventually achieved this feat, and his reign was a time of great prosperity. He was a beloved and powerful pharaoh to his people.
In order to keep the royal bloodline intact, most royal Egyptians married their siblings. Hatshepsut was no exception. When her father died, young Hatshepsut married her half-brother Tuthmosis II. She was most likely twelve at the time, as most Egyptian girls married around that age. Her brother became pharaoh, and Hatshepsut became his queen consort. She soon gave birth to a daughter, Princess Neferure. Carvings of Hatshepsut during this time show her wearing the clothes of a queen and standing behind her husband.
Many historians argue that Tuthmosis II was a weak and sickly king, and that it was Hatshepsut who secretly ruled. All we know for sure is that Tuthmosis II died when he was still a young man, and Hatshepsut wasted no time increasing her power. Tuthmosis’s son from another woman became heir to the throne, as was Egyptian custom. When Hatshepsut was possibly as young as fifteen, she was named guardian to Tuthmosis III, who was about five years old, too young to be pharaoh.
In carvings of this period, Hatshepsut is pictured standing next to her stepson, as she was expected to act as co-ruler until Tuthmosis III was old enough to rule alone. But Hatshepsut had plans of her own.
Although Hatshepsut already held the highest position available to women in Egypt, she wanted more, so she named herself pharaoh—the king! There was a big difference between being queen and being pharaoh. The queen was merely the pharaoh’s companion. She was not even called by her own name, instead addressed only in relation to the men in her life—“King’s Daughter” or “King’s Great Wife.” A pharaoh, on the other hand, was the unquestionable ruler and owner of all the land and people in Egypt. At any time a pharaoh could ask his subjects to stop their regular jobs and build a giant pyramid or temple. The pharaoh was also responsible for tax collection, food storage for emergencies, construction of canals and buildings, and maintaining law and order. As head of the army, he not only planned military actions but also personally led his troops into battle.
Most important, Egyptians believed their pharaohs were divine: the messengers of the gods here on earth. A pharaoh could speak directly to the gods for his people, helping guarantee prosperity for Egypt and protecting it from disaster. The ancient Egyptians believed that without their pharaoh, they could not survive.
Unlike Hatshepsut, Egyptian girls weren’t allowed to have jobs outside the home. If they were lucky, they could work as weavers, singers, dancers, or musicians.
Hatshepsut realized that a female pharaoh would be shocking and upsetting to her people. Egyptians believed in maat, the ideal state of the universe, and a female pharaoh was sure to upset the order of things. So, to protect her rule, Hatshepsut transformed herself into something her people would feel more comfortable with. In carvings, Hatshepsut would appear front and center, but flat-chested, dressed in male clothing, and with a fake pharaoh’s beard. Her people knew she was still a woman, but these images told them that Hatshepsut could and would serve in a man’s role. And since every pharaoh needed a queen consort in order to perform
many of the ritual duties, Hatshepsut broke another tradition and named her daughter, Neferure, as queen!
EGYPTIANS LOVED CATS!
• When a cat died, its owners shaved their eyebrows and tore their clothing to show grief.
• They often mummified their cats—one Egyptian cemetery contained 300,000 cat mummies!
• If you killed a cat, you could be sentenced to death by stoning.
• When royalty hunted, the birds they shot were retrieved by specially trained cats!
It is extraordinary that in Egypt’s male-dominated society Hatshepsut’s people accepted her as their divine ruler. Even after Tuthmosis III came of age, the Egyptian people kept Hatshepsut as their pharaoh, making her reign last over twenty years! In a time when the average Egyptian lived just thirty years, Hatshepsut’s twenty-year rule was astounding.
The territory she commanded stretched from northeastern Africa all the way across the Arabian Peninsula to present-day Syria. Her reign was marked by new and welcome peace, stability, and prosperity. She increased foreign exploration, launching several successful trade missions to lands more distant than Egyptians had ever traveled to before. Hatshepsut is probably most famous, however, for her impressive architectural advances. She worked hard to restore temples that had fallen into decay (even 3,500 years ago, some of Egypt’s buildings were already ancient!), and built hundreds of shrines, monuments, and statues. Deir el-Bahri, the mortuary temple on the Nile River she had constructed for her eventual death, is considered one of the most beautiful buildings ever created.
When Hatshepsut grew too old to rule, she finally allowed her fully-grown stepson to become pharaoh. Tuthmosis III followed in his stepmother’s well-laid footsteps and became a very popular, successful pharaoh himself. Power must have agreed with Hatshepsut; she
died when she was well into her fifties, decades later than the average Egyptian. She was buried in the majestic tomb she had prepared for herself years before. Hatshepsut, a woman who broke all the rules, had a fitting end to her unique life. She was buried in the Valley of the Kings.
Hatshepsut was one of the greatest rulers of ancient Egypt. Her reign was more influential and successful than that of Cleopatra, King Tutankahman, or Queen Nefertiti, and yet little is known about her today. Why? Years after her death, someone tried to blot out all memory of Hatshepsut. Her statues were smashed to pieces; her image was hacked out of carvings; her paintings were burned; her name was erased from pharaoh lists; her mummy disappeared. A landslide even covered her glorious temple at Deir el-Bahri.
Someone wanted it to look as if Hatshepsut never existed. But who? Her jealous stepson? An angry lover? Later Egyptians who wanted to forget their female pharaoh? This is still a great mystery. In spite of these mysterious and sinister attempts to erase her reign, Hatshepsut’s legend could not be buried.
In the late 1800s, archaeologists dug her back to life, discovering her temple and tracing her name underneath newer carvings. They pieced together enough about Hatshepsut to know that she was surely the most influential woman Egypt has ever known. In 2007 her mummy was found and positively identified. Once again, she has claimed her rightful place among Egyptian kings, and the story of Hatshepsut’s unconventional life continues to fascinate the archaeologists of today.
HOW WILL YOU ROCK THE WORLD?1
I have read all the books on Egypt in the children’s library, and I’m now working on the adult library. I’m going to rock the world by becoming an Egyptologist! That’s an archaeologist who specializes in ancient Egypt. I will write about my experiences so other people learn more about Egypt and its history. I would also love to open the Sphinx and see what’s inside!
KARISSA LIGHT AGE 13