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Hatshepsut, Lady Pharaoh

September 25, 2023

In the blistering desert not far from the Valley of the Kings is the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Seen from a distance, the temple appears to have been birthed by the mountain in which it rests. A long stairway/ramp leads to its three tiers.

Hatshepsut was the wife (and half-sister) of Thutmose II, and when he died ruled as regent to her stepson, Thutmose III, who she believed was too young to take the throne. According to Ahmed, she promised to turn over the throne in five years’ time, sending him away to learn the art and science of being a pharaoh while she ruled the country. But after five years the idea of relinquishing the throne must have been anathema to her, so she remained in power alongside her stepson. Scholars believe she was the second or third female ruler, and certainly the most powerful. Her temple was constructed over a period of some twenty years in the 15th century BC. She was also a prolific builder, erecting monuments at Karnak, including two obelisks that, when they were erected, were the tallest buildings in the world.

Late in her son’s reign and into her grandson’s, attempts were made to expunge physical images of her by chiseling her cartouches off walls, defacing images of her, destroying or disfiguring her statues and otherwise trying to write her out of the history of the pharaohs. Whether this was because her successors — especially her grandson — resented her legacy or opposed female pharaohs in principle, is unclear. So misogyny could have played a role (sigh).

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