Chapter 16

Hatshepsut, the Female Pharaoh

Thutmosis III was only about 12 years of age when his father, Thutmosis II, died, so Hatshepsut assumed the role of regent on his behalf.

Thutmosis I had no son by his great royal wife, Ahomse, but he also had a secondary wife named Mutnofret, who produced a son known as Thutmosis II. He was probably in his late teens when his father died, but he had been married to Hatshepsut, the daughter of Thutmosis I and Ahmose, and that gave him a legitimate claim to the throne. No one can be certain how long he reigned, but it may have been less than six years.


In an alcove in Hatshepsut’s temple is this picture of Hatshepsut worshiping the cow goddess Hathor. On the right is Hatshepsut’s daughter. This is the only picture of Hatshepsut that was not demolished by her successors.

Apparently, the Nubians in the south thought it an auspicious time to stage a revolt, and Thutmosis rose to the occasion.

“His majesty grew furious as a leopard when he heard it. Then his majesty said, ‘As I live, as I love Re, as I praise my father the lord of the gods, Amun lord of Karnak, I shall not permit one of their males to live.’ Then his majesty sent a large army to Nubia . . . to cast down all those who rebelled against his majesty and revolted against the Lord of the Two Lands. This army reached the wretched land of Kush; the might of his majesty guided it, and the terror of him cleared its course. Then the army of his majesty cast down these barbarians, and not one of their males was permitted to live.”1

The marriage of Thutmosis II with Hatshepsut produced no sons, but Thutmosis had a secondary wife named Isis who produced a son also called Thutmosis. He was crowned as Thutmosis III, and was destined to be the greatest of all the pharaohs, but he was only about 12 years of age when his father, Thutmosis II, died, so Hatshepsut assumed the role of regent on his behalf.

Marriage to half-brothers or even full brothers was not unusual in the later dynasties of Egypt. It was not regarded as incest. In fact it was regarded as rather desirable, ensuring that the throne would be confined to the members of the ruling family, thus guaranteeing that no in-laws would aspire to the throne. There could be very genuine love in such a marriage. In the Late Period, Princess Ahwere was married to her brother Prince Nenerferkaptah and she wrote, “I was taken as wife to the house of Nenerferkaptah. . . . He slept with me that night and found me pleasing. He slept with me again and again and we loved each other.”

Hatshepsut ruled as regent for about seven years, but she apparently liked the job, because she then assumed the title of king. She may have been no more than 15 years of age when her husband died and 22 when she proclaimed herself to be the pharaoh. This was indeed a bold step for a young woman of only 22 years of age, although it was probably not a sudden coup, but a gradual assumption of office.


This granite head of Hatshepsut is in the British Museum. Like her other statues, it had been smashed, but reassembled by archaeologists.

This, of course, required some justification, and we find on the walls of Hatshepsut’s beautiful mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri a wall relief depicting her as being born of the god Amun who appoints her as the future ruler of Egypt. However, Joyce Tyldesley, who wrote the book called Hatshepsut the Female Pharaoh,2 doubts that this relief was for propaganda purposes, as it would only be seen by a handful of priests who officiated at the temple and would need no convincing. Their status and position would depend on the favor of Hatshepsut, anyway. Perhaps it was just an ego trip on her part.

Whatever the motive in this inscription, it depicts a touching scene with a description of the supposed bedroom meeting between Hatshepsut’s mother and the god Amun. “She smiled at his majesty. He went to her immediately. . . . She was filled with joy at the sight of his beauty. His love passed into her limbs. The Palace was flooded with the god’s fragrance, and all his perfumes were from Punt.” The idea was that Amun had occupied the body of Thutmosis I to impregnate his queen.

The reliefs then go on to depict the royal birth, with the queen seated on the birth stool in the presence of the gods who rejoice at this auspicious birth. The babe, who is depicted as a mature child, is then presented to her father as the future heir to the throne. There is however, some gender confusion. The child is clearly shown as a male. Hatshepsut at no time pretended to be a male, though she did assume all the titles of a king and is depicted as wearing the royal ceremonial beard.

Some may regard it as ludicrous that a woman should boast a beard, but most Egyptians were clean-shaven. The pharaohs strapped a false beard onto their chins for royal or ceremonial occasions, and Hatshepsut apparently reasoned that if the men could do it, so could she. In any case, there is no evidence that she actually wore a beard. It may simply be that this is how she asked her sculptors to represent her.


On her temple wall Hatshepsut depicts herself as being presented to the gods. This picture depicts her mother seated on the birth stool ready to give birth to her baby.

Fortunately, Hatshepsut seems to have inherited a group of courtiers who were content with their role as servants of a female pharaoh. Maybe it was because Hatshepsut treated them well, for one of them, Ineni, had written on the wall of his tomb, “Her majesty praised me and loved me. She recognized my worth at court, she presented me with things, she magnified me, she filled my house with silver and gold, with all beautiful stuffs of the royal house. . . . I increased beyond anything.” Another official, Ahmose-Pennekheb, also seemed satisfied with his lot. He wrote, “The god’s wife repeated favors for me, the great king’s wife Maatkare, justified.”

While Hatshepsut was intent on assuming the role of a male pharaoh, she still retained the attributes of a female, convinced of her feminine charms. She wrote about herself, “Exceeding good to look upon, with the form and spirit of a god . . . a beautiful maiden, fresh, serene of nature, altogether divine.”3 Her normal female vanity is also indicated by archaeologists who discovered a beautiful alabaster eye make-up container with her name on it, with bronze applicator, which would have been meticulously used to enhance her appearance.

In the open-air museum at Karnak, Hatshepsut’s red chapel has been reconstructed. On its walls are reliefs of Hatshepsut, which leave no one in any doubt about her femininity. She is depicted in the nude and looking very pregnant.

However, to our Western eyes there was one aspect of her appearance which would seem to detract from her beauty. Joyce Tyldesley wrote “She may, in fact, have chosen to be completely bald. Throughout the New Kingdom it was common for both the male and female elite to shave their heads; this was a practical response to the heat and dust of the Egyptian climate, and the false-hair industry flourished as elaborate wigs were de rigueur for more formal occasions.”4


The shrine of Hatshepsut that has been reconstructed in the special outdoor museum in the temple of Karnak.

What she actually looked like can only be assessed from her statues, and as they were dependent on the skill or concepts of the sculptors, they may not be factual. They mostly depict her as having “a slender build with an attractive oval face, a high forehead, almond shaped eyes, a delicate pointed chin . . . a certain feminine softness,”5 and being of royal parentage she may well have been that beautiful.

Looks aside, there is the question of her activities as head of state. Her reign has been universally perceived as a peaceful and prosperous era, and, so, there is usually no suggestion of any military activity on her part, but Joyce Tyldesley does not rule out the possibility that she might have taken to the field with her army, although she has to appeal to an argument from silence to support her case. She says “As so many of Hatchepsut’s texts were defaced, amended, or erased after her death, it is entirely possible that her war record is incomplete.”6

Of course, she is depicted as a sphinx, recognized as a human-headed lion crushing the enemies of Egypt, and references are made to her military commanders presenting before her the trophies of war, but that was the traditional role of the pharaoh and does not necessarily prove that she was on the battlefield in person.

Hatshepsut was big on obelisks. She erected two pairs in the temple of Karnak. One of these is still standing there today, the tallest standing obelisk in the land of Egypt, 97 feet (29.5 m) tall. Another huge obelisk has since been partially used for its stone and lies broken on the ground near the sacred pool of Karnak. Then there was the big one that never got off the ground. It is called “the unfinished obelisk” because it was partially chiseled out of the Aswan granite quarry, but because of a defect that was found in the stone it was never completed. It would have stood 136 feet (41.5 m) high and weighed 1,168 tons.


Soldiers on the deck of the ship which Hatshepsut took to the land of Punt.

This unfinished obelisk gives a vital insight into the methodology used to prize obelisks out of the hard granite quarry. Hard dolerite balls had wooden handles embedded in them, and they were then used to pound the granite to make vertical holes in it. Beside the unfinished obelisk visitors can plainly see the vertical, half-circle columns that betray the method used, and many of these dolomite balls have been found.

The outstanding event in the life of this remarkable woman was her expedition to the land of Punt. She built a magnificent temple at Deir el Bahri on the west bank of the River Nile at Luxor. It was hewn out of the cliffs in three stages, and depicted on the wall of her temple was her expedition to the “Land of Punt.” No one can be sure of the exact location of Punt, although the flora and fauna depicted seem to originate in East Africa, but this may not prove that the land of Punt is in Africa.

The record in 1 Kings 10:1,2 says, “Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord she came to test him with hard questions. She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels that bore spices, very much gold, and precious stones.

Sheba is usually identified with Marib in Yemen, but for this there is only very flimsy circumstantial evidence. Two thousand years ago the Jewish historian Josephus wrote, “There was then a woman, queen of Egypt and Ethiopia. . . . When this queen heard of the virtue and prudence of Solomon, she had a great mind to see him. . . . Accordingly she came to Jerusalem with great splendor and rich furniture.”7


Hatshepsut’s obelisk in the temple of Karnak is the tallest still standing in the land of Egypt today. It is 97 feet (29.5 m) tall.

Jesus Christ also identified her as coming from Egypt. He said in Matthew 12:42, “The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon.Daniel 11:5 and 8 refer to the king of the south as the king of Egypt, so it would be logical to identify the queen of the south as the queen of Egypt.

There may also have been another incentive for this visit. Thutmosis I had two daughters, Hatshepsut and Neferbity. Nothing more is heard of Neferbity, and scholars assume that she died prematurely, but it is possible that Neferbity was the daughter of Pharaoh whom Solomon married (1 Kings 3:1). She may have been the bride in the song that was sung at Solomon’s wedding. She describes herself as being “dark, but lovely” (Song of Sol. 1:5), and Solomon addressed her as “My filly among Pharaoh’s chariots” (Song of Sol. 1:9). In that case, Hatshepsut would have been visiting her sister.

This would provide us with the biblical record of the visit of Hatshepsut to Jerusalem, while on the walls of Hatshepsut’s temple we have the Egyptian record of this expedition. Her journey took her “on water and on land.” She would have gone overland from Luxor to the Red Sea, then by ships to Eilat, then by land to the Dead Sea, and up to Jerusalem.

In her inscriptions she refers to the land of Punt as “God’s Land,” saying that “it was a beautiful land,” a fitting reference to the land of Israel at that time. Egyptian inscriptions also refer to Punt being in Palestine rather than in Africa. The flora that she brought back that has been identified as coming from Africa could have been imported by Solomon from Africa. Solomon was an avid gardener (Eccles. 2:4-6) and zoologist and had imported trees and apes from Africa (1 Kings 10:11, 22).

It is surely more than coincidence that 1 Kings 10:10 says that “she gave the king one hundred and twenty talents of gold, spices in great abundance, and precious stones,” and in verse 13 it says, “King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all she desired,” and in between the statement is made, “the ships of Hiram, which brought gold from Ophir, brought great quantities of almug wood and precious stones from Ophir” (1 Kings 10:11). It seems to be providing an explanation as to how these trees from Africa could be given by Solomon to the queen of Egypt.


Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el Bahri, on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor, is set against the magnificent backdrop of the towering hills.

Hatshepsut’s reliefs show trees being carried on poles between two carriers, as though they were returning from a garden center. Also shown are piles of frankincense and myrrh, gold, incense, ebony, and monkeys. Hatshepsut’s scribes exult over their acquisitions. “Never were brought such things to any king since the world was.”

Then there was Senenmut, the much-discussed vizier, “Overseer of all Royal Works, Tutor to the Royal Heiress Neferure” and personal friend of Hatshepsut. It is the latter appellation that has generated so much gossip.

There was no doubt in Senenmut’s mind as to his standing in the kingdom. He wrote, “I was the greatest of the great in the whole land. I was the guardian of the secrets of the king in all his places, a privy councillor on the Sovereign’s right hand, secure in favor and given audience alone. . . . I was one upon whose utterances his Lord relied, with whose advice the Mistress of the Two Lands was satisfied, and the heart of the Divine Consort was completely filled.”8

Perhaps archaeologists could be excused for sensing a scandal, but nothing can be proved, and this is where Joyce Tyldesley’s gender can enable her to see things a little more objectively than the archaeological writers who could pander to their male readers with their spicy assumptions, which often went further than their personal love relationships. They saw Senenmut as the power behind the throne, an inference that a mere woman could not have risen to such great heights without the wisdom and power of a supportive, or even domineering, male.

Punt Punt

Hatshepsut records her expedition to the land of Punt, which is probably the land of Israel. Pictures on the wall depict the treasures she brought back. She should be identified with the Queen of Sheba to whom Solomon gave “all she desired” (1 Kings 10:11).

Justifiably, Joyce rejects this concept. By any standards, Hatshepsut was a remarkable character, an obviously strong-minded woman, who even in her early twenties showed amazing initiative and resolution. She rose above the limitations Egyptian society would have normally imposed on her and became not just the greatest woman that Egypt ever saw, but one of the most successful monarchs that ever sat upon the throne of the pharaohs.

Of course, Senenmut did not hesitate to extol his own virtues. He is known to have made 25 hard stone statues of himself and numerous drawings. He was probably the architect of Hatshepsut’s spectacular temple at Deir el Bahri. If so, he displayed a talent that would be the envy of architects today. The temple, hewn out of the side of the cliff, merges magnificently with its background, and its triple terraces provide the facilities for the religious and political services it promoted.

Architect or not, Senenmut was able to sneak in 60 representations of himself in this temple alone. He claims that he had royal authority to do so, and obviously he must have, for they could not have gone unnoticed by Hatshepsut, though it is peculiar that they were all tucked into unobtrusive corners.

But Senenmut suddenly disappeared from the scene somewhere between year 16 and year 20 of Hatshepsut’s reign. Those who enjoy the melodramatic speculate that he fell from favor and was dismissed, or even put to death. They see significance in the fact that he was not buried in either of the tombs he had so carefully prepared for himself. Others consider that, as he was advanced in years, he died a natural death.

After 22 years of peaceful and competent rule, Hatshepsut also leaves the scene. Did she die a natural death or was she assassinated? We only know that this noble woman may not have received the lasting burial that Egyptian religion and custom considered so important to the Egyptian concept of the afterlife.


The unfinished obelisk was cut out of the granite quarries at Aswan. It would have been the largest obelisk ever made in Egypt—140 feet (41.75 m) high and weighing 1,168 tons. It was probably abandoned because of a crack that can be seen near the apex.

Her mummy has never been positively identified. Whether that means that she did not receive honorable burial or that her mummy was desecrated in later years is not sure. However, it would seem likely that she did receive an honorable burial because her coffin has been preserved. Senenmut’s monuments also received their share of vandalism. His elaborate quartzite sarcophagus was ultimately smashed into more than 1,000 pieces and scattered around the floor of his tomb and on the adjoining hillside.

Whatever her immediate successors may have thought of Hatshepsut, today’s scholars and tourists visiting her superb temple are filled with admiration, not only for the monuments themselves, but for the remarkable woman who was responsible for their construction, and her capable rulership of the great Egyptian Empire when it was approaching the pinnacle of its impressive power.

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  1. Steindorff and Steele, When Egypt Ruled the East, p. 39.
  2. Joyce Tyldesley, Hatchepsut the Female Pharaoh (London: Penguin Books, 1998).
  3. Steindorff and Steele, When Egypt Ruled the East, p. 41.
  4. Tyldesley, Hatchepsut the Female Pharaoh, p. 129.
  5. Ibid., p. 130.
  6. Ibid., p. 141.
  7. Whiston, Josephus’ Complete Works, Antiquities of the Jews, VIII, VI, p. 5.
  8. Ibid., p. 177.


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