HATSHEPSUT---THE FEMALE HORUS

 

Tuthmosis II and Hatshepsut began their reign like any other Egyptian king and queen.  She behaved in a conventional manner and was always pictured standing behind her husband and her mother.  When her husband died the throne passed to his son by a lesser wife.  Since Tuthmosis III was still a young child he would have needed a regent to act on his behalf.  It was perfectly normal for his mother, Hatshepsut, to assume the role of regent until such time as the legitimate heir was old enough to rule on his own.

Until this point Hatshepsut has behaved in a perfectly traditional way.  After 7 years as regent, however, she started to call herself King.  In total she reigned for some 22 years which was long past the point at which her step son was old enough to rule on his own.  Why did she usurp the throne for herself?  Why did Tuthmosis III allow her to do so?

We cannot answer those questions but the following can be stated with certainty.  Thuthmosis III was no wimp.  He led 17 military campaigns into Asia and had a long and very successful reign after his step-mother's death.  She could not have ruled without the support and co-operation of male bureaucrats.  She conquered no new territory but held on to the Egyptian borders that she inherited and led the usual military show campaigns that each monarch had to perform in order to hang on to the south.  A very impressive building program attests to the prosperity of her reign.  There is no evidence to suggest she died of other than natural causes.  Her monuments and cartouches suffered some abuse but this probably happened at the end, not the beginning, of her successor's reign and may even have happened later than that.  The mystery remains.

Much has been made of the fact that she is often pictured in male garb.  This was certainly not to fool people: the bureaucrats close to her would have known her sex and the rest of the country didn't matter.  Modern North Americans like to stress the difference between the office and the person; one might respect the presidency even if one preferred the office were held by a member of the other party.  Ancient Egyptians saw no such distinction.  The Pharaoh was not at all like everyone else.  The Pharaoh was a god---the reincarnation of the male Horus.  The word king in the Egyptian language is masculine.  The word we commonly translate as Queen actually means "king's great wife". There is no expression that conveys the idea of a reigning female monarch.  Egyptian art was intended to convey concepts largely unrelated to the subject portrayed.  A king should look like a king in art whether his real life appearance was regal or not.  Male garb on ceremonial occasions would ensure the continuation of tradition and enable her to claim that, like every other pharaoh, she was a reincarnation of Horus.

 

 

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