The Queen Who Would Be Pharaoh
Bust of Queen Hatshepsut, Eighteenth Dynasty, Egyptian Museum Cairo, Egypt
Hatshepsut was the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of ancient Egypt. Born in 1507 BCE, she came to the throne in 1478 BCE on the death of her husband Thutmose II. She was in fact only acting as regent on behalf of her infant stepson Thutmose III. Within seven years, however, she took full power, assumed the title of pharaoh and became co-ruler. To cement her authority as pharaoh, she ordered that she be depicted as a male in all likenesses, with the ruddy skin and false beard of male pharaohs. For Egyptian artists, color had meaning and symbolism; use was consistent for over 3000 years. Males, including living pharaohs, were shown with reddish skin, to symbolize their outdoor life. Females had light yellow or whitish skin. Most deities had golden skin.
Hatshepsut’s reign was peaceful and prosperous, with expanded trade routes and commerce. She build vast monuments, including her mortuary temple complex at Deir el-Bahri, near the entrance of what became the Valley of the Kings. She governed for about 22 years and is the second historically confirmed female Egyptian pharaoh. After her death, Thutmose III and his son, Amenhotep II, erased her name from monuments and destroyed or defaced her images and statues. She is never mentioned by scribes in later records, and there is a gap in the list of kings for years she ruled. Hatshepsut disappeared into the detritus of history until after 1822, when hieroglyphics were deciphered following the discovery of the Rosetta stone. Hatshepsut was acknowledged as a great pharaoh when scholars finally understand why a female name was combined with a male image. This painted limestone bust, now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, was found at her temple at Deir el-Bahri
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