The Reign of Queen Hatshepsut

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: History of Ancient Egypt

By Bob Brier, Ph.D., Long Island University

Hatshepsut was the first female king of ancient Egypt. The first accurate representation of sub-Saharan Africa, the first zoo, the first successful sail around Ethiopia, many obelisks, and a great temple remain as signs of how prosperous the reign of Queen Hatshepsut was. There were a few things she was particularly proud of. Read on to find out what.

Picture shows the sculpture of a pharaoh at Hatshepsut's Temple.
Egypt experienced prosperity during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut. She ruled Egypt first as a queen and then a self-declared king. (Image: BlackMac/Shutterstock)

Hatshepsut was the great wife of Tuthmosis II, and when he died, Tuthmosis III was only six years old. Thus, Hatshepsut took over and ruled Egypt first as a queen and then a self-declared king. She built an impressive mortuary temple for herself, on the walls of which she wrote her story and what she was proud of.

Sailing to God’s Land

Punt, or the god’s land, was perhaps somewhere around today’s Ethiopia. Hatshepsut sent a trading expedition to the land of Punt. Not only did the expedition come back alive but also brought giraffes, animal skins, exotic animal skins, ivory, frankincense, and myrrh. The spoils guided Egyptologists to conclude that Punt was near Ethiopia.

To travel to god’s land, they first had to march through the Wadi Hammamat, an ancient caravan road that continued from Thebes to the Red Sea. Next, they had to sail on the Red Sea, which was not as easy as the river sailing that Egyptians were used to. The 600-mile journey took 15 days as they went 40 miles per day.

When the expedition came back, Hatshepsut had it all documented on the walls of her mortuary temple.

This is a transcript from the video series History of Ancient Egypt. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

The Story of the Punt Expedition

Based on the wall stories, the queen of Punt had greeted the expedition. She was drawn as a very obese woman with elephantiasis, and so does her daughter. The houses of the people are also shown as thatched roofs on stilts. This was the first time ever someone went to sub-Saharan Africa and came back, and could record all they had seen.

Picture shows a wall from the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, also known as Djeser Djeseru.
Hatshepsut depicted all that she was proud of on the walls of her temple, with useful details. (Image: AHMED SALAH EL DIN/Shutterstock)

Hatshepsut needed to do something with all the animals from god’s land. The reign of Hatshepsut brought along many novelties, including the first zoo.

They also brought back myrrh, a pile of incense, and even incense trees. Hatshepsut was a smart ruler and did not just want the fruits, but the roots as well. The trees are depicted as they were carried by men, and their roots were protected in baskets. She explains on the walls of her temple, “I made for my father Amun a Punt in Thebes.”

Learn more about the fabulous XVIIIth Dynasty rolls on.

The Story of Hatshepsut’s Birth

All kings wrote stories of themselves as autobiographies on the walls of mortuary temples. They called themselves sons of Re, the sun god. Thus, pharaohs were called sa-Re, and although Hatshepsut could call herself the daughter of Re, but she did not. She wrote how Amun, the god, met her mother. He was disguised as Tuthmosis I, and then her mother was pregnant with Hatshepsut. Thus, Hatshepsut was divine, just like the pharaohs.

However, there is a mistake in her creation story. Usually when a pharaoh told the story of his divine birth, the sculptors showed the pharaoh and his soul, his ka, being created on a potter’s wheel. The myth was that the god Khnum, a ram-headed god who was a potter, created everybody out of clay. In Hatsheput’s story, her ka, is depicted as two little boys, not girls. Hatshepsut did not mind it. She had more to be proud of: the obelisks.

The Obelisks at Karnak Temple

Picture shows the temple of Queen Hatshepsut.
The four enormous obelisks that she erected in the Karnak Temple are among her most proudly-held achievements. (Image: Mountains Hunter/Shutterstock)

Hatshepsut built four mighty obelisks at Karnak Temple, the great temple of Egypt on the east bank of Thebes. They were quarried at Aswan in the south of Egypt, towed by 27 boats attached to the barge with ropes, and transported through the Nile as three pilot ships guided the crew.

The walls show how the 250,000-ton obelisks are being transported on a barge end to end. Hatshepsut was proud that the huge obelisks of 90 feet were quarried and erected in seven months.

Learn more about the beginning of the New Kingdom-the fabulous XVIIIth Dynasty.

Hatshepsut’s Two Tombs

Hatshepsut has two tombs: one as the queen of Egypt, which is empty, and one as the king in the Valley of the Kings, where she is buried. Her tomb is one of the longest and most dangerous ones in the Valley, with two sarcophagi: one for her and one for her father. Even though the tomb was terribly damaged when Howard Carter excavated it, the cartouche-shaped sarcophagi have enough to tell.

She chose her father to be buried with her, not her husband. Chapelle rouge or the Red Chapel is another monument made of Aswan granite, where she shows herself side by side with Tuthmosis III.

Many believe she was imprisoning or somehow keeping Tuthmosis III away from the crown until she died, and her stepson got the throne. Regardless of that, her reign was undoubtedly one of the most remarkable of the ancient time.

Common Questions about the Reign of Queen Hatshepsut

Q: Was Hatshepsut the first female pharaoh?

Yes. Hatshepsut started her rule as a queen but later declared herself the king. The reign of Queen Hatshepsut brought along significant achievements for Egypt, such as sailing to Ethiopia and back.

Q: What was Queen Hatshepsut’s legacy?

Building great monuments was a common trait of the reign of Hatshepsut. She left behind one of the greatest mortuary temples and obelisks.

Q: What was Hatshepsut proud of in her reign?

Egypt had a good time during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut, but what she took pride in specifically was the trip to Punt, god’s land, and the animals brought back from there.

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