Was Senenmut Queen Hatshepsut’s Secret Lover?

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: History of Ancient Egypt

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

Hatshepsut had a glorious reign over Egypt, but her personal life did not seem as glorious. She never mentioned her husband after he died, and she became the king. Her daughter, Neferu-Re died when she was a teenager, and her name was erased from her temple by Tuthmosis III to show that he was the legitimate king, like his father and grandfather. Did she get in a secret relationship with Senenmut to compensate for all this?

The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, also known as Djeser Djeseru.
Senenmut was a wealthy commoner and extremely close to the royal family as he was the overseer and a tutor. (Image: mrmojorisin/Shutterstock)

Senenmut was a wealthy commoner, an overseer of works, and the tutor of Neferu-Re. Many believed that he was the secret lover of Queen Hatshepsut as well, judging by the graffiti on a wall: the female pharaoh being made love to by an overseer. Widowed women in ancient Egypt did not remarry, but it did not mean they could never fall in love again.

Senenmut, the Prosperous Overseer

Left profile view of a block statue of Senenmut and of Neferura. Background knocked out for clarity.
Senenmut was the royal tutor, and the monument of him holding a small Neferu-Re shows this. (Image: British Museum/CC BY-SA 3.0 / Public domain)

Senenmut was a fairly obese wealthy man who had a close relationship with the royal family. He held many titles when Hatshepsut ruled: overseer of the royal palace, royal tutor, overseer of the granaries of Amun, and overseer of the works. The death of Neferu-Re, when she was a teenager, did not affect Senenmut’s presence in the royal palace, due to his many titles.

His obesity in the drawings shows that he was rich and had enough to eat. However, he remained a bachelor his whole life, which was weird in ancient Egypt. Thus, people saw it as another reason that he had a secret lover, Queen Hatshepsut.

He was in charge of things like building Deir el Bahri and making sure where the money was disbursed. There is also a monument of him with a young Neferu-Re sitting on his lap, showing that he was the tutor. Like Hatshepsut, he also has two tombs. This was also very uncommon for people outside of the royal family.

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

Senenmut’s Two Tombs

Senenmut’s first tomb was high up on the west bank of Thebes. His titles are on the walls of this tomb. He never used it, but his pink Aswan granite sarcophagus was located there. Another piece of evidence to confirm the secret lover theory was that Hatshepsut had it made for herself when she was the queen but then gave it to him. Hatshepsut did not need the sarcophagus after she became the king.

The sarcophagus was smashed into pieces in the act of vengeance when excavators found it. Today, the rebuilt sarcophagus is kept in New York in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

His second tomb is within the temple precincts of Deir el Bahri, Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple. Hatshepsut allowed him to be buried within the boundaries of the royal mortuary temple, which was a uniquely great honor. The tomb has a unique painting on the ceiling that was left incomplete as Senenmut died before the painting ended. The ceiling shows decans, the hours of the night, and the constellations of the night sky.

Learn more about the Middle Kingdom-Dynasty XI.

The Location of Senenmut’s Tomb

Hatshepsut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings angles toward Deir el Bahri, and Senenmut’s tomb angles toward hers. Apparently, many people interpreted it as how they planned to spend eternity together.

Senenmut died first. When he died, he merely faded away and was erased from history, but when he was alive, he was a hot topic of discussion in the society.

Picture shows the portrait of Queen Hatshepsut.
Hatshepsut let Senenmut be buried in the royal area, which was not an honor that anyone could receive. (Image: Maciek67/Shutterstock)

The Graffiti on the West Bank of Thebes

Workers on the west bank of Thebes left behind some graffiti, even pornographic, showing how people talked about Hatshepsut and Senenmut as secret lovers.

Workers would take lunch breaks in unfinished tombs to have a shelter from the burning midday sun. Some of them, apparently, loved painting graffiti on the walls. One of them shows a naked woman with a royal cobra on her forehead and the crown of Egypt on her head. She is making love to a man wearing the overseer’s cap. As mentioned before, Senenmut was overseer of the workers, overseer of the royal palace, and overseer of the granaries of Amun.

When Hatshepsut died, Tuthmosis III became the king. After about 20 years, he began to replace her name, wherever he could find it, with his own name, his father’s, and his grandfather’s. It was not an act of anger but a well-thought-out decision. Even the open-minded Egyptians, who deeply respected women, could not see on their records that a woman was once a king.

The love story was buried with Hatshepsut and Senenmut. Many people believed they were lovers, and there was convincing evidence, but there was never a confession or a child that could prove all the theories.

Learn more about Tuthmosis III-king at last.

Common Questions about Senenmut, Queen Hatshepsut’s Secret Lover

Q: Who was Senenmut?

Senenmut was a commoner who had a close relationship with the royal family. He was a tutor of Neferu-Re, and perhaps a secret lover to Hatshepsut, the queen who ruled Egypt. He was also the overseer of the works, overseer of the royal palace, and overseer of the granaries of Amun.

Q: What did Senenmut look like?

In drawings, Senenmut is usually depicted with a double chin. Being a bit obese in ancient Egypt was a sign of prosperity, and he definitely was a prosperous man.

Q: Does Senenmut have two tombs?

Senenmut, like Queen Hatshepsut, has two tombs. In the first, he put the sarcophagus that was given to him by Hatshepsut. In the second, he was buried under the most beautiful tomb ceiling ever painted.

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