This page is all about Hatshepsut and aspects of ancient Egyptian life represented in the Hatshepsut Trilogy. If you have questions about Hatshepsut, or anything else about ancient Egypt mentioned in the Hatshepsut Trilogy, send me an email and I'll try to answer them. If you'd like to know more about the ancient Egyptian civilisation in general, check out these great links.
- Who was Hatshepsut? What’s so interesting about her?
- Did you alter history or make things up for Her Majesty the King?
- The Author's Note at the front of Her Majesty the King says that most of the characters are real.
How can you know what people who lived so long ago were like?
- Who were the members of Hatshepsut's family?
Why are there so many conflicting versions of Hatshepsut's family tree?
- Did Hatshepsut dress as a man and wear a fake beard?
- A recent TV documentary claimed that Hatshepsut's mummy has been identified, based on a broken tooth.
Is it really her?
- Why did the ancient Egyptians engage in all those incestuous marriages? Didn't they ever notice that incestuous marriages produce deformed children?
Hatshepsut was a woman who ruled Egypt as a Pharaoh for nearly 22 years, from about 1479 BCE to 1457 BCE. Although in modern times, she is usually referred to as Queen Hatshepsut, she was actually a female king, so we should really call her King Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut was one of ancient Egypt's greatest Pharaohs. Although she was not the only woman to have ruled Egypt as a king, she was the only woman to have done so successfully.
Hatshepsut was the daughter of King Tuthmosis I and Queen Ahmose. While still a princess, Hatshepsut became the God's Wife of Amen, a priestess who was the most powerful woman in Egypt. She married her half-brother, Tuthmosis, who became King Tuthmosis II when their father died. Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis had one daughter, Neferure.
What happened next depends on how the evidence is interpreted and weighed. What I call the 'standard scenario', which is accepted by almost all Egyptologists, goes like this:
King Tuthmosis II had a brief reign and then died. His young son, also called Tuthmosis, whose mother was a non-royal concubine, became the next Pharaoh, Tuthmosis III. Since the boy was too young to rule on his own, Hatshepsut governed Egypt as regent for Tuthmosis III. A few years later, for reasons no one can explain, Hatshepsut seized power and declared herself to be a king, ruling alongside Tuthmosis III, but outranking him. Hatshepsut was the sole de-facto ruler of Egypt until her death. Only then did Tuthmosis III take up the reins of power to become a mighty Pharaoh in his own right. At least twenty years after Hatshepsut's death, again for reasons no one can explain, Tuthmosis III attempted to obliterate the records of Hatshepsut's reign and claimed all her accomplishments for himself and his father.
Fortunately for us, no cover-up is ever perfect. Egyptologists have been able to piece together a great deal of information about Hatshepsut's reign from the shattered statues and defaced inscriptions of her monuments. Hatshepsut herself insisted that she became king from the moment of her brother/husband's death. Although Egyptologists reject her statements, the evidence suggests that her claims should not be so easily dismissed.
Did you alter history or make things up for Her Majesty the King?
I tried to be as accurate as possible with everything from the grand sweep of history to the minutiae of everyday life in ancient Egypt. In Her Majesty the King, Hatshepsut's accession to the throne differs from the standard scenario in a single detail, because I believe the standard scenario is incorrect. After making an exhaustive study of the evidence connected with Hatshepsut's accession, I constructed an account of her rise to power which addressed the unanswered questions about her path to the throne and was also consistent with the Egyptian system of kingship. (for more, see Hatshepsut's Path to the Throne) In Her Majesty the King and the other books of the Hatshepsut Trilogy, Hatshepsut gets a chance to tell her version of events, which is the way I think it really happened.
Because I was writing about people who lived 3,500 years ago, it was of course necessary to invent conversations, everyday events and some friendships and rivalries. I kept these incidents within the known historical framework.
I did have to simplify the descriptions of some of the complex cultural practices of the ancient Egyptians, because to represent them in their entirety would have been extremely boring! Real court protocol, for example, involved long-winded speeches and rigid etiquette which modern readers would find stultifying. The religious rituals were also greatly simplified. Actual examples of ancient Egyptian liturgies that have survived are lengthy, full of obscure language and are mind-numbingly repetitive. The parts of religious practice I do describe in the book, such as funerary rituals and the Beautiful Feast of the Valley, are genuine.
We know almost nothing about ancient Egyptian marriage ceremonies, so I invented one for the book. Every human society has some type of formal marriage ritual, so it's safe to assume the Egyptians did too. Besides, they loved a party and I can't imagine they'd pass up an opportunity to celebrate.
The Author's Note at the front of Her Majesty the King says that most of the characters are real. How can you know what people who lived so long ago were like?
For some characters, like Hatshepsut and Senenmut, numerous statues and inscriptions have survived that can give us some idea of what they looked like, what they cared about and what sort of public persona they presented. But for most of the characters, very little hard information is available apart from their names and their highest-ranking titles. Often, we don't know all the offices these people held on their way up the career ladder, so in the period of time covered by Her Majesty the King, if characters haven't yet achieved their ultimate rank, they were placed in positions typical for officials advancing to those ranks.
Who were the members Hatshepsut's family? Why are there so many conflicting versions of Hatshepsut's family tree?
The historical record from 3,500 years ago has many gaps. In Hatshepsut's case, the task of reconstructing her family relationships is particularly difficult because her inscriptions were deliberately mutilated by her successor, Tuthmosis III. Often, people constructing family trees for Hatshepsut fail to distinguish between established facts (based on evidence from inscriptions or monuments), educated guesses (inferred from known facts) and speculation—some reasonable, some not. In addition, a number of factual errors about Hatshepsut's family regularly crop up on web pages.
Hatshepsut's family shown in a relief from her mortuary temple. Left to right: Hatshepsut's mother, Queen Ahmose; Hatshepsut's father, King Tuthmosis I; Hatshepsut's sister, Neferubity. The highlighted signs in the inscription mean that these persons were all deceased at the time the relief was carved.
Established facts about Hatshepsut's family
- Hatshepsut's father was King Ahkheperkare Tuthmosis (Tuthmosis I), the third king of the Eighteenth Dynasty.
- Her mother was the Great Royal Wife (Queen) Ahmose.
- Hatshepsut had a full sister, Neferubity, who died in childhood.
- Hatshepsut had three half-brothers: Wadjmose, Amenmose and Tuthmosis, whose mother was the Lady Mutnofret.
- Wadjmose and Amenmose lived to adulthood but predeceased their father (Tuthmosis I).
- Hatshepsut's half-brother Tuthmosis succeeded his father to become King Tuthmosis II.
Head of a mummy discovered in a coffin that had once belonged to Tuthmosis I. Although often assumed to be Tuthmosis I, the mummy is that of a young man who was not old enough to have been Hatshepsut's father.
- Tuthmosis II and Hatshepsut married and had a daughter, Neferure.
- Tuthmosis II fathered a son, Tuthmosis III, whose mother was the commoner, Iset.
- The mother of Tuthmosis I was the commoner, Seniseneb.
- Queen Ahmose was very likely the sister of King Amenhotep I. This would mean that Amenhotep's wife, the God's Wife of Amen Queen Ahmose-Meritamen, was Hatshepsut's aunt and that King Ahmose I and Queen Ahmose-Nefertari were her maternal grandparents.
- Tuthmosis I was appointed junior co-regent by Amenhotep I.
- Hatshepsut was born before her father became Pharaoh.
- Hatshepsut's daughter, Neferure, died before Hatshepsut.
- Lady Mutnofret, wife of Tuthmosis I and the mother of Tuthmosis II, probably died before her husband became king.
- Hatshepsut intended that her daughter Neferure marry Tuthmosis III, who was her half-brother.
- Neferure and Tuthmosis III were married near the end of Hatshepsut's reign but Neferure died soon after.
- Zbigniew Szfranski and Franciszek Pawlicki believe Hatshepsut intended her daughter Neferure to be her successor. (see Hatshepsut's Path to the Throne: The Son of Re for the reason this proposal is improbable.)
- Barbara Lesko has suggested that Senenmut was Neferure's real father.
- Tuthmosis I is said to be the son or grandson of Amenhotep I; there is no evidence to support this idea.
- The mummy commonly attributed to Tuthmosis I is almost certainly not his; the mummy more likely belongs to one of Hatshepsut's half-brothers.
- Meritre-Hatshepsut is sometimes said to be a daughter of Hatshepsut; in reality, she was the daughter of the Divine Adoratrice Huy.
- Hatshepsut's mother, Queen Ahmose, is occasionally credited with the title of God's Wife of Amen; she never held this office.
- It has been claimed that Hatshepsut and other members of her family suffered from a hereditary skin disease. It is more likely that the small bumps on the mummies' skin are artefacts of the mummification process.
- Tuthmosis II is sometimes assumed to have been a young boy at his accession; his mummy contradicts this assertion.
- Tuthmosis II is often said to have been weak or sickly. This myth stems from remarks made by Gaston Maspero who said the mummified body of Tuthmosis II looked thin, shrunken and lacking in muscular power. However, virtually all mummies look like that.
- The out-dated heiress theory—that incestuous marriages took place within the royal family because the throne was inherited via the female line—has been refuted by abundant data to the contrary.
- The marriage of Tuthmosis I with Queen Ahmose, and that of Tuthmosis II with Hatshepsut, are often claimed to have strengthened or consolidated the legitimacy of both kings, because their wives were of 'pure' royal descent. In reality, the right to rule could never be transmitted by marriage or inherited through the female line. (see Hatshepsut's Path to the Throne: The Son of Re and The Royal Ka for more on ancient Egyptian kingship.)
Did Hatshepsut dress as a man and wear a fake beard?
Probably not. Popular media often sensationalise Hatshepsut as a cross-dresser, gender-bender or as the woman who donned a beard, but that's simply nonsense.
In her public statues and official images on temple walls, Hatshepsut is usually shown as male, wearing the (male) clothing of a king. To the ancient Egyptians (and other ancient peoples), a female ruler was a contradiction in terms, so any image meant to show a king necessarily had to be male.
Portrait of Amenhotep II showing the attachment of the royal false beard
A recent TV documentary claimed that Hatshepsut's mummy has been identified, based on a broken tooth. Is it really her?
I don't think so. The mummy in question, formally known as KV60A, and informally called the 'obese mummy', is definitely an Eighteenth Dynasty queen, but Hatshepsut was a king, not a queen, when she died. During the Eighteenth Dynasty, kings were mummified with both arms crossed over the chest; queens were mummified with the left arm crossed and the right arm straight at the side. Mummy KV60A has its arms in the queen's position—what the documentary unfortunately calls the 'royal position'. Hatshepsut's quartzite sarcophagus and matching canopic chest (which contained her internal organs), which were found in her tomb, are inscribed with her titles as a king, proving that she was buried as a king. Hatshepsut's real mummy should have both arms crossed. In addition, mummy KV60A doesn't look anything like Hatshepsut. Although the official representations of Egyptian kings were idealised, certain consistent features can give us an idea of a king's true appearance. Hatshepsut is always shown with a delicate, pointed chin. Mummy KV60A has a robust, square 'lantern' jaw.
Why did the ancient Egyptians engage in all those incestuous marriages? Didn't they ever notice that incestuous marriages produce deformed children?
In Pharaonic Egypt, incestuous marriages (brother/sister, father/daughter, grandfather/granddaughter) were the prerogative of the king alone. Incestuous unions amongst commoners were restricted to the Greek and Roman eras, as a way of circumventing Greek and Roman laws that made it difficult for women to inherit property.
At one time, Egyptologists thought that the right to rule Egypt was inherited through the female line, so a Pharaoh had to marry a sister or half-sister; this notion is called the 'heiress theory.' The heiress theory has been thoroughly discredited, but many books and websites still persist in claiming that a Pharaoh married his sister to 'consolidate' his claim to the throne. Hatshepsut's half-brother, Tuthmosis II, is often said to have married Hatshepsut to strengthen his claim to the throne because his mother was not royal. Statements like this expose a fundamental misunderstanding of the basis of Egyptian kingship.
Egyptian kings were considered to be gods by their people. Brother-sister marriage was the norm amongst the primeval gods Shu and Tefnut, Geb and Nut, and Osiris and Isis. All the children of an Egyptian king, no matter what the status of their mother, were considered to be children of a god. When a king married, the ideal partner for him and the optimal vessel for producing his heir was a woman who had also been sired by a god—his sister or half-sister, and occasionally his own daughter or granddaughter.
The ancient Egyptians didn't have a clue about the adverse genetic consequences of incestuous marriages. Admittedly, some royal offspring were odd-looking, but their exceptional appearance was considered a sign of divine parentage. Difficulties within the royal family with conception, miscarriages and birth defects were attributed to demons.