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One of the most well-known female rulers of Ancient Egypt is Queen Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut was born circa 1508 B.C.E. in Thebes, Egypt to King Thutmose I and his principal wife and queen, Ahmose. She is most known because she was the longest reigning female ruler in Egypt, ruling for over 20 years, she was the fifth pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty during the period known as the New Kingdom (1570-1069 BCE). Hatshepsut has frequently been cited as the first woman leader of Egypt, however further research has shown there were women who reigned before her such as “Merneith (c. 3000 BCE) in the Early Dynastic Period (probably as regent) and Sobeknefru (c. 1807-1802 BCE) in the Middle Kingdom and Twosret (1191-1190 BCE) after her toward the end of the 19th Dynasty.” Nonetheless, her strong leadership, particularly in ambitious building projects, make her one of the most successful female rulers of Ancient Egypt.
As mentioned earlier, Hatshepsut was the child of King Thutmose I and principal wife Queen Ahmose, and was born circa 1508 B.C.E. Her father King Thutmose I died when Hatshepsut was 12 years old. Following the death of her father, Hatshepsut married her half-brother King Thutmose II where she subsequently assumed the role of queen and principal wife. Thutmose II, who inherited his father’s throne around 1492 B.C.E, had one daughter, Neferure, with Hatshepsut. However, Thutmose II died young, around 1479 B.C.E., and the throne went to his infant son.
After 15 years in power, King Thutmose II died, leaving Hatshepsut a widow before the age of 30. The only daughter, Neferure, was not to be the heir of the throne since Thutmose II had a male infant born to a secondary wife named Isis. The son, named Thutmose III, was far too young to assume the throne unaided. Therefore Hatshepsut acted as his regent, handling affairs of state. However, after less than seven years, however, “Hatshepsut took the unprecedented step of assuming the title and full powers of a pharaoh herself, becoming co-ruler of Egypt with Thutmose III.” Hatshepsut began having herself depicted in the traditional king’s kilt and crown, along with a fake beard and male body. It is argued that Hatshepsut’s successful transition from queen to pharaoh was, in part, due to her “ability to recruit influential supporters, and many of the men she chose had been favored officials of her father, Thutmose I.”
Hatshepsut’s rule as pharaoh has been highly praised by scholars. Hatshepsut was more interested in ensuring economic prosperity and building and restoring monuments throughout Egypt and Nubia than in conquering new lands. Some of her greatest achievements include the enormous memorial temple at Deir el-Bahri, considered one of the architectural wonders of ancient Egypt. Its ancient name was djeser-djeseru “the most sacred of sacred places,” with its three colonnaded terraces leading to a sanctuary. Another notable achievement of her reign was a trading expedition she authorized that “brought back vast riches—including ivory, ebony, gold, leopard skins and incense—to Egypt from a distant land known as Punt (possibly modern-day Eritrea).” Hatshepsut also created a project that erected a pair of red granite obelisks at the Temple of Amon at Karnak, one of which still stands today.
Hatshepsut died in early February of 1458 B.C.E, probably around her mid-forties. In recent years, scientists have speculated the cause of her death to be related to an ointment or salve used to alleviate a chronic genetic skin condition—a treatment that contained a toxic ingredient. She was buried in the Valley of the Kings, located in the hills behind Deir el-Bahri. Thutmose III, later in his reign, worked to eradicate Hatshepsut’s memory/legacy possibly to erase her example as a powerful female ruler, or to close the gap in the dynasty’s line of male succession. Thutmose III destroyed or defaced her monuments, erased many of her inscriptions and constructed a wall around her obelisks. Consequently, scholars knew very little of Hatshepsut’s existence and rule until around 1822 “when they were able to decode and read the hieroglyphics on the walls of Deir el-Bahri.” A team of archeologists discovered her mummy in 2007, and it is now housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
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