February 1 – Anniversary of Hatshepsut's Death

Posted on February 1, 2014

Hatshepsut, Foremost of Noble Ladies, Pharaoh of Upper and Lower Egypt, lived more than 3,500 years ago. So we are not sure of the exact date that she died in 1458 BCE.

But late January or early February is a pretty good guess.

Hatshepsut is considered one of the most successful pharaohs. She established trade networks that contributed to the wealth of Ancient Egypt. She is the first person known to have arranged the transplant of foreign trees. (Thirty-one live myrrh trees were brought at her request from the Land of Punt to Egypt.) Hatshepsut commissioned many building projects, and some argue that her monuments and buildings were grander and more numerous than those of any earlier pharaoh. Some people say that one reason for Egypt's prosperity during Hatshepsut's reign was that money was spent on increasing trade rather than on waging war.

I didn't realize until recently that women had relatively high status in Ancient Egypt. They had the right to own property, and they could will their property to their heirs as well as inherit property from their parents. Women pharaohs were rare, but there were a handful of other female pharaohs as well as some wives and mothers who, it is believed, ruled in their male relatives' names.

So Hatshepsut wasn't the one-and-only female pharaoh, but she was still an amazing woman!

Not everyone was a fan!

All Egyptian pharaohs bragged about their accomplishments and strengths on their monuments and buildings, and Hatshepsut was no different. She bragged less about her military victories than did most pharaohs and more about her beauty. But they all exaggerated their wonderful qualities.

Hatshepsut's cartouche
I wonder if that bragging is seen as more unpleasant in a woman than in a man. It's hard to know why, but somebody—Hatshepsut's nephew, maybe, or his son, perhaps—had many of the images and name cartouches of Hatshepsut erased, as much as he could, from the public record. In many cases that meant that her images and cartouches were literally chiseled off of the monuments!

One of my favorite books from my childhood paints Hatshepsut as a monster who spent way too much of Egypt's wealth on her own silly plans and imprisoned her nephew, the rightful ruler, years after he should've ruled. I grew up thinking that she was one of Ancient Egypt's worst rulers instead of one of her best. But that is not what historians say.

(By the way, I think everyone should read this wonderful novel. Just because it isn't true – I mean, novels AREN'T true, they are fiction! – doesn't mean it isn't a really fun read!)

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