What Made King Hatshepsut an Exceptional Female Pharaoh

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King Hatshepsut is one of the most contested pharaohs, her ascension to pharaoh is challenged. However, what classifies her reign as revolutionary and unorthodox is the art and monuments of her time. Hatshepsut defined all odds by completely immersing herself in the role and responsibilities of an Egyptian pharaoh. This essay will unpack how Hatshepsut’s art and monuments incorporate traditional aspects and are creative. The essay will also look at Hatshepsut’s influences and how she defines gender norms.

Hatshepsut starts acting in the title of co- regent along with Thutmose III, even though she is not queens’ mother. She governs through the title of ‘god’s wife of Amun’. Hatshepsut’s ascension to kingship is highly debated considering in year 7 she takes on the name of pharaoh and begins wearing the king crown which is exclusively reserved for kings, she also begins wearing the kilt and transforming herself visually into a male king.

There are unanswered questions as to why Hatshepsut’s art and monuments are undoubtably antithetic in comparison to the art and monument of previous female kings. What sets Hatshepsut apart from her predecessors is how Hatshepsut chooses to represent herself as king in her reliefs. She defined odds in many ways by revolutionizing her image. Some of these artistic differences are how she is drawn ‘striding forward and reaching out’ (Roth,2005:9). It is uncommon for females to be drawn in such posture especially during this time period. It is eminently different in comparison to the way queens were traditionally depicted. Often in drawings of queens, the women would be drawn in tight fitted dress, seated with their arms and legs together (Roth,2005:9)

Now that there is a clear explanation of the differences in Hatshepsut’s art it is important to know why she chose to represent herself this way perhaps it is because ‘Hatshepsut was conforming to conventions of royal representation’ (Roth,2005). She assumed the role of King and with this role came great responsibility, becoming king meant that she was the sole communicator with the gods and there were certain rituals that needed to be maintained. Not only was she expected to participate in religious festivals and rituals and maintain a cosmic balance but the way she is represented in reliefs was meaningful. There is power in imagery and she expressed her authority in such a form to not be underestimated or have her powers and capabilities doubted. By not fully committing to what it meant to be king than perhaps the connection between the king and the gods would be lost.

Beyond the fact that Hatshepsut’s art and monuments were revolutionary she also innovative in ensuring that here femininity was made clear. She was female and that was a large part of her identity, she had to find a way to incorporate that into her kingship. In her reliefs she would appear male however a hieroglyphic label would be placed adjacent to her relief to indicate that she was indeed female (Roth,2005:9). One thing to note is that even though she was depicted as masculine and, in some reliefs, impossible to tell her apart from her co-regent Thutmose III, she was never ashamed of her femininity. She retains delicate facial features because evidently, she is still female. Her femininity was never hidden from the public. Hatshepsut perhaps wanted to express her authority and legitimize it in the best possible form, hence her iconography. But in doing that she didn’t want to suppress the fact that she was female.

Despite the form Hatshepsut took in her art, this form was not something new in Ancient Egyptian artistry. Elements of androgyny had been present especially in the portrayal of many Egyptian fertility gods; they were usually characterised by taking on an androgynous form. These gods took on masculine and feminine characteristics and without a doubt Hatshepsut incorporated the same elements. Besides fertility gods taking on androgynous forms, Hatshepsut was also influenced by other queens from different dynasties.

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Looking back at other Egyptian queens, Hatshepsut was not the first to masculinize herself. Queen Ahmose Nefertary, was depicted in the ‘donation stela’ with an elongated stride (Labooury, 2011:86). It seemed that the queens of the 18th dynasty were more comfortable interchanging between male and female representation and altering their imagery. Not only did this happen in the 18th dynasty but it also transpired in the 12th dynasty under the rule of Sobekkara Neferusobek as she had a combination ‘of female dress with that of a male king’ (Roth:2005,12). Both Sobekkara Neferusobek and Hatshepsut legitimized their power by associating themselves with the reign of their fathers (Laboury, 2011: 86). Religiously justifying her unorthodox rise to king, she says she was divinely conceived by Amun himself who came in the form of Thutmoses 2nd (father). She tries to fulfil all roles, religious roles, political role

What sets Hatshepsut apart from Queen Ahmose Nefetary is that she fully took on the male image. Hatshepsut was co-regent to her nephew Thutmose III, in some relief’s images of her and Thutmose III, both rulers would be depicted exactly the same, like they were twin brothers. The only differentiation between the two was their position in the image. (Laboury,2011:51). However, for the depiction of significant scenes such as the coronation of Hatshepsut, Thutmose III was purposefully left out for political reasons. (Laboury, 2011:52). It was important that Hatshepsut separated herself from Thutmose III because it showed that she had the upper hand and reinforced her legitimacy. Not only was her artwork revolutionary but so was her monuments.

The monuments that Hatshepsut built also contribute to the ways in which she was a revolutionist. Her mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri in Western Thebes. The placement of the temple is significant because it connects Hatshepsut to previous kings (Dorman,2005:88). Another pharaoh whose mortuary temple is at Deir el-Bahri is a 12th dynasty king, Mentuhotep II. Having her temple next to his not only connects Hatshepsut to previous king but it also legitimizes her authority and elevates her strata.

Other than that, there are other features of her temple that constitute her kingship. Hatshepsut also used her monuments to tell her story. She was clever in that when it came to a representation of her childhood in reliefs, she ensured that the reliefs showed her divine association to the gods from birth. In a relief in Karnak, it shows her connection to the gods. (Dorman,2005:88). Even after her death her temple becomes setting for various festival.

Hatshepsut however, was not always depicted in such form. The image of Hatshepsut evolves over time, from purely female to a masculine one (Laboury,2014:50). One of the reasons the imagery evolves is due to the fact that her position evolves. At first Hatshepsut tries to combine feminine dressing with male posture, with attention to the Temple of Buhen in Nubia where the iconography shows Hatshepsut in the traditional tight gown worn by queens however, she has a ‘striding stance of a male’ (Dorman, 88). She then goes on to completely change her image by re-carving many of her reliefs where she is depicted as a queen. (Dorman,2014). For her it was a fundamental change.

By being unorthodox Hatshepsut’s breaks the conventional gender norms. Prior to her reign women were represented in a certain manner and men in another but with Hatshepsut she combined the two and, in many cases, took on a whole new gender. Her ‘global iconographical metamorphosis’ (Laboury,2014), she becomes an icon in overthrowing societal expectations of men and women and challenging what society deems acceptable for each gender. She continues to break gender norms by ‘monopolize the entire imagery of kingship’ (Laboury,2011:88).

She chooses to dominate and attain absolute power by taking on such challenges. On the contrary to her breaking gender norms there were some things that she could not infiltrate such as the five names that the kings had. Looking at the names that she used, all four of her king names are traditional but what sets them apart is they have female participles (Robins,1999:104). Hatshepsut still needed to have names that were suitable for females.

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