Hatshepsut was an ancient Egyptian female pharaoh who reigned from 1473 to 1458 BCE. Her reign was successful and prosperous, as it was one that saw increased trade, military victories, and a flourishing in architecture. Her time as pharaoh has led to her being referred to as the “first great woman in history”. Hatshepsut is arguably deserving of this title as she was able to increase and consolidate her power in a heavily patriarchal system.
Hatshepsut’s reign began with the death of her husband, Thutmose II. Traditionally, the pharaoh lineage was patriarchal, in that Hatshepsut’s stepson, Thutmose III, should have been pharaoh. However, due to Thutmose III only being a child and thus too young to rule, Hatshepsut became regent to Thutmose III and ruled in his stead. For reasons unknown, Hatshepsut consolidated her power and became pharaoh, upsetting the patriarchal system. In order to assert her authority in a deeply patriarchal system, Hatshepsut adopted the male symbols of pharaohs. Contemporary images depict Hatshepsut wearing the king’s kilt and a beard. Furthermore, Hatshepsut referred to herself in masculine form, using the more masculine Hatshepsu.
Her reign was stable and prosperous, due in part to a circle of trusted and adept political advisors. One of these advisors was Senenmut, argued to have been instrumental in Hatshepsut’s transition from regent to pharaoh. One of her most notable achievements include commissioning a trading voyage to the land of Punt, where ships returned with gold, myrrh, and other fine goods. Not only did Egypt prosper economically, it also advancedin military terms. At the beginning of her reign, Hatshepsut led a successful campaign against the Nubians, claiming that she fought alongside her soldiers.
Significantly, Hatshepsut managed to maintain and consolidate her authority throughout her rule. Her doubters were concerned with upsetting maat, the presence of order and truth, as having a female pharaoh disrupted the male lineage. In order to secure her right to rule, Hatshepsut adopted the name Maatkare, literally translated to ‘truth is the soul of the Sun God’. She further established this image by constructing magnificent monuments to the gods, including temples and obelisks. The most notable of these is Djeru-Djeseru, a temple that is often deemed as the most outstanding example of ancient Egyptian architecture.
Hatshepsut was certainly “the first great woman in history” as she was able to consolidate her power by using patriarchal symbols to her own advantage. Although her images and monuments were desecrated by her enemies, her legacy still remains today as an example of female endurance in the face of adversaries.