04 October 2007

How 'God's Wife Hatshepsut' became 'The Good Goddess Maatkare'

If you haven't read the previous post (Hatshepsut Cheek by Jowl with Judy Chicago), you might have a look at that first.

Or why she turns in her 'God's Wife' cartouche (left) for that of 'Goddess' (right)


[Thutmosis II] went up to heaven and was united with the gods. His son took his place as King of the Two Lands and he was the sovereign on the throne of his father. His sister, the God's Wife [of Amun] Hatshepsut, dealt with the affairs of the state: the Two Lands were under her government and taxes were paid to her.

And so begins Hatshepsut's regency as she takes over the tasks and prerogatives of ruling Egypt, as told by the high official Ineni (Overseer of the Royal Buildings, Overseer of the Granaries), who died before she mounted the throne in Year 7.

The first remarkable thing about his account (written, remember, by a courtier who lived through the recent events) is that the name of the new child-king is not even mentioned. The second thing is that Ineni does not list any of the queenly titles of
Hatshepsut (who is named) but calls her by her most important religious rank instead: God's Wife. God's Wife was top of the religious pyramid, bringing with it independent property and wealth. This may have been one of the ways that the queen-regent built up her own authority before she claimed the throne. It would not be the first time -- and far from the last -- that a woman parlayed her religious position into political power. In any event, Hatshepsut only relinquishes the privileges of God's Wife when she takes on the full titles of a king.

Her Great Steward (and possible lover) Senenmut left more early evidence cut into the rock at Aswan, where he had gone in order to lead the works ... on the two great obelisks of millions of years; that is, to supervise the quarrying of a pair of obelisks in the red and black speckled Aswan granite to be erected at the great Temple of Amun in Thebes. Senenmut stands in the pose of admiration before his royal mistress. She is portrayed in female dress, wearing the double plume crown of chief queens; in her right hand she holds the sceptre of the God's Wife of Amun.

The inscription reads in part:

hereditary princess, great of praise and charm, great of love, one to whom Ra has given the kingship, righteously in the opinion of the ... gods, king's daughter, king's sister, god's wife, great king's wife ... Hatshepsut, may she live.
The text in bold is an undoubted claim to kingship, but are his words rank flattery or a pointer to the future? It looks to me (but I could be wrong) that Senenmut, a great and beloved friend of Hatshepsut and her great confidant, is simply the first to know and had no hesitation in spreading the word.

Now, across the length of Egypt, a stela (left) from the Temple of Hathor near the ancient turquoise mines in Sinai, shows Hatshepsut standing before the goddess attended by two unnamed officials. She is still dressed as a queen ... but her two cartouches name her, first , as 'God's Wife Hatshepsut' and, second, as 'Maatkare' -- the throne name which she would have taken upon her coronation. Her new eminence is underlined by the added title, 'King of Upper and Lower Egypt".

It's seems a gradual thing and, as I said, she is feeling her way. She is clearly experimenting with alterations to her formal titulary as well as with different ways of depicting herself, as Peter Dorman explains in his on-line paper Hatshepsut: Wicked Stepmother or Joan of Arc (the source of much information on the early years of her co-regency*).

She next stakes her claims in the heart of Egypt, at Karnak itself, where a limestone block (left) from a dismantled shrine in the Temple of Amun shows her making a wine offering to the great god, a very kingly thing to do. The scene illustrates in large what we already glimpsed in small on the seal in the Brooklyn Museum: she is portrayed on both in female dress and also wearing the tall atef-crown of male kings. This block gives more detail: crucially, she is no longer named 'God's Wife', but 'King of Upper and Lower Egypt' and, newly, 'Mistress of the Two Lands, Maatkare'.

Now she's just a step away from becoming a fully-fledged male king, adopting male clothing and the false beard of the pharaoh (and note: it's just as false a beard when stuck on a male chin). Once again, Senenmut first signals the move. Just prior to her accession, he writes these words on his cenotaph at Gebel Sisila, north of Aswan:

Live, the king's firstborn daughter, Hatshepsut, may she live, beloved of Amun, lord of the thrones of the two lands, king of the gods.

Just as she's no longer 'God's Wife', she's no longer queen of Thutmosis II. Instead, she has become the direct heir and chosen successor to her father, Thutmosis I. This is Year 7.

Yes, other women had ruled Egypt before Hatshepsut and one of them at least -- Sobekneferu at the end of the 12th Dynasty-- had adopted some pharaonic paraphernalia and titles. All power to them! Sobekneferu, like Hatshepsut (left) was shown sitting on the throne, wearing the nemes headdress, the striped head-cloth with the uraeus, the rearing sacred cobra, on her brow. But never before had a woman taken on all the attributes of a pharaoh. Only Hatshepsut surpassed her female condition to both rule and reign.

The royal role requires her to dress in male attire, not because she is a man but because she is a king. Both perfect goddess and perfect god, she strides in full royal regalia (as on the right) while the pronouns and adjectives of the texts are in feminine form.

In short, she is not a woman who rules but a female king.

And this is why I say that she was the only true female Pharaoh of Egypt.

Which brings us to the destruction of her monuments. Why did Thutmosis III do it? Now that we have to rethink the vengeance of a slighted, usurped stepson, there remain basically two lines of argument.

The first is simply that she was a woman, which might have detracted from his own glory or even legitimacy. In a stronger version, he might have feared dynastic instability. Since Hatshepsut showed that a woman was as capable at governing Egypt as a male king, her success could persuade future generations of strong women that being wife, sister and mother of a king wasn't quite the same as being king yourself. So he may have done it to warn off other uppity women.

A second possibility is that he was engaged in personal propaganda, giving Hatshepsut a place below him, as queen regent rather than king. By eliminating the more obvious traces of her as pharaoh, he could claim all of her achievements as his. I rather like this idea, and wonder if we can't take it a little further. Thutmosis III had a very long (and brilliant) reign of 53 years -- a co-regency with Hatshepsut of 22 years and more than 30 years as sole pharaoh. Could it have been plain megalomania, such as comes even to 'gods' who live too long?

As many other things in Egyptian history, much is based on the assumptions we make. We've come a long way from my starting point, that his early statues look so much like hers that experts can hardly tell them apart. That doesn't make sense if he hated her. His destruction of her memory, towards the end of his reign, could have been a cold calculation, or, he wouldn't be the first-- and far from the last -- great dictator to have a master-of-the-universe kind of end.


* More information on Hatshepsut's early years can be found on Dr Karl H. Leser's webpages: see especially his critical discussions of her history, date of coronation, and death and persecution.

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