On a recent trip to Egypt I was lucky enough to learn about the life and legacy of an astonishing King. A courageous King. A strong King. A female King.
Queen Hatshepsut began her life of power very conventionally as the wife of King Thutmose II. When the King died, leaving Hatshepsut a widow before she was 30 years old, an heir was sought. However, Hatshepsut and Thutmose II only had a daughter, and the male heir, born to one of Thutmose III’s concubines, was an infant and too young to rule. So Hatshepsut dutifully stepped in to the role of Regent. The Queen initially fulfilled this role as many Queens before her had done – paying careful respect to traditional rules. But before long it became apparent that Hatshepsut was different from her predecessors, that she was special, that she wanted something more. Hatshepsut did not want to be a temporary Queen – she wanted to be King.
The Queen began performing acts normally carried out by a King, she worked hard to make allies of influential leaders, and began to construct temples and obelisks as symbols of power. But despite her strengths, religious beliefs said that a woman could not adequately perform the duties of a King and as such, Hatshepsut’s rise to power was at a standstill. Not one to give up, Hatshepsut demonstrated previously unseen levels of political skill, and was able to adopt the full regalia and title of Pharaoh. She ruled for a total of 21 years.
Under Hatshepsut’s role, Egypt prospered. She devoted her time to the country’s economic growth, she introduced a building program dedicated to the restoration of temples and monuments around Egypt, and through her sea voyages she established new trade routes with faraway lands. One of Hatshepsut’s most notable achievements was the building of two of the most impressive Obelisks in Egyptian history. These Obelisks, over 30 meters tall, were made of solid pieces of red granite, weighing over 300 tonnes. Despite Hatshepsut’s nephew’s attempts to erase her images from every monument she erected, the Obelisks could not be damaged and one of these Obelisks still stands today in Karnak temple.
Hatshepsut’s legacy is more than just a history lesson. It is a lesson in beating the odds, in thinking outside the box, and that sometimes, breaking tradition is necessary for things to evolve. In a world where it was unheard of for a woman to rule on her own merit, Hatshepsut demonstrated a remarkable sense of self, courage of conviction, and creative thinking. As Cornell University anthropologist Meredith Small said, “In ancient Egypt, just like today, you simply can’t keep a good woman down.”