Encyclopedia Womannica

Leaders: Hatshepsut

Episode Summary

Hatshepsut (c. 1507 BCE-c. 1458 BCE) was one of the few female pharaohs in Ancient Egypt, and one of its most successful pharaohs overall.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins and Edie Allard.

This week of Encyclopedia Womannica is brought to you by The Great Courses Plus. Go to thegreatcoursesplus.com/ENCYCLOPEDIA for a free month of unlimited access.

Follow Wonder Media Network:

Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan and this is Encyclopedia Womannica.

Today’s Leader was one of the few female Pharaohs in Ancient Egypt, and one of its most successful pharaohs overall. Ruling for over 20 years, she led Egypt through a period of prosperity, completed ambitious building projects, and increased trade with surrounding lands.  She is sometimes called “The First Great Woman of History.” Let’s talk about Hatshepsut.

Hatshepsut was born about 1507 BCE to the 18th-dynasty Egyptian king Thutmose I and his primary wife. Very little is known about her early childhood.

Around the age of 12, Hatshepsut was married to her half brother Thutmose II, who was a younger son of Hatshepsut’s father and his secondary wife. Thutmose II had three older brothers so he was not originally next in line for the throne, but each of his older brothers died before coming of age. 

As the oldest living son of Thutmose I, Thutmose II ascended to the throne around 1492 BCE. Hatshepsut became his primary wife and queen. She gave birth to a daughter, but never had a son to inherit the throne.

When Thutmose II died around 1479 BCE, his eldest son Thutmose III was named king. Thutmose III was the eldest son of a lower harem queen, and was only an infant when he took power. As such, Hatshepsut acted as regent for the baby. This was a fairly common arrangement at the time.

But by Thutmose III’s seventh year in power, Hatshepsut herself had been crowned king and given the full titles and regalia of a traditional Pharaoh. Technically she co-ruled with the young Thutmose III, but there was no question about who the primary ruler was. 

It’s unclear how Hatshepsut gained power and how she convinced the Egyptian elite to accept a female pharaoh. It’s generally thought that she spent years promoting loyal officials into major positions of power who in turn supported her bid for the throne. 

During Hatshepsut’s reign, Egypt enjoyed a period of peace with its neighbors. She went on a short, successful military campaign in Nubia when she first came to power. After that, her government’s foreign policy was almost entirely focused on trade. Scenes on the walls of Hatshepsut’s Dayr al-Baḥrī temple show trade expeditions and imports of valuables like gold, animal furs, ebony, and spices. 

As part of their duties, Egyptian Pharaohs were  expected to take on major building projects and restore the buildings of former pharaohs that had gone into disrepair. In this regard, Hatshepsut did not buck the norm. She took on a massive building program that included a temple to the god Amon-Re in Thebes, a full remodeling of her father’s hall and the addition of her own shrine at the great Karnak Temple complex, and a beautiful temple cut out of rock at Beni Hasan, among others.

Hatshepsut’s greatest building achievement of all was the Dayr al-Baḥrī temple. It was  meant to serve as a living memorial and temple that would continue to be used by her subjects after her death. For her actual burial spot, Hatshepsut added on to her father’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings so she could be buried next to him. 

As Hatshepsut got older, she gave her co-ruler Thutmose III more power and a larger role in state government. After Hatshepsut died around 1458 BCE, Thutmose III ruled alone for more than 30 years. 

During his rule, he tried to remove all traces of Hatshepsut. He removed statues of her and even wiped her name off the official list of Egyptian kings.  Modern scholars originally thought that this must have been an act of revenge, but it’s now believed that it probably had more to do with cleaning up the line of succession. It’s worth noting that other Pharaohs did similar things to their predecessors, including scrubbing building inscriptions and claiming the buildings as their own. 

Because of this campaign of erasure, Hatshepsut became essentially unknown to history until 1822 when the newfound ability to understand hieroglyphics finally allowed archaeologists and scholars to read the descriptions at her temple, and rediscover this incredible Pharaoh.

Tune in tomorrow for the story of another Leader.

This week of Encyclopedia Womannica is brought to you by The Great Courses Plus. To learn more about Hatshepsut, I highly recommend checking out The Great Courses Plus course called History of Ancient Egypt. You’ll learn more about the glamour period of ancient Egypt and about what was behind Hatshepsut getting erased from the record. If you’re listening to this show, I know you’re eager to learn and the Great Courses Plus streaming service makes it so easy. You get access to thousands of lectures presented by some of the world’s brightest minds. For a limited time, Encyclopedia Womannica listeners can get an entire month for FREE. Check it out now at The-Great-Courses –PLUS –dot -com –slash – ENCYCLOPEDIA. That’s thegreatcoursesplus.com/ENCYCLOPEDIA

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator.

Talk to you tomorrow!