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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

She ruled Egypt long before Cleopatra, and there's a reason you haven't heard of her.

The pharaohs of ancient Egypt were men. And then there was her.

Her name was Hatshepsut.

She was the first woman to become a pharaoh.

As Kate Narev of TED-Ed explains in the video at the end of this post, other women had ruled as powerful queens, but she was the first to actually be the pharaoh.
But 20 years after she died, someone tried to erase her from history. Statues of her were smashed, and they removed her name wherever they could find it.

Here's what probably happened.

Hatshepsut had became pharaoh in a roundabout way. When the pharaoh Thutmose II died, his son, Thutmose III, was only a kid. Hatshepsut, the dead king's primary wife, became his regent.

Over time — and remember, Thutmose III was still too young to say much about it — she became more and more powerful until she was officially made pharaoh.

But a female pharaoh freaked people out.

It's likely because Hatshepsut's rise to the throne was a challenge to the traditional idea of maat, or universal harmony. And to some, "universal harmony" meant only men could ever be pharaohs. They also worried her success might encourage other women to seek power.

So Hatshepsut tried to be, um, more manly.

She was often shown as having a beard.

Hatshepsut also tried to show she was no threat to maat by taking the name "Maatkare." And she changed the ending of her original name to the masculine "su." It didn't work.

So, how'd she do as pharaoh?

Everything we know about Hatshepsut's 25-year rule was written by — or painted or carved for — the pharaoh herself, so it's hard to know for sure. But experts believe she had a successful, peaceful reign, even if some folks' sense of shattered maat never quite settled down.

And that's probably why someone tried to erase her from history 20 years later.

The most likely theory is that Thutmose III, still dealing with the blowback caused by having a female pharaoh, decided to make it seem as if the whole thing had never happened at all.
But it's not so easy to hide the memory of someone immortalized in stone. There were enough traces left of Hatshepsut to figure out who, and what, she was when modern archaeologists began coming across the ancient clues.

Hatshepsut's temple is now a popular spot for tourists.

This video tells the whole fascinating story:
View transcript
Narrator: Three and a half thousand years ago in Egypt, a noble pharaoh was the victim of a violent attack. But the attack was not physical. This royal had been dead for 20 years. The attack was historical and act of Damnatio Memoriae (the damnation of memory). Somebody smashed the pharaoh's statues, took a chisel and attempted to erase the pharaoh's name and image from history.
Who was this pharaoh and what was behind the attack? Here's the key. The pharaoh Hatshepsut was a woman. In the normal course of things, she should never have been pharaoh. Although it was legal for a woman to be a monarch, it disturbed some essential Egyptian beliefs. Firstly, the pharaoh was known as the living embodiment of the the male god Horus. Secondly, disturbance to the tradition of rule by men was a serious challenge to "Maat," a word for truth expressing a belief in order and justice, vital to the Egyptians.
Hatshepsut had perhaps tried to adapt to this belief in the link between order and patriarchy through her titles. She took the name Maatkare and sometimes referred to herself as Hatshepsu, with a masculine word ending. But apparently, these efforts didn't convince everyone. And perhaps someone erased Hatshepsut's image so that the world would forget the disturbance to Maat and Egypt could be balanced again.
Hatshepsut, moreover, was not the legitimate heir to the throne, but a regent, a kind of stand-in co-monarch. The Egyptian kingship traditionally passed from father to son. It passed from Thutmose I to his son Thutmose II, Hatshepsut's husband. It should have passed from Thutmose II directly to his son, Thutmose III. But Thutmose III was a little boy when his father died. Hatshepsut, the dead pharaoh's chief wife and widow, stepped in to help as her stepson's regent, but ended up ruling beside him as a fully fledged pharaoh. Perhaps Thutmose III was angry about this. Perhaps he was the one who erased her images. It's also possible that someone wanted to dishonor Hatshepsut because she was a bad pharaoh.
But the evidence suggests she was actually pretty good. She competently fulfilled the traditional roles of the office. She was a great builder. Her mortuary temple Djeser-Djeseru was an architectural phenomenon at the time and is still admired today. She enhanced the economy of Egypt, conducting a very successful trade mission to the distant land of Punt. She had strong religious connections. She even claimed to be the daughter of the state god, Amun. And she had a successful military career, with a Nubian campaign and claims she fought alongside her soldiers in battle.
Of course, we have to be careful when we assess the success of Hatshepsut's career, since most of the evidence was written by Hatshepsut herself. She tells her own story in pictures and writing on the walls of her mortuary temple and the red chapel she built for Amun.
So, who committed the crimes against Hatshepsut's memory? The most popular suspect is her stepson, nephew and, co-ruler Thutmose III. Did he do it out of anger because she stole his throne? This is unlikely since the damage wasn't done until 20 years after Hatshepsut died. That's a long time to hang on to anger and then act in a rage. Maybe Thutmose III did it to make his own reign look stronger. But it is most likely that he or someone else erased the images so that people would forget that a woman ever sat on Egypt's throne.
This gender anomaly was simply too much of a threat to Maat and had to be obliterated from history. Happily, the ancient censors were not quite thorough enough. Enough evidence survived for us to piece together what happened. So the story of this unique, powerful woman can now be told.
Lesson by Kate Narev
Narration by Addison Anderson
Animation by Steff Lee www.stefflee.co.uk
View full lesson on ed.ted.com
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There may be small errors in this transcript.
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