The pharaoh that wouldn’t be forgotten – Kate Green


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, an 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 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 thrown, 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 onto 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.

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