Egypt: Tour Egypt Monthly: The Queens Of Egypt

Feature Article


Part One of Three

By Dr. Sameh Arab

    Cleopatra VII
    Shagaret el-Dorr


Though the tradition in ancient Egypt was to honor women and give them legal rights and a remarkable margin of freedom far more than any other contemporaneous civilization, their role in kingship was limited to passing the throne to the next king, not inherit it themselves. The pharaoh was the son of Ra the sun god - harboring the divine royal blood of Horus. This royal blood was inherited to his successor, only through the eldest princess. In order to be eligible to the throne, the eldest son had to marry his sister, the eldest daughter of the deceased pharaoh.

If the deceased pharaoh had no living son, an illegitimate son from a secondary wife, another prince from the royal house, or even an usurper, had to marry the eldest daughter to obtain legitimacy. In all conditions but a few, the forthcoming pharaoh would be a male. The first non-royal to obtain kingship through such a marriage was "Snefru" who married "Hetep-Heres I", the daughter of "Huni", and thus started the 4th dynasty in 2625 BC. Another example was the army general "Horemheb" who has ended the chaos at the end of the Amarna period during the 18th dynasty through a military coup. In order to ascend the throne, he married "Mut-Negemt", the only remaining princess of Ahmoses House.

Few queens in history were able to exercise the authority of a pharaoh through regency, when the legal heirs (their sons) were too young to reign. The first known was Queen "Ni-Maat-Heb", who was the regent for her son "Djoser" (Zoser) during the 3rd dynasty. During the 6th dynasty, "Ankh-Meri-Ra" became regent to "Pepi II" after the death of her husband "Pepi I". In the New Kingdom, Queen "Ahmose-Nefertary" (wife of "Ahmose I") was a regent to her son "Amen-Hotep I" during the 18th dynasty.

Theoretically, there was nothing against women becoming pharaohs, since the creator gods themselves were described as having both male and female attributes. However, practically, this was not the case.

Some other queens sat on the throne as pharaohs, the first being "Khent-Kaues", daughter of "Menkau-Ra" during the 4th dynasty. She married her brother "Shepses-Kaf" who succeeded his father to the throne. After his death, Khent-Kaues became the first ruling queen in Egypt. On her tomb, she wrote "Queen of Upper and Lower Egypt. The mother queen and the daughter of the god". She married one of the Ra priests, but he never became king, and the throne was passed to her three sons who formed the 5th dynasty. Khent-Kaues claimed that she has conceived her sons from the god Ra himself, then came Hatshepsut more than 1000 years later to make the same claim.

The same condition happened with "Nitocris", daughter of "Pepi II" in the 6th dynasty, who became queen, while her husband "Meren-Ra II" was not the pharaoh, at least for some time. Nitocris was only mentioned in the Turin Canon, but not in the Abydos Kings List.

During the Middle Kingdom, "Sebek-Nefru" became co-regent with her father "Amnemhat III", then her brother "Amnemhat IV". Afterwards, she was able to seclude herself with the throne. Again, she was never mentioned in any Kings List.

After the death of "Seti II" (19th dynasty), his wife "Tausert" became co-regent to his son "Ramses-Si-Ptah" (later "Merne-Ptah-Si-Ptah"). After his death Tausert ruled alone for 2 years.

The last queen to sit on the throne of Egypt was the famous "Cleopatra VII" (51 30 BC) during the Ptolemaic Dynasty. She has born many resemblances to Hatshepsut



Cleopatra and Her Son, Caesarion

The death of Cleopatra VII hallmarked the start of the Roman reign of Egypt (30 BC - AD 642), when Egypt was conquered by the Romans. During both reigns, Egypt became a province, not an independent state. With the decline of the Abbasid Caliphate, a central government started to reform in Egypt in AD 868 by the Tulunids, Ikhshids, Fatimids and Ayubids until AD 1250, when the Mamlouk dynasty started. Their reign lasted until AD 1517, when Egypt was invaded by the Ottomans and became part of its empire.

During the Mamlouk dynasty, another queen "Shagaret el-Dorr" - succeeded to ascend the throne in 1250 in the middle of the war with the Crusades. She remained to reign secretly on behalf of her sick husband (Sultan EL-Saleh Ayoub) until his death in 1249, and then handled the throne to the legitimate heir Toran Shah, 3 months after her husbands death, which she kept secret. After few months of struggle, she conspired to kill the new sultan, and reigned officially as the only queen ever known in Islamic history. She did not enjoy the throne much, since within 6 months, a message came from the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad and asked, mockingly, if Egypt had become void of men; if so he can send one. Shagret el-Dorr had then to marry one of her generals, Ez el-Din Aybac, who replaced her as the Sultan of Egypt. Conspiracies within the citadel did not come to an end, when she assassinated her husband. In return, his loyal men killed her too, to end the short reign of the last queen to sit on the Egyptian throne, and maybe the most mysterious one.


(MAAT-KA-RA - Truth is the genius of the Sun God)

1473-1458 B.C.


One Pharaoh who has astounded Egyptologists was "Hatshepsut". Her personality has raised so many debates among different scholars, some sympathizing with her, while others considered her nothing but a throne usurper. Such perplexities have arisen chiefly due to the fierce defacement and destruction that her monuments were subjected to by her successors. Moreover, all Kings Lists (as that of "Seti I" in Abydos, and "Ramses II" at the Ramesseum Temple in Thebes) have deliberately bypassed her name. In addition, the scripts at the tombs of the 20th dynasty priests that included all the 18th dynasty royal family - including princes who died young have made no mention of her.

Hatshepsut was one of the few queens who have ever sat on the throne of Egypt. Actually she was the only one to be enthroned as a "king" not a "queen", bearing all the divine names of a king, except "The Strong Bull".

The peculiar status of Hatshepsut was not of being the pharaoh, since others have borne that title. However, the reign of all those queens was so short (except Cleopatra) and came during certain political instabilities. Their reigns have fallen at or near the end of regal periods, as the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom or Hellenic Period. In addition, none has ever been crowned so publicly, and given the five names of a pharaoh, not to mention being considered a king rather than queen. Hatshepsut has worn male attire and a beard, and acted completely as a male. A final difference lies in the insignificant role in history and achievements of the others. The only exception was Cleopatra.

As all succeeding pharaohs, starting with "Thotmose III", have considered her a usurper, her name was defaced from most of her monuments, and many reliefs were smashed, obliterated or defaced. The ignoring of her name in all Kings Lists has made her unremembered for a long period, and constituted some later difficulties for historians. The first mention of her name came by Manetho in 250 BC, who discovered her name mentioned in the secret documents of the temples. However, he mis-named her and mixed her with "Ahmose-Nefertary", her great grandmother and wife of "Ahmose I". With the later closure of temples during the Roman Empire, Hatshepsut was forgotten once again, to be remembered only during the 19th century AD, with the study of her temple at el-Deir el-Bahary.

The Royal Family

During the early part of the 18th dynasty (the Thotmosid period), the royal house of "Ahmose I" has faced some disasters over three generations. Several male heirs died at young age, with only the females living in good health.

The first premature death came was for the two sons of "Amen-Hotep I". His daughter princess "Ahmose" married her half brother "Thotmose I" (son of a secondary wife "Senseneb"). Some historians believe that "Thotmose I" was not even an illegitimate son of "Amen-Hotep I", but a general in his army, and hence bore no royal blood. His name has never appeared in any inscription of his assumed father.

All sons of "Thutomse I" and "Ahmose" died young (5 legitimate sons from "Ahmose", and 2 illegitimate), as well as a daughter. At his death, only one daughter was left who was "Hatshepsut". She was thus the only one to have the royal Ra blood, from her mothers side. She married another illegitimate prince (son of "Thotmose I" from his own daughter "Mut-Nefert"). Through this marriage, that prince ascended the throne with the name of "Thotmose II".

The same problem occurred again, as Hatshepsut had born only two daughters: "Nefru-Ra" and "Merit-Ra-Hatshepsut". The former married her half brother (son of a secondary wife "Isis"), who thus became legal to the throne under the name "Thotmose III".

It is worth mention that the name "Thotmose" means "Born by Thot" (the god Djehuty). In other words, they were not descendants of the royal line of Amon-Ra, but from that of Thot. This reflects their illegitimate births, and had contributed to some extent in Hatshepsuts later claims.

Hatshepsuts Steps Towards The Throne

With the death of all his sons, "Thotmose I" had no heir but his illegitimate son "Thotmose II". He could not be assigned co-regency with his father due to his young age. No one was left having royal blood except Hatshepsut. She then became her fathers co-regent, and her name "Maat-Ka-Ra" or "Daughter of Ra" was depicted along with his. However, no evidence has been found to such status except her own alleges.

Before "Thotmose I" died, Hatshepsut (aged 15) married her half brother "Thotmose II" (aged 12), who was also physically and mentally disabled. He could not lead his first regal year campaign to Nubia, but led another to Asia on his 3rd year, while Hatshepsut remained in the royal palace. In the meanwhile, she had full control of the state affairs, and was gaining much power and influence among the priests.

The reign of "Thotmose II" was so short (only 4 years). Shortly after his death, his illegitimate son "Thotmose III", married his half sister "Nefru-Ra" (Hatshepsuts daughter). Again, since he was too young for kingship, Hatshepsut became a co-regent. Though announced as king, he remained in the temple among the clergy, and his co-regency was only symbolic.

During their joint reign, early scenes on the monuments showed Hatshepsut following "Thotmose III". During the first and second years, two temples were built at Semna (in Nubia), as memorials of the late king "Snosert III" (12th dynasty). "Thotmose III" was shown as king, while Hatshepsuts name came second. She was shown wearing womens clothes and a queens crown. The title depicted was "The Great Royal Wife" and "The Gods Wife of Amon". At Qemna (70 Km south of the 2nd cataract), "Thutmose III" was also mentioned as the king building the memorial of the god "Khnum", whereas Hatshepsut was also shown in womens clothes. In a temple dedicated to Horus at Bohen, and another for Horus and Seth at Abu-Simbel, she was still wearing the same.

During the 2nd year, Hatshepsut transferred her post as "Gods Wife of Amon" to her daughter Nefru-Ra, who was given some royal authorities. At Karnak, she was still shown in womens clothes and crown, but for the first time exercising the rituals of a pharaoh and titled "King of Upper and Lower Egypt". There, she mentioned that it was Amon who has chosen her to be crowned. Since then, all monuments built until the 7th year referred to her as "king", with many confusing feminine titles. It became more of a joint-pharaohship than co-regency.

At the 7th regal year, Hatshepsut was officially crowned. She acquired the posts of both king and queen in a peculiar fashion. The epithets added to her names were grammatically feminine (The She-Horus of Fine Gold), an amalgam with silver, a metal more precious than gold. She was styled "The Platinum Goddess". By the onset of the 8th year she retained only the male title, and was never shown in female clothes again except in very small private tombs and minor altars that the people were never allowed to access.

Hatshepsut carried five royal names, three of which were never granted to any other queen, neither before or afterwards. These were the "Horus Name", "Golden Horus Name" and the "Two Ladies" (Upper and Lower Egypt). The name of "King of Upper and Lower Egypt," was used by other queens. "Son of Ra Known as Hatshepsut" or "Maat-Ka-Ra" (Truth is the genius of the Sun God), was bestowed upon her by Amon himself. Some princesses of the 17th dynasty have previously been named so. Both "Maat-Ka-Ra" and "Hatshepsut" were depicted inside a cartouche.

Hatshepsuts forgery

Knowing that she is a usurper, Hatshepsut forged much evidence to justify her legitimacy to the throne. The first of which might have been her alleged claim of a true co-regency with her father Thotmose I.

In the 8th pylon of el-Karnak Temple and on the 11th northern column, "Thotmose I" was depicted expressing his gratitude to Amon for giving kingship to him and his daughter. Meticulous study of the writings showed that they superimposed over a prior, skillfully defaced, text. The very same text was later subjected to three further defacements. After her death, "Thotmose III" replaced her name by that of "Thutmose II", then came "Akhen-Aton" 75 years later to deface Amons name. In the 19th dynasty, more defacement was done by "Seti I" to this particular text. Moreover, during the reign of "Thotmose II", he has presented funerary rituals and a statue to the memory of his father. This would be unexplainable if he was denied inheritance.

"Tuthmose I", her father on earth, was prominent in many of her inscriptions, far more than was necessary. She even has transferred his sarcophagus into her tomb. In contrast, she never mentioned her husband "Tuthmose II" in any inscription, and his sarcophagus was left at the Valley of the Kings.

The second forgery is evident in a deserted temple 2 Km south of Beni Hassan (now el-Minia), that Hatshepsut has built sometime between her 10th-17th regal years. A small temple was curved in the rocks dedicated to the cat-headed goddess "Pakhet". The temple is known by its Greek name "Speos Artemidos" (The Grotto of Artemis) and the Arab name "Istabl Antar" (Antars stable). This consists of a vestibule and a narrow passage leading to a sanctuary. In the original design, she made no mention of "Thotmose III", but later, he and "Seti I" added their names and defaced her name.

The faade of the temple was placed so high on the cliffs to avoid any manipulations. There, Hatshepsut made a long dedication recording the annals of her supremacy forever.

In this text, in extreme boasting, she announced the theme of her reign, which is no less than a complete rebuilding of the land of Egypt. She described herself as the one predestined by an oracle of Amon since the moment of creation to restore the ritual purity of the temples. Hatshepsut was not only trying to attribute herself to the resurrection of Osiris or justifying her fraud, but also ascribing the expulsion of the Hyksos to herself. In such shameful reference, she was also usurping a 70 years earlier achievement by "Ahmose I". On that faade, she inscribed:

I raised up what was dismembered,

even from the time when the Asiatic were in the midst of (the Delta),

overthrowing what had been created. They ruled in ignorance of Ra, the sun god,

and acted not by divine command,

until my august person.

The most flagrant forgery was the legend of her birth depicted at the "Birth Colonnade" in "el-Deir el-Bahary Temple". Hatshepsut claimed to be the physical (not spiritual) daughter of the creator god Amon. A previous mention of such fraud was made by "Khent-Kaues", daughter of "Menkau-Ra" at the end of the 4th dynasty. "Khent-Kaues" married a Ra priest with no royal blood, and to justify kingship for her sons, she claimed that she was conceived by the god Ra himself, who impersonated their father, both physically and spiritually. More than 10 centuries later, Hatshepsut came to make the same claim.

The legend started by Amons desire to create his living image on earth. He announced to the gods of the divine council, his wish to bear a child to rule Egypt, saying:

"There has been many a Pharaoh in the Land of Khem, in the Double Land of Egypt, and some of them have been great and have pleased me well. Khufu and Khaf-Ra and Menkau-Ra long ago who raised the great pyramids of Giza. Amon-Hotep and Thotmose of today who have caused the peoples of the world to bow down at my feet. Now is the dawning of the golden age in Egypt, and it comes into my mind to create a great queen to rule over Khem. Yes, I will unite the Two Lands in peace for her, I will give her rule over the whole world, over Syria and Nubia besides Egypt. Yes, even to the far-distant land of Punt."

Thoth (Djehuty) suggested Queen "Ahmose", the wife of "Thotmose II" to bear that child:

"Ahmose is her name, and none in all the world is fairer than she nor more beautiful in all her limbs. She is the new bride of the good god pharaoh Thotmose, who has now returned to Thebes after his conquests beyond the Great Green Sea in the lands of the Syrians and the Apiro. She alone can be the mother of the great queen whom you are about to create as ruler of the Two Lands."

Amon was escorted by Thoth to the royal palace at Thebes. Amons Ka (spirit) and Ba (soul) replaced those of "Thotmose" in his physical body impersonating him. As Amon entered the sleeping queens chamber, light shone from him and a scent that both awakened the queen. He seated himself upon her couch and breathed into her nostrils the breath of life, saying:

"Rejoice, most fortunate of women, for you shall bear a daughter who shall be the child of Amon-Ra, who shall reign over the Two Lands of Egypt and be sovereign of the whole world."

The monument in the temple shows their bodies interlocked, the god offering her the "ankh" to breath life, and throwing some rituals on her foot. "Neith", the goddess of life, and "Serket" the protectoress of the living were holding the god and queens feet. Amon then summoned to "Khunm", his representative and the fashioner, to create a body with two Kaut (pleural Ka) of a male, but given female names.

"Mould clay upon your wheel, potter who forms the bodies of mankind, and make my daughter Hatshepsut." At the time of labor, the midwife toad "Heqet" (goddess of birth) and "Khnum" led the queen to the delivery chamber, who was shown pregnant in the reliefs. Amon attended the labor, escorted by numerous gods, including the dwarf "Bes" (protector of childbirth) and the hippopotamus "Tauret" (patroness of pregnant women). Twelve giants (representing years) were also depicted.

After delivery, "Hathor" (the cow goddess of love) offered the baby to Amon, and announced "her" as the "King" of Egypt. The queen was then shown in her bed with a maid combing her hair. In the front of the scene, the celestial cows are shown nursing the baby and its Ka, and feeding them the divine milk. On the right side, giants were shown nursing 12 other babies, all together forming the 14 kaut of the future king. Amon-Ra and Horus poured waters of purification upon her head, blessed her, gave her kingship, and decided the length of her life. "Anubis" the god of dead, and "Seshat" the goddess of scribes recorded that period, which was defaced in the monument.

The temple of Hathor annexed to the Mortuary Temple of el-Deir el-Bahary shows the childhood of Hatshepsut. Hathor is shown as a cow carrying and kissing her, with "Apis" the Bull god following them. She is also shown sitting as a young boy on Amons knees, while presenting her to all gods. The royal cobra is seen on her head.

The young princess is then seen in her youth visiting all major temples with her human father, and hailed as the great future "king". Not all temples were mentioned, but the text stresses upon her visit to "Atum" in Heliopolis, "Hathor" in Thebes and "Khnum" at Elephantine.

Hatshepsut reigned alone for 22 years, during which the Egyptian economy flourished. Her reign was peaceful, with no military activities except possibly a minor campaign in Nubia. Much activity was dedicated to trading relationships and the construction of artistic architectural masterpieces, particularly her mortuary temple at el-Deir el-Bahary, as well as restoring many others.