Hatshepsut (pronounced “Hat-Cheap-Suit”) was not the first woman to rule Egypt – there were female regents during the I, III and VI dynasties – but the length of her reign (c.1473–58 BC) was unprecedented. A daughter of Tuthmosis I, married to his successor Tuthmosis II, Hatshepsut was widowed before she could bear a son. Refusing relegation in favour of a secondary wife who had produced an heir, she made herself co-regent to the young Tuthmosis III and assumed absolute power seven years later.

To legitimize her position, she was depicted in masculine form, wearing a pharaoh’s kilt and beard; yet her authority ultimately depended on personal willpower and the devotion of her favourite courtier, Senenmut, who rose from humble birth to the stewardship of Amun’s estates.

Assisted by Senenmut and her father’s architect, Ineni, Hatshepsut commissioned numerous construction projects, from her own mortuary temple to the restoration of the Precinct of Mut at Karnak. Trade flourished during her reign, epitomized bya state-sponsored expedition to the Land of Punt (thought to be modern-day Somalia) which returned with myrrh trees, incense and several Puntites, who became part of her entourage at court.

When Tuthmosis III came into his inheritance after her death, he concealed her obelisks at Karnak and later defaced many of her cartouches on monuments, relegating her status to that of regent. This asserted an unbroken chain of succession through the male line, and removed the possibility that her reign might create a precedent. However, Egyptologists deride the notion that Tuthmosis harboured a grudge against his aunt, since he loyally served her as commander of the army, without attempting to use his position to stage a coup against her.

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