Life of Privilege

This is part 2 of Hatshepsut: King of Pharaohs. Part 1 is available if you missed it

The world of Egyptian royalty that Hatshepsut was born into was one of the elite and privileged man has ever known. Never before and rarely since has any group of people wielded such all-encompassing power. The lifestyle they created for themselves was one of spectacular grandeur. Life at that time was very luxurious and very comfortable, even by modern terms. They didn’t have the gadgetry we think is necessary for success, but the food was good compared to that of the peasants, the beautiful accommodations, beautiful clothing, beautiful jewelry were things peasants could never obtain.

Humility and self-sacrifice didn’t seem part of the Pharaoh’s makeup. In earlier dynasties, they had built massive pyramids as monuments to themselves. In Hatshepsut’s time, they worked on erecting gigantic temples meant to honor their Gods. They, of course, dedicated vast parts of these buildings to their own memory. Egyptian Pharaohs were great at self-aggrandizement, they were great at propaganda, and they didn’t think of it that way. History was something you wrote to suit your own purposes.

Egyptian royalty

It seems they spared no expense when it came to their own well-being. Everyday items found in their palaces were often encrusted with precious stones. At burial, their coffins were sometimes made of gold. Some Pharaohs even went so far as to claim status as Gods themselves. What is even more remarkable about this is the fact that so many of the people were willing to believe them. The Pharaoh’s power was so all-encompassing that it never occurred to most of the common people to doubt the ruler.

As daughter of a Pharaoh herself, Hatshepsut was an important part of this world from birth. Power and privilege surrounded her every move and she was able to observe from a special position the workings of the pharaonic court. She couldn’t have had a better role model than her own father, Pharaoh Thutmose I, who ruled from around 1524 B.C. He was one of the greatest conquerors that Egypt ever had and he took the borders of Egypt to the Euphrates River in Babylon. He took the borders of Egypt in the South down the 4th Cataract to Nubia. No one went any further.

Egyptian royalty

Formal Education

Records concerning girls’ formal schooling in the royal court are sketchy. What type of education might have Hatshepsut had? We know that literacy and the ability to write was considered to be a major part of advancement in ancient Egypt. It was a matter of tremendous pride, culture, and refinement to be literate. So, we assume that anyone in the royal family, especially a woman who was to be a Pharaoh or a Regent, would in fact be literate. She would have been highly trained in reading and writing. She surely knew her father ruled the greatest empire on earth. What would she have seen and been told about the country as a girl? What goals would have been put in her head? Members of the royal family did travel. They spent some time in Memphis which was one of the capitals of Egypt and they probably spent some time in the capitals at Heliopolis. They would have seen, therefore, the outstanding monuments of their predecessors. But all Egyptian Pharaoh’s wanted to build largely and build monuments to their names.

Her own route to the throne was one of the most amazing combinations of chance, luck, brains, ambition, coincidence, and scheming in the history of royal power plays. It was also the result of complex royal bloodlines. Some believe power in ancient Egypt was kept within royal family by intermarriage and it wasn’t uncommon for a brother to marry a sister, a father to marry a daughter, or any number of combinations. That would seem to bear out the notion that it was necessary for the King to marry a woman of royal blood. But you can get a lot of good arguments going with Egyptologists on that particular subject. Polygamy was also common. The King often claimed several women as wives and many more as concubines.

The Egyptian royals saw nothing immoral or sinful in these acts, they were merely keeping their rule, which was their blood, safe within the family. It had nothing to do with incest. Incest is a modern concept and it would never have occurred to them that this was a sinful, shocking thing to do. It’s also known in royal families in other parts of the world. In keeping with this practice, Hatshepsut married her half-brother, Thutmose II. As a Pharaoh, he was only a shadow of the man their powerful father had been and his reign was mostly uneventful. Thutmose II died a young man around 1504 B.C. His demise left a huge problem for the royal family. Apparently, the only male heir he had sired was a young boy not yet twelve years of age, Thutmose III. The boy had been born to one of his secondary wives and not Hatshepsut.

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Dowager Queen

Egyptian hierarchy

Yet, since she was the ranking dowager Queen of Egypt, it was decided that she would serve as Regent with the boy until he came of age. It’s not necessarily the young King’s mother but it is always the most senior Queen that’s in existence at that time, and Hatshepsut was the senior Queen of Thutmose II. So, she becomes naturally, properly, the Regent for the young King.

Life as Regent seemed to appeal to her, power seemed to appeal to her. However, it’s hard to believe that she ever planned to be Pharaoh in the beginning. It was a totally unrealistic goal for a woman. As Regent, walking through this huge labyrinth of power, perhaps she began to see how the glittering prize of being the full leader of the country could be grasped. How the impossible dream of becoming the sole ruler of Egypt could be hers. What would she do?

Continue to part 3 of Hatshepsut: King of Pharaohs.