This is part 3 of Hatshepsut: King of the Pharaohs. Parts 1 & 2 are available if you missed them.
Many accounts say Hatshepsut was brilliant in her role as Regent of Egypt. Fate and heredity may have brought her the job, but it was natural talent that brought her success. There’s much debate, though, as to whether her woman’s touch changed the way Egypt was ruled. Did it become a more peaceful nation with a woman as leader or was it business as usual? One also wonders how the general populace took to having a woman in charge. Experts believe the man on the street didn’t have the right to comment on this sort of thing. He had no political power and they didn’t rebel and beat at the gates of the temple. It’s suspected they may have talked about it amongst themselves out of earshot of authorities, but there was no vocal demonstration of confusion or ill-will.
The Egyptian God, Amen-Ra
Although she didn’t have to answer to her subjects, there were other concerns. Like all good politicians, she had to delicately juggle and balance the various governmental, military, business, and religious players involved in the day-to-day operations of the country. If you don’t get the support of the people who are working for you, then you can’t be a powerful King. But if you have the support of your people, then they’ll get things done for you. The more enthusiastic they are the better they’ll work. One of the most powerful factions she dealt with were Priests at the temple at Karnak. Egypt was a profoundly religious country. The Egyptians believed the power of the Pharaoh and economic well-being of the country emanated from the God Amen-Ra.
Egyptian deities took many different forms. It’s believed that one embodiment of Amen-Ra that was worshipped at Karnak was in the form of a small, gold idol. When she came to power, Hatshepsut was allowed to join in the ritual worship of this God. These religious ceremonies were closed to the general public and even most members of the royal family were excluded. But as Regent, Hatshepsut was allowed into the inner domain of the God and the Priests who attended him. Hand-holded diplomatically, she may have formed an extremely strong bond with these Priests, a bond that would help her consolidate even more power in the future.
Another unique area she would have had to deal with was the military. As a woman who probably hadn’t had any military training, this may have been an area she struggled with. There is some evidence, however, that on her orders successful military campaigns were carried out in Nubia and Palestine. Perhaps the most intriguing person in her life was a man named Senenmut. He was the man most closely associated with Hatshepsut and he was one of her greatest officials. He was a man of humble birth whose parents were commoners. He rose to power, probably as an administrator, because he was a talented man. This was possible in Egypt if you were connected to the court, if you were brought to someone’s attention, or if you were a person of ability you could rise to power.
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Senenmut rose to the position of overseeing the Karnak Temple complex, an incredible accomplishment for a man of humble origins. Hatshepsut was known for defying convention. Did she break the rules again and have an affair with this common man? If so, was the relationship clandestine? The King had all the wives and concubines he wanted. In her case, it may have been nice to have a friend or two around. Senenmut seemed to be with her through many stages of her life. He, even for a time, is believed to have tutored her daughter.
One question that’s never been fully answered is how big a role, if any, did Senenmut play as an advisor to Hatshepsut in the day-to-day running of the kingdom? Was he a power behind the throne? Even if he wasn’t advising her, it’s clear he acted under her orders. She sent him on a number of jobs which was a typical thing for a typical Egyptian to do. That is, to be sent on jobs and to fulfill the commission in the best possible way so that the King or Queen is delighted with the way in which you’ve done your job. They lived in a meritorious society so you have to succeed by merit. If you’re no good, you’re out. With Hatshepsut, he obviously performed very efficiently.
Coming in Second
Another mystery is what was happening to young Thutmose III during this time. Even though he was too young to lead, he was still the ruler of the land with Hatshepsut acting on his behalf. How was he maturing toward the day when he would take over full control of the country? Although he was still a boy, he must have had some military training. Most of the young men of the royal family and perhaps the young noblemen were expected to learn to use a bow, to drive a chariot, and do the things that any young noblemen would do. So, he must have had some military training and some priestly training.
One also wonders how Hatshepsut treated her stepson. There were two Kings and he was number two. There’s no indication she had anything against him, that she had any unpleasant aspirations toward doing away with him. If we were to speculate, it wouldn’t have been that difficult to dispose of a rival. But why would she? She had the power and she was doing what she wanted to do. Although she seems to have been fair to the boy, she also must have realized that with each passing year he was getting closer and closer to the day when he would take over complete control of the throne himself. This was not an idea that appealed to her. She could see it slipping away from her hands forever. By then, it’s believed, she was a woman who enjoyed power and she was an excellent ruler. Hindsight has shown us that and, therefore, she didn’t want to give up what she had. She might have been doing it for Egypt’s benefit as much as for her own, but obviously she enjoyed exercising power and she wasn’t going to give it up.
No one has been able to pinpoint the exact date she made her move towards becoming the undisputed ruler of Egypt. The day she metamorphosized herself from Queen Regent to Pharaoh of all the land. All we know is that it was a brilliant power play. She had learned her lessons well and mastered the art of Egyptian politics brilliantly. All those years watching her father rule, all those years observing court intrigues, all those years seeing how the temples operated and how the military functioned. In the end, she knew who to coax, who not to cross, and when to move.
She also knew the most powerful weapon in her arsenal was her own birthright. As Egyptian royalty, she claimed the throne by way of blood. Not just the blood of her father but also that of the Gods. She had inscribed on the walls of her temple a series of reliefs showing the God Amen-Ra coming to her mother in order to impregnate her. The God came in the form of her father, Thutmose I. But, of course, if it was the God Amen-Ra that meant Hatshepsut was the daughter of the God which made her the royal heir blessed by the Gods. By declaring herself a deity, she was almost unapproachable. How can anyone dare defy an order from a God? No one did. The crowning took place, young Thutmose III was pushed into the background for the time being, and Egypt was hers.
Continue to part 4 of Hatshepsut: King of Pharaohs.