New book: 100 Inspiring Young Changemakers!

Sign up for updates and more!

Hatshepsut: HERstory in Hieroglyphics

About the Episode

She was the princess who became pharaoh, ruling over Egypt and ushering in a golden age of peace and prosperity. Many have tried to prevent Hatshepsut’s story from being told, but her legacy has proven strong enough to withstand the ages.

This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book series Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. This story was produced by Olivia Riçhard with sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. It was written by Mary Bergstrom and edited by Abby Sher. Fact-checking by Joe Rhatigan. Narration by Nour Allam. Our Executive Producer was Joy Smith. Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi. Thank you to the whole Rebel Girls team who make this podcast possible. Stay rebel!

Transcript

Rebels, the story you are about to hear takes place more than three thousand five hundred years ago. It’s a story that hasn’t been heard in a long time because for centuries, people tried to prevent it from ever being told.

This is a story about ambition, dedication and true rebelhood. This is the story of Hatshepsut. 

On a blazing hot day in the throne room of a great Egyptian palace, a young Hatshepsut knelt before a hushed crowd. It was coronation day, which meant that soon the kingdoms of Egypt would have a new pharaoh to rule over the entire country. Hatshepsut wore a gown of gold silk and from her neck and ears hung stunning jewels of beautiful teal blue turquoise, and deep red garnet. Royals and dignitaries all gathered in the throne room to watch as a spectacular headdress adorned with gold and precious gemstones was placed on Hatshepsut’s head. Once crowned the soon to be pharaoh was led to a grand throne at the front of the room.

There, the high priests approached and announced the new pharoah’s coronation names. Maat-ka-re Hatshepsut .
 Maat-ka-re Hatshepsut Maat-ka-re Hatshepsut Maat-ka-re Hatshepsut Maat-ka-re Hatshepsut echoed back the now kneeling crowd. 

To make the coronation official, Hatshepsut had to complete a series of traditional cleansing rituals, like bathing in a special pool and being dressed in new, royal clothes as Egypt’s all-mighty ruler. 

Rebels, it’s hard to say exactly how the coronation of the great Pharaoh Hatshepsut unfolded because the only evidence we have of this day is from hieroglyphics, which are drawings carved into the ancient stones of Egypt’s walls. And the hieroglyphics from Hatshepsut’s coronation were scratched over and vandalized by later  kings who wanted to prevent the story of the great Pharaoh Hatshepsut from ever being told. For thousands of years, Hatshepsut’s image was wrecked and Hatshepsut’s name was erased from almost all history records.

But Why??? Why would they want to keep Hatshepsut hidden?

Because you see Rebels, unlike most of the pharaohs throughout Egypt’s history, Hatshepsut was a girl. (music surges)

That’s right. In an age when women were not supposed to hold powerful positions or be mighty rulers, Hatshepsut did both! She was the second female pharaoh in history, and she led Egypt into a golden age of prosperity in true rebel fashion.

To understand how Hatshepsut got to this momentous day, let’s go back a few years, to about 1508 BCE, when King Thutmose I (the 1st) and his wife Ahmose welcomed a baby Hatshepsut into the world. As a young princess growing up in the palace Hatshepsut watched as her father the Pharaoh ruled over a land that stretched as far as the desert sun. She often joined her father in meetings with community leaders, powerful dignitaries and even in military strategy sessions. Hatshepsut was incredibly smart and a very quick learner. At the age of eight, her father began including her in his business plans and soon after, she was given a very special Egyptian title. It seemed clear that the young princess was destined for greatness. Even her name echoed like a prophecy. You see, Hatshepsut means “foremost of noble women.”

Hatshepsut married a young prince named Thutmose II and stood by his side as he was named Pharaoh and ruled over the empire she had grown up watching and helping her father manage.

Together, the couple had one daughter Neferure — but no sons. Back then, having a son was very important to rulers because, traditionally, only males could assume the throne, thus ensuring that the current reigning family remained in power for another generation. 

Unfortunately, Thutmose II died young and without a male heir to the throne. Hatshepsut and her daughter were in a vulnerable position. As females, neither of them could assume the throne, leaving them at the mercy of the next in line. 

Hatshepsut found out that the next Egyptian pharaoh was going to be Thutmose III, her stepson. There was just one problem — Thutmose III was just two years old! He could barely walk let alone rule an entire kingdom alone!

So Hatshepsut had herself named regent. This meant that until Thutmose III was old enough to rule on his own, Hatshepsut would help make decisions on his behalf.   

She was 29 years old and Hatshepsut knew she could handle the job. For seven years, she served as regent, conducting royal business and holding Thutmose III’s place in line. She made sure that he was educated and prepared for all the tasks and responsibilities of a future king. When Thutmose III, became of age and was ready to rule it was understood that he would take over.

Unless, Hatshepsut found a way to hold on to her power…and the throne…

Hatshepsut loved her country and its people. She knew she was the right person to lead. And it wasn’t fair that just because she was a girl, she couldn’t become Pharaoh. So, Hatshepsut hatched a plan… she would disguise herself as a man!

Which brings us back to coronation day. Some historians say that Hatshepsut even wore a beard as the royal crown was placed upon her head. She was determined to prove that her gender had nothing to do with her abilities. She had so many bold ideas about how to make Egypt prosperous and powerful. She believed in herself and her abilities as a world leader! 

After her coronation, Hatshepsut told people that her father, the former King Thutmose I, had originally appointed her as his successor. She also claimed that one of the Gods was her real father. Surely, no one could argue with the will of the Gods! 

After becoming Pharaoh, Hatshepsut set herself apart from the traditional image of an Egyptian female. She renounced all of the titles usually reserved for women, and often dressed in clothes fit for a king. She ordered that statues of her include a beard so that no one would doubt her legitimacy and she worked tirelessly to help improve life for the people of Egypt. 

More than just making her country forget that she was a woman, Hastshepsut knew she had to do an outstanding  job to keep potential challengers away from the throne. To expand the economy, Hatshepsut developed new trade routes. She established a special envoy to the Land of Punt, a major trading center on the East African Coast. There, in exchange for Egyptian linen, papyrus, and grain, the envoy was able to bring foreign ebony, obsidian, myrrh, frankincense, and even live trees back to Egypt. 

This was so exciting! Live trees had never been transported before. Under her rule, Egyptian  trading ships were full of wondrous smells, blooming branches, and the promise of an exciting new era. And over the years, Punt became one of Egypt’s most significant trading partners — all thanks to Hatshepsut.

She also rebuilt old monuments and constructed new ones like Deir el-Bahri proving that Egypt was in a golden age of wealth and prosperity. Hatshepsut ruled for almost 21 years and became so popular among the Egyptian people that, although he was old enough to take over years before her death, Thutmose III didn’t take the throne until after Hatshepsut died of natural causes. 

He certainly could have tried to overthrow her if he wanted to, since Thutmose III was in charge of her military. But it seems like he trusted and respected her for the great ruler she was proving herself to be. At least that’s how it seemed while Hatshepsut was alive.

So….. why did Thutmose III order Hatshepsut’s memory to be erased.

This is a mystery we’re still trying to unravel. Hatshepsut was his stepmother, his regent, and his role model. If he truly hated her, he could have tried to overthrow her power. If he was bitter, he could have destroyed her images and records as soon as she died. But instead, Thutmose III waited until he was near the end of his own life to give the order. He commanded that all hieroglyphic records of Hatshepsut’s reign be defaced and destroyed.

Was it just because Hatshepsut was a woman??

Rebels, this question has challenged many archaeologists, historians and experts. 

In 1902, an ancient burial temple was uncovered. Finally, they would find the answers!

The descent to Hatshepsut’s tomb was sooooo dangerous. As the expedition made its way under the mountain, sunlight and oxygen became scarce. But nothing could deter the archaeologists who were hungry to know the truth. 

Down, down, down they went into an elaborate web of maze-like burial chambers which held great spiritual and cultural significance to rulers of Ancient Egypt. With only flashlights to guide them, the archaeologists’ advanced into the tomb on shaky legs until finally their feet touched the solid ground of Hatshepsut’s burial temple thirty-five stories below the earth! 

This was the deepest tomb ever uncovered in Egypt – maybe even the world. But once the researchers made it all the way inside, they discovered that Hatshepsut’s mummy was missing!

They also found entire pits full of broken statues of Hatshepsut, and dozens of hieroglyphics where her face had been scratched out as though someone was trying to erase her existence.  

Experts now believe that Thutmose III did this to ensure that when he died his son was crowned pharaoh, instead of Hatshepsut’s daughter. After all, if there was evidence that a female could be a great leader, maybe the trend would continue! 

Of course we will likely never know for certain. But there is some good news to this tale… Hatshepsut’s mummy has been found and slowly but surely, her statues and images are being pieced back together. Her name is being restored to history books and there are many museums that display pictures and statues of her.

Her story doesn’t end there. Really, it’s just beginning. Because it’s up to every one of us to keep Hatshepsut’s name alive and to celebrate all that she achieved. As a pharaoh… as a daring leader, and of course…as a rebel.