Was Hatshepsut a successful king of Egypt?


To access Hatshepsut’s success as an ancient Egyptian king you first have to define what do you mean by successful.

The following items need to be accessed

  • Upholding Maat
  • Building Works
  • Trade
  • Military Expansion
  • Domestic Economics
  • Maintaining control in the crown
  • Being remembered
  • Continuing the dynasty

If we look at kings who could be considered unsuccessful what made them unsuccessful: Pepy II devolving too much power to the nobles, Unas who had starving peasants, Taa I or Djehuty who built nothing and left no mark on the Egyptian landscape, Neferusobek who ended the Twelfth Dynasty. Can Hatshepsut be put into the same category?

The Ancient Egyptians themselves defined the necessary qualifications to be a king “Rekhmire, in the inscription from his tomb, poses the question ‘who is the king of Upper and Lower Egypt?’. The reply describes the qualities of a king saying ‘’He is a God by whose dealings (sSm) one lives, the father and mother (of all people) alone by himself without equal”  (Troy, 1986, pg 132). Does Hatshepsut meet these requirements in the eyes of the Egyptian people?

Did Hatshepsut have everything that was needed to rule successfully? Robbins (1993, pg 46) believes Hatshepsut need three things to make her co regency possible:-

1)    Her own men in positions of power

2)    That co-regency was an accepted concept

3)    Neferura, her daughter was available to perform the role of God’s wife

Upholding Maat

“It was the power of Maat that was believed to regulate the seasons, the movement of the stars and the relations between men and Gods” (Shaw & Nicholson, 1996, pg 166). Without Maat Egypt literally could not function, the Nile would not rise as required, there would be no food, the Gods would be neglected. This is the aspect of kingship that affects the common people most, stability of the king and the kingdom. Maat is a difficult concept for us to understand but if the king is properly in control then everything in Egypt will be in balance and harmony, peace is assured.

Part of Maat was that the king had to be depicted as male. “Egyptian relief representations of kings in essence functioned as hieroglyphic determatives. Representations of the king functioned magically as stand-ins, ensuring the perpetuation of that link. It was thus important for images of Hatshepsut to identify her correctly” (Roth, 2005, pg9).

In inscriptions “… the traditional male royal names, titles and epitaphs were replaced by feminine variants, liberally sprinkled with feminine endings. This rather schizophrenic projection of her gender has been interrupted as an assertation of androgyny, a characteristic of fertility gods and creator gods. But it was also a way of insuring that both kingly identity and feminine gender were attached to the images allowing them to function as intermediaries with the gods” (Roth, 2005, pg9).

It would seem that Maat is not upset by females taking on masculine roles. Indeed there is even a title for female Horus. “…Hrt, the female Horus (D2/18). This title commonly used by the women occupying the throne of Egypt, with its origin in the role of Sobeknofereu…”  (Troy, 1986, pg 138). The important thing was that the king did the right things, the sex of the person was unimportant as kings and gods needed masculine and feminine characteristics. Females in ancient Egyptian society, both god and human, can be strong willed people and are much admired.

Maat was not upset by having co-regencies; this was a well attested concept from the Middle Kingdom. In fact Maat could even be strengthened by a co-regency and it means at no time is the kingdom left without a ruler.

Building Works

The king should build, not only does it glorify both king and gods but it also provides work. It demonstrates how wealthy the king is, cheap shoddy buildings that collapse and are buried are not the mark of a successful king. Keller (2005, pg 97) identifies the location and number of monuments that Hatshepsut built and that still survive:-

Two temples near Beni Hassan including Speos Artemidos.

Temple of Hathor at Meir (Cusae)

Opet temple at Luxor temple



Chapelle Rouge

Hatshepsut Suite aka Palace of Maat

VIII Pylon

Mut temple

Deir el Bahri

Medinet Habu

Valley of Kings


Kom Ombo

Hierakonpolis/El Kab

Gebel el Silsila

Batn el-Baqqare





This enormous list fully demonstrates that Hatshepsut was running a successful country well able to afford this kind of expenditure. It is easy to forget when viewing modern day Luxor, for example, how new it was at this time to build temples in stone. This was an innovative thing for a King to do; most buildings prior to this were in mud brick. The extent and scale of her building works is very impressive.


A successful king is one who can afford to trade with outside countries bring in expensive luxuries, such as ebony, incense, frankincense, myrrh, elephant tusks, panther skins, gold. Trade in these commodities demonstrates power and influence. Hatshepsut undertook an ambitious expedition Punt, believed to be modern day Somalia.  This would have involved transporting the boats from central Egypt, to the Red Sea, over the desert, the danger of the journey to Punt and ‘persuading’ the people there to trade.

That it was highly prestigious is evidenced by how much she boasts about it at her temple at Deir le Bahri. The exotic land is drawn in wonderful detail, the difficulties and dangers hinted at by the military presence and boats. The wealth is shown being loaded on to the boats and presented to Amun. The later alone shows this was a high status and celebrated achievement. You do not offer anything second rate to Amun.

Her mummy, if correctly identified, shows that she could afford every kind of culinary luxury as it is grossly overweight, to the extent that removal of the viscera had to take place through the pelvic floor rather the abdomen (Donald Ryan, private communication 2008).

Military Expansion

According to Redford (1992, Pg 149) Hatshepsut laid claim to Punt (Pwnet), Libya and Syria “…, the old idea that Hatshepsut intended to be a throwback to a much earlier type of king and turned out to be pacifist requires considerable modification: it is abundantly clear that the queen did not eschew military activity, and at least once took the field herself. Nonetheless, her campaigns are very few in number and were undertaken on a limited scale. Obviously use of the military did not constitute a major element in her program” (Redford, 1992 pg 149).

Although not the major part of her policy military campaigns are still necessary and a strong general required. This is where Hatshepsut shows herself at her cleverest, sitting at court is this young testosterone driven prince who is gagging for adventure and glory. He is also very clever and ambitious. I believe they cooked up a deal between them so he could go off and learn how to be a soldier which led to him having an empire that stretched “… from Hagr el Merwa and Kurgus at its southern end to Naharin in Syro-Palestine at the northern end” (Davies, 2005, pg 51) and most stable, it lasted until the reign of Akhenaton, in the entire Egyptian history.

His exploits during the co-regency are recorded. “The Armant Stela records two campaigns he led to Mesopotamia and Palestine during the co-regency” (Dorman, 2005, pg 261).  “In summary, there is reliable evidence to prove historically of at least four military campaigns or series of campaigns during the two decades Hatshepsut ruled Egypt alone. These are (1) the campaign against Nubia led by the queen herself, probably early in the reign; (2) mopping up operations in Palestine and Syria, also probably early; (3) the capture of Gaza by Tuthmosis III, probably later in Hatshepsut’s floruit; (4) the campaign against Nubia by Tuthmosis III, shortly before the queen’s death. It is just possible that we could increase this list to six” (Redford D. P., 1967, pg 62).

Delegation is not a sign of weakness but a clever use of the resources you have. I am sure it suited Tuthmosis III as well, who wants to be sitting at home reading a load of red boxes when you could be out winning glory for Egypt. For both of them, passing that responsibility (administration, military command) to someone who was not a member of the family could have undermined the throne.

Co-rulership suited them both, she controlled the civil service and he was free to be the army man. This army training was of huge benefit to Egypt and its eventual empire. “When the ruler of Qadesh in north west Syria convened Levantine leaders at Megiddo about the time of the Queens death, her nephew Tuthmosis III perceived a new threat to Egypt, as well as a chance for gifting and reward. He marched northward in year twenty three with a newly professional and equipped army and for the rest of his fifty four year reign he dominated Palestine and costal Syria. Winning control of Nubia and Sudan at the same time, this vigorous pharaoh created the Egyptian empire.  (Lilyquist, 2005, pg 261)

Domestic Economics

The level of Nile flood was a constant worry to the ancient Egyptians, too little and not enough fields to grow food, too much then destruction of villages, If pharaoh maintains Maat then the Nile will flood enough but not too much, there will be food but your house will not be swept away. This is the aspect of life that concerned the peasant most. I sure he neither cared nor really knew who the king was, what concerned him was the king did his job which meant food on the table and peace.

With no internal bickering or foreign threats he could just get on with his job growing crops and building temples. There is little evidence of the lives of these people but from the enormous outlay on building projects and the expedition to Punt it is apparent that economically Hatshepsut was doing well and therefore the peasantry had enough for their needs.

Maintaining control in the crown

Hatshepsut seems to have been a great picker of men and this probably started early in her adult life.

“We know that queens were given their own estates and that they also had male officials such as stewards in their service” (Robbins, 1993, pg 42).

Often a woman is better at being a CEO as she is not threatened by the success of male subordinates and can give them free reign to do what they do best. A lot of her staff appear to have been raised up from the lower middle classes and that would have bought enormous loyalty. They did not get above themselves; wealth was not dispersed amongst hereditary nobles in remote nomes. It wasn’t just Tuthmosis III who she put to work but also Ahmose pa-nekhbit, old soldier and treasurer, Duwa-eneheh first herald, engineer Benya, Amenemne Khu – viceroy, Ineni – architect, Senemut – steward, Senimen – royal tutor, Hapuseneb – high priest of Amun and Puyemne – second priest of Amun and many others (Lilyquist, 2005 pg 63)  (Davies W. V., 2005, pg 87)  (Dorman, 2005, pg 107)  (Roehrig, 2005, pg 113)  (Bryan, 2005, pg 181)  (Redford D. P., 1967, pg 77). All were highly skilled men who served her well.

Many of their tombs are in the hills of Thebes and these are really good quality tombs. The fact that some of them served under her predecessors and successors would seems to indicate that her choices were good ones.

They obviously did not have a problem serving under a woman. Egypt at this time had seen a succession of successful women regents such as Meritneith, Khentkawes and other extremely important women like Tetisheri, Ahhotep I, Ahhotep II and Ahmes-Nefertari who contributed enormously to the war against the Hyskos.

“Ahmose, Amenhotep and Tutmosis II seem to have been quite young at their accession, perhaps averaging 5 years old, which means their mothers or other female relatives had ruled for ten or twelve years before they came of age.

As a result women effectively ruled Egypt for almost half of the approximately seventy years preceding Hatshepsut’s accession” (Davies W. V., 2005, pg 52). So these men would have been used to working with clever women and comfortable with the concept.

Tuthmosis III also would have had no problems with deferring to a powerful woman, most probably brought up in the all female environment of the harem with stirring stories of illustrious female predecessors. The idea of having a woman in charge would not have been the radical thought it might have been to other near Eastern neighbors. It is interesting to note he married almost invisible doormats with none of the character and verve of previous royal wives. Did his army career and exposure to various countries where women were not valued give him a new basis for marriage and the role of the great royal wife? However this is much later and certainly at the beginning of his career, strong dominate women were common, positive and hereditary.  It is also possible they had a religious authority. The role of God’s wife of Amun might have carried more power than we realize. Hatshepsut obviously thought it important enough to install her own daughter in the role; her motives are unclear but must have been strong.

Being Remembered

Although her monuments were attacked after her death this was not the full scale attack of the Amarna period and it took place 20 years after her death and was not complete.

“…as time went by, political expediency might have won over sentiment, and he (Tuthmosis III) might finally have agreed that all traces of the unnatural female king should be erased, since they did not conform to Maat, the natural order of the world. It may be significant that the name and figure of Hatshepsut as queen were not attacked “(Robbins, 1993, pg 52).

“Noteworthy also is that although Tuthmosis III was responsible for this far reaching program of alteration, it is only rarely that his own name is carved over Hatshepsut’s. Rather in nearly every instance, he inserted the name of his father Tuthmosis II or grandfather Tuthmosis I” (Dorman, 2005, pg 267).

It seems more a case that history is being rewritten, “the timing and short duration of the attack on Hatshepsut’s image and name suggest that it was driven by concerns related to royal succession and ceased once Amenhotep II was securely enthroned”  (Dorman, 2005, pg 269).

Although it is not possible to identify a rival for the throne over Amenhotep II, it is unlikely the Egyptians would have left a trace of this person, is quite possible there was one. “The earlier kings of eighteenth dynasty had many daughters and their progeny were closely related to the founders of the dynasty than were Tuthmosis III and his son. Kingship derived its religious authority from the direct succession of rulers from one generation to the next, from Osirus to Horus. By attacking images of Hatshepsut as king and this magically denying her kingship, Tuthmosis III disposed of a legitimate alternative to the Tuthmoside line and facilitated his son’s succession to the throne of Egypt. The fact the erasures seem to have suddenly stopped, perhaps on coronation of Amenhotep II, suggests that the motive for the erasure disappeared once his kingship was assured” (Roth, 2005, pg 15).

So it was the concept of a female heir that was the problem and needed to be removed not Hatshepsut personally. This would explain why the proscription was late, sporadic and short lived.  The royal women had got above themselves and needed to be reminded of their place.

“This matriarchal streak is one of the most striking features of the early Eighteenth Dynasty. The stubbornness and driving ambition of the queens could not help but precipitate a conflict with the males of the family, at least if the women persisted in grasping after what logically must have been their ultimate aspiration, viz a vi the crown”  (Redford D. P., 1967, pg 65)

However considering she was supposed to be proscribed and forgotten she has maintained her place in history. Tour guides will refer to her as Egypt’s only female pharaoh a gross aspiration on a number of other ladies such as the wife of Djedkare Izezi of Vth dynasty (Roth, 2005, pg 12) and as Robbins (1993, pg 50) identifies: Nitiqret or Neith Iqerti aka Nitocris at the end of VI dynasty, Neferusobek at the end of XII dynasty, Tausret end XIX dynasty and Cleopatra VII the last Ptolemy.   However Manetho knew about her and every tourist that comes to Luxor knows about her. Her temple still dominates the Theban Hills; you can see it from most of the West Bank. Numerous TV programs are on her.  If to speak the name of the dead is to make them live again then she is having a rip roaring time.

Continuing Dynasty

Previous and subsequent female kings normally signal the end of a dynasty and have short reigns but Hatshepsut was in the middle of one of the most successful dynasties, the line did not end with her nor was her reign short. She ruled for 20 years and the transition to Tuthmosis III was smooth and untroubled. Many of her best civil servants continued to serve under him.


In conclusion yes she was a successful king, the dynasty did not end with her like other female kings, Maat was maintained, she built extensively and of good quality, Egypt was militarily secure, foreign trade missions were undertaken, the ordinary people were content and well fed, she utilized a controlled civil service and finally her name has lived for ever.

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Davies, W. V. (2005). Egypt and Nubia. In C. H. Roehrig(ed.), Hatshepsut:From Queen to Pharaoh (pp. 49-59). New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Davies, W. V. (2005). Hatshepsut. In C. .. Roehrig(ed.), Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh (pp. 87-95). New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Dorman, P. (2005). The Career of Senemut. In C. H. Roehrig(ed.), Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh (pp. 107-111). New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Dorman, P. (2005). The Proscription of Hatshepsut. In C. H. Roehrig(ed.), Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh (pp. 267-269). New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Keller, C. (2005). The Joint Reign of Hatshepsut and Thuthmosis II. In C. H. Roehrig(ed.), Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh (pp. 96-100). New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Lilyquist, C. (2005). Egypt and the Near East. In C. H. Roehrig(ed.), Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh (pp. 60-69). New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Redford, D. B. (1992). Egypt, Canaan and Israel. American University in Cairo.

Redford, D. P. (1967). History and Chronology of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Robbins, G. (1993). Women in Ancient Egypt. British Museum Press.

Roehrig, C. H. (2005). Senenmut, Royal Tutor to Prince Neferure. In C. H. Roehrig(ed.), Hatshepsut:From Queen to Pharaoh (pp. 112-116). 2005: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Roth, A. M. (2005). Models of Authority. In C. H. Roehrig(ed.), Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh (pp. 9-15). New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Shaw, I., & Nicholson, P. (1996). British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.

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