From Queen to Pharaoh

Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BC) was ancient Egypt’s first female pharaoh, ruling as a man with full pharaonic authority. Her name means “First Among Noble Women” or “Foremost of Noble Women.” She began her reign as regent to Thutmose III (1458-1425 BC), her stepson and successor.

A stone statue of Hatshepsut

She began her reign as a female pharaoh, as shown in statues, but by the seventh year of her reign, she had chosen to be depicted as a male pharaoh in statuary and reliefs, while she continued to refer to herself as female in her inscriptions. She was the fifth pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom, which was considered one of the most successful periods in Egyptian history.


“Hatshepsut was the longest-reigning female pharaoh in Egypt, ruling for 20 years in the 15th century B.C. Ruling as a man and portraying herself in statues and paintings with a male body and false beard.”

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Head from an Osiride Statue of Hatshepsut

Rise to Power

Hatshepsut was Thutmose I’s daughter with his Great Wife Ahmose. Thutmose I’s secondary wife Mutnofret gave birth to Thutmose II. Thutmose II married Hatshepsut before she became 20 years old, in accord with Egyptian royal tradition. Hatshepsut was also raised to the rank of God’s Wife of Amun at this period, which was the highest distinction a woman could achieve in Egypt after the post of queen and, in fact, bestowed considerably more authority than most queens ever knew. She modified the regulations in the seventh year of her regency, however, and had herself anointed pharaoh of Egypt.

Temple of Hatshepsut

She assumed all of the royal titles and names that she had written in the feminine grammatical form, but had herself represented as a male pharaoh. Hatshepsut, as pharaoh, embarked on a number of large-scale construction projects, primarily in the Thebes region.

The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut

Pharaoh Hatshepsut

Hatshepsut followed tradition by commissioning construction projects, including as her temple at Deir el-Bahri, and dispatching military expeditions. The specific nature of the military expeditions is unknown, although they were aimed towards the Syrian and Nubian territories.

Sphinx of Hatshepsut

Hatshepsut struggled to justify her power grab, citing her royal pedigree and claiming that her father had designated her as his successor. She wanted to change her image, so she requested that she be shown as a male pharaoh with a beard and enormous muscles in sculptures and paintings of the time. She did, however, pose in traditional female garb in other photographs. Hatshepsut surrounded herself with allies in high government positions, notably Senenmut, her chief minister. Some have speculated that Senenmut was Hatshepsut’s lover, however there is little evidence to back this notion. Hatshepsut, as pharaoh, embarked on a number of large-scale construction projects, primarily in the Thebes region.

Sunrise Scene of Aerial View from Balloon of Queen Hatshepsut's Palace, Luxor, Egypt

Her biggest work was the massive memorial temple at Deir el-Bahri, which is regarded one of ancient Egypt’s architectural wonders. Another major accomplishment of her reign was the authorization of a commercial trip to Punt, which brought tremendous treasures to Egypt, including ivory, gold, leopard skins, and incense, from a remote land known as Punt.

Hatshepsut in a Devotional Attitude

Death and burial

Hatshepsut would have been in her mid-40s when she died in 1458 B.C. She was buried in the Valley of the Kings, which is located in the hills beyond Deir el-Bahri and also houses Tutankhamun. In yet another attempt to legitimise her rule, she had her father’s coffin reinterred in her tomb so that they may die together. Thutmose III ruled for another 30 years, demonstrating that he was both an ambitious builder and a formidable warrior, like his stepmother.

Defaced Hatshepsut

Thutmose III had practically all evidence of Hatshepsut’s authority erased late in his reign, including depictions of her as king on the temples and monuments she had erected, presumably to remove her example as a powerful female ruler or to plug the gap in the dynasty’s male succession line. As a result, Hatshepsut’s existence was unknown to ancient Egyptian researchers until 1822, when they were able to decipher and interpret the hieroglyphics on the walls of Deir el-Bahri.



What is Hatshepsut known for?

What makes Hatshepsut so well-known? Hatshepsut was a female Egyptian pharaoh who governed in her own right, achieving unparalleled authority for a woman by assuming all of the pharaoh’s titles and regalia.

Why was Hatshepsut erased from history?

Hatshepsut’s monuments were assaulted shortly after her death in 1457 BC, with her sculptures being hauled down and shattered, and her image and titles being disfigured. Hatshepsut had virtually been condemned with eternal death, and she vanished from Egyptian history. 

Did Hatshepsut change gender?

She lived, and she presented herself as a man while using feminine pronouns, at least in her art and monuments, if not in person. The remainder of what we “know” about Hatshepsut, her motivations and personality, is dependent on modern interpretations of old historical documents rather than reality.

What did Hatshepsut call herself?

Calling herself Maatkare.

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