A Woman of Egypt
According to Kathryn Bard’s An Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, royal women became increasingly more important during the 18th dynasty of the New Kingdom. Hatshepsut and Thutmose II reigned as king and queen for fourteen years and at Thutmose II’s death left he left only an eleven year old son as a possible heir to the throne. Hatshepsut, a name meaning “the foremost of noble ladies”, held the title “God’s Wife of Amen” and became co-regent for her nephew and stepson Thutmose III until he came of age (Manuelian and Loeben, 1993).
After two years, Hatshepsut deemed herself pharaoh, and crowned herself sole ruler of Egypt. During her reign Hatshepsut built many monuments in both Egypt and Nubia and is even credited with the first well preserved royal mortuary temple of the New Kingdom. During the New Kingdom there was a shift from building massive pyramids to rock cut tombs in the sides of cliffs. These temples were cheaper than monumental pyramids and were less conspicuous to thieves (Video Lecture, Week 6).
At Deir el-Bahri on the west bank of the Nile at Thebes, Hatshepsut’s advisor and architect, the high steward of Amun, Senenmut, built a garden-filled mortuary temple into the mountainous cliffs which was dedicated to the goddess Hathor as well as the gods Osiris and Anubis. This tomb in the Valley of the Kings (designated KV 20) replaced a previously prepared tomb for her at Wadi Sakkat Taqa el-Zeid, south of Dier el-Bahri. (Manuelian and Loeben, 1993). The architectural depictions at Dier el-Bahri are testimony to Hatshepsut’s divine birth and conception by Queen Ahmose and the god Amen, and act as propaganda legitimizing her right to the throne. Carved reliefs depict Hatshepsut’s royal lineage through her father Thutmose I, who was pharaoh prior to Thutmose II, and supposedly claimed her as the “next pharaoh”. Furthering her connection and legitimacy through her father, Hatshepsut had the body of Thutmose I excavated and reburied next to her own in the innermost chamber of her tomb. In the scenes and statues of the temple Hatshepsut is shown as a male, possibly to state her strength as equal to previous male rulers (Bard, 2007). There were also scenes of Hatshepsut transporting by barge two gigantic obelisks from the Aswan quarries which were erected at the temple of Karnak, which were representative of her relationship with the son god.
Although Hatshepsut was not a great military ruler, as was her father Thutmose I, she was credited with various long-distance trading expeditions. One of these which is depicted at Dier el-Bahri is her famed expedition to Punt during her ninth year as queen (Millet, 1962). Travel to Punt, it’s location believed to be past the Eastern Sahara and the Red Sea, is an impressively logistical feat. The Egyptians were given raw materials including gold ingots, ebony, ivory, leopard skins, baboons and live incense trees which were kept alive on the return trip (Bard, 2007; Manuelian and Loeben, 1993).
After approximately twenty-two years Hatshepsut dies in 1483 BC, the end of her reign being a mystery. Records including inscriptions, monuments, and statues involving the queen were all destroyed by her predecessor, Thutmose III, having felt that she had usurped the throne from him. Thutmose III also tried erasing the existence of Senenmut, as he had built his own tomb adjacent to Hatshepsut and played a pivotal role as the queen’s adviser; possible evidence of an intimate relationship.
Through architecture and trade, Hatshepsut exhibited her capabilities as pharaoh. Being that she was only the third ever woman pharaoh of Egypt she perhaps had to go even farther than previous male pharaohs in portraying her legitimacy as ruler, as shown in her elaborate tomb, the reburial of her father, and her even taking on the male form in her carvings and statues.
During the Middle Kingdom the common people of Egypt had greater access to the spiritual material culture which was previously only available to the royal and elite of the Old Kingdom and of the Intermediate Period. Scholars generally believe that this social change came about during the decentralization and disintegration of the royal power as the local social systems of the provincial governors in the nomes gained more control.
Funerary traditions reflect the changing social organization of the Middle Kingdom (Wegner, 124).One of the ways the lower status social groups took part in the formerly elite culture is that the royal mortuary literature, the Pyramid Texts, were utilized by increasingly non-elite social groups. The new funerary expression did not simply mimic elite traditions, but was added to the preexisting cultural norms.
Material objects found in the archaeological record also represent a change in the access to the divine. In times of vulnerability, during transitional periods of their lives, such as during childbirth and after death, amulets would be used to help aid the process. Although amulets have been used since the predynastic, the Middle Kingdom saw a great proliferation in the record as the eye of Horus (wadjer), the backbone of Osiris (djed pillar), the Isis knot (tjet knot), and the scarab (Wegner, 125). The later of these, the scarab beetle, was first seen during the First Intermediate Period and is tied to the eternal rebirth of the sun god, symbolizing physical transformation. The scarab was also developed into an administrative seal used to imprint names and titles of officials in the Middle Kingdom. All of these symbols gained increasing popularity and were used in both life and death as giving the wearers a connection to the spiritual realm.
Religious imagery also played an important part in the everyday lives of the Egyptian people of the Middle Kingdom. Anthropomorphic as well as zoomorphic depictions of the mythological deities are seen on objects such as magical wands or knives. These wands were found in both tombs and settlement areas indicating their use throughout the lifespan and most typically found near women.
There existed a great importance of religious objects in the child birthing process. In Building A of the Wah-Sut complex in southern Abydos archaeologists have recovered the only example of a meskhenet, or a ritualistically prepared “birthing brick” (Wegner, 128). These bricks were used in groups of four to form two parallel steps as a type of altar on which a woman in labor would squat over. The imagery on the sides of the bricks depicted various scenes of deities, most importantly Hathor, an Egyptian goddess of fertility who gained popularity in the Middle Kingdom, and the sun god as a striding cat. The women depicted on the birthing brick were given blue hair, indicating their divinity, while the mother is seen holding her new baby on a throne. These symbols represent a tie to the divine a woman experiences as she invokes the goddess Hathor at the time of childbirth and symbolically gives birth to the sun god. Magical wands were also found in association with this birthing brick that also displayed similar scenes of protection. The concept of protecting the young is associated with the gathering of allies and the protection of the newly reborn sun god against forces of chaos.
My name is Melissa and I am an Anthropology. I graduate this December with my B.A., so this is my second to last semester. The end is near! I am interested in furthering my studies researching Paleoindian migrations into North America. In between semesters, when I have time to read for fun, I read books on this topic. I am currently reading David J. Meltzer’s First Peoples in a New World: Colonizing Ice Age America. I hope to move to the Pacific Northwest sometime in the next couple years and possibly attend graduate school in Washington, Oregon, or even British Columbia; that is if I can afford out of state tuition.
When I actually do come across some free time after work or school, I spend time with my boyfriend and his two children. I live in Lansing and have family within an hours drive which I like to visit frequently. Both of my parents live in the country so it is nice to retreat into the “boonies” for a while and relax with a bonfire in the country. Plus I have two labrador/collie mixes so it’s nice to have a place for them to go out and run.
I have been fascinated with ancient civilizations and the first one I ever learned about was Egypt. I grew up watching the History Channel with my dad and it was a good bonding experience.