Hatshepsut, a Female Egyptian Pharaoh and How She May Have Figured into the Story of Moses

“Hatshepsut (Hat-shep-soot), the first important female ruler known to history, lived a thousand years after the pyramids were built and seventeen centuries after the Egyptians had begun writing their language in hieroglyphs. She ruled Egypt for two decades (ca. 1473–1458 B.C.) during Egypt’s Dynasty 18. Although less familiar to modern audiences than her much later successor, the notorious Cleopatra (51–30 B.C.), Hatshepsut’s achievements were far more significant. Ruling first as regent for, then as co-ruler with, her nephew Thutmose III (who ruled for another thirty-three years after her death), Hatshepsut enjoyed a relatively peaceful reign, at the beginning of the New Kingdom. During this time, she restored monuments destroyed during the disruptive Second Intermediate Period, when northern Egypt was controlled by a dynasty of Asian princes and southern Egypt by a dynasty of Egyptians based in Thebes. She renewed trade with western Asia to the east, the far-off land of Punt to the south, and the Aegean Islands to the north. The resulting economic prosperity was reflected in the art of the time, which is characterized by remarkable innovations in sculpture and decorative arts and produced such architectural marvels as Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri. For reasons that are still unclear, twenty years after Hatshepsut died her nephew had her statues smashed and her name and image erased from all monuments. In spite of this deliberate destruction, the memory of a female ruler persisted for more than a thousand years. In the third century B.C., an Egyptian priest named Manetho, who was writing a history of Egypt, included a twenty-one year reign for a female pharaoh in early Dynasty 18.”

“Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh.” The Met, www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2006/hatshepsut. Accessed 16 Jan. 2023.

(“Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh”)

“Hatshepsut was the principal queen of her half-brother Thutmose II, fourth king of Dynasty 18. After his untimely death, she acted as regent for her young stepson/nephew Thutmose III. Within a few years, she had assumed the position of senior co-ruler, and adopted the title of king. “Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh” examines the phenomenon of Hatshepsut as a female pharaoh and the effects of her reign on Egyptian history, culture, and the astonishingly creative artistic output of the time.” (“Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh”)

The Temple of Hatshepsut – Image Credit: The Met

Temple of Hatshepsut, Thebes




“Hatshepsut was the most significant of Egypt’s female rulers. She came to power early in Dynasty 18, at the beginning of the New Kingdom. First as regent, then as co-ruler with her stepson and nephew, Thutmose III, Hatshepsut wielded the authority of king for more than twenty years (ca. 1479–1458 B.C.).

“The crowning architectural achievement of Hatshepsut’s reign was her terraced funerary temple, Djeser-djeseru, at Deir el-Bahri in western Thebes opposite modern Luxor. The temple, with its three levels of pillared porticoes, combined building, sculpture, and landscape in one of the world’s great architectural masterpieces. Djeser-djeseru was partly inspired by a neighboring temple built five centuries earlier for Mentuhotep II, founder of the Middle Kingdom. By associating herself with Mentuhotep, one of Egypt’s greatest rulers, Hatshepsut reinforced her own position as king.

“Hatshepsut revitalized the royal funerary complex by combining her mortuary cult with a temple of the gods. Chief among the deities worshipped at Djeser-djeseru was Amun, whose principal temple, Karnak, was at Thebes, on the east bank of the Nile. Amun’s chapel dominates the central axis of Djeser-djeseru, and once a year, during the “Beautiful Feast of the Valley,” the god’s image was brought from Karnak, in a boat-shaped shrine, to rest in Hatshepsut’s temple.


“The temples of Hatshepsut and Mentuhotep II were well known when the Metropolitan Museum’s excavators, led by Museum Egyptologist Herbert E. Winlock, began clearing the area in front of them in 1923. Winlock was searching for information about the early Middle Kingdom when he began finding fragments of statues belonging to the time of Hatshepsut. Some were pieces of limestone sculpture that had been part of the temple architecture. These giant images of Hatshepsut had once decorated the portico and niches of the upper terrace. Other fragments of granite and sandstone came from huge sphinxes and freestanding statues of Hatshepsut that had lined the processional way leading to the sanctuary of Amun. The sculpture had been destroyed some twenty years after Hatshepsut’s death by her nephew, Thutmose III, for reasons that still are not completely understood.

“Between 1923 and 1931, tens of thousands of fragments—some weighing more than a ton, others smaller than a human fist—were recovered and sorted. Examples of the architectural statues were reattached to the temple’s facade and some of the sphinxes and other freestanding statues were reassembled and divided between the Egyptian Antiquities Service and the Metropolitan Museum. Objects acquired by the Museum in this division of finds are on view in Egyptian galleries 115, 116, and 117.” (“Temple of Hatshepsut, Thebes”)

“Temple of Hatshepsut, Thebes.” The Met, www.metmuseum.org/met-around-the-world/?page=10155&. Accessed 16 Jan. 2023.

Sphinx of Hatshepsut

New Kingdom

Sphinx of Hatshepsut, Granite, paint

Sphinx of Hatshepsut ca New Kingdom

“This colossal sphinx portrays the female pharaoh Hatshepsut with the body of a lion and a human head wearing a nemes–headcloth and false beard. The sculptor has carefully observed the powerful muscles of the lion as contrasted to the handsome, idealized face of the pharaoh. It was one of at least six granite sphinxes that stood in Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri.”

“The sphinx has a long history in Egyptian art, the most famous example being the great sphinx at Giza which represents the Fourth Dynasty King Khafre who lived almost a thousand years before Hatshepsut. Sphinxes representing other pharaohs may be seen throughout the Egyptian galleries.

“Hatshepsut ruled Egypt, first as regent for and then as senior co-ruler with her nephew/step-son Thutmose III. Most of her statues depict Hatshepsut as an ideal king, a young man in the prime of life, but others depict her as a woman (29.3.3)” The Met

Seated Statue of Hatshepsut, Indurated limestone, paint

Seated Statue of Hatshepsut ca New Kingdom
Image Credit: The Met

Hatshepsut, the most successful of several female rulers of ancient Egypt, declared herself king sometime between years 2 and 7 in the reign of her stepson and nephew, Thutmose III. She adopted the full titulary of a pharaoh, including the throne name Maatkare, which is the name most frequently found on her monuments. Her throne name and her personal name, Hatshepsut, are both written inside oval cartouches making them easy to recognize.

In this life-size statue, Hatshepsut is shown wearing the nemes-headcloth and the shendyt-kilt. These are part of the ceremonial attire of the Egyptian king, which was traditionally a man’s role. In spite of the masculine dress, the statue has a distinctly feminine air, unlike most representations of Hatshepsut as ruler (for example, two over life-size statues that represent her kneeling, 30.3.1, and standing, 28.3.18). The kingly titles on the sides of the throne are feminized to read ‘the Perfect Goddess, Lady of the Two Lands,’ and ‘Bodily Daughter of Re.’

“Traces of blue pigment are visible in some of the hieroglyphs on the front of the statue and a small fragment on the back of the head (see attached photograph) shows that the pleats of the nemes-headcloth were originally painted with alternating blue and yellow pigments.

Statues that depict Hatshepsut in a more feminine form, like this one, are in a seated pose, with hands flat on the knees. This suggests that they were intended to receive offerings and would probably have been placed in less public areas of the temple such as the chapels on the upper terrace. Two of these statues depicts her unequivocally as a woman (29.3.3).” The Met

Seated Statue of Hatshepsut, Indurated limestone, paint

Detail Seated Statue of Hatshepsut ca New Kingdom
Image Credit: The Met

Hatshepsut in a Devotional Attitude, Granite, paint
Hatshepsut in a Devotional Attitude ca New Kingdom
Image Credit: The Met

“For the ancient Egyptians, the ideal king was a young man in the prime of life. The physical reality was of less importance, so an old man, a child, or even a woman who held the titles of pharaoh could be represented in this ideal form, as in this representation of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut. Although many of Hatshepsut’s statues depict her as the ideal king, the inscriptions always allude to her feminine gender, sometimes by using both masculine and feminine grammatical forms, sometimes by including her personal name, Hatshepsut, which means “foremost of noble women.”

“This statue was one of a pair that stood on either side of a granite doorway on the upper terrace of Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el-Bahri. She is represented wearing a king’s nemes-headcloth, false beard, and shendyt-kilt. Her pose, with both hands open and resting on the front of the kilt, is a devotional gesture that was first used in statues of the Middle Kingdom pharaoh Senwosret III who lived some three hundred years before Hatshepsut. Senwosret had dedicated six statues of this type in the temple of the Middle Kingdom’s founder, Mentuhotep II, which is just south of Hatshepsut’s temple. As happened throughout Egyptian history, the official architecture and sculpture produced in Hatshepsut’s reign was influenced by prototypes developed in earlier periods.

“Statues that were in more prominent positions in Hatshepsut’s temple, such as this one, the sphinxes (31.3.166), and the colossal kneeling statues (29.3.1), all portray Hatshepsut as the ideal king. Several others that may have been placed in less public areas such as the chapels on the upper terrace, depict her in a more feminine form including a seated statue in hard white limestone (29.3.2), and a granite statue which depicts here as a woman (29.3.3).” The Met

Large Kneeling Statue of Hatshepsut, Granite

Large Kneeling Statue of Hatshepsut ca New Kingdom
Image Credit: The Met

“In her terraced temple at Deir el-Bahri, there were at least ten over life-sized kneeling statues of Hatshepsut. She is shown as a male king wearing a kilt, a false beard, and either the white crown of Upper Egypt (as in this statue), or the nemes–headcloth (29.3.1). In her hands she holds round offering vessels, called nu–pots, and the inscription on the base of each statue identifies the offering she makes to the god Amun. These huge statues flanked the processional way along which Amun’s image was carried toward the temple’s main sanctuary during a yearly festival. The statues were probably positioned on the temple’s second terrace.

This statue represents Hatshepsut wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt (the south), so it may have been placed on the southern side of the processional way. On the base, Hatshepsut is said to be offering fresh plants to Amun. On the back pillar, she is identified by her Horus name, Wosretkau, which is written in a rectangular device called a serekh. One also finds fragments of her throne name, Maatkare, and her personal name, Hatshepsut, both of which are written inside oval cartouches.

In 1930, the Museum’s Egyptian Expedition found the body fragments of this statue buried in an area called the “Hatshepsut Hole.” Some eighty years earlier, the head had been found and taken to Berlin by Egyptologist Richard Lepsius. The pieces of the statue were reunited in an exchange organized by Herbert Winlock, director of the Museum’s excavations at Thebes. This and other exchanges were made possible by the generosity of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, which ceded many fragmentary statues to the Metropolitan Museum in the division of finds.” The Met

Head from an Osiride Statue of Hatshepsut, Limestone, paint

Head from an Osiride Statue of Hatshepsut ca New Kingdom
Image Credit: The Met

“This head originally belonged to one of the Osiride statues that were carved in high relief in niches along the rear wall of the upper terrace of Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el Bahri. Hatshepsut wears the Double Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt suggesting that the head was from a figure in one of the niches on the northern side of the terrace. Another head, 31.3.163, wears the White Crown of Upper Egypt and came from a niche on the southern side.

“These Osiride figures were architectural accents rather than freestanding statues and were carved from the same limestone blocks that were used to construct the temple itself. Four Osiride statues decorated the corners of the temple’s shrine of Amun (31.3.153–.155), and a series of much larger statues were attached to the pillars at the front of the upper terrace (31.3.156, 31.3.158, 31.3.159).” The Met

Sphinx of Hatshepsut, Limestone, plaster

Sphinx of Hatshepsut ca New Kingdom
Image Credit: The Met

“The reconstructed sections of this sphinx have been cast from an almost identical, but more complete companion piece now in Cairo. The two small limestone sphinxes may have been on either side of the entrance to the upper terrace of Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri. The head of this sphinx differs markedly from Hatshepsut’s large sphinxes in which the human head wears the royal nemes-headcloth (see 31.3.166 and 31.3.167). Instead, this example was fashioned according to a type of sphinx bet known from the Middle Kingdom during the reign of Amenemhat III (ca. 1859-1813 B.C.). In this sphinx, the only human element is the face which is surrounded by a lion’s mane. Remains of pigment show that the face was painted yellow, the color used for women in Egyptian Art.”  The Met


Roehrig, Catharine H., Renée Dreyfus, and Cathleen A. Keller, eds. Hatshepsut, from queen to Pharaoh. Metropolitan museum of art, 2005.

Exhibit Pieces at the Metropolitan Museum of Art