Located on the wall of a cave in Deir el-Bahari is a bit of graffiti showing "a man having 'doggie-style' intercourse with a woman wearing a royal headdress." (Tyldesley 2006, 99) Historians have interpreted this vulgar piece of art as ancient Egypt's 18th dynasty's Queen Hatshepsut and a governmental official named Senenmut. At a time when men ruled and women were subservient, it was unusual for a woman to gain power, let alone become a Pharaoh. But this is exactly what Hatshepsut did, she assumed the role of Pharaoh; but in doing so she sentenced herself to virtual non-existence. While the reign of Hatshepsut is generally though to have lasted about 22 years, from 1479 BC to 1458 BC, the man she usurped from the throne eventually got his revenge. After her death, the next Pharaoh, Thutmose III, all but erased her reign from history leaving nothing more than scant clues to her existence. But in her time, Hatshepsut reigned over Egypt as a Pharaoh, built great temples and buildings, and even sent out diplomatic and trade missions to far off lands. She may have been a great Pharaoh, but the way she rose to the throne, by denying it to the rightful son of Thutmose II, led to his resentment at Hatshepsut[ which he took out on her after she died.
For all of Egyptian history there have been many women who were married to the Pharaoh, as well as many women who were the Pharaoh's consorts. In other words, there have always been queens in Egypt, but they were not usually the ruler, instead these women were usually referred to as "hemet-nesu," literally meaning "King's wife." The Pharaoh's also kept a number of women in his harem which were technically not his wife, but still produced legitimate sons of the Pharaoh. While most women in ancient Egypt were subservient to the Pharaohs, there were some who did achieve great power and position. Prior to Hatshepsut, there was a first dynasty queen who is excluded from the official list of Egypt's rulers, but was included on a later 5th dynasty record of Egypt's earliest rulers; Meritneith. While she was never described officially as "Pharaoh," she was put on the list of rulers as "King's mother…." (Tyldesley 2006, 33) Another female, but who actually reigned as "Pharaoh" was Queen Sobeknefru. There is a glazed cylinder seal, located in the British Museum which "confirms her true status by recording her name in a cartouche followed by her female Horus name 'Beloved of Ra'" (Tyldesley 2006, 75) While it was uncommon for women to assume the position of Pharaoh, it was not unheard of, and there were examples of women Pharaohs before Hatshepsut.
So when Hatshepsut slowly gained power in the Egyptian royal court, it was not an unprecedented event. She was the daughter of Thutmose I, as well as the half-sister and wife to Thutmose II. When Thutmose I died in 1493 BC, Hatshepsut's brother became the new Pharaoh: Thutmose II, and she married him becoming queen. Thutmose II's reign is generally though to have lasted from 1493 BC to 1479 BC, a period of 13 or 14 years, but scholars still debate whether Thutmose II was really in control during all those years, or if Hatshepsut was pulling the strings from behind the scenes. What is known is that "Hatshepsut bore her brother one daughter, the Princess Neferure," (Tyldesley 1996, 86) and when Thutmose II died, his son by a lesser consort was selected to become his heir. However, as the boy was still only a child at the time of his father's death, and the mother of Thutmose III was thought to be too lowly of a person to assume the role of Regent, Hatshepsut was selected to act as Regent for the boy king.
Hatshepsut accepted her role as the Regent for the boy Thutmose III acting as a "model queen regent, claiming only those titles to which she was entitled as the daughter and widow of a king." (Tyldesley 1996, 97) But slowly over a period of years, Hatshepsut assumed more and more power and titles until by the seventh year of her Regency "Hatshepsut was acknowledged to be a king of Egypt." (Tyldesley 1996, 99) Because the records left behind, and there were not many, state that Hatshepsut's reign began with the death of Thutmose II, it is difficult to establish the exact date of her assuming the throne. However, sometime after her seventh year as Regent, she had herself crowned Pharaoh and assumed complete authority. Exactly why Thutmose III allowed this to happen is not clear, but it is known that other regencies had ended peacefully, so one can assume Thutmose III thought that his step-mother Hatshepsut was correct and he would assume the throne when the time was right.
In any event, after a period of Regency, Hatshepsut assumed the throne becoming the Pharaoh "Maatkare," which meant "truth is the genius of the sun god." (Ray 1994) As Pharaoh, Hatshepsut was forced to assume the mantle of a man, while still maintaining her female authority. For instance, in the name "Maatkare," the part that means "truth" is "a female principle which also embodies the ideas of justice and harmony" (Ray 1994) But many statues and carvings of Hatshepsut show her wearing the beard which all other male Pharaohs have worn. But his did not always infer male sexuality, for instance, there are a pair of sphinxes, one in Cairo and one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which portray Hatshepsut and show her wearing the traditional beard of a Pharaoh. The strange thing about these statues is that while they both are inscribed with the text "Maatkare, beloved of Amun, given life forever," (Roehrig 2005, 166) one statue used the masculine pronouns and the other used feminine pronouns. While Hatshepsut was forced to maintain the identity of a man, she also maintained her identity as a woman as well.
Another carving located in Deir el Bahri is an official relief carved on the wall of Hatshepsut's temple showing a major expedition to the land of Punt. This was the land located around the mouth of the Red Sea, just north of the Horn of Africa comprising most of the modern day countries of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Yemen. (Wicker 1998) Egypt imported much if the perfumes and incenses that were so important for their religious services, from this land; as well as a number of other luxury goods. Staging a major expedition to this region was a display of power that, not only everyone in Egypt would recognize, but also the world in general. And on the walls of Hatshepsut's temple she had carved not only a description of the expedition, the five ships she sent, but also of the plants and animals of the land of Punt; eternal evidence of the fact that the expedition actually happened. (Wicker 1998) The exotic woods and resins, fruits, and other ingredients of the perfume, which she brought to Egypt, "…helped cement her position as a legitimate monarch" (Kean 2011)
This was necessary as she was a woman who had usurped the throne from her nephew, and had a seemingly scandalous relationship with one of her officials, Senenmut. This particular official was a commoner by birth and "rose to prominence entirely through merit and the queen's patronage." (Ray 1994) Statues exist which show he was very close to the daughter of Hatshepsut, Neferure, most likely the child's tutor. From this position, Senenmut would eventually hold over 80 different titles including "Spokesman for King Hatshepsut," "Steward of the Royal Family," and "Superintendent of the buildings of the god Amun." But the vulgar graffiti left in a cave in Deir el…