June 27: Egypt’s Lost Queen

2016/06/27 § Leave a comment

On this day in 2007 Queen Hatshepsut’s mummy was identified.

The mummy is not very pretty so we don’t include it here (but if you are into that sort of thing, see it here).  It was actually discovered over a century earlier by Howard Carter, who left the unidentified woman for later archaeologists to puzzle out.  Only recent investigations revealed it is the lost female pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, one of Egypt’s great rulers.  The discovery of her body is especially welcome because after her death Hatshepsut was subject to what the Romans called the damnatio memoriae–hundreds of her images destroyed and defaced to effectively wipe her from the historic record.

Although the particular culprits, and their exact motivations, remain a matter of speculation, the Muse can affirm your suspicions that these vandals were a bunch of neanderthal morons. In her twenty or so years of rule, Hatshepsut (r. 1407-58 BC) successfully and swiftly waged war when necessary but concentrated on peaceful activities.  Among other accomplishments, she extended trade networks that increased comforts and luxury at the court and wealth throughout her realm, and encouraged the development of civic architecture.  She directed the construction of additions to temples and commissioned tons and tons (literally) of sculpture.

The greatest work attached to her reign, however, is the mortuary temple built in Deir-el-Bahri 1490-1469 by a favored architect, Senenmut.  Today in ruins, it is still striking for its design and the rich golden color of its stone.  The temple is arranged as a series of terraces or platforms stepping away from the Nile, on perfect axis with the Great Temple of Amun-Ra at Karnak on the east side.  Its low-slung, sharply defined horizontal character contrasts dramatically with the craggy rise of cliffs into which the temple is set.  Memorable as this view is, in its heyday the temple offered a different kind of splendor: a greater number of wall paintings and sculptures adorned the entire precinct and, most notably, the whole of it was preceded by a cultivated garden full of fragrant trees that must have been an amazing vision of paradise set within this rocky, sandy stretch of desert.

Although the architect gets ultimate credit for the design of a building, surely a strong patron has her influence in a work.  No doubt that one of Egypt’s most successful pharaohs–hands down the most important female pharaoh–would have impressed her preferences and suggestions in the design.  The mortuary temple was to be her final place of rest but also a fitting memorial for the exemplary reign of a significant monarch and extraordinary woman.

Image: Hatshepsut (from this source)

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