THE OTHER HATSHEPSUT PROBLEM

Yes, there is another one, and it has more far-reaching implications than Sethe’s little error. I regret having to report that recent research has thrown the entire dramatic scenario of resentment and revenge, female usurper and frustrated king, into disrepute. And it was such a great story!

Photographic Insert

Hemiun the Vizier. Pelizaeus Museum, Hildesheim. (Photograph by D. Forbes)

The tomb of Queen Hetepheres as found by Reisner. After a painting by Joseph L. Smith. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (Photograph by D. Forbes)

Pyramid texts. Pyramid of Unas, Sakkara. (Photograph by S. Ikram)

Hatshepsut. Seated limestone statue. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. (Photograph by D. Forbes)

Senenmut. From his tomb at Thebes. (Photograph by D. Forbes)

Deir el Bahri. Temples of Hatshepsut (foreground) and Mentuhotep III. (Photograph by D. Forbes)

The Red Chapel (Chapelle Rouge) of Hatshepsut. Open Air Museum at Karnak. (Photograph by D. Forbes)

Thutmose III. Luxor Museum. (Photograph by A. Dodson)

Thutmose III's tomb, Valley of the Kings, Thebes. Decoration of funerary chamber. (Photograph by D. Forbes)

Amenhotep III. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. (Photograph by D. Forbes)

Red granite head of Amenhotep III. Luxor Museum. (Photograph by D. Forbes)

One of the protective goddesses (Selket) from the Canopic shrine of Tutankamon. Cairo Museum. (Photograph by D. Forbes)

Akhenaton, Colossal Statue. Cairo Museum. (Photograph by D. Forbes)

Kiya, wife of Akhenaton. From a block found at Hermopolis. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. (Photograph by D. Forbes)

Amenhotep, son of Hapu. (Photograph by D. Forbes)

Abu Simbel. Rock-cut temples of Ramses II. Great temple. (Photograph by D. Forbes)

Temple of Nefertari. (Photograph by D. Forbes)

Temple of Ramses III, Medinet Habu, Thebes. (Photograph by D. Forbes)

Luxor Temple. Pylon of Ramses II. (Photograph by D. Forbes)

The Pyramids of Meroe. (Photograph by Martin R. Davies)

I won’t try to summarize the evidence, since it is extremely complicated. Suffice it to say that investigation of the damage perpetrated on the monuments of Hatshepsut at Karnak Temple seems to indicate that the campaign to destroy her memory did not begin until late in the reign of Thutmose III—twenty years after he became sole ruler, in fact. The relevant monument is, or was, Hatshepsut’s Chapelle Rouge or Red Chapel—a handsome little shrine Thutmose dismantled. Many of the separated blocks were found in modern times, inside a later king’s pylon. For years they rested on platforms in the Open Air Museum at Karnak until, in 1997, the French Institute decided to rebuild the Chapel. The task was equivalent to working a giant three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle when half the pieces are missing, and the French did a marvelous job. The restored shrine, in the Open Air Museum, is well worth a visit.

The reliefs on those blocks show not only Hatshepsut and her daughter, Nefrure, but Thutmose III. He was acknowledged, if in a secondary role, and it is believed he added to the Red Chapel after Hatshepsut died. Was that why he waited twenty years before dismantling it?

One might also ask why he bothered to do it at all. In fact, Egyptian kings weren’t always respectful of their ancestors’ monuments. It was easier to “borrow” neatly cut stones from pyramids and pylons than carve new ones out of the quarries. Karnak in particular was an ongoing architectural process that continued for centuries if not millenia. If a later king wanted to expand his building area and somebody else’s shrine was in the way, he might take it apart and reuse the stones, without necessarily any hard feelings.

That might account for some of the damage to Hatshepsut’s Red Chapel, but not for all. Her image and/or cartouche were removed from it, but the damage is inconsistent, to say the least. Maybe the reliefs weren’t attacked until after the shrine had been taken down, and the workers who carried out the job could only reach certain places; but that strikes one as somewhat sloppy reasoning.

Be that as it may, we come back to the question of why Thutmose didn’t go after Hatshepsut as soon as he assumed sole power. Some scholars try to explain the mystery by denying that Thutmose resented his aunt’s occupation of the throne. If I may be pardoned for interjecting a sexist viewpoint, I can’t believe that any normal, chauvinist male—much less Thutmose III—would have enjoyed being overshadowed by a mere woman. Either there is something horribly wrong with our interpretation of the royal succession in Egypt, or Hatshepsut had some means of dealing with Thutmose. But that’s only one part of the mystery. What made him decide, twenty years after her death or abdication, that history required revision?

One recent theory proposes that Thutmose felt no need to act against his aunt-stepmother until he realized that his end was near and feared his son’s succession to the throne was in jeopardy, threatened by the claims of another branch of the family. The trouble with this theory is that there is no evidence of rivals to the throne, legitimate or otherwise. Collateral branches of the royal family are essentially invisible; they must have existed, given the royal habit of polygamy, but uncles and nephews, cousins and half-cousins, do not seem to have had any particular status during this period. Even brothers of the king rate no special title, though the title of “king’s sister” is not uncommon. If the king was a minor, someone would have to act as regent, and this could open up interesting possibilities for pretenders lurking in the wings. However, in almost all the cases we know about, the boy’s mother acted as regent. Furthermore, Thutmose III’s heir was no helpless child. By the time his father died he was an adult and, as we shall see, no weakling. Nor was there any question of his legitimacy. His father was a king, and his mother a (lesser) royal wife.

So far no one has come up with an explanation that is wholly satisfactory. Thutmose’s campaign against Hatshepsut’s memory was spasmodic and inconsistent. He left her images and cartouches untouched in some places, he concealed part of her magnificent obelisks but left them intact. But—and it is a large but—the statues of Hatshepsut at her mortuary temple were pulled down, smashed into bits, and buried. Her images and cartouches there were erased and, as we have seen, replaced by the names of Thutmose III and his father and his grandfather. We don’t know when this took place.

The revisionists also have several ideas about Senenmut’s fate. The belief that Hatshepsut turned against him, for one reason or another, is unproven. He may even have survived her. A lot of time has passed, and a lot of tomb robbers, iconoclasts, and vandals have been at work in Egypt; there is no way of telling who was responsible for the random destruction perpetrated on his sarcophagus and in his tombs.

So there they are—the lastest theories and my impertinent criticisms of them. Naturally I have a few opinions of my own. I still believe that Thutmose began abusing Hatshepsut’s monuments shortly after she disappeared from the scene, and that it took him a while to get round to the Red Chapel and, perhaps, other places. Personal resentment may or may not have been a factor. Another even more important motive may have been the need to “restore maat,” the proper order of things, by eliminating the “disorder” of a ruling female. Hatshepsut’s name is conspicuously absent from later king lists.

The last word has not been spoken; perhaps it never will be. I wait with interest to see what the next Hatshepsut Problem will be.

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