Abstract: The Woman Who Would be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt


Almost no evidence of successful, long-term female leaders exists from the ancient world – in the Mediterranean, Near East, Africa, Central Asia, or East Asia. Cleopatra attempted to use her sexuality and money to build alliances with the Roman empire and keep its imperial exploitation at bay; Boudicca, a noble elite of Britain led her people against Roman legions; Fulvia raised legions against Roman competitors on behalf of her husband Marc Antony. All of them came to ruin, in the end. Wu Zeitan of China took power as empress and kept that power (but we should probably not even consider her ‘ancient,’ but rather ‘medieval’). Only the female king of Egypt, Hatshepsut, stands apart.

This lecture will focus on Hatshepsut, the daughter of a general who took Egypt's throne. Married to her brother, she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father’s family. Her failure to produce a male heir was ultimately the twist of fate that paved the way for her inconceivable rule as a cross-dressing king.  At just twenty, Hatshepsut ascended to the rank of king in an elaborate coronation ceremony that set the tone for her spectacular twenty-two year reign as co-regent with Thutmose III, the infant king whose mother Hatshepsut out-maneuvered for a seat on the throne. Hatshepsut was a master strategist, cloaking her political power plays with the veil of piety and sexual expression. Just as women today face obstacles from a society that equates authority with masculinity, Hatshepsut had to shrewdly operate the levers of a patriarchal system to emerge as Egypt's second female pharaoh.

This lecture follows the unconventional life of an almost-forgotten pharaoh and explores our complicated reactions to women in power.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:


Kara Cooney, The Woman Who Would be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt. Crown (New York) 2014.

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