ANCIENT EGYPT | Hatshepsut and the damnatio memoriae

Hatshepsut was the pharaoh-woman who reigned over Egypt between 1473 and 1458 BC. Her name is linked to the building program that culminated with the construction of the great Temple of Deir el-Bahari in West Thebes.


Her life

Hatshepsut, exclaimed her mother Ahmes giving birth to her, in other words “She has the face of the Noble Ladies”. Daughter of Thutmose I, from an early age she proved to be more gifted than her half-brothers, but to access the throne she had to marry the eldest of them Thutmose II, physically and mentally weak, who soon left her a widow. He then assumed the regency in place of Thutmose III, but gradually he was acquiring more and more the characteristics of a king: in fact, he was represented with the false beard typical of the pharaohs.

For her coronation the queen had a mythological text written, in which she justified her coming to the throne at the behest of the gods. Furthermore, in this text she claimed to be the result of the union between her mother and the god Amun and that her father Thutmose I had named her his successor before his death.

Despite the apparent success of her reign and a burial in the Valley of the Kings, the monuments dedicated to her were marred after her death with a drastic damnatio memoriae, apparently desired by her co-ruler and stepson or grandson, Thutmose III.

The fact that a woman had become pharaoh of Egypt was very unusual. In the history of Egypt, during the dynastic period, there were only two or three women who actually managed to rule as pharaohs rather than to exercise power as the “great wife” of a king.

Hatshepsut launched a new artistic movement, called for a theological reform, administered state finances with rare effectiveness and organized very profitable expeditions, such as those in the mysterious land of Punt, from which Egyptian ships returned full of incense and strange animals. An activism that undermined the already delicate political-religious equilibrium and that procured her dangerous enemies: the young pupil, the priests of Osiris and all those who could not stand the influence of Senenmut, the powerful adviser who, perhaps, was something more for the Queen.



The queen worked in the temple of Karnak, where she had chapels built, a sanctuary for the sacred boat and erected two obelisks. Deir el-Bahari was the site chosen by the sovereign to place her mortuary temple, while her tomb was built in the valley of the Kings.

The Mortuary Temple, also known as djeser-djeseru (“holy among the saints”), is a temple located close to the rocky heights of Deir el-Bahari, on the west bank of the Nile, near the Valley of the Kings. It is dedicated to the solar deity Amun Ra and is located near the temple of Pharaoh Mentuhotep II.

The complex exploits a revolutionary planimetric solution of dividing the structure on different levels, in harmony with the underlying rocky scenario. The temple is considered the point of greatest contact between Egyptian and classical architecture: an example of the funerary architecture of the New Kingdom, it marks a turning point, abandoning the megalithic geometry of the Old Kingdom to move to a building that allows worship active.


Deir el-Bahari, view from above

damnatio memoriae hatshepsut
Inscription from the Chapel of Anubis, Deir el-Bahari: on the left, the names of Hatshepsut deleted; on the right, those of Thutmosis III left intact.

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