The life of Senenmut is inextricably linked to that of Queen Hatshepsut. Just mentioning her name inevitably evokes the name of the queen he served. But who was this man? How did a queen with the title of king give him absolute control of the country?
The rise of Senenmut
Senenmut, according to recent studies, was the son of ordinary people, as shown by the title of the parents found in their tomb, not far from the TT71, their son’s tomb, in 1927: his father Ramose is in fact remembered as ‘Worthy’, while his mother Hatneferu is indicated as ‘Housewife’.
They were originally from the South, beyond the first cataract. The family, since the time of Thutmosis I, had settled in Ermant, near Luxor. The young Senenmut had participated in military expeditions in Nubia and had been rewarded with the bracelet “menefert” (“he who beautifies”). When his mother died shortly after Hatshepsut’s coronation, the son moved his father close to his mother.
Senenmut’s influence is demonstrated by his mother’s grave goods, which also included a golden mask and a beetle on the heart, made with serpentine and set in a golden square.
Not far from the Djeser-Djeseru, the funeral chapel of Senenmut, which began two months after the death of the parents, was brought to light. In this chapel are inscribed, in red and black ink, the titles of which he was a proud holder.
An exceptional fact for an Egyptian, Senenmut doesn’t seem to have ever married, so much so that his funerary cult was entrusted to his older brother, Minhotep.
The magnificent wall paintings, unfortunately badly preserved, allow to see six bearers of offerings, probably Aegeans; in fact, in their appearance they remind the Knossos’ bearers of offerings.
The sarcophagus, probably of red quartzite (royal stone par excellence), was adorned with funerary divinities, flanked by Isis and Nephthys and contained the entire chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead (the one with the negative justifications).
In spite of these origins, Senenmut made a brilliant career as an official of the kingdom and, quickly covering all the cursus honorum, he reached the highest offices of the State. Among the many positions he had, we remember that of “intendant of the temple of Amon, director of the fields, gardens and flocks of the double granary of Karnak”. This position allowed him to control the great wealth of Karnak.
He was very intimate with the Queen, so much so that he gave voice to the hypothesis of a love affair with her, of which, however, there is no documentation. Hatshepsut also chose him as architect for the great temple of Deir el-Bahari, whose design, outside the typical Egyptian canons, demonstrates the genius of both the architect and the Queen. However, recent studies seem to diminish the importance of Senenmut in the construction of the temple of the Queen.
Tomb TT 353
Senenmut ordered the excavation of the TT 353 tomb of Deir el-Bahari around the 7th year of his queen’s reign, at the same time as the excavation work on the temple began.
It was excavated deep in the rock, so that the whole funerary complex of Senenmut remained integrated within the complex of the sovereign, i.e. in the subsoil of the first terrace.
The long and steep descending gallery, fifty-three meters long, ends in a very small room, brilliantly decorated with the Book of the Dead, a false-door stele and crowned by an exceptional astronomical ceiling, unique and splendid, magnificently preserved today. This astronomical ceiling is the oldest known in the history of ancient Egypt.
On it are reproduced the twelve months of the lunar calendar, as well as the stars and constellations of the northern hemisphere. Another descending gallery leads us to a second chamber without decoration and from this to the third with a well, also without decoration.
Finally, he became guardian of Hatshepsut’s daughter, Neferu-Ra, who was the second heir to the throne after Thutmosis III, thus demonstrating the great consideration in which he was held at court.
Suddenly, however, Senenmut, as often happens, fell into disgrace, was relieved of his duties and disappeared from Egyptian history.