Hatchepsut by Joyce Tyldesley: A Book Review

Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh
Author: Joyce Tyldesley
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Viking
Release Date: 1996
Pages: 304
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: Queen--or, as she would prefer to be remembered King--Hatchepsut was a remarkable woman. Born the eldest daughter of King Tuthmosis I, married to her half-brother Tuthmosis II, and guardian of her young stepson-nephew Tuthmosis III, Hatchepsut the Female Pharaoh, brilliantly defied tradition and established herself on the divine throne of the pharaohs to become the female embodiment of a man, dressing in male clothing and even sporting the pharaoh's traditional false beard. Her reign was a carefully balanced period of internal peace, foreign exploration, and monumental building, and Egypt prospered under her rule. After her death, however, a serious attempt was made to obliterate Hatchepsut's memory from the history of Egypt. Her monuments were either destroyed or usurped, her portraits were vandalized, and, for more than two thousand years, her name was forgotten.

     The political climate leading to Hatchepsut's unprecedented assumption of power and the principal achievements of her reign are considered here in detail, and the vicious attacks on Hatchepsut's name and image are explored in full. By combining archaeological and historical evidence from a wide range of sources, Joyce Tyldesley's groundbreaking biography provides the reader with an intriguing insight into life within the Theban royal family of early 18th Dynasty Egypt. At last, the Female Pharaoh has been restored. 

     My Review: Hatchepsut has fascinated the popular imagination by cross-dressing as a man, donning a man's kilt, wearing a false beard, and claiming herself as a king rather than a queen. While Hatchepsut was definitely not the first nor the last female pharaoh, she is the most successful of the female kings. Her powers and success eclipsed the later more famous queen, Cleopatra VII. Tyldesley's unbiased biography highlights Hatchepsut's accomplishments to show that Egyptian women were capable of ruling as the male pharaohs.

     Hatchepsut was the Egyptian princess of Pharaoh Tuthmosis I and Queen Ahmose. She married her half-brother Thutmosis II, at tweleve years old and had a daughter named Neferure. After her husband's death, Hatchepsut became queen regent to the child Tuthmosis III. A few years later, she decided to rule as Pharaoh of Egypt instead. The author portrays Hatchepsut as a young woman between the age of fifteen and thirty years old, when her husband died. She also portrays Hatchepsut as a woman who at first did not want to be pharaoh but was comfortable in her role to be a conventional queen regent. One of the explanations that she gives for Hatchepsut's decision to be pharaoh is because the young child king Tuthmosis III may die before he reached adulthood. Because of Hatchepsut's young age, we find that we can relate to her prudent decision to become Pharaoh of Egypt.

     Unlike the common myth of Tuthmosis III hating his step-mother for usurping his throne, Tyldesley states that there was no evidence for his hatred. Tuthmosis did not make any attempt to oppose Hatchepsut during her reign, but instead allowed her to be the dominant pharaoh. Tyldesley explains that this may be because he was most likely waiting for her to die off.

     The author gives a great introduction into the history of the 18th dynasty. We learn that women had far more freedom than that of the other contemporary kingdoms. Tyldesley also gives a comprehensive account about the everyday life of ancient Egypt. The biography also discusses the history of the archeological findings regarding Hatchepsut.

     Overall, this book is more of a history of archeological work of how Hatchepsut has been interpreted since her discovery than of Hatchepsut herself. The work is dry, poorly structured, and redundant. However, the author highlights Hatchepsut's accomplishments as pharaoh, and we are able to glimpse how striking a woman she truly was. While it was fascinating at times to see how Hatchepsut has been viewed since the discovery of her in the nineteenth century (for thousands of years her name has been erased from history because she was a successful female king), the archeology is not near as fascinating as the living, breathing Queen/King of Egypt. This novel is a great introduction for readers who would like to learn about Hatchepsut and the ancient Egyptian empire.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


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