Cooney (Egyptian Art and Architecture/UCLA) re-creates the life of “the first woman to exercise long-term rule over Egypt as a king.”
The author endeavors to discover why history rejected Hatshepsut’s remarkable achievements. Twenty-five years after her death, her surviving co-king decided to obliterate her image and name from carvings throughout the land. As Cooney admits, this biography could only be based on conjecture and guesswork, but the addition of expertise makes it well worth reading. The author’s Egyptology background provides the nitty-gritty of daily life and animates this king (at the time, there was no word for “queen”). The surviving buildings and carvings of Hatshepsut’s 22-year reign serve as evidence of her accomplishments. Upon the death of her father, Thutmose, Hatshepsut was married, as was customary, to her brother, the short-lived Thutmose II. She was already Egypt’s high priestess, and she now became the King’s Great Wife. Widowed after a few years, she became regent for the infant Thutmose III, making her the most powerful person in Egypt. Eventually, she had herself crowned king and reigned with him until her death. How she gathered and maintained her power is simple enough: money. It was a period of strong trade, uninterrupted annual inundation of the Nile River and successful empire building. Hatshepsut professionalized the priesthood and the army, and she spent fortunes expanding the empire and quickly rewarding those who served her. Furthermore, as high priestess, it was she who delivered Amun-Re’s rules and decisions. The image of this woman became increasingly masculinized as her reign progressed, reflecting the age-old distrust of a woman with authority.
Of course, there are still questions (“Certainty plays little role in the history of Hatshepsut”), but Cooney’s detective work finally brings out the story of a great woman’s reign.