The King Herself

Egypt’s Pharaoh Hatshepsut had presided over her kingdom’s most peaceful and prosperous period in generations. Yet 25 years after her death, much of the evidence of her success had been erased or reassigned to her male predecessors.

Even after 20th-century archaeologists began to unearth traces of the woman who defied tradition to crown herself as king, Hatshepsut still didn’t get her due, a UCLA Egyptologist argues in a forthcoming book.

“She’s been described as a usurper, and the obliteration of her contributions has been attributed to a backlash against what has been seen as her power-grabbing ways,” said Kara Cooney, the author of The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt.

Cooney illuminates the difficult position into which Hatshepsut was born. The lone daughter of one of ancient Egypt’s most successful warrior kings —Thutmose I— she lived in a society in which the crown was passed from father to son and royal children were expected to marry their siblings.

After the deaths of both of her brothers, Hatshepsut married a sickly half-brother, who was crowned Thutmose II when their father died. Despite intense pressure to produce a male heir, she bore just one surviving daughter. So after Thutmose II died (when Hatshepsut was about 16), a baby boy born to a member of his harem was selected to succeed him.

“The risk in a succession crisis of this kind was that a strong man — some kind of warlord with political and military backing — could take over, and the dynasty would switch to another family,” Cooney said. “But Hatshepsut was smart, skilled and strategic enough to support a baby and make sure that baby was educated and prepared to take the throne and continue the success of her dynasty.”

Following a revelation in which Amen picked her to rule, Hatshepsut ended up taking over as regent — and never stepped aside.

Read More: Egyptologist gives new life to female pharaoh