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Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt – Hatshepsut Part II

So, we’re still talking about episode 3 in the Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt series. Last post, I exclaimed my one real concern with the lecture – the dismissal of the possibility that Hatshepsut led the military – but this episode always has some really interesting moments.

My intent for this post was to discuss some of those interesting moments, and then I got sidetracked and once again need to call out Dr. Brier – or at least provide counterpoint to his statements.

The discussion of the path to becoming a pharaoh really stunned me the first time I heard it – one becomes pharaoh by marrying a daughter of an earlier pharaoh and that pharaoh’s great wife. That says a lot about both becoming pharaoh but also about the marriage politics of the pharaoh’s family. I hadn’t heard much about this practice, but in all honesty, most of the texts I read when I was writing Nefertiti Overdrive glossed over how one actually becomes a pharaoh. In doing further research, I found that Dr. Brier may be adhering to a theory no longer accepted by other. Two examples are Lawrence Berman’s “Overview of Amenhotep III and His Reign” in Amenhotep III: Perspectives on his Reign, edited by David O’Connor and Eric H. Cline and G. Robins’ “A Critical Examination of the Theory that the Right to the Throne of Ancient Egypt passed through the Female Line in the 18th Dynasty,” referenced in Women and Military Leadership in Pharaonic Egypt by Elizabeth D. Carney.

I am not smart enough about Egyptology to now if Dr. Brier has good reasons to maintain this theory or how strong the evidence is against it. Honestly, I don’t really care. Were I writing fiction set during a pharaoh’s succession, or perhaps a game in which the PCs were somehow part of the succession, it would be important to get this right. Since that isn’t the case, and since the succession depicted in Nefertiti Overdrive is actually totally contrary to this theory – this succession was pharaoh by conquest – I don’t feel the need to figure this one out.

It’s just another example of what can happen when one relies on one specific source. If one finds contrary evidence, that doesn’t mean the single source is wrong, but it is important to investigate. Research the disagreement and see which of the evidence you find most compelling. History is interpretation, and while academics and historians are generally trustworthy because they usually are more aware of available evidence, people are fallible and people have inherent biases, biases about which the individual is probably not aware.

In any case, the path of succession remains a fascinating subject, and I would actually prefer Dr. Brier’s theory did it not generally necessitate incest – most successions were from father to son, so it would require marrying a sister. I prefer the “great wife succession” theory because it adds a complication and possible obstacle to a son’s succeeding a father, and that will always add tension to a story or game. I don’t prefer it as a historical theory, only as a narrative device.

One aspect of this discussion on which no one seems to disagree with Dr. Brier is on the different levels of marriage into which a pharaoh might enter. Pharaoh could have three kinds of wives. The great wife – of which there was only one – was the “main” wife, and only the children of the pharaoh and the great wife were considered to be of pure royal blood. The pharaoh could also have countless other wives. These women had many rights and responsibilities, but they were not the Great Wife, and so were always inferior. Finally there were concubines. These were not mistresses per se – according to Dr. Brier – and the child of a pharaoh and his concubine could become pharaoh, but they did not have the same rights as a wife.

As a point of comparison, concubines were also legal in Rome, and the purpose was to provide for a legal relationship similar to marriage when a legal marriage was not possible – perhaps due to class differences. This may be similar to the situation in Ancient Egypt, and after going down the rabbit hole of pharaonic succession, I’m just going to leave this one sitting right over there.

This is also getting long – go figure, Fraser has a lot to say, queue the lack of shock – but there were a couple of other really interesting topics Dr. Brier discussed. One of those was his theory of the three pillars of pharaonic power – how does one judge if a pharaoh was “great?” Dr. Brier asserts this is through military successes, building projects, and trade. In all these Hatshepsut distinguished herself, although Dr. Brier disparages her possible martial achievements.

Finally, linked to that last one, are the trade networks increased under Hatshepsut. Most important was a trade mission to Punt. As Dr. Brier asserts, we still don’t really know where Punt may have been, but I believe the main theory right now is roughly the location of the modern Somaliland/Somalia. The art associated with this trip are the first extant depictions of Sub-Saharan Africa. I bridle a bit at Dr. Brier’s use of the term “accurate,” as there is absolutely no way to judge their accuracy, but the perceptions of Punt by the Egyptians reminds us once again that we will always be fascinated by that which we consider “the other.”