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Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt – Hatshepsut

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We’re on the third episode of Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, and I’m actually worried that I’m not gushing enough about these. Total disclosure: the links to the Great Courses are part of an affiliate program and if you purchase after following them, I get some kind of commission. But if you think I’m BS-ing you to try to make some money, you need to go back into the archives here and on G+. I am a huge fan of the Great Courses and have always been proselytizing for it.

I really do love this series. It’s short, it’s simple, it gets at history from a space easy for people to enter, and I really do like Dr. Brier’s casual style. For each episode that I review, I’ve listened to it a minimum of four times – that’s because I’ve gone through this series twice on my own and I listen to each episode a minimum of two times before writing these articles.

I’ve listened to these four time at least, and I’d be happy to do so again. I don’t know what greater recommendation I can offer.

As much as I love this episode – all of them, really – there are two parts of it that really bother me.

Well, the first one doesn’t really bother me about the episode, just it’s kind of a tease that doesn’t deliver. On this third episode, we’ve jumped over two intermediate periods and the entire Middle Kingdom. From Sneferu – who reigned about 2613–2589 BCE – we jump to Hatshepsut – who ruled about 1508–1458 BCE. One thousand years. We don’t get to talk about the intermediate periods, when Egypt fell apart – kind of like the Crisis of the Third Century for Imperial Rome – and we don’t get to talk about the Hyksos – the foreign “barbarians” who conquered Egypt and introduced it to the chariot.

While that bothers me, it’s not that it’s a problem with the episode or even with the format. He’s got twelve episodes, so he’s being selective, and there just wasn’t any pharaoh between Sneferu and Hatshepsut that Dr. Brier’s considers “great.” When I originally listened to this series, that gap actually led me to go buy the History of Ancient Egypt series.

Maybe that was Dr. Brier’s intent? I doubt it, but in this case, it worked brilliantly.

My other problem was with his casual dismissal of Hatshepsut’s military record. He indicates that she states she led armies into the Sudan, but he says he doesn’t believe this. He might have compelling reasons not to believe it, but he doesn’t provide them. This is odd considering the detail he generally offers. It worries me because in the past, Viking shieldmaidens were dismissed as unlikely or extremely rare at the same time that sex of the occupant of a burial was based on grave goods – so if the corpse was buried with weapons and armour, obviously a man! Determining sex by bones has proved that women were buried with weapons – though a very small portion of them, and far fewer than men. So Dr. Brier’s casual dismissal, when I have not encountered him doing the same with other pharaohs, tweaks my radar.

The course notes state: “As a woman, Hatshepsut was unable to lead men in battle, . . .” Which is ironic, considering that as a woman, she also couldn’t be a pharaoh, but she was. He even relates the confusion the first time someone translated hieroglyphics about Hatshepsut, and couldn’t understand why a pharaoh was being referred to with the female pronoun.

I just hope Dr. Brier’s has better evidence for dismissing the claim than simply because she was a woman. He spends so much of the episode convincing us what a great pharaoh she made that it would be disheartening to learn he couldn’t see that himself.

I’m going to continue in a second article because I haven’t discussed some of the really cool things I learned in this episode, so I kind of gushed for a bit, then slammed for a bit, and I’ll be back to gush some more.