Birth of Hatshepsut (c. 1479-1458 BCE)

Prof’s Notes for the Source

Hatshepsut co-ruled Egypt with her nephew/stepson Thutmose III from c. 1473-1458 BCE. During her reign, she sponsored trade endeavors (such as the expedition to Punt) and oversaw the construction of numerous monuments and temples – most notably the temple at Deir el-Bahari, where the “Birth of Hatshepsut” was recorded on the walls of Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple.

The story of Hatshepsut’s birth is a complicated text for a number of reasons. First, Egyptian hieroglyphs don’t translate precisely into English. This means that the text’s translators have chosen to fill in the gaps in the story based on their knowledge of ancient Egyptian beliefs and narrative structures. (That’s what you’re seeing in the bold-faced type.) 

Second, we don’t know who wrote this story. It might have been Hatshepsut herself. We shouldn’t rule out the possibility that she really believed this story was revealed to her by the gods in a dream or vision. It’s also possible her priests or advisors composed the story. 

The difficulty of translating the text and lack of clear authorship make it difficult to determine what the exact purpose of the story was. Was this a pious, devout story to honor the gods? Was Hatshepsut trying to justify her right to rule? Some combination of the two?

In class, we’ll discuss the context of Hatshepsut’s reign, including the Egyptian’s expectations of their rulers, Hatshepsut’s co-rulership with Thutmose III, and her experience as a religious leader during her tenure as God’s Wife of Amun.

The Birth of Hatshepsut

Translated from Emma Brunner-Traut, AltEgyptische Marchen, 5th ed. (Dusseldorf und Ksln, 1979), pp. 76-87. (Original source) Please Note: The bold type represents an interpretation of the reliefs (carved images) in the mortuary temple.

Amun summoned the Great Ennead in heaven to him and proclaimed to them his decision to procreate for the land of Egypt a new king, and he promised to the gods all good through it. As successor, Hatshepsut was chosen the unique woman; the royal office for her was claimed.

“She builds your chapels,” said Amun to the Ennead. “She consecrates your temples . . . she makes you rich offerings . . . the dew of heaven shall fall in her time . . . and the Nile shall be high in her time. Surround her with your protection, with life, happiness unto eternity.”

The Ennead answered, “We have come herewith. We surround her with our protection, with life and happiness . . . ” Amun charged Thoth, the god of wisdom and messenger, to seek Queen Iahmes, the wife of the reigning king, whom he selected as the future mother of the successor, and Thoth answered him as follows: “This young woman is a princess. She is called Iahmes. She is more beautiful than all the women in the whole land. She is the wife of the king, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Tuthmosis I, and his majesty is still a youth. Go therefore to her . . .” Then Thoth led Amun to Queen Iahmes.

There came the ruling god, Amun, Lord of the throne of the Two Lands, after he had assumed the form of the majesty of her husband, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Tuthmosis I. He found her as she rested in the innermost (area) of her palace. Then she awoke because of the scent of the god, and she smiled at his majesty. At the same time, he went there to her and was full of desire for her. He gave her his heart and allowed her to recognize him in his divine form, after which he approached her. She rejoiced to show her beauty, and his love went over into her body. The palace was flooded with the fragrance of the god. All his scent was the fragrance from Punt.

The royal wife and king’s mother Iahmes spoke to the majesty of the splendid god Amun, to the lord of the throne of the Two Lands, “My lord, how great is your glory. How splendid it is to see your face. You have enclosed my majesty with your glance. Your fragrance is in all my parts.” [Thus she spoke,] after the majesty of this god had done with her all which he wished.

Then Amun, the lord of the throne of the Two Lands spoke to her, “Hatshepsut is thus the name of this your daughter whom I have laid in your body, according to the speech of your mouth. She will exercise the splendid kingship in the whole land. My glory will belong to her, my authority will belong to her, and my crown will belong to her. She will rule the Two Lands (Egypt) . . . I will surround her every day with my protection in common with the god of the respective day.”

After Amun attended the queen, determined the name of the child, and promised her the lordship over Egypt, he spoke with the creator god Khnum who would form the child on the potter’s wheel from mud. Thereby he commissioned him to create for the child a ka. And Khnum answered him:

“I form this your daughter prepared for life, prosperity, and health, for food, nourishment, for respect, popularity, and all good. I distinguish her form from the gods in her great dignity of king of Upper and Lower Egypt.”

Then according to the divine instruction, Khnum created the royal child Hatshepsut and her ka on the potter’s wheel, and the goddess of birth, the frog-headed Heket, proffered life to her. Khnum spoke in addition, “I form you with this divine body . . . I have come to you to form you completely as all gods (Kings), give to you all life and prosperity, give to you enduring and joy . . . and give to you all health, deliver to you all flat lands and all mountain lands as well as all subjects, give to you every food and nourishment and cause that you appear on the throne of Horus like (the sun god) Re (himself). I cause that you stand as the head of all the living when you appear as king of Upper and Lower Egypt. Thus as your father Amun-Re who loves you has commanded it.”

Khnum’s divine companion Heket concluded with speeches of blessing and gave the child with her word, life, enduring, and happiness in all eternity.

The divine messenger Thoth, dispatched by Amun, proclaimed to the royal mother Iahmes the office and title which heaven had conferred on her. He called her [Iahmes] “the daughter of Geb, heir of Osiris, princess of Egypt, and mother of the king of Egypt. Amun the lord of the throne of the Two Lands is content with your great dignity of Princess who is great of favor, cheerfulness, charm, loveliness, and popularity,” and his message to the great royal wife Iahmes concluded with the wish that she live, endure, be happy and everlastingly joyful in heart.

Khnum, the creator god, and his divine companion Heket conducted the pregnant queen to the birth and the birth place and there pronounced their blessings. Khnum spoke to her, “I surround your daughter with my protection. You are great, but the one who opens your womb will be greater than all kings till now . . . ” Thus spoke Khnum, the potter . . . and Heket, the deliverer.

The queen who accordingly immediately became pregnant and now suffers the birth pains was delivered in the presence of the god Amun and goddess of the birthplace Mesekhnet with the assistance of many spirits and divine nurses.

After a long speech by Amun, Mesekhnet executed her blessing on the child.

Questions for Discussion:

Source (Pre-Class)

  • When was the source written?
  • Who wrote it?
  • Where was it written?

Observe (Pre-Class)

  • To the best of your ability, summarize the text you just read.
  • Don’t worry about meaning or symbolism yet. Just do your best to narrate the plot or main points of the text.


We’ll use the following questions in class to think about how this text is a product of the time and place it was written.

  • Which of Hatshepsut’s family members are mentioned in the text? Which family members are missing from the story? Based on the lecture material for Egypt, can you take an educated guess as to why the missing ones are absent?
  • How are the deities portrayed in this text? How would you characterize the Egyptians’ view of or relationship with their deities based on this text?
  • What does that text tell us about Hatshepsut’s reign as king? Why does she have a right to rule? What makes her a good king for Egypt?
  • Research Quest: We don’t know for sure why this text was written, but historians can make an educated guess based on other evidence from the same time period. Use Google Scholar, UB Libraries, a general search, and/or any resources you find helpful to see if you can find out what other primary sources exist for Hatshepsut’s life, reign, and time period?


At the end of class, you’ll take a few minutes to answer one of the following questions:

  • What does this source mean to you?
  • Why is it worth studying?
  • Think about whether it helps you see things in a new way or if there are lessons in the text that could be useful to you personally or to other people in the present.


  1. This wasn’t true at all times in Egyptian history, but during the 18th Dynasty (the dynasty begun by Thutmose I), Amun was considered the most powerful god in the Egyptian pantheon. He was the main focus of worship in the temples at Karnak, a massive temple complex near what is now Luxor, Egypt. Hatshepsut herself served as the God’s Wife of Amun, a high priestess position reserved for royal or noble women.

  2. “Ennead” is a Greek word that here means a sort of high council of deities.

  3. The Egyptians worshipped a dizzying number of deities. Each represented a different characteristic of nature or human experience and each deity served a different purpose for worshippers.

  4. Her name is sometimes given as “Ahmes” or “Ahmose.” By some accounts, she was the daughter of Ahmose, the last king of the 17th dynasty of Egypt. It’s possible that her blood connection to the previous dynasty helped her husband Thutmose I shore up his power while he established the new dynasty.

  5. Here’s what’s likely going on in the phrase, “He [Amun] assumed the form of the majesty of her husband [Thutmose I].” First, it was common belief during the New Kingdom that Amun possessed the body of the king of Egypt during the moment at which the heir was conceived. Second, the Egyptians believed that a man was solely responsible for the creation of new life; a woman’s womb was where the child grew, but she was not seen as contributing any part of herself to the fetus. These beliefs combined led to the idea that, when an heir was conceived, the divine essence of Amun – channeled through the king – was transferred to the heir.

    In short, the narrative here invokes these beliefs to strengthen Hatshepsut’s claim to the throne. It’s suggesting that Hatshepsut is conceived just like other kings BUT in an even more divine way since Iahmes ultimately knows it is Amun who has appeared to her.

  6. Before you get worked up about this phrase, remember the context (see note for “assumed form,” above. For the ancient Egyptians, the male was seen as the active member in a sexual union; the woman was viewed as taking a passive role. Probably not a perspective we want to perpetuate today, but it’s still important to understand why the text says what it does.

  7. The ka was one of the parts of the soul for the Egyptians. The ka was seen as the part of a person’s soul that contained what made the individual unique (characteristics, personality, talents, etc.). A person’s ka was formed along with the physical body of the person. The ka also persisted after death and remained active in the afterlife.

  8. “Heket” and “heka” are from the same Egyptian root word. Heka connoted the life-force that permeated everything in the cosmos. The goddess Heket was the divine personification of this life-force.

  9. Egyptian kings were seen as divine. More specifically, they were considered a personifications of the falcon-headed god Horus, the son of Osiris – the original ruler of all things before his brother Set murdered him…

  10. The ancient kingdom of Egypt was originally two kingdoms – Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. Since the Nile flows from South to North, Upper Egypt was actually the southern kingdom while Lower Egypt was the northern kingdom. The two kingdoms were united around 3100 BCE, most likely by a king named Narmer. The artifact known as the Narmer Palette is our best evidence of this as the king depicted wears the tall, conical crown of Upper Egypt on one side of the palette and the circular, serpentine crown of Lower Egypt on the other.

  11. After unification, the kingdom of Egypt was frequently called “the Two Lands” (i.e., Upper and Lower Egypt)

  12. The timeline seems weird here, right? Amun comes to Iahmes, they have sex, then there’s all this conversation among the deities and the creation of Hatshepsut’s ka – but the queen is only pregnant just now? The most likely explanation is that this story just isn’t that concerned about a linear narrative. The themes of the birth story are the point. This fits the genre. The story is a myth, not a historical account.