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She ruled Egypt long before Cleopatra, and there's a reason you haven't heard of her.

The pharaohs of ancient Egypt were men. And then there was her.

She ruled Egypt long before Cleopatra, and there's a reason you haven't heard of her.

Her name was Hatshepsut.

She was the first woman to become a pharaoh.

As Kate Narev of TED-Ed explains in the video at the end of this post, other women had ruled as powerful queens, but she was the first to actually be the pharaoh.


But 20 years after she died, someone tried to erase her from history. Statues of her were smashed, and they removed her name wherever they could find it.

Here's what probably happened.

Hatshepsut had became pharaoh in a roundabout way. When the pharaoh Thutmose II died, his son, Thutmose III, was only a kid. Hatshepsut, the dead king's primary wife, became his regent.

Over time — and remember, Thutmose III was still too young to say much about it — she became more and more powerful until she was officially made pharaoh.

But a female pharaoh freaked people out.

It's likely because Hatshepsut's rise to the throne was a challenge to the traditional idea of maat, or universal harmony. And to some, "universal harmony" meant only men could ever be pharaohs. They also worried her success might encourage other women to seek power.

So Hatshepsut tried to be, um, more manly.

She was often shown as having a beard.

Hatshepsut also tried to show she was no threat to maat by taking the name "Maatkare." And she changed the ending of her original name to the masculine "su." It didn't work.

So, how'd she do as pharaoh?

Everything we know about Hatshepsut's 25-year rule was written by — or painted or carved for — the pharaoh herself, so it's hard to know for sure. But experts believe she had a successful, peaceful reign, even if some folks' sense of shattered maat never quite settled down.

And that's probably why someone tried to erase her from history 20 years later.

The most likely theory is that Thutmose III, still dealing with the blowback caused by having a female pharaoh, decided to make it seem as if the whole thing had never happened at all.

But it's not so easy to hide the memory of someone immortalized in stone. There were enough traces left of Hatshepsut to figure out who, and what, she was when modern archaeologists began coming across the ancient clues.

Hatshepsut's temple is now a popular spot for tourists.

This video tells the whole fascinating story:

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