Ancient Egypt’s Influential Women Rulers

A close up image of the head of a stone statue of an ancient Egyptian female ruler in front of a blue sky

Contrary to popular belief, some of Egypt’s most celebrated and influential rulers were women—among them Sobekneferu, Hatshepsut, and Cleopatra.

While there are earlier women believed to have ruled Egypt, Sobekneferu is the first female pharaoh for which there is confirmed proof. Her rule lasted just four years, from 1806 to 1802 B.C.E.

One of Egypt’s most successful pharaohs, Hatshepsut reigned for more than two decades—from 1473 to 1458 B.C.E.

She first served as regent when her husband and half-brother Thutmose II died, since their stepson Thutmose III was too young to rule. Several years later she became co-ruler with him. Ironically, to defend her legitimacy as pharaoh, she ordered that she be portrayed as a male in sculptures and images.

Among her biggest accomplishments were increased trade activities and an ambitious building program that included several monuments and the Temple of Deir el-Bahri in Luxor, where she is buried.

Hatshepsut died in her mid-40s, sometime around 1458 BCE. Thutmose III later erased evidence of his stepmother’s rule, including any statues of her, from any of the structures she built. That’s why she remained largely unknown to scholars until the 19th century when hieroglyphics on the walls of Deir el-Bahri were decoded.

Fourteen hundred years later, one of the most famous female rulers, Cleopatra VII, reigned over Egypt during the first century B.C.E. She ruled for 21 years, mostly as a sole monarch. In addition to speaking several languages, Cleopatra was an astute leader, forming relationships and political alliances with Roman generals.  She is considered the last pharaoh of Egypt.