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What induced Hatshepsut to break so radically with the traditional role of queen regent? A social or military crisis? Dynastic politics? Divine injunctions from Amun? A thirst for power? "There was something impelling Hatshepsut to change the way she portrayed herself on public monuments, but we don't know what it is," says Peter Dorman, a noted Egyptologist and president of the American University of Beirut. "One of the hardest things to guess is her motive."

Bloodlines may have had something to do with it. On a cenotaph at the sandstone quarries of Gebel el Silsila, her chief steward and architect Senenmut refers to her as "the king's firstborn daughter," a distinction that accents her lineage as the senior heir of Thutmose I rather than as the chief royal wife of Thutmose II. Remember, Hatshepsut was a true blue blood, related to the pharaoh Ahmose, while her husband-brother was the offspring of an adopted king. The Egyptians believed in the divinity of the pharaoh; only Hatshepsut, not her stepson, had a biological link to divine royalty.

Still, there was the small matter of gender. The kingship was meant to be passed down from father to son, not daughter; religious belief dictated that the king's role could not be adequately carried out by a woman. Getting over this hurdle must have taken great shrewdness from the female king. When her husband died, Hatshepsut's preferred title was not King's Wife, but God's Wife of Amun, a designation some believe paved her way to the throne.

Hatshepsut never made a secret of her sex in texts; her inscriptions frequently employed feminine endings. But in the early going, she seemed to be looking for ways to synthesize the images of queen and king, as if a visual compromise might resolve the paradox of a female sovereign. In one seated red granite statue, Hatshepsut is shown with the unmistakable body of a woman but with the striped nemes headdress and uraeus cobra, symbols of a king. In some temple reliefs, Hatshepsut is dressed in a traditional restrictive ankle-length gown but with her feet wide apart in the striding pose of the king.

As the years went on, she seems to have decided it was easier to sidestep the issue of gender altogether. She had herself depicted solely as a male king, in the pharaoh's headdress, the pharaoh's shendyt kilt, and the pharaoh's false beard—without any female traits. Many of her statues, images, and texts seem part of a carefully calibrated media campaign to bolster the legitimacy of her reign as king—and rationalize her transgression. In reliefs at Hatshepsut's mortuary temple, she spun a fable of her accession as the fulfillment of a divine plan and declared that her father, Thutmose I, not only intended her to be king but also was able to attend her coronation. In the panels the great god Amun is shown appearing before Hatshepsut's mother disguised as Thutmose I. He commands Khnum, the ram-headed god of creation who models the clay of mankind on his potter's wheel: "Go, to fashion her better than all gods; shape for me, this my daughter, whom I have begotten."

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