Born as a commoner in 1464 BC, Senenmut started working as an architect and government officer in the 18th dynasty before becoming a close member of the Egyptian royalty with his humility and dedication.
His name is sometimes spelled as Senemut or Senmut, which means “mother’s brother.”
He was lucky to have educated parents, Ramose and Hatnofer, from the town of Armant. Senenmut had three brothers, namely, Pairy, Minhotep, and Amenemhet. He also had two sisters, Ahhotep and Nofrethor.
Senenmut is recognized by many for his constructed buildings, such as the tombs of his parents, which he designed and managed himself. Interestingly, you should know that archeologists found the tombs safe and intact when they were discovered. These tombs were among those excavated with an untouched exterior, as well as well-preserved bodies inside.
While other royal family members had many wives, Senenmut remained a bachelor throughout his life. You could imagine that nobody was given the task to lead his funeral ceremonies when he died. In that scene, one of his brothers took the honor of leading the ceremonial rites for the royal officer because he didn’t have a spouse.
To prepare for his burial, the Senenmut tomb was established, along with a chapel, but unfortunately, Senenmut was not buried there when he died. His chapel was constructed in the Tombs of the Nobles, whereas his tomb was close to Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple.
This proximity to Hatshepsut’s tomb also caused his detractors to question his relationship with the queen. Yet, according to reports, his tomb was located in a very humble place underground without any chapel overhead.
Who Was Senenmut?
Senenmut came from a very modest beginning. He did not even come from a royal family because his parents were only government officials. Nevertheless, through his diligence, he was able to receive approximately one hundred titles for his loyalty and determination.
You may have heard that he was an exceptionally faithful counsel to Neferure or Nefrua, the only daughter of Queen Hatshepsut. A dedicated servant as he was, he started serving the royal family from the time of King Thutmose II, the husband of Hatshepsut.
Later on, he was assigned as the Chief Royal Architect and was in charge of the construction of all engineering works during Hatshepsut’s term. With his resolve, he managed the building of the queen’s mortuary temple located in Deir el-Bahri. He was an earnest servant of the queen, and images of his adoration to her majesty were part of the history of Egypt.
Such closeness to a royal family, particularly the queen, was an exceptional opportunity as he was a commoner. Senenmut and Hatshepsut worked together to accomplish all of the construction projects of the queen.
He was a patient overseer as he managed the engineering works in the Karnak precincts. Included in his task were the plans for quarrying and the establishment of two splendid obelisks to pay homage to Hatshepsut.
You can hear from the historians who kept records of these feats that they were the tallest structures at that time. All of these were in the hands of Senenmut, and he proudly accomplished everything to the delight of the queen.
Aside from these infrastructure projects, Senenmut was also a close confidant of Hatshepsut. It has been reported that he gave wise counsel to the queen concerning several matters in the kingdom. Due to his unusual closeness to her majesty, many have suggested a blooming romantic tie between the two.
However, Hatshepsut and Senenmut were only working closely for the divine commitment to take care of the kingdom. Many were asking questions about his status in the palace and the heart of the queen because it was uncommon for an ordinary worker to always be beside the royal leader.
His presence in the royal family led him to make an outstanding commitment to run the palace and the entire kingdom. You could not deny his prominence when his name was attached to the queen and her daughter.
You may have probably known that Senenmut started his fascinating career during the time of Thutmose II as a tutor to Neferure or Nefrua, the only daughter of the king and Hatshepsut. The peaceful union of the family and the affluent life in Egypt at that time were shaken when Thutmose II suddenly died, leaving Hatshepsut and her young children on the throne.
As part of the custom, the king’s son had to inherit the throne. This made Thutmose III the king, although he was still young at that time. You would understand that to secure the kingdom, Hatshepsut declared herself as coregent considering the king’s young age.
The presence of Senenmut in the palace at that time was limited to tutoring the princess. He took care of Nefrua’s education and security as well. Hatshepsut was confident that her royal duty as a mother and primary educator was perfectly done by the tutor Senenmut.
The queen saw Senenmut with Nefrua as a safe way to educate her daughter. Historians believed that Senenmut’s closeness with the princess was instrumental in his position in the palace.
Apart from teaching, he was also entrusted with other positions, such as being the chief steward of Amun, the respected Egyptian god of the air. Likewise, he was appointed as the head of visual arts, a position he claimed due to his creativity.
His tombs were significant proof of his artistry. They were given an unusual touch by his artists when they decorated the tombs with the Book of the Dead. It was a peculiar attempt to associate the sacred book with the tomb of a commoner.
Part of his artistic spirit was the ambitious project of creating 25 statues of various types. One of these statues captivated the attention of critics in the kingdom because it portrayed Princess Neferure or Nefrua sitting on Senenmut’s lap. Her whole body was covered with a large cloak, and only her head could be seen. This statue has earned lots of recognition because of its closeness to the young princess depicted here.
Aside from this work of art, Senenmut was also seen making offerings to gods, which was considered a royal act that a nonroyal should never attempt to do. He was also presented in a statue depicting the name of the queen in a royal offering to Montu, a famous Egyptian god.
In sum, Senenmut was a commoner, but he was given many privileges to live with the royal family. It was an unusual opportunity for a commoner like him. However, the serenity of the kingdom under the rule of the queen was disturbed when Senenmut disappeared in the sixth year of her reign. Nobody could reveal the truth about his death other than unsolicited speculation that he died in 1466 BC.
Senenmut’s legacy could be summed up in his dedication and passion for teaching Nefrua, the only daughter of Queen Hatshepsut. He played an outstanding role in the education of the princess, such that he was called the “Steward of the King’s Daughter.”
He was given other assignments after the coronation of Hatshepsut as the queen. His greatest legacy was overseeing a temple dedicated to Amon-Re and other temples for the worship of gods, such as Osiris, Hathor, and Anubis.
These important engineering works gave him the title “Steward of the God’s Wife.” Aside from leading the constructions, he also advised the queen in the day-to-day business of the palace. He was a builder, and his creativity helped the queen strengthen her crown.
Senenmut died in approximately 1454 BC. His burial tomb is unknown, but there were two reserved tombs for him. There was a tomb set for him along a chapel found in the Tomb of the Nobles. His other tomb was found close to Hatshepsut’s Burial Temple, which others regarded as an outstanding privilege.
As he was an architect, the second tomb was believed to have been more associated with him because it was embellished with the writings of the 12 months of the Egyptian calendar carefully painted on the ceiling. UNESCO has awarded this unique tomb with an astronomical concept as an Astronomy and World Heritage site.
You could probably imagine the queen’s need for a reliable person as her husband, Thutmose II, died at an early age. With the kingdom left to Hatshepsut as a widow, it was an enormous task, but it’s a role she devoted her life to. The young age of Thutmose III led the queen mother to act as his coregent until she formally announced herself as pharaoh later.
The contributions of Senenmut to the house of Hatshepsut were instrumental in the education of the only princess, Neferure or Nefrua, as well as the overseeing of several engineering works in honor of the gods, ancestors, and the queen. He supervised the quarrying, transportation, obelisks, temples, and pyramids dedicated to the royal family members.
His creativity and dedication were his virtues that brought him to the highest position in the kingdom. From a humble beginning, his honesty and commitment brought him honor.