Pharaoh is the title given to the ancient
Egyptian kings who ruled Egypt for over 3000
years. The Pharaohs of Egypt are divided
dynasties consisting of a succession of
kings from the same family who succeeded
each other on the throne of Egypt by right of
inheritance. The pharaohs were the
central figures in the ancient Egyptian state.
The ancient Egyptians believed that their
pharaohs were the manifestation of the gods on
earth and he used his absolute power to maintain
the order, safety and prosperity of Egypt.
The most famous of all the Pharaohs are probably
Pharaoh Tutankhamun, Pharaoh Akhenaten,
King Narmer, Pharaoh Thutmose, Pharaoh Seti and
Khufu aka Cheops. The greatest pharaoh is Ramses
II, the only pharaoh who is distinguished by his
title of Ramses the Great.
Female Pharaohs or the Queen-Pharaohs
The term 'Queen-Pharaohs' is a modern term used
to describe the Queens of Egypt who ruled the
country as female pharaohs in their own right,
not just as the consort of a king. The ancient
Egyptians had no word that was equivalent to
"Queen". The title of a female ruler was the
same as a man - King or Pharaoh. The most famous of all the Queen-Pharaohs is
The other female pharaohs were
a female pharaoh of the 12th dynasty,
a female pharaoh of the 18th dynasty,
a female pharaoh of the 19th dynasty and
a female pharaoh of the 6th dynasty.
Another possible female pharaoh was
who was a queen-consort and a regent of
Ancient Egypt and she may also have been an
Egyptian ruler in her own right. For additional
information refer to the
Queens of Ancient Egypt.
Pharaohs and Polygamy
The majority of ancient Egyptian pharaohs practised Polygamy.
A polygamous marriage means
having more than one wife at the same time.
Having numerous wives and concubines enabled the pharaohs to
establish their dynasty and ensure their line of
succession. The chief wife of the pharaoh was accorded the
status of "King's Principal Wife", all others
were the "King's wife" or the "King's wife of
non-royal birth" making the 'pecking order very
clear in the
Pharaohs and Incest
The ancient Egyptians also saw incest seen as an
acceptable practise amongst the pharaohs of Egypt
in order to retain the sacred and divine
bloodline. Incest means engaging in sexual
intercourse with another family member, a blood
relationship. Incestuous marriages only occurred
within the royal family and only involved the
who was believed to be descended from the gods.
The ancient Egyptian pharaohs
adopted the divine status, claiming ancestry
from the gods which made them suitable to
undertake the role as mediator with the gods. A
precedent for incest had been established by the
gods themselves, such as Osiris marrying his
sister Isis. Many ancient Egyptian pharaohs therefore chose their sister, cousin or even their
daughter as a wife.
Pharaohs - Rules of Succession
ancient Egyptian rules of succession were that
the next pharaoh would be the eldest son by the
"King's Great Wife". Should the principal queen
be childless the next pharaoh would be a son by
a lesser wife. If the pharaoh did not have any
sons the throne of Egypt went to another male
relative. If the new pharaoh was a child, under
14 years of age, his mother could become regent.
As 'Queen Regent' she would perform all of the
ceremonial and political requirements on behalf
of her son.
Pharaohs or Kings?
rulers of ancient Egypt are referred to as
both pharaohs and kings. Which is the correct title? The
ancient Egyptian kings were not called
'Pharaohs' until the ancient Egyptian time period
known as the
Kingdom 1550 -1069 BCE following the reign of
Queen Hatshepsut in the
18th Dynasty to indicate that the
pharaoh was of Egyptian descent whose divine
lineage traced to the sun god
Ra and not a foreign ruler. The title 'Pharaoh'
became so synonymous with the rulers of Egypt
that it is used to describe all of the kings of Egypt.
Pharaohs - The Name
origin of the word 'pharaoh' has two possible
meanings. The most popular, and probably the
correct interpretation is that the name meant
"The Great House" in reference to the royal
palace. The name 'pharaoh' deriving from the
Turkish word 'Perao' "the great house"
equivalent to "his majesty". The other, less
well known theory is that the name is a compound
of the words Ra, the "sun" or "sun-god".
Pharaohs and 'Divine Kingship'
During the period in ancient Egyptian history known as the
Old Kingdom 2686 - 2181 BCE (3rd -
6th Dynasties) the pharaohs adopted the divine status and
the role of mediator with the gods. The pharaohs
were therefore believed to have of magical
powers that could influence the weather,
fertility and health. The people believed that
as the pharaoh was an emissary of the gods. And
that if his role as pharaoh was performed
correctly and he performed the appropriate
religious rituals and ceremonies, made
appropriate offerings and upheld the 'Spirit of
Ma'at' then all would be well for the Egyptians.
Order and justice in ancient Egypt was applied
in the Spirit of Ma'at using basic principles of
truth, morality and fairness according to
ancient 'Wisdom Texts'. Failure to perform such
tasks would be viewed as extremely serious and
sacrilegious resulting in dire consequences for
the land of Egypt and the pharaoh who was to
blame for such transgressions.
The Names of the
Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs
know the names of many of the ancient Egyptian
pharaohs from the Hieroglyphic
writing found in numerous places including steles, tomb paintings, temples, reliefs
and statues. The
Palermo Stone contains a hieroglyphic list
of the mythical deity-kings and predynastic
kings of Egypt followed by the kings of the
first five dynasties. The names of the pharaohs
are written in hieroglyphics indicated by a
serekh. The serekh was the earliest convention
used to set apart royal names in ancient
Egyptian iconography, before the cartouche was
used. A serekh is a rectangular enclosure
representing the gated facade of a palace, the
"great house", usually surmounted by the Horus
falcon that indicated that the text enclosed was
a royal name. As Hieroglyphic
writing developed the serekh was replaced by the cartouche. A cartouche is an
oblong magical rope which was drawn to contain
the Egyptian hieroglyphics that spelt out the
name of a Pharaoh. The picture of the cartouche
belongs to Tutankhamen. The first translation of
ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs was made by
Jean-Francois Champollion in 1822. It was
impossible to identify the names of the pharaohs
until the key to unlocking the secret of ancient
Egyptian hieroglyphics had been found.
cartouche of Pharaoh Tutankhamen.
How many Pharaohs of Egypt?
many pharaohs ruled ancient Egypt? There are 225
known names of the Pharaohs of Egypt. However,
there were many unsettled periods in ancient
Egyptian history (called
Intermediate periods) that were due to internal conflicts
between powerful families and the conquests by many foreign
rulers. The records of the ancient
Egyptians did not provide a list
all the names of the foreign kings. According to Manetho, an ancient
Egyptian historian, one of these chaotic periods contained a series of "Seventy
rulers in seventy days", reflecting the fast changing
environment of continuous power struggles.
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Symbols of the Pharaohs
The symbols of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs
emphasized their role, their divine power and
were used as emblems of their supreme authority
as absolute monarchs with the status of a living
The Pharaohs Crown
There were several different types of crown worn
by the pharaohs of ancient Egypt and were
symbols of power and status. Each type of crown
had a symbolic meaning.
In early Ancient Egypt there were two
pharaohs, one that ruled Upper Egypt and
another pharaoh who ruled Lower Egypt.
Each king had his own regalia including a
crown that was specific to the part of Egypt
that they ruled. The 'Hedjet' or White Crown
symbolized Upper Egypt and the 'Deshret' or Red
Crown symbolized Lower Egypt. In
approximately 3100BC, Lower and Upper Egypt were
united and the crowns were combined in the Pshent crown that symbolized a united
Lower Egypt (the North)
Upper Egypt (the South)
Symbols of the Pharaohs - The Crook and Flail
The crook and flail were important elements of
royal regalia and insignia. The staff was used
by shepherds, the hook of crook served to hold a
runaway sheep. The crook sign symbolized the
role of the pharaoh as the 'shepherd' of the
people. The flail was for threshing or beating
grain from the ear by hand and was also an
ancient military weapon. The flail therefore
symbolized the role of the pharaoh as provider
of food for the people and also a symbol of
Symbols of the Pharaohs - The False Beard
Both male and female pharaohs were
depicted a false, tightly knotted, plaited beard
that was hooked behind the ears that were worn
for state ceremonies. Beards with an upward
pointing curl were called an “osird” or “the
divine beard", were used in the images of many
male gods. Living pharaohs wore a beard with a
straight edge. Only when they died could they
wear the "osird" beard.
False Beard of Queen
Symbols of the Pharaohs - The Ankh
The Ankh was was one of the most potent symbols
of the ancient Egyptians symbolizing physical
life, eternal life, immortality and
reincarnation. This symbol linked the Egyptian
pharaohs with the gods and emphasized the
concept of divine Kingship. The ankh was sacred
emblem depicted in royal funerary scenes
reinforcing the close connection between the
pharaohs and the gods.
The End of the Pharaohs
Cleopatra VII was the last Queen of Egypt and
the last pharaoh. Following her death, and after
the Ancient Egyptian civilisation had survived
for over 3000 years, Egypt became a Roman
province. There were no more Egyptian Pharaohs.
Learning about the ancient Egyptians and
Pharaohs inspires everyone to visit historical sites and undertake Egypt Travel and Tours to
experience the wonders of this magical land at first
hand. Many people choose to experience a tour of Egypt
on a Nile Cruise stopping at the famous destinations and
sites of Egypt such as the Pyramids of Giza and the
Great Sphinx. The information and facts about the Pharaohs will provide you with a great insight into Egypt and the legacy of the ancient Egyptians.