Pharaoh is the title given to the ancient Egyptian kings who ruled Egypt for over 3000 years. The Pharaohs of Egypt are divided into 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 Famous Pharaohs
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 legendary Queen Cleopatra. The other female pharaohs were Sobeknefru a female pharaoh of the 12th dynasty, Hatshepsut a female pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, Twosret a female pharaoh of the 19th dynasty and Nitocris a female pharaoh of the 6th dynasty. Another possible female pharaoh was Merneith 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.
The 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 Royal Harem.
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 pharaoh 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.
The Pharaohs - Rules of Succession
The 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?
The 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 New 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
The 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".
The 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
We 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.
The cartouche of Pharaoh Tutankhamen.
How many Pharaohs of Egypt?
How 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 god.
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 kingdom.
Crown of Lower Egypt (the North)
Crown of Upper Egypt (the South)
Crown of Unified Egypt
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 punishment.
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 Hatshepsut
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
Egyptian 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.