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.