Who were the Egyptian Pharaohs?

What is a Pharaoh?

In ancient Egypt, the Pharaohs were the people in charge with the most power, similar to a king or leader that we might see in the present day. The Pharaohs were also often seen as filling the gap between the gods and men and were believed to have supreme power.

The etymology of Pharaoh is “great house” and refers to the huge palaces in which the leaders would live. In the same way, a king would often have a queen; a Pharoah would also have a partner with large amounts of power over the land and the people.

Who was the first Pharaoh of Egypt?

Many scholars believe the first pharaoh was Narmer, possibly also called Menes, who ruled around 3100 BC. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about Narmer because he led so long ago. Still, many Egyptologists believe he was the first ruler to unite Upper and Lower Egypt and the founder of the First Dynasty – this is why pharaohs held the title of ‘Lord of two lands’ and wore the Pschent, or Double-Crowne commonly see Pharaohs wearing in Ancient Egyptian art.

The crown was made by combining the White Hedjet Crown of Upper Egypt and the Red Deshret Crown of Lower Egypt and symbolized the Pharaoh’s authority over all of Egypt. It bore two animal emblems: an Egyptian cobra, ready to strike, symbolizing the Lower Egyptian goddess Wadjet, and an Egyptian vulture representing the Upper Egyptian tutelary goddess Nekhbet. Only the Pharaoh was ever allowed to wear the cobra goddess, and it was said that she would protect them by spitting flames at their enemies!

Who was the most famous Egyptian Pharaoh?

As quite possibly the most famous Egyptian Pharaoh, many of you will have already heard of Tutankhamun, also known as the ‘Boy King’ or ‘King Tut.’

Tutankhamun began his reign in 1336 BCE at just 9 or 10 years old following the death of his father Akhenaten, a controversial and unpopular ruler who outlawed all but one God: Aten the Sun God. Having reversed many of his Father’s unpopular decisions by allowing people to worship the old gods again and repairing damaged temples, Tutankhamun died aged 18 in 1327 BCE. His role as Pharaoh was to rule over the land, collect taxes, enforce the law, and lead the army against invaders.

Did you know

Although the cause of Tutankhamun’s death remains a mystery, Egyptologists think a chariot crash might have caused it.

Why is Tutankhamun so important?

Tutankhamun is special because his tomb, found in the Valley Of The Kings at Thebes, remained untouched by tomb raiders. It is the only Ancient Egyptian tomb to be found completely intact, almost 3000 years after the Pharaoh’s death.

It meant that his tomb and the mummified body were discovered alongside around 5000 precious objects, which the Ancient Egyptians believed Tutankhamun would need in the afterlife.

Through careful examination, these objects have been able to offer a fantastic insight into Ancient Egyptian culture. They have enabled us to gain a deeper understanding of Tutankhamun’s role in Ancient Egypt as well as Tutankhamun’s famous golden mask, a selection of animal statues, large chests, jewelry, clothes, weapons, and even toys were found. Not forgetting the golden throne, of course.

Tutankhamun facts for KS2

  • Tutankhamun’s original name was Tutankhaten, after his father.
  • Tutankhamun reigned during the 18th Dynasty when the Egyptian Empire was at its height.
  • After eight years of searching, British archaeologist Howard Carter found Tutankhamun’s tomb in November 1922.
  • Four chambers were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb, filled with everything he would need in the afterlife.
  • Among all the other treasures, Tutankhamun was found buried with his sandals. Pictures of his enemies were painted on the soles, meaning that he stamped all over his rivals every time he walked.
  • It took archaeologists a decade to catalog all the treasures in the famous Pharaoh’s tomb.
  • The cobra on Tutankhamun’s mask represented lower Egypt, while the vulture symbolized upper Egypt. Tutankhamun ruled over them both.
  • Because Tutankhamun came to power at such a young age, his advisors, General Horemheb and Grand Vizier Ay helped him to rule Egypt.

When was Tutankhamun’s tomb found?

Tutankhamun’s tomb was found in 1922 by an English archaeologist, Howard Carter. Carter worked for an Earl called George Edward Stanhope, Lord Carnarvon, who funded the expedition to find the tomb. The digging that was taking place to search for the tomb began in 1914 but was later interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War.

Towards the end of 1917, digging resumed. However, by 1922, the excavations had found very little, and Carnarvon wanted to withdraw his funding. Instead, he agreed to fund one final dig, during which Carter’s team found the entrance to the tomb of Tutankhamun by accident.

In November 1922, the water boy assisting the digging team uncovered an unusual stone in the sand. After reporting it to Carter, the team revealed more of the stones buried deeper and discovered that it was the staircase leading to the tomb’s entrance.

After uncovering the buried entrance, Carter and the team discovered that the tomb was still intact, containing many items and artifacts from Egypt’s past. Unfortunately, Lord Carnarvon died not long after, but Carter could continue his work in the tomb with help from the Egyptian Department of Antiquities.

Who was the last Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt?

That depends on who you ask! Ancient Egypt’s last native Pharaoh was Nectanebo II, who ruled Egypt from 360–342 BC before being defeated by the Achaemenid Empire and forced to flee, leaving Egypt in Persian hands. However, the Achaemenid rulers adopted the title of Pharaoh, so even after Nectanebo vanished, there was a long period of foreign Pharaohs in Egypt.

The conquests of Alexander the Great destroyed the Achaemenid Empire in 332 BC, at which point Egypt passed into Macedonian Greek hands. However, after Alexander died in 323 BC, his empire became fragmented and divided between his former generals. Ptolemy, one of Alexander’s former bodyguards, was appointed Satrap, or governor, of Egypt in 323 BC. Still, in 305, he declared himself a king, and he and his descendants also adopted the title of Pharaoh, becoming the last Dynasty of Ancient Egypt.

All the Ptolemaic Pharaohs used a very small pool of names – all the male rulers were called Ptolemy, while all the queens were called either Cleopatra, Arsinoe, or Berenice. Talk about a lack of imagination! Moreover, it makes discussing the Ptolemaic dynasty quite confusing since there are a lot of shared names.

The very last real Pharaoh of Egypt was a woman -Cleopatra VII, although she’s so famous that most people call her Cleopatra. She was born in 69 BC into a troubled royal dynasty. Although Egypt was still an independent kingdom, the growing power of Rome and its empire was becoming a threat to the comparatively small Egypt. As a result, there was a great deal of in-fighting between the ruling family.

Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy XII, was ousted from power in 58 BC by his wife, Cleopatra Tryphaena, who was then replaced by her and Ptolemy’s oldest daughter, Berenice in 57 BC (some people think Berenice killed her mother herself to grab power!). However, in 55 BC, the Romans helped put Ptolemy XII back on the throne, and he made our Cleopatra (VII) his co-ruler when she was just 17!

After he died in 51 BC, Cleopatra’s father said in his will that Cleopatra should share the throne with her 10-year-old brother Ptolemy XIII – who was also her husband. It was common for the Ptolemies, who had adopted the practice of marrying their siblings from earlier Egyptian rulers, but still – yuck. However, Ptolemy and his advisors didn’t want to share power with Cleopatra, and a civil war broke out between them, with Cleopatra being forced to flee. After years of war, Cleopatra eventually resorted to getting the Romans involved to help secure her throne, becoming Pharaoh in 47 BC.

Cleopatra leaned very heavily to the Egyptian side of her identity, even claiming to be the goddess Isis’ incarnation on Earth – but ultimately, Egypt was now politically tied to Rome because of her dealings with Julius Caesar. When Caesar died, a civil war in Rome broke out, and Cleopatra backed Mark Anthony – which turned out to be on the losing side. Fearing being taken to Rome and paraded around as a captive, she took her life in 30 BC. After this point, Egypt was just a province of Rome, with no independent ruler of its own.

Fun fact: Although pop culture often talks about Cleopatra as a beautiful seductress who won over Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony with her looks, several ancient records, as well as recent historical research, tell a different story. In these records, Cleopatra is described as not being particularly pretty. Instead, on coins minted during her reign, she was shown to have strong features and a large nose – she was most attractive because she was extremely clever, according to the ancient writer Plutarch!

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