Pharaoh (/ˈfeɪ.roʊ/, /fɛr.oʊ/ or /fær.oʊ/; Coptic:
ⲡⲣ̅ⲣⲟ Prro) is the common title of the monarchs of ancient
Egypt from the First Dynasty (c. 3150 BCE) until the annexation of
Egypt by the
Roman Empire in 30 BCE, although the actual term
"Pharaoh" was not used contemporaneously for a ruler until circa 1200
BCE. In the early dynasty, ancient Egyptian kings used to have up to
three titles, the Horus, the Nesu Bety, and the Nebty name. The Golden
Horus and Nomen and prenomen titles were later added.
In Egyptian society, religion was central to everyday life. One of the
roles of the pharaoh was as an intermediary between the gods and the
people. The pharaoh thus deputised for the gods; his role was both as
civil and religious administrator. He owned all of the land in Egypt,
enacted laws, collected taxes, and defended Egypt from invaders as the
commander-in-chief of the army. Religiously, the pharaoh officiated
over religious ceremonies and chose the sites of new temples. He was
responsible for maintaining Maat, or balance and justice, and part of
this included going to war when necessary to defend the country or
attacking others when it was believed that this would contribute to
Maat, such as to obtain resources.
During the early days prior to the unity of the lower and upper
kingdoms of ancient Egypt, a Deshret, the red crown, was a
representation the Kingdom of lower Egypt; while the Hadjet, a white
crown, was worn by the kings of the kingdom of upper Egypt. After the
unification of both kingdoms into one united Egypt, the Pschent, the
combination of both the red and white crowns was the official crown of
kings. With time new headdresses were introduced during different
dynasties like Khat, Nemes, Atef, Hemhem, and Kepresh. At times, it
was depicted that a combination of these headdresses or crowns would
be worn together.
2.1 Scepters and staves
2.2 The Uraeus
3 Crowns and headdresses
3.9 Physical evidence
4.1 Nesu Bity name
4.3 Nebty name
4.4 Golden Horus
4.5 Nomen and prenomen
5 See also
9 External links
The word pharaoh ultimately derives from the Egyptian compound pr-ˤ3
"great house," written with the two biliteral hieroglyphs pr "house"
and ˤ3 "column", here meaning "great" or "high". It was used only in
larger phrases such as smr pr-ˤ3 "Courtier of the High House", with
specific reference to the buildings of the court or palace. From
the twelfth dynasty onward, the word appears in a wish formula "Great
House, may it live, prosper, and be in health", but again only with
reference to the royal palace and not the person.
During the reign of
Thutmose III (circa 1479–1425 BCE) in the New
Kingdom, after the foreign rule of the
Hyksos during the Second
Intermediate Period, pharaoh became the form of address for a person
who was king.
The earliest instance where pr-ˤ3 is used specifically to address the
ruler is in a letter to
Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), who reigned circa
1353–1336 BCE, which is addressed to "Pharaoh, all life, prosperity,
and health". During the eighteenth dynasty (16th to 14th centuries
BCE) the title pharaoh was employed as a reverential designation of
the ruler. About the late twenty-first dynasty (10th century BCE),
however, instead of being used alone as before, it began to be added
to the other titles before the ruler's name, and from the twenty-fifth
dynasty (eighth to seventh centuries BCE) it was, at least in ordinary
usage, the only epithet prefixed to the royal appellative.
From the nineteenth dynasty onward pr-ˤ3 on its own was used as
regularly as ḥm, "Majesty".[note 1] The term, therefore, evolved
from a word specifically referring to a building to a respectful
designation for the ruler, particularly by the twenty-second dynasty
and twenty-third dynasty.
For instance, the first dated appearance of the title pharaoh being
attached to a ruler's name occurs in Year 17 of
Siamun on a fragment
Karnak Priestly Annals. Here, an induction of an individual
to the Amun priesthood is dated specifically to the reign of Pharaoh
Siamun. This new practice was continued under his successor
Psusennes II and the twenty-second dynasty kings. For instance, the
Large Dakhla stela is specifically dated to Year 5 of king "Pharaoh
Shoshenk, beloved of Amun", whom all Egyptologists concur was Shoshenq
I—the founder of the Twenty-second dynasty—including Alan Gardiner
in his original 1933 publication of this stela.
Shoshenq I was the
second successor of Siamun. Meanwhile, the old custom of referring to
the sovereign simply as pr-ˤ3 continued in traditional Egyptian
By this time, the Late Egyptian word is reconstructed to have been
pronounced *[par-ʕoʔ] whence Herodotus derived the name of one of
the Egyptian kings, Φερων. In the
Old Testament of the Bible,
the title also occurs as פרעה [par‘ōh]; from that,
Septuagint φαραώ pharaō and then
Late Latin pharaō, both -n
stem nouns. The Qur'an likewise spells it فرعون fir'awn with "n"
(here, always referring to the one evil king in the Exodus story, by
contrast to the good king Aziz in sura 12's Joseph story).
Interestingly, the Arabic combines the original pharyngeal ayin sound
from Egyptian, along with the -n ending from Greek.
English at first spelled it "Pharao", but the King James
"Pharaoh" with "h" from the Hebrew. Meanwhile in Egypt itself,
*[par-ʕoʔ] evolved into Sahidic Coptic ⲡⲣ̅ⲣⲟ prro and then
rro (by mistaking p- as the definite article prefix "the" from ancient
Other notable epithets, nsw is translated to "king", ity for "monarch
or sovereign", nb for "lord".[note 2] and heqa for "ruler".
Scepters and staves
Khasekhemwy (Museum of Fine Arts in Boston).
Scepters and staves were a general sign of authority in ancient
Egypt. One of the earliest royal scepters was discovered in the
Khasekhemwy in Abydos. Kings were also known to carry a
Anedjib is shown on stone vessels carrying a
so-called mks-staff. The scepter with the longest history seems to
be the heqa-scepter, sometimes described as the shepherd's crook.
The earliest examples of this piece of regalia dates to pre-dynastic
times. A scepter was found in a tomb at Abydos that dates to the late
Another scepter associated with the king is the was-scepter. This
is a long staff mounted with an animal head. The earliest known
depictions of the was-scepter date to the first dynasty. The
was-scepter is shown in the hands of both kings and deities.
The flail later was closely related to the heqa-scepter (the crook and
flail), but in early representations the king was also depicted solely
with the flail, as shown in a late pre-dynastic knife handle which is
now in the Metropolitan museum, and on the
The earliest evidence known of the Uraeus—a rearing cobra—is from
the reign of Den from the first dynasty. The cobra supposedly
protected the pharaoh by spitting fire at its enemies.
Crowns and headdresses
Main article: Crowns of Egypt
Narmer wearing the white crown
Narmer wearing the red crown
The red crown of Lower Egypt, the
Deshret crown, dates back to
pre-dynastic times and symbolised chief ruler. A red crown has been
found on a pottery shard from Naqada, and later, king
Narmer is shown
wearing the red crown on both the
Narmer macehead and the Narmer
The white crown of Upper Egypt, the
Hedjet crown, was worn in the
Predynastic Period by King Scorpion, and, later, by Narmer.
This is the combination of the
Hedjet crowns into a double
crown, called the
Pschent crown. It is first documented in the middle
of the first dynasty. The earliest depiction may date to the reign of
Djet, and is otherwise surely attested during the reign of Den.
The khat headdress consists of a kind of "kerchief" whose end is tied
similarly to a ponytail. The earliest depictions of the khat headdress
comes from the reign of Den, but is not found again until the reign of
Nemes headdress dates from the time of Djoser. It is the most
common type of crown that has been depicted throughout Pharaonic
Egypt. Any other type of crown, apart from the Khat headdress, has
been commonly depicted on top of the Nemes. The statue from his Serdab
Saqqara shows the king wearing the nemes headdress.
Statuette of Pepy I (ca. 2338-2298 B.C.E.) wearing a nemes headdress
Osiris is shown to wear the
Atef crown, which is an elaborate Hedjet
with feathers and disks. Depictions of Pharaohs wearing the
originate from the Old Kingdom.
The Hemhem crown is usually depicted on top of Nemes, Pschent, or
Deshret crowns. It is an ornate triple
Atef with corkscrew sheep horns
and usually two uraei. The usage (depiction) of this crown begins
during the Early 18th dynasty of Egypt.
Also called the blue crown, the
Khepresh crown has been depicted since
the New Kingdom.
Bob Brier has noted that despite their widespread
depiction in royal portraits, no ancient Egyptian crown has ever been
discovered. Tutankhamun's tomb, discovered largely intact, did contain
such regalia as his crook and flail, but no crown was found, however,
among the funerary equipment. Diadems have been discovered.
It is presumed that crowns would have been believed to have magical
properties. Brier's speculation is that crowns were religious or state
items, so a dead pharaoh likely could not retain a crown as a personal
possession. The crowns may have been passed along to the
Main article: Ancient Egyptian royal titulary
During the early dynastic period kings had three titles. The Horus
name is the oldest and dates to the late pre-dynastic period. The Nesu
Bity name was added during the first dynasty. The Nebty name was first
introduced toward the end of the first dynasty. The Golden falcon
(bik-nbw) name is not well understood. The prenomen and nomen were
introduced later and are traditionally enclosed in a cartouche. By
the Middle Kingdom, the official titulary of the ruler consisted of
five names; Horus, nebty, golden Horus, nomen, and prenomen for
some rulers, only one or two of them may be known.
Nesu Bity name
The Nesu Bity name, also known as Prenomen, was one of the new
developments from the reign of Den. The name would follow the glyphs
for the "Sedge and the Bee". The title is usually translated as king
of Upper and Lower Egypt. The nsw bity name may have been the birth
name of the king. It was often the name by which kings were recorded
in the later annals and king lists.
Horus name was adopted by the king, when taking the throne. The
name was written within a square frame representing the palace, named
a serekh. The earliest known example of a serekh dates to the reign of
king Ka, before the first dynasty. The
Horus name of several early
kings expresses a relationship with Horus. Aha refers to "
Djer refers to "
Horus the strong", etc. Later kings express
ideals of kingship in their
Khasekhemwy refers to "Horus:
the two powers are at peace", while Nebra refers to "Horus, Lord of
The earliest example of a nebty name comes from the reign of king Aha
from the first dynasty. The title links the king with the goddesses of
Nekhbet and Wadjet. The title is
preceded by the vulture (Nekhbet) and the cobra (Wadjet) standing on a
basket (the neb sign).
Horus or Golden Falcon name was preceded by a falcon on a
gold or nbw sign. The title may have represented the divine status of
the king. The
Horus associated with gold may be referring to the idea
that the bodies of the deities were made of gold and the pyramids and
obelisks are representations of (golden) sun-rays. The gold sign may
also be a reference to Nubt, the city of Set. This would suggest that
the iconography represents
Horus conquering Set.
Nomen and prenomen
The prenomen and nomen were contained in a cartouche. The prenomen
often followed the King of Upper and
Lower Egypt (nsw bity) or Lord of
the Two Lands (nebtawy) title. The prenomen often incorporated the
name of Re. The nomen often followed the title Son of Re (sa-ra) or
the title Lord of Appearances (neb-kha).
Nomen and prenomen of Ramesses III
Ancient Egypt portal
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Coronation of the pharaoh
Great Royal Wife, the chief wife of a male pharaoh
Pharaohs in the Bible
Bible refers to Egypt as the "Land of Ham"
^ nb.f means "his lord", the monarchs were introduced with (.f) for
his, (.k) for your.
^ Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition.
Merriam-Webster, 2007. p. 928
^ a b Dictionary Reference: pharaoh
^ Clayton, Peter A. Chronicle of the Pharaohs the Reign-by-reign
Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames
& Hudson, 2012. Print.
^ "Pharaoh". AncientEgypt.co.uk. The British Museum. 1999. Retrieved
20 December 2017.
^ Mark, Joshua (2 September 2009). "
Pharaoh - Ancient History
Encyclopedia". ancient.eu. Ancient History Encyclopedia Limited.
Retrieved 20 December 2017.
^ A. Gardiner, Ancient Egyptian Grammar (3rd edn, 1957), 71–76.
^ Redmount, Carol A. "Bitter Lives: Israel in and out of Egypt."
p. 89–90. Michael D. Coogan, ed. The Oxford History of the
Biblical World, Oxford University Press. 1998.
^ Hieratic Papyrus from Kahun and Gurob, F. LL. Griffith, 38, 17.
Although see also R. Mond and O. Myers (1940), Temples of Armant, pl.
93, 5, for an instance possibly dating from the reign of Thutmose III.
^ "pharaoh" in Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite.
Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008.
^ a b c Denise M. Doxey (1998). Egyptian Non-Royal Epithets in the
Middle Kingdom: A Social and Historical Analysis. BRILL. p. 151.
^ J-M. Kruchten, Les annales des pretres de
Karnak (OLA 32), 1989,
^ Alan Gardiner, "The Dakhleh Stela", Journal of Egyptian Archaeology,
Vol. 19, No. 1/2 (May, 1933) pp. 193–200.
^ Herodotus, Histories 2.111.1. See Anne Burton (1972). Diodorus
Book 1: A Commentary. Brill. , commenting on ch. 59.1.
^ Elazar Ari Lipinski: Pesach - A holiday of questions. About the
Haggadah-Commentary Zevach Pesach of Rabbi Isaak Abarbanel
(1437–1508). Explaining the meaning of the name Pharaoh. Published
first in German in the official quarterly of the Organization of the
Jewish Communities of Bavaria: Jüdisches Leben in Bayern.
Mitteilungsblatt des Landesverbandes der Israelitischen
Kultusgemeinden in Bayern. Pessach-Ausgabe = Nr. 109, 2009,
ZDB-ID 2077457-6, S. 3–4.
^ Walter C. Till: "Koptische Grammatik." VEB Verläg Enzyklopädie,
Leipzig, 1961. p. 62.
^ a b Wilkinson, Toby A.H. Early Dynastic Egypt. Routledge, 2001, p.
^ Wilkinson, Toby A.H. Early Dynastic Egypt. Routledge, 2001, p. 159.
^ a b Wilkinson, Toby A.H. Early Dynastic Egypt. Routledge, 2001, p.
^ Wilkinson, Toby A.H. Early Dynastic Egypt. Routledge, 2001, p. 161.
^ Wilkinson, Toby A.H. Early Dynastic Egypt. Routledge, 2001, p. 162.
^ a b c d e f g h Wilkinson, Toby A.H. Early Dynastic Egypt.
Routledge, 2001 ISBN 978-0-415-26011-4
^ Shaw, Garry J. The Pharaoh, Life at Court and on Campaign. Thames
and Hudson, 2012, pp. 21, 77.
^ Bob Brier, The Murder of Tutankhamen, 1998, p. 95.
^ a b c Dodson, Aidan and Hilton, Dyan. The Complete Royal Families of
Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson. 2004. ISBN 0-500-05128-3
^ Ian Shaw, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University
Press 2000, p. 477
^ Toby A. H. Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, Routledge 1999,
Shaw, Garry J. The Pharaoh, Life at Court and on Campaign, Thames and
Alan Gardiner Egyptian Grammar: Being an Introduction to the Study
of Hieroglyphs, Third Edition, Revised. London: Oxford University
Press, 1964. Excursus A, pp. 71–76.
Jan Assmann, "Der Mythos des Gottkönigs im Alten Ägypten," in
Christine Schmitz und Anja Bettenworth (hg.), Menschen - Heros - Gott:
Weltentwürfe und Lebensmodelle im Mythos der Vormoderne (Stuttgart,
Franz Steiner Verlag, 2009), pp. 11–26.
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