Egypt Feature Story
The Kings (Pharaohs) of Ancient Egypt
by Jimmy Dunn
The title of "Pharaoh" actually comes to us from the Greek language and its use in the Old Testament. It originates in the Egyptian Per-aa, meaning "Great House", a designation of the palace, which first came to be used as a label for the king around 1450 BC, though it only became common usage some centuries later. For most of the time, the usual word for the king of ancient Egypt was nesu, but a whole range of titles were applicable to any full statement of a king's names and titulary.
According to Egyptian legend, the first kings of Egypt were later some of Egypt's most famous gods. We really do not know whether ...view middle of the document...
In fact, Egypt had some very noteworthy female rulers such as Hatshepsut and others.
In ancient (Pharaonic) Egypt, the pinnacle of Egyptian society, and indeed of religion, was the king. Below him were the layers of the educated bureaucracy which consisted of nobles, priests and civil servants, and under them were the great mass of common people, usually living very poor, agricultural based lives. Except during the earliest of themes, when the highest official was apparently a Chancellor, for most of Egyptian history, the man or men just under the king were Viziers, (tjaty), a position that was roughly similar to a modern Prime Minister.
In many if not most accounts, the king is viewed as an incarnation of Horus, a falcon god, and the posthumous son of Osiris, who himself was a divine king slain by his brother, Seth. Horus fought his uncle for the return of the throne, and part of the accession process of the king was the proper burial of his predecessor, as Horus carrying out the last rites of Osiris. In fact, there are a number of cases where such an act may have been the legal basis for a non-royal figure's ascent of the throne. However, more usual was the succession of the eldest son, whose status as heir was frequently, if not always, proclaimed during his father's lifetime. Furthermore, there were a number of instances where this was taken a step further by the heir's coronation as a co-regent prior to the father's death. This has actually led to much confusion among scholars, because in some cases, the young heir began to count his regnal years only after the death of his father, while in other instances, he started to do so from the moment of his coronation. The ancient Egyptians did not use era dating as we do today (BC or AD), but rather relied on regnal dating of the king's rule, and therefore potential difficulties for modern, if not ancient, historians can easily be imagined.
The king himself (or herself) was the figure upon whom the whole administrative structure of the state rested. These god-kings usually commanded tremendous resources. The Pharaoh was the head of the civil administration, the supreme warlord and the chief priest of every god in the kingdom. All offerings were made in his name and the entire priesthood acted in his stead. In fact, he was himself a divine being, considered the physical offspring of a god. The myth of the ruler's divine birth centered on the god assuming the form of (or becoming incarnate in) the king's father, who then impregnated his wife, who accordingly bore the divine ruler.
Of course, the king was also subject to some rather grave responsibilities. Through his dealings with the gods, he was tasked with keeping the order, or ma'at of the land, and therefore keeping out chaos, often in the form of the enemies of Egypt from foreign lands. But he was also responsible for making sufficient offerings and otherwise satisfying the gods so that they would bless Egypt with a bountiful Nile flood,...