Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt

The Pharaoh in Egypt during the ancient times was the ruler of the people. They were given the titles “High Priest of Every Temple” and “Lord of the Two Lands.”

The first dynasties emerged in Egypt in 3000 BCE with the amalgamation of the Lower and Upper Egypt. These Pharaohs were considered gods on earth. After their demise, it was widely believed that they were to become the god of dead, Osiris. It was also the duty of the pharaohs to establish great monuments and temples in giving respect to the deities and in celebration of their success.


Tutankhamun (also called “King Tut” and Tutankhamen) is amongst the famous Egyptian Pharaoh 18th of the  dynasty during the era of Egyptian history known as New Kingdom. The meaning of his name is “living image of [the god] Amun.” Tutankhamun is a widely recognized pharaoh today—much like a celebrity— when Howard Carter, an archaeologist, unearthed his tomb (in 1922 CE), which was almost intact in the Valley of the Kings. Though Tutankhamun was considered an insubordinate leader whose time of rule had hardly any influence, there was an about-face as more evidence started to emerge. At present, Tutankhamun is deemed to be an imperative figure that restored peace and order in a land where chaos was rife, and if it wasn’t for his untimely death, he would have unequivocally contributed a great deal to Egypt’s history.

Tutankhamun receives flowers from Ankhesenamun. This image is on the lid of a box found in Tut's tomb.

Early Life

Amenhotep IV (also called Akhenaten) was the father of Tutankhamun. Amenhotep’s wife was Nefertiti (the step-mother of Tutankhamun). Tutankhamun’s mother was Lady Kiya. She was one of the lesser wives of Amenhotep. Lady Kiya was not Nefertiti, although this is a common mistaken view. According to some suggestions, Amenhotep III and Tiye, his queen, were the parents of Tutankhamun, nevertheless this theory is refuted by most scholars.

Ankhesenpaaten, Akhenaten and Nefertiti’s fourth daughter, was engaged to Tutankhamun during his childhood years. Ankhesenpaaten was Tutankhamun’s half-sister. Ankhesenpaaten was also thought to be older than he was, as she was wedded to her father previously (which she had a daughter from). Historian Margaret Bunsen argues that at the time when Tutankhamun ascended to the throne at the age of eight, Ankhesenpaaten was thirteen-years old. Tutankhamun’s early life entailed the death of his mother. He had to then live with his step-mother, father, and half-siblings in the palace at Amarna.

Small royalty symbols (for instance the flail and crook) were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. It is probable that, during his childhood, he played with them— in preparation for future rule.

According to Egyptologist Zahi Hawass:

"A number of these [items] were inscribed with his birth name, demonstrating that he was crowned as Tutankhaten"


Following the death of his father, Tutankhamun ascended to the throne when he was just eight or nine-years old in 1338 or 1336 BC. Given his age, it was most probable that Tutankhamun was surrounded with very influential had advisors, most likely including the Vizier Ay and General Horemheb.

There was a temporary Pharaoh called Smenkhkare, between Amenhotep’s death and Tutankhamun’s ascension to the throne. Very little is known about this Pharaoh. As Smenkhkare’s throne name matched that of Akhenaten’s coregent, it was thought that Nefertiti was this pharaoh who reigned during the time Akhenaten’s wellbeing may have been deteriorating and Tutankhamun was incapable of taking the position of a leader because he was still too young.

During his reign 1332–1323 BC, Tutankhamun restored balanced and made several changes to the chaos Akhenaten put the nation into. Hawass writes:

"By the reign of Tutankhamun the situation in the Near East had changed drastically since the golden days of the Egyptian empire."

His restoration included establishing projects, particularly at Thebes and Karnak, where a temple was dedicated to Amun. Several monuments were built. The historian Barbra Watterson writes:

“He was said to be a king who spent his life making images of the gods, and it was during his reign that work on the colonnade in Luxor Temple with its superb scenes of the Opet Festival, was undertaken”.

Tutankhamun, at just 16-years old, had to shoulder a great deal of responsibilities in mending the nation his father had devastated all alone. The young king, even with the assistance of the senior advisors who encircled him, learned his situation overwhelmingly. He, nevertheless, strived to redeem his nation’s present condition from its past. Unfortunately, his abbreviated life (he died before reaching 20) was unable to show us what he might have accomplished in later years.

Tutankhamun’s Death

Tutankhamun’s death has remained the subject of considerable debate for centuries. There have been major studies carried out to figure out the grounds to his death. Early historians claim that he was murdered based on the damage of his skull.  There are also speculations that Tutankhamun death was due to an untreated tooth, which was abscessed or from a fractured leg which had become infected. These theories, nevertheless, have also been refuted. According to another theory, Tutankhamun was not prone to a long life as he was as he was the outcome of incestuous union. Apologists of this theory cite Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun’s two stillborn children as physical proof of the practices of incest by the 18th Dynasty Egyptian pharaohs. The only thing that is known is that the recorded date of the death of Tutankhamun was in January 1327 BC and that his life was cut short by an accident.

Cleopatra VII

Cleopatra VII Philopator, simply called Cleopatra, was born in 69 BCE and ruled together with Ptolemy XII Auletes, her father. At the age of eighteen, she ascended to the throne after her father died. Since it was mandatory in the Egyptian tradition that a male consort was needed for a woman to rule, Ptolemy XIII, her 12-year old brother, was wedded to her. But soon after, she dropped the name of her brother from all official documentation and reigned alone. Cleopatra, unlike the other Ptolemy rulers who reigned for centuries in Egypt without knowing the language, had a great command over the Egyptian language and was articulate in Greek (her native language). She was also skilled in other languages. She therefore needed no help from translators to communicate with diplomats from other nations.

Historian Plutarch writes:

“It was a pleasure merely to hear the sound of her voice, with which, like an instrument of many strings, she could pass from one language to another; so that there were few of the barbarian nations that she answered by an interpreter.”

Her prompt action in regards to decision making without her counselors created disgruntlement amongst some of the prominent officials. Pothinus, her head advisor, General Achillas, and Theodotus of Chios in 48 BCE dethroned her and made Ptolemy XIII the ruler, assuming he would be much controllable than Cleopatra. Cleopatra and Arsinoe (her half-sister) fled to Thebaid.

Pompey, Ptolemy and Caesar

Around the same period, Pompey the Great, the Roman politician and general, was overpowered at the Battle of Pharsalus by Julius Caesar in the autumn of 48 BC. In seek of sanctuary, Pompey fled to Alexandria to get away from the forces of Caesar, however, what awaited him was much different. He was beheaded under the gaze of the young Ptolemy XIII— only thirteen-years old at that time— as well as his children and wife from the ship which he had just got off from. It is said to be that Ptolemy, who ordered Pompey’s death, did it to curry favor with Caesar, therefore becoming Rome’s ally, to which at that moment, Egypt was indebted to.

Upon his arrival in Egypt with his legions two days later, however, Caesar was infuriated when the head of Pompey was presented to him by Ptolemy. Even though Pompey was the political foe of Caesar, he was a consul of Rome and the widower of Julia, the only rightful daughter of Caesar who died during childbirth. Caesar announced he would govern by the army and established himself in the palace of the royals. Ptolemy XIII, with his court, escaped to Pelusium. However, Caesar was not going to permit the young leader to slip away and stir trouble, so he had him return back to Alexandria.

Caesar & Cleopatra’s Relationship

For Cleopatra, this was the time to make use of the fury of Julius Caesar toward Ptolemy. Still in exile, Cleopatra knew the possibility of entering the palace without being pestered was slim.  She therefore had herself covertly smuggled into the royal palace. This endeavor was made successful as she was rolled in a rug (supposedly a present for the general of Rome) to meet Caesar. They both seemed to develop instant attraction for each other. Caesar and Cleopatra were already in a relationship by the time Ptolemy XIII came to see Caesar the following morning. Ptolemy was fuming.

Cleopatra before Caesar, oil on canvas by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1866)

Nine months later, in June of 47 BCE, Cleopatra gave birth to Ptolemy Caesar (also called Caesarion, meaning “little Caesar”) and stated him publicly her successor.

Caesar deserted his objective to annex Egypt. To the contrary, he defended the claim of Cleopatra to the throne. The forces of Ptolemy were overpowered by Caesar at the Battle of the Nile, and in an attempt to escape after the battle, Ptolemy drowned in the Nile. The other leaders who were apart of the group in opposition to Cleopatra were also killed during the battle or afterwards.

Rome saw the return of Caesar in 46 BCE. Soon after his return, Caesar brought Cleopatra and their son, together with her whole staff to reside there. He acknowledged publicly that Caesarion was his offspring, but not as his heir, as he chose Octavian, his grandnephew, instead. He also acknowledged Cleopatra as being his spouse, albeit he had a wife named Calpurnia Pisons at that time. This situation caused rage amongst the several senates and the public, for the rules of Rome against bigamy were firmly stuck to.

The assassination of Caesar took place on the 15th of March, 44 BC, while Cleopatra was still in Rome with her entire staff.

Mark Antony & Cleopatra

Following the assassination of Caesar, Cleopatra fled the country with her son and entourage to Alexandria. Mark Antony, the right-hand man of Caesar, together with Lepidus and Octavian were in pursuit of defeating the conspirators that were responsible for murdering Caesar.  Following the Battle of Philipi, at which the armed forces of Octavian and Antony triumphed, Antony became the ruler of the provinces in the east, including Egypt, while the west was ruled by Octavian.

Antony and Cleopatra, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1885)

Cleopatra, in 41 BC, was summoned by Antony in Tarsus to give answers about her faithfulness. During the Roman war, allegedly, she paid considerable amount of cash to Cassius and Brutus.  Cleopatra’s flamboyant arrival charmed Antony.

Plutarch writes:

“She came sailing up the river Cydnus in a barge with gilded stern and outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to the music of flutes and fifes and harps. She herself lay all along, under a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as Venus in a picture, and beautiful young boys, like painted Cupids, stood on each side to fan her. Her maids were dressed like Sea Nymphs and Graces, some steering at the rudder, some working at the ropes...perfumes diffused themselves from the vessel to the shore, which was covered with multitudes, part following the galley up the river on either bank, part running out of the City  to see the sight. The market place was quite emptied, and Antony at last was left alone sitting upon the tribunal while the word went, through all the multitude, that Venus was come to feast with Bacchus for the common good of Asia.”

Cleopatra and Mark Antony became lovers right away and lasted together for ten years. Their offspring’s were three. Cleopatra was also considered by Antony as his wife, although he was first wedded to Fulvia and then to Octavian’s sister, Octavia. He divorced Octavia eventually to be wedded to Cleopatra legally.

Cleopatra’s Death

Octavian and Antony’s ailing relationship crumbled during these years that even a civil war was engendered. Both the armies of Cleopatra and Antony were overpowered in 31 BC, by the armed forces of Octavian at the Battle of Actium. They both ended their lives a year later. Antony, upon falsely hearing that Cleopatra died, stabbed himself with his sword and came to find out that she was alive after it was too late. Octavian permitted Antony to be taken to Cleopatra. It was in her arms that he died. The situation for Cleopatra was unfavorable and she understood that she would be taken to Rome as captive, mainly to embellish the victory of Octavian. Cleopatra knew there was no possible way that Octavian would be manipulated like Antony and Caesar, so she asked for some time to get ready. She was allowed the time that she demanded. It was then that Cleopatra managed to make a snake (conventionally an asp, although it is thought to be an Egyptian cobra by a large amount of scholars nowadays) bite her and poison her.

The Death of Cleopatra, by Reginald Arthur (1892)

Cleopatra’s son Caesarion was slaughtered after being captured by the orders of Octavian and her three children by Antony were raised by Octavia in Rome. This ended the lineage of the pharaohs in Egypt.

Ramses II

Ramses II (also known as: Ramesses II, Rameses, Ramses the Great and known as Usermaatre’setepenre by the Egyptian, meaning “Keeper of Harmony and Balance, Strong in Right, Elect of Ra”, also called Ozymandias) was one of the Pharaohs (the third) of the 19th Dynasty. Ramesses lived till the age of 96. His concubines and wives in total exceeded 200 and had over 150 children. He outlived most of his children.

Early Life

The parents of Ramesses were Queen Tuya and Seti I. When he was 14-years old, he attended military campaigns with his father, including Palestine and Libya. Ramses was spearheading the campaigns he made himself in Nubia at the age of 22 with his two sons. He was named the co-ruler with Seti.

Ramses, with his father, planned big projects which included restorations and established a palace at Avaris. Ramses ascended to power following the death of his father in 1290 BC and without further ado, commenced military operation in an effort to reinstate Egypt’s borders and to guarantee trade routes.

Literally hundreds of buildings, temples and monuments were built by Ramesses, including the two rock temples at Abu Simbel. It is considered by several historians that his reign is the peak of Egyptian art and culture.

Queen Nefertari

Ramesses’ first wife and favorite queen was Nefertari. During the rule of Ramesses, several depictions of her appeared in statuary and temple walls. This was despite her rather early death (possibly during child birth).

Tomb wall depicting Nefertari (1298–1235 BCE)

Ramses married Istnofret after Nefertari’s death. And following the death of Istnofret, his daughters became his consorts.  Be that as it may, he couldn’t simply forget about his beloved wife Nefertari. He had her portrait carved on statuary and walls long after marrying other women.

Thutmose III

Thutmose III (also known as Tuthmosis III, Thothemes or Thutmosis) was the 6th king of the 18th Dynasty. He is often called “The Napoleon of Ancient Egypt.” Thutmose is often regarded as the best pharaoh ancient Egypt has ever seen. He was a national hero responsible for the golden age of ancient Egypt. Thutmose III ruled from 1479 BC to1425 BC.

Early Life

Thutmose III was the son of Thutmose II; his mother, Iset, was one of his father’s secondary wives. Given that there was no prince with a better claim to the throne, Thutmose was crowned king on the early death of his father in 1479 BC. He was, however, very young (only seven years-old) to rule at that time, so Hatshepsut (his father’s chief wife) ruled on her own while Thutmose III was gaining military training most of the time.

Thutmose III had several wives, which he had nine children from.

Military Campaigns            

Amongst Thutmose III’s greatest achievement as a Pharaoh of Egypt were his military campaigns. He by and large initiated at least sixteen military campaigns including those in Syria, Palestine, Nubia and Mesopotamia.

According to historians, Thutmose III disliked his aunt and co-regent Hatshepsut. She was not a warrior and permitted neighbors of Egypt to believe they could liberate themselves from Egypt. His former years spent in the army made him an ingenious warrior who was valiant and not afraid to engage in battles. During his reign, he conquered approximately 350 cities and obtained complete respect of Egypt and the entire region.  In order to keep conquered leaders from raiding Egypt, Thutmose III required that they send their children to Egypt for their education. This very much deterred potential attacks.

Thutmose III’s Tomb

It was in the Valley of the Kings, (one of the most sophisticated tombs) that Thutmose III was buried. Inside the tomb, only the wooden statues of the king and other gods, the red quartzite sarcophagus, pottery, bits of wooden model boats and the bones of animals were found. Even Thutmose III’s mummy wasn’t inside the tomb upon its discovery. He was buried at Deir el-Bahri, the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut. The condition of Thutmose III’s mummy was bad when it was found. The ruler was short, not even five feet tall.

Mummified head of Thutmose III, by Grafton Elliot Smith (1912)


Akhenaten (also called ‘Ikhnaton’, ‘Khuenaten’ or ‘Akhenaton’—they all mean “successful for” or “of great use to” the god Aten) was a pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty. After converting to the cult of Aten, he changed his name from Amenhotep IV (or Amenophis IV) to Akhenaten. It was during his reign that the empire began to crumble.

The youngest son of the Chief Queen Tiye and Amenhotep III, he was the consort of Queen Nefertiti and the father of Tutankhamun (by Lady Kiya) and Tutankhamen’s wife Ankhesenamun (by Nefertiti). As Amenhotep IV, his reign lasted for five years in which he respected the venerated traditions of the Egyptian religion and adhered to his father’s policies. However, in the fifth year of his reign, he made dramatic religious transformations. It began with his change of religion from the cult of Amun to that of Aten. For the following decade he pursued a campaign of establishing the superior religion of Aten in Egypt, becoming the first king to institute monotheism, and emaciated Egypt’s tradition of polytheism. He came to be infamously known as the ‘Heretic king.’

Foreign Policy

One unfortunate result of Akhenaten’s religious reforms was the neglect of foreign policy. According to the sources, other countries, former associates of Egypt, wrote several times to seek of Egypt’s assistance, but were elbowed aside by Akhenaten.  The king simply made the choice to ignore what happens outside Egypt’s borders. He also gave little notice to affairs outside his palace at Akhetaten.

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