Egyptian Pharaohs: History, Facts & Timeline

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  • 0:01 Pharaohs in the Old Kingdom
  • 1:55 Pharaohs in the New Kingdom
  • 4:51 Women as Pharaohs in…
  • 5:52 Timeline
  • 6:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Deering

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Learn about Ancient Egyptian society and the pharaohs. Explore the world of famous pharaohs such as King Menes, King Akhenaten, King Tutankhamen, and Queen Hatshepsut.

Pharaohs in the Old Kingdom

Ancient Egypt enjoyed particularly fertile soils as a result of the constant flow of the Nile River through the center of the kingdom. Egypt also had large quantities of stone and clay, as well as gold. The fertile soil and abundant natural resources led to the development of a complex society governed by the pharaohs, or Egyptian kings.

The first pharaoh Menes united Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt into a single kingdom around 3100 B.C.E. The period of time after Menes unification of Egypt is called the Old Kingdom. Old Kingdom Egypt was a prosperous time in which Ancient Egyptians produced large quantities of art and developed a new religious belief system.

The Ancient Egyptians were polytheistic, which means they believed in many gods, some of whom were more important and more powerful than others. The most powerful god in Ancient Egypt was Amon-Ra, the creator of life and the commander of the sky, earth, and the underworld. Amon-Ra was actually a combination of two different figures. Amon could control the cosmos with his thoughts and sustained the land and its people. Ra was the creator of life and was associated with another god, Horus. Horus was a falcon-like god who bestowed divinity on the Egyptian pharaohs.

Pharaohs were the focal point of Ancient Egyptian religious life. The Egyptians considered the pharaoh to be Horus in human form. The pharaoh was thus a living god on earth and had a powerful position as a mediator between the gods and the common people. The pharaohs, as gods on earth, required massive palaces during their lifetimes and opulent pyramids during death. These pyramids contained everything that the pharaoh would need during the afterlife and symbolized their power and connection to the gods. The Great Pyramids at Giza are an excellent example of an Old Kingdom monument to the pharaohs.

Pharaohs in the New Kingdom

During the New Kingdom period, the pharaohs of the Eighteenth Dynasty pushed an invading group, the Hyksos, out of Egypt, subdued the Nubians in the South, and conquered Palestine and parts of Syria. The pharaohs in this period were warrior- kings and vastly expanded the Egyptian territory. They celebrated their triumphs with monuments and pyramids on a scale never before seen in the world. The conquering pharaohs brought home material wealth from the territories they took over and used conquered peoples as slaves. These slaves helped build the opulent palaces and pyramids of the New Kingdom pharaohs.

The Egyptian Pharaohs used their status as warrior-god-kings to preserve their wealth and power. It was common for pharaohs to marry their close female relatives, often their sisters. By marrying their sisters, the pharaohs kept their power within the bounds of family allegiance. In some cases, pharaohs married more than one of their sisters, as well as other women for the purpose of cementing their power.

One of the most unusual pharaohs in this period was Akhenaten. Akhenaten was monotheistic, and believed in one god named Aton. Akhenaten believed that all other gods worshiped by the Egyptians were frauds. Akhenaten forced the people of Egypt to give up their worship of all other gods and to only worship Aton. In an effort to enforce his religious views, Akhenaten built a new capital city, as well as other monuments to glorify Aton. Akhenaten's religious beliefs were influenced by his wife Nefertiti; however, the Egyptian people were not supportive of Akhenaten's religious views.

After Akhenaten's death, Smenkhkare, one of his sons became pharaoh. Little is known about this period of time, though historians speculate that Nefertiti might have ruled with this largely unknown pharaoh. Some historians even believe that Nefertiti and Smenkhkare may have been the same person and that Nefertiti was the acting pharaoh during this period.

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