6 Famous Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt



6 Famous Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt

Famous Paraohs
Famous Paraohs/CC0 Public Domain.

Ancient Egypt was ruled for thousands of years by kings, or pharaohs. They were considered to be so important that after death they became gods in the afterlife. Each different family that ruled Egypt was called a dynasty — there were 31 dynasties in total. In this article you will learn about six significant pharaohs in ancient Egyptian history.

1. Khufu (reigned 2589 ‒ 2566 BC)

Khufu Statue
Statue of Khufu in the Cairo Egyptian Museum. Author: JMCC1/CC0 Public Domain.

Khufu, was the second Egyptian pharaoh to rule as part of the 4th Dynasty. It is believed that he succeeded his father Sneferu, although historians cannot be certain because in ancient Egypt, the throne did not automatically pass to the eldest son.

Khufu is famous for commissioning the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza, also known as the Great Pyramid of Khufu. It is the oldest and the biggest of the three main pyramids referred to as the Giza Necropolis. It is also the oldest on the famous list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only thing on this list that has stayed in good enough condition to be appreciated today.

It took between ten and twenty years to build, and when it was finished its size was so incredible that it held the record for being the tallest man-made structure for nearly 4000 years. It was built as a tomb for Khufu, his two wives and his nobles.

2. Amenhotep I (reigned 1525 ‒ 1504 BC)

Amenhotep I
Painted limestone statue head of the pharaoh Amenhotep I. From the 18th dynasty, reign of Amenhotep I, circa 1551-1524 B.C. Now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Museum catalog number: 07.536. Author: Keith Schengili-Roberts/CC BY-SA 2.5

Amenhotep I ruled Egypt as the second pharaoh in the 18th dynasty. He was a strong, military king who continued and maintained his father’s conquests by keeping control of Nubia and the Nile Delta. He ruled alongside his mother.

Amenhotop I is most famous for establishing a worker village at Deir el-Medina, located a little over a mile (about two kilometers) west of the River Nile. The people who lived there worked at the royal necropolis where ritual tombs for pharaoh burials would be built. These workers were paid and Deir el-Medina was a complex community.

For generations, as the city and its community grew, the workers worshipped Amenhotep I and his mother for what they had established, which allowed them to live a good and comfortable life while serving Egypt and the gods.

3. Hatshepsut (reigned 1498 ‒ 1483 BC)

Hatshepsut, Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt, c. 1473-1458 B.C. by Postdlf, GFDL.

Hatshepsut was a female pharaoh and was part of the 18th dynasty. At a time when many other cultures only had male leaders, ancient Egypt thrived under female rule. She became leader after her husband Thutmose II died. She was initially thought of as a guardian of the throne, as it was assumed that once her step-son Thutmose III was old enough, he would take over. However, Hatshepsut was determined to keep her position and declared herself to be the pharaoh (as opposed to just regent). The result was that she ruled alongside her step-son.

She is famous due to the success of her reign, partly because she was in charge longer than any other woman from the Egyptian dynasty. Some historians refer to her as the first great woman in global history, setting an example to generations of women, that they could be powerful people alongside their male counterparts.

4. Thutmose III (reigned 1479 ‒ 1425 BC)

King Thutmose III
King Thutmose III the sixth Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Image credit: Maurizio Zanetti cc2.0

As a joint leader of ruler of ancient Egypt with his stepmother Hathepsut, Thutmose III was in charge of the army. He is famous for his leadership and commanding abilities, especially during battle. He was a brave warrior who set an example to all who adored him that he was not above his subjects on the battle field.

One particular famous battle was Megiddo. This battle is especially significant because it was the first to be recorded in detail. Megiddo was an important strategic city to control because it had a perfect view over the main route from Syria to Egypt. If it was in the hands of an Egyptian enemy, that would prevent the Egyptians from expanding their empire any further. In 1479 BC, Thutmose III marched his army to take it from the Prince of Kadesh, a city in what is now Syria.

As the two sides lined up in preparation for battle, Thutmose himself rode into the middle on his chariot. His enemies fled and ran for the safety of their fortress, where the Egyptians waited outside in a siege. Eventually, after running out of supplies, the Prince of Kadesh’s men surrendered. Thutmose and the Egyptians acquired people, armor, grain and more than 2000 horses, and they continued on to take fortresses in Lebanon.

5. Tutankhamun (reigned 1334 ‒ 1325 BC)

Tutankhamun Statue Head
Statue head of Tutankhamun. Author: Keith Schengili-Roberts/CC BY-SA 2.5

Tutankhamun, also known as King Tut, was the youngest pharaoh ever at the age of nine, and he was only eighteen when he died. This relatively short reign might have gone unnoticed by historians if his tomb hadn’t been found in such perfect condition in 1922.

Many other pharaohs’ tombs had been raided long before archeologists and historians started to search them for clues to the past. In Tutankhamun’s case, British archeologists Howard Carter and George Herbert (Lord Carnarvon) were the first to enter his incredible resting place. His burial mask is now synonymous with ancient Egypt and the pharaohs.

Despite his young age, he did have a significant effect on Egypt. He took over from his father, Akhenaten, who had set out to reform the religion of Egypt. He wanted his nation to worship just one god, Aten, as opposed to the many traditional gods that the ancient Egyptians had worshiped for centuries. When Tutankhamun came to power, many of the old temples and monuments had been destroyed. Tutankhamun set about restoring them, along with the old belief system. Much of the evidence we see today of the ancient Egyptian faith would have been destroyed long ago without Tutankhamun’s mission to repair them.

6. Cleopatra VII (51 ‒ 30 BC)

Cleopatra VII statue fragment, 69-30 BC – Royal Ontario Museum. Author: Daderot, (CC0 1.0)

Cleopatra VII, known in history as simply Cleopatra, was the last pharaoh of Egypt. In 51 BC, she became joint leader with her ten-year-old brother (to whom she was married). As the elder of the two leaders, she took charge. At the time, Egypt was suffering from financial difficulties and divisions caused by civil war. Cleopatra united the country again and brought great prosperity back for some time.

Her brother didn’t thank her though, and in 48 BC he and his advisors exiled her to Syria . Determined not to give up the throne, she started to build up an army to take back her position. As part of her plan, she made an alliance with Julius Caesar, the Roman emperor. He helped her achieve her goal, but their relationship was more than simply strategic and she had a child with him, named Caesarion.

Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC and his adopted son Octavian took control of the Roman Empire. Mark Antony, a Roman general, disputed his claim to the throne, however, and looked to Caesar’s old lover Cleopatra for political alliance. He, too, became romantically involved with her and the couple had three children together.

In 31 BC Mark Antony and Cleopatra joined their armies together to fight against Octavian, but they lost. Both Mark Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide in 30 BC, Cleopatra famously allowing herself to be bitten by an asp, a poisonous snake.

This was the end of the Egyptian empire. Cleopatra will be remembered for her political and physical charm, and her role at the fall of an ancient kingdom.

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