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Pharaoh is a title used to refer to any ruler, usually male, of the Egyptian kingdom in the pre-Christian, pre-Islamic period. rulers were believed to be the reincarnation of Horus[1]. The Pharaoh was also believed to be the son of the sun god Ra



Pharaoh "pr-ꜤꜢ"

in Hieroglyphs

The term ultimately derives from a compound word written as pr-ꜤꜢ in texts, used only in larger phrases like smr pr-ꜤꜢ 'Courtier of the Great House', with specific reference to the buildings of the court or palace itself[1]. From the Twelfth Dynasty onwards the word appears in a wish formula 'Great House, may it live, prosper and be in health', but only with reference to the buildings of the court rather than the king himself.

However, the earliest certain instance where pr-ꜤꜢ is used specifically to address the king is in a letter to Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) in the mid-Eighteenth Dynasty (1539 BC-1292 BC) which is addressed to 'Pharaoh, given life, prosperity and health, the Master'[2].

From the Nineteenth Dynasty onwards pr-ꜤꜢ on its own was used as regularly as hm.f 'His Majesty'. The term therefore evolved from one specifically referring to a building to a respectful designation for the king, particularly by the Twenty-second Dynasty and Twenty-third Dynasty. By this time, the Late Egyptian word is reconstructed to have been pronounced *par-ʕoʔ whence comes Ancient Greek φαραώ pharaō and then Late Latin pharaō. From the latter, English obtained the word "pharaoh". Over time, *par-ʕoʔ evolved into Sahidic Coptic prro and then rro (by mistaking p- as the definite article prefix "the" from Ancient Egyptian pꜢ).


Ramesses II
in Hieroglyphs
praenomen or throne name
Hiero Ca1
rawsrmAatra stp
Hiero Ca2
nomen or birth name
Hiero Ca1
Hiero Ca2

The king of Egypt wore a double crown, created from the Red Crown of Lower Egypt and the White Crown of Upper Egypt. It was adorned by a uraeus, which was doubled under the Twenty-fifth Dynasty.

Egyptologist Bob Brier has noted that despite its widespread depiction in royal portraits, no actual ancient Egyptian crown has been discovered as of yet. Tutankhamun's tomb, discovered largely intact, did contain such regal items as his crook and flail, but not a crown. Crowns were assumed to have magical properties, and Brier's speculation is that there were items a dead pharaoh could not take with him which therefore had to be passed along to his living successor.


The official Royal Titulary of the king by the Middle Kingdom consisted of five names; for some rulers, only one or two of them may be known. Of the three great non-consort Queens of Egypt (Hatshepsut, Sobekneferu and Tausret), at least Hatshepsut took the title in the absence of an existing word for "Queen-regnant". Also notable is Nefertiti who was made co-regent (the pharaoh's equal) during the reign of Akhenaten. Some scholars further suspect that her disappearance coincides with the rise of Smenkhkare to the throne after Akhenaten's death, making Nefertiti yet another female pharaoh in Egyptian history.

Pharaohs in the Bible[]

At the period of the eighteenth dynasty (sixteenth to fourteenth centuries B. C.) the title is found in common use as a reverential designation of the king. About the beginning of the twenty-second dynasty (tenth to eighth centuries B. C.), instead of being used alone as heretofore, it began to be added to the other titles before the king's name, and from the twenty-fifth dynasty (eighth to seventh centuries B. C.) it was, at least in ordinary usage, the only title prefixed to the royal appellative. Meanwhile the old custom of referring to the sovereign simply as Per'o still obtained in narratives. The Biblical use of the term reflects Egyptian usage with fair accuracy. The early kings are always mentioned under the general title Pharaoh, or Pharaoh the King of Egypt; but personal names begin to appear with the twenty-second dynasty, though the older designation is still used, especially when contemporary rulers are spoken of. The absence of proper names in the first books of the Bible is no indication of the late date of their composition and of writer's vague knowledge of Egyptian history, rather the contrary. The same is true of the use of the title Pharao for kings earlier than the eighteenth dynasty, which is quite in keeping with Egyptian usage at the time of the nineteenth dynasty.

The first king mentioned by name is Shishaq (probably Sheshonk I), the founder of the twenty-second dynasty and contemporary of Rehoboam and Jeroboam (1 Book of Kings 11:40; 2 Books of Chronicles 12:2 sqq.). Pharaoh is not prefixed to his name probably because the Hebrews had not yet become familiarized with the new style. The next, Sua or So, ally of Osee, King of Israel (2 Kings 17:4), is commonly identified with Shabaka, the founder of the twenty-fifth dynasty, but he was probably an otherwise unknown local dynast prior to Shabaka's reign. Winckler's opinion that he was a ruler of Musri in North Arabia, though accepted by many, is without sufficient foundation. Tharaca, who was the opponent of Sennacherib, is called King of Ethiopia (2 Kings 19:9; Isaiah 37:9), and hence is not given the title Pharao which he bears in Egyptian documents. Nekau II, who defeated Josiah (2 Kings 23:29 sqq.; 2 Chronicles 35:20 sqq.), and Ephree or Hophra, the contemporary of Sedecius (Jeremiah 44:30), are styled Pharaoh Neco and Pharaoh Ephree, according to the then Egyptian usage.

Unnamed Pharaohs of the Bible:

  1. The uncertainties attaching to ancient chronology make it impossible to determine the identity of the Pharaoh who ruled over Egypt when the patriarch Abraham arrived in the country. The Massoretic text gives 1125 years between Abraham's migration to Chanaan and the building of the temple, whereas the Septuagint allows 870 (see chronology). As the building is placed about 1010 B. C. by some scholars, and about 969 B. C. by others, the date of Abraham's migration would be 2135 or 2094 B. C. for the Massoretic text, and 1880 or 1839 B. C. for the Septuagint. Ancient Egyptian chronology is as uncertain as that of the Bible. If Meyer's dates, adopted in the article Egypt, are correct, Abraham's journey to Egypt would have to be referred to the reign of one of the Mentuhoteps of the eleventh dynasty, or to that of either Usertesen (Sesotris) III, or Amenemhet III of the twelfth. However, the Haggada holds that Pharaohs at the time of Abraham were Ashwerosh and Rakayan, both nearly identical to Auserra Apopi and Khayan, two of the last Hyksos Pharaohs.
  2. It is generally thought that Joseph held office under one of the shepherd - or Hyksos kings, who ruled in Egypt between the twelfth and eighteenth dynasties, and were finally expelled by Ahmose I shortly after 1580 BC. The length of their rule is unknown, but probably it did not last much over a hundred years. Joseph's tenure of office would accordingly be placed in the seventeenth century B. C., however, this date has never been used by anyone who associated Joseph with someone or a certain period, and this date is also very inconsistant with customs mentioned, which are mostly apparent in the New Kingdom. It is therefore unlikely. The names of four Hyksos kings are known to us from Egyptian monuments, Khyan and three Apophises. The Pharaoh who Joseph served was said to be named Magron in the Haggada, the Egyptian form of this name appears in the throne names of both Tuthmosis IV and Amenhotep III.
  3. The Pharaoh of the Hebrews' Oppression in -and Exodus out off Egypt. The Haggada says that this Pharaoh was named Malol. The Egyptian form of this name, Merur, appears in the throne names of two Pharaohs, Amenhotep III and Horemheb.
  4. The Pharaoh with whom Adad sought refuge in the time of King David (1 Kings 11:17) was a king of the twenty-first dynasty, either Paynozem or Amenemope.
  5. King Solomon's father-in-law (1 Kings 3:1) may have been Amenemope, Siamon or Pesibkhenno II.
  6. The Pharaoh mentioned in 2 Kings 18:21 and Isaiah 36:6 is by many thought to be Tharaca; but if the expedition of Sennacherib occurred in 701 B.C., as is generally held, there is little doubt that Shabaka, or possibly Shabataka, is the Pharaoh referred to. Tharaca came to the throne some years later, and the title King of Ethiopia (2 Kings 19:9; Isaiah 37:9) is given to him by anticipation.
  7. The unnamed Pharaoh of Jeremiah 25:19, is probably Nekau II, who is certainly meant in 46:17 and 47:1; elsewhere Ephree is intended. The latter is also the Pharaoh of Ezekiel.

Modern Day Pharaohs[]

Leaders who build megaprojects for the sheer pride of breaking records are considered "modern day pharaohs". Such projects include the Burj Dubai, Taipei 101. Any excessively large self sculpture is also considered "pharistic". Like the great pyramids, work is usually completed by the poorly paid underclass with little regard for their suffering. Projects that are of high practical use but nevertheless break records and benefit the masses, such as water works, mass transit, highways, sewage systems, etc are not considered "pharistic". Libya's Great Manmade River is an example of a non-pharistic project. Such megaprojects include the world's tallest buildings, which have little or no practical use where a more modest design could easily suffice.

See also[]


  1. Ancient Egyptian Grammar (3rd ed.), A. Gardiner (1957-) 71-76
  2. Hieratic Papyrus from Kahun and Gurob, F. LL. Griffith, 38, 17. Although see also Temples of Armant, R. Mond and O. Myers (1940), pl.93, 5 for an instance possibly dating from the reign of Tuthmoses III.


  • Sir 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.
  • Brier, Bob. PhD. History of ancient Egypt (Audio). The First Nation in History. The Learning Company. 2001.

Sources and external links[]