The pharaoh is Ancient Egypt’s highest official, much like the present-day prime minister or president. He was the society’s political and religious leader. The word “pharaoh” is Greek term that translates to “Great House.” In this edition of our posts, you’ll get to know the world’s most famous pharaohs.

How many pharaohs ruled in total?

About 170 pharaohs ruled ancient Egypt, according to Penn Museum. If you remember history and ask yourself who the most famous Egyptian ruler was, you will think of King Tut or Tutankhamun. He became the subject of many historical documentaries and books. In fact, in recent news, experts unraveled his physical attributes by analyzing anatomies using modern technology. The discoveries are fascinating. 

King Tut was a pharaoh of Egypt whose tomb was discovered in 1922 and since then, interests in his biography grew. He was the 12th pharaoh of the 18th Egyptian dynasty, who ruled the civilization from 1332 to 1323 B.C. In his reign, he was able to restore the traditional faith and religion of the Egyptian civilization, formerly criticized and neglected by his father, Akhenaten. 

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How did the pharaoh come into power?

The first pharaoh of Egypt was Menes, and historical accounts show that the last pharaoh was Cleopatra VII. But how did the pharaoh come into power? Unlike in present-day societies wherein leaders are chosen by votation from the public, ancient societies had it differently. Yet, there had already been so many political dynasties during these periods. 

There were instances when the son of the incumbent pharaoh’s wife would inherit the throne, while there are also times when the sons of the lesser-ranked wife would be next-in-line. Due to this competition, many ancient Egypt rulers married their own family members and some, even their daughters for the sake of continuing the rule of the family, one of the earliest political dynasties in history. The pharaoh was appointed should the current ruler would have no sons. The year span you see in the next section represents the years of their reign.

World’s most famous pharaohs

1. Tutankhamun, the youngest pharaoh (1334 – 1325 B.C.)

Egypt Today

King Tut first came into power at the age of nine, becoming the youngest pharaoh in world history. However, he also died at an early age, 18 years old. He would not have been famous if not of the archeological project that happened in 1922. These were led by British archeologists George Herbert and Howard Carter. 

He counter-reformed and acted against the ruling of his father Akhenaten, by restoring religious belief. During the first few days of his reign, temples and monuments in Egypt were in shambles. Tutankhamun restored them, as well as the traditional way the Egyptians worshipped their god. Some historians say he died at the age of 18, while others have it at 20 years old. The cause of his death still remains a mystery.

2. Cleopatra VII, Egypt’s female pharaoh (51 – 30 B.C.)

Simply known in history as Cleopatra, she was regarded as the last pharaoh of civilization’s Ptolemaic Kingdom. Originally, she ruled alongside her father, Ptolemy XII Auteles and her brothers Ptolemy XIV and Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator. She married one of her brothers to keep the family line going on in the throne. However, she later became the most important person in ancient Egyptian politics. One of her achievements in power was consummating a liaison with the Roman Empire’s Julius Caesar that did not only strengthen relations between the two kingdoms but also strengthened her power. Caesar’s son became co-ruler of Egypt because of this bond. 

These ties with the Ancient Roman Empire continued even after the assassination of Caesar, since Cleopatra aligned with Mark Antony. This part of her life became the subject of many works of literature. With Mark Antony, she bore twins, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene II, and son Ptolemy Philadelphus. Antony yielded to suicide after losing in the Battle of Actium from his rival, Octavian’s army. Cleopatra also succumbed to this cause of death thereafter. Folk history states she killed herself from asp bite on August 12, 30 B.C. 

3. Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza (2589 ‒ 2566 B.C.)

Historical Eve

Did you know that the Great Pyramid of Giza, a world landmark visited by millions of people yearly, was only an architectural project under pharaoh Khufu’s rule? Khufu ruled for at least 24 years in the 4th dynasty, and the pyramids were probably his biggest legacy. Today, the landmark is preserved, stands at 481 feet, and is the oldest of the seven wonders of an ancient civilization. 

4. Xerxes I, the tyrant ruler (486 – 465 B.C.)

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Out of hundreds of pharaohs who came into power, Xerxes I would make a mark. He reigned during the 27th dynasty, particularly an important phase in Egyptian history since it was this time the land was conquered by the Persian empire. The way he ruled followed tyranny and being a Persian king, he did not pay much attention to local traditions and was not dear to the Egyptian people. Though he was recognized as leader, he was weak among his own people. He once attempted to conquer Greece but failed to do so.

5. Ramses II, the pharaoh who fathered more than 90 children (1279–1213 B.C.)

His rule was known as the “greatest of the 19th dynasty.” He was a great warrior and almost regarded by the people as a god. He fathered a total of 96 children and reigned for more than 60 years. Aside from this persona, he was also active in his duties. He was a military genius with 100,000 army members.

During his time, ancient Egypt developed extensive architecture before leaving the throne into bankruptcy at the time of his death. Many pharaohs who came after him followed his name. 

6. Thutmose III, the Napoleon of ancient Egypt (1479 ‒ 1425 B.C.)

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Speaking of military prowess, there was another pharaoh who stood out in this aspect. He was Thutmose III, who has a stepmother also listed as one of the popular Egyptian leaders in history. He was known for his commanding capabilities especially during wars, setting an example to personalities who adored him and raised into power afterward. 

History recognizes Thutmose III for playing a huge role during the Battle at Megiddo. If this happened beyond his reign, Egypt would not have expanded their power over what is now Syria. He rode his chariot and battled, acquiring resources like armor and food supplies, not to mention over 2,000 horses, as they took lands around Egypt. 

7. Hatshepsut, the first great woman in history (1498 ‒ 1483 B.C.)

National Geographic

Ancient Egypt was a patriarchal society, and it was very rare for women to take over unless during emergency situations. Her husband, Thutmose II died and she had to take over since her step-son Thutmose III was still very young during this time.

Prior to Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, or Catherine the Great, there was Hatshepsut, the first great woman in world history, setting an example and high standards for other remarkable women across the globe.

The pharaoh also had their own duties and responsibilities. Being the ruler of a civilization, they had to spearhead the building of monuments and temples, and pay homage to the gods of their people. Their presence in the throne had several associations with religion, since their culture believed they were god-appointed. Because of this, they also have to officiate worship services, select the temple sites and decide on what should be done. So much power was vested upon them, including legislation, being owner of all Egyptian lands, collection of taxes, and the waging of war.