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Published: November 12th 2017
PHARAOHS of Egypt Simplified for Dummies .....
That day I spent at the Pyramids at Gizeh was very intense and made me understand the complexities of ancient Egypt. Even though I had expert guidance through the services of Deluxe Travel (I highly recommend their services to anyone if you are going to Egypt) understanding the Pharaohs was overwhelming. Like being lost in a maze. For me to tell you about the discoveries of my next four days of sightseeing I need to share some basics. Let me me do something about that now.
First of all, let this sink in, that Pharaohs ruled for more than three thousand years, dating back an incredible five thousand years. So yes, it's bound to be complicated. They were 31 FAMILY DYNASTIES (generally acknowledged) who produced 170 Pharaohs. They ruled absolutely and assumed the status of living gods once they ascended the throne.
The name Pharaoh.
The word PHARAOH is actually a Hebrew word for 'great house' meaning the Royal household. Later it became used for himself. Pharaohs ruled over a united Egypt unbroken from around 3000BC until the Greeks imposed their rule in 323 BC leading ultimately to the Roman
conquest in 30BC. The Greeks sent rulers to Egypt who functioned like Pharaohs using the title PTOLEMY instead of Pharaoh. Hence the Ptolemaic Era followed the Pharaonic Era. The Romans didn't waste time doing any of that imposing direct rule from overseas treating Egypt like any other Province. The glory days were over.
The first Pharaoh of the first dynasty was Narmer circa 3100 BC (not surprisingly the dates of such antiquity are subject to debate) the last Pharaoh of the 31st Dynasty was Cleopatra VII (a Macedonian Greek not an Egyptian woman) until her suicide in 30 BC. Interestingly as she was only the 2nd significant woman in 3100 years to rule the country.
What was unified Egypt?
Pharaohs ruled over a unified Egypt. Unification resulted in peace and stability, conditions for prosperity. That's the first big deal though in reality it didn't always apply. The unity basically held until 30 BC with the Roman conquest. Essentially then from 3000 BC to 30 BC there was a united Egypt and Pharaohs ruled.
They saw over the union of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. The source
of the River Nile
(giver of life to everything in Egypt) is in the south, therefore the south was called Upper Egypt. It is symbolised in Wall paintings and temple columns as the papyrus plant or the White Crown worn by the Pharaoh. The delta or end
of the Nile is in the north, making it the lower part of the river therefore called Lower Egypt. It is the Black Land, with rich fertile black soil. Symbolised as a lotus plant or a bee, and the Red Crown worn by the Pharaoh. Forget your world map where the delta is at geographic north, at the top, and the origin of the Nile waters is geographically down south or the lower end of the map. Just flip the story.
Who were the Pharaohs?
They were men. Except for a very few and only two exceptional women rulers in all those 3000 years. They were family dynasties, where authority was passed in theory from father to son between more than 170 men. Except for the occasional intrigue. And those few women. It was a common practice for a Pharaoh to marry his sister (sometimes older than himself) or be helped by his
mother to rule. They were co-regents.
Our knowledge of the 1st and 2nd Dynasty Pharaohs is hazy, we know hardly anything. Incredibly though by the 3rd Dynasty a mere 500 years later we have the outstanding achievements in Pyramid building. From initial obscurity, out of the blue came the Pyramid builders! DJOSER of the 3rd Dynasty built the first stone Pyramid, the Step Pyramid at Saqqara (which I visited on day 2). And a mere 150 years later it was KHUFU or Cheops who built the unparalleled Great Pyramid at Gizeh (where I took a Great Fall, also on day 2). It is the only one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still in existence. We still cannot explain how they moved practically 'overnight' from virtual stone age to building the Great Pyramid.
Only the Royal family could build a Pyramid. They were royal tombs. The Step Pyramid built by Djoser was intended to be a safe and secure burial place for the journey of himself and his family, with their belongings, through the underworld to the after life. They were massive complex structures with hidden chambers and narrow blocked passages. None
of which deterred tomb raiders in later years from entering and pillaging the tombs. Finally Pyramid building was abandoned in favor of rock cut concealed tombs. The Great Pyramid gave way to the necropolis in the Valley of the Kings.
What's that name?
Pharaohs had multiple names, which greatly confuses us today. It's not like us having middle names. They were born with one name. At Coronation they received a second name. Those names related to the ruling deities they revered and whose powers they assumed since, as Pharaoh, they became living gods. A Pharaoh was the political, military and religious leader of the country. Kind of like a Pope but with a different emphasis and a vastly different size kingdom.
Like Tutankhamun for example. At birth he was named TutankahATEN. The son of AkhenATEN whose main God was ATEN. Hence their names were 'aten'. However when Tutankhaten the boy king ascended the throne on the death of his father he restored the earlier position of multiple gods, in particular ATEN was replaced by AMUN. So His name became TutankhAMUN.
In addition to their birth name, Pharaohs adopted 4 more names after ascending the throne, to
signify their transformed status from a mortal to a diety.
The main Gods numbered over 1,000. Some filled roles of importance to followers in a specific place and were worshiped there. Others held national importance.
The primary gods were
RE (or RA ) the Sun god, father of the gods, symbolised as a Falcon head .
AMUN (or AMON ) the Creator God rose to prominence when Thebes became capital of Egypt
They were later combined and became AMUN RE, creator of life and fertility. God of the Pharaohs.
PTAH was the creator of everything and catalyst of the souls rebirth in the after life. He had no parents, he came first. Egypt is derived from his name. The city of Memphis where the Pyramids were built is the place where his worship arose. He is identified with the first dry land to emerge from the water, the god of earth and creator of the physical universe. He concieved ideas, felt them in his heart, spoke the word and life was created. Hmm mm this sounds familiar. The ankh was his symbol.
ISIS the Mother goddess of fertility called God of 'a thousand
names' because her roles were so many.
She was the sister - wife of OSIRIS, God of the Underworld, passage to the next life, resurrection and the dead departed ancestors.
He was killed by his son SETH, the God of Evil over Darkness, adversary of Horus and all that is good
He was defeated and overthrown by HORUS his brother, a Sun God, God protector of the King and his household. Pharaohs were the 'living Horus' . His symbol is the Falcon. The eye of the falcon symbolised power.
His consort was HATHOR, Goddess of creation, the arts, and joy. Symbolised as a cow's head because she nourished life with milk.
ANUBIS was Guardian of the Tombs, passage through the underworld, death and dying. Symbol the dogs face.
Called hieroglyphs, some names were spelled phonetically others were written using symbols. There are 700 symbols compared with our alphabet's 26!
Hieroglyphics were picture words. Some symbols represent a Sound as in the spelling of a name. Others represent an Idea like a God. A third type helps make meanings clear or ends a sentence. A Text could be read
vertically, horizontally, from left - to -right or from right - to - left. The clue is in the direction of the faces in the picture! Read opposite direction from how they are facing.
Cartouche is the name now given to the oval shaped 'name plate' hieroglyph which contained the birth name of the Pharaoh along with the falcon symbol of Horus. Called a Shenu it came into use in the 4th Dynasty (yes, those Pyramid builders) the inscription included Horus who protected the person. Bonaparte's soldiers named them cartouche.
Symbols for the Gods and Goddesses.
Its easy for us to feel superior and be dismissive, but those multiple dieties often represent and equate to religious tenets similar to our beliefs today. They were merely depicted by ancient Egyptians in more colorful words and images!
There were hundreds of representations of deities but always a few dominant ones. Phonetics gives us different spellings for the same god. Ammon, Amon, Amun; RE, Ra etc.
By the time of Tutankhamun it was held that the gods were essentially the three main ones, RE, Amun and Ptah. And therfore all three were One. The gods and
Goddesses' stories taught about life, with the characters in those tales playing particular roles. There was Amun, his wife Mut and their son Khonsu who are revered in Luxor.
There is the complicated story of family betrayal and revenge in the story of HORUS revenge over his brother SETH for the murder of their father OSIRIS. ISIS the grieving widow used her magical powers to restore life to her husband OSIRIS. He was resurrected. She was impregnated before he returned to the underworld. In this way she gave birth to Horus who later defeated Seth in a contest which earned him the moral right to become Pharaoh. Hence Isis Osiris and Horus are united in observance.
The Pharaohs as God
Pharaohs became living embodiments of the gods they observed. They built monuments to the gods which showed themselves in God like form. They acquired invincible fearless personalities. A SPHINX is such a portrayal. A Pharaohs head on a lions body. That is the Great Sphinx guarding The Great Pyramid of Khufu in Gizeh. GOOGLE the term Egyptian sphinxes and you would be led to believe there is just that one. Wrong! There are hundreds (300
I understand) of sphinxes, and avenues lined with sphinxes which I saw. All represent the Pharoah as fearless and invincible God with a lion's body.
The most famous Pharaohs
Of the 31 dynasties and 170 royal leaders, a few stand out from the crowd.
The Pyramid builders definitely, Djoser of the first ever step Pyramid, Senefru of the first straight sided Pyramid and Khufu or Cheops, of the Great Pyramid.
The Egyptian woman, Hatshepsut of the 18th Dynasty, who ruled for 22 years of prosperity. The Macedonian woman, Cleopatra VII whose suicide brought a permanent end to the rule of Pharaohs.
Tutankhamun because his treasure showed the fabulous wealth of the Pharaohs at the height of their power in the 18th and 19th Dynasties
Ramsis II the Great, of the 19th Dynasty, that's who we really imagine when we hear the word Pharaoh.
Ok let me stop myself here. Hoping you are not more confused now!
Further reading that might help, at this link http://www.ancient-egypt-online.com
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