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Kings

In ancient Egypt kings were thought to be in part gods. In life they were associated with the god Horus and in death they were associated with Osiris. Both were male gods and kingship was considered essentially male. That means that in 3000 years of Egyptian history we only know of around 6 women who ruled in their own right.   

One of the symbols of kingship was the false beard. He also wore crowns, usually a white crown and a red crown symbolising Upper and Lower Egypt respectively. The crown was often adorned with a uraeus (rearing cobra) which symbolically protected him. 

There are stone statues of a female king, Hatshepsut, wearing a false beard. On other depictions she is shown wearing a kilt. She does not appear to be the first Egyptian female queen to do so. Sobeknefru, a Middle Kingdom woman, was depicted in the same manner.  Because Hatshepsut was a ruler, ideologically male, she needed to have a ceremonial female consort. Her daughter played this part. In the upstairs gallery we have a depiction of one of her daughters, Neferure.

By the Middle Kingdom the king had five names. These associated him with different gods. The king was so important that his names were considered protective.

The king stood halfway between his people and the gods. This meant that the king mediated between the two. It was he who was responsible for maintaining the order of the universe, or maat, by offering to the gods. In theory all offerings were made by the king to the gods but in reality the priests in the temples did this on behalf of the king. Because in theory, offerings were made by the king, the offering formula always starts with the words ‘hetep di nesu’ (an offering which the king gives).  EC485 is a door of a shrine. The god would have resided inside and the king is shown on the outside offering to the god.

The title ‘pharaoh’ only came in around 1450 BC and wasn’t commonly used until later. The word means ‘Great House’. It is a bit like the queen being referred to as ‘Buckingham Palace’. The more usual word for king in ancient Egypt was ‘nesu’ though the people would have referred to him as ‘hem ef’ (His Majesty).

Items in the Egypt Centre associated with kings include:

Part of a plaster frieze from Amarna showing Akhenaten

Ring bezels showing cartouches of Amarna kings

A Ptolemy III frieze

W165 head of Amenhotep II or Thutmosis III

SM1959.3.2 Glass with the name of Amenhotep II on it

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