20120216-Amenhotep III  Colossal 2.jpg
Amenhotep III Colossal
The pharaohs were powerful and distant rulers of Egypt. They were the heads of state and the highest priests and were worshiped as gods. Their power was absolute and they were required to perform certain duties and govern judicially with ma’at (harmony, balance, peace and order). Running the military and deciding policy was only a small part of their job. The original meaning of pharaoh was "great house."

Dorothy Arnold, an Egyptologist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, told the New Yorker: "The pharaoh was believed in. As whether he was beloved that is beside the point: he was necessary. He was life itself. He represented everything good. Without him there would be nothing." The power of the Pharaohs was based in part on their ability to predict the annual flooding of the Nile.

Pharonic dynasties were closely associated with their numbers. The pharaoh and their wives possessed both throne names and personal names. There were many Nefertitis, almost all queens. Many pharaohs married their sisters and daughters to keep the linage in the family. The longest reign of any ruler was 94 years of the Phiops II, a sixth dynasty pharaoh, who came to power in 2281 B.C. at the age of six.

As a sign of their authority a pharaoh wore a false beard, a lion’s main and a nemes or headcloth with a sacred cobra. When offering were made he waived the royal sekhem (scepter) over them. The beard on the statue of a pharaoh identifies him as being one with Osiris, god of the dead. The cobra and vulture on his forehead symbolize the Upper and Lower kingdoms of Egypt. The crook and flail held the Pharaoh’s hands symbolized the king's power and also linked him with Osiris (statues of Osiris also have a crook and flail). The pharaoh's power was symbolized by a flabellum (fan) held in one hand.

The pharaohs, their families and their courts lived a fairly pampered existence. They were not required to all that much as they were look after by an after by an army of servants that included royal manicurists and royal hairdressers. Murder and kidnaping may have been practiced in the ancient Egyptians court. Based on the reading of hieroglyphics and way figures in tomb were erased and replaced with new ones, some scholars think that a vizier named Ihy, who lived around 2230 B.C., was killed by a mysterious outsider and married the daughter of King Unas and became King Teti, who in turn is believed to have been murdered by Ihy’s son who became Pepi I

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Discovering Egypt; BBC History: Egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt; Egypt’s Golden Empire; Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt; Ancient Egypt Magazine; Egypt Exploration Society ; Amarna Project; Egyptian Study Society, Denver; The Ancient Egypt Site; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East; Egyptology Resources

Kings of Ancient Egypt

Silke Roth of Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany wrote: “Essentially, ancient Egyptian kingship was represented by the king in correlation with the queen. However, as an earthly embodiment of the principle deity (the sun god), the king played a predominant role. Usually he was portrayed unaccompanied. In the infrequent portrayals where he was attended by royal women, the king usually played the leading part by preceding the queen and performing the central action; moreover, he was often depicted on a larger scale.” [Source: Silke Roth, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2009, <>]

Susan Allen of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The ancient Egyptians also referred to the king as "pharaoh," a term still in use today. It is the Hebrew pronunciation of the ancient Egyptian term per-aa, meaning "Big House." Originally it referred to the royal estate, but came to be used for the king himself, just as we might say "The Palace" or "The White House." Each king upon his accession was known by five names, which formed his titulary. These were his Horus name, the Two Ladies name, the Gold Falcon name, his King of Upper and Lower Egypt name (throne name), and the Son of Re name, which was his personal name given at birth. The throne name and personal name are enclosed in a cartouche, or name ring, in inscriptions. Though the Nile valley and the Delta had been unified by the first rulers of Dynasty 1, this dual kingship of Upper and Lower Egypt was preserved in many aspects of kingship, including the two crowns of Egypt: the white crown of Upper Egypt and the red crown of Lower Egypt. Kings are depicted wearing either crown, as well as the merged double crown.” [Source: Susan Allen, Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]

Queens of Ancient Egypt


Silke Roth of Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany wrote: “The queens of ancient Egypt (i.e., the kings’ wives and kings’ mothers) were distinguished by a set of specific titles and insignia that characterized them as the earthly embodiment of the divine feminine principle. From the earliest times, queens were characterized by a specific queenly titulary and iconography, and from as early as the Middle Kingdom their name could be written in a cartouche. To be distinguished from queens are the few female rulers who took the fivefold titulary of the king and bore kingly insignia. By ensuring the continued renewal of kingship, they played an important role in the ideology of kingship. As the highest-ranking female members of the royal household, queens occupied a central position at court, as well. However, only in individual cases did they hold substantial political power. [Source: Silke Roth, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2009, <>]

“The various roles of the queen were defined in accordance with this preeminent position of the king. Against the background of fundamental changes in the ideology of kingship, in the 18th Dynasty the cultic and political significance of the queen gradually increased and was assimilated to the male ruler. At the height of this development, the “great king’s wife” Nefertiti was characterized as an almost coequal partner of the king. However, after the Amarna Period the queen once again became less important. <>

“The main sources for the study of queens and their role in divine kingship and the Egyptian state are texts and representational art, including reliefs, stelae, and statues in temples and tombs, small artifacts, administrative papyri, and diplomatic texts in cuneiform writing from Egypt and abroad. Of particular significance is the context in which the queens were depicted, as well as the shape of their tombs and the location of their tombs in relation to the kings’ mortuary complexes. <>

“According to sources from later periods of Egyptian history, after the New Kingdom the traditional concept of queenship was perpetuated, essentially unchanged. Though the royal wives of the foreign rulers from Kush wore their indigenous garments, as Egyptian queens they took on the customary titles and insignia of their Pharaonic precursors. In Egypt—unlike in their home country—they were only occasionally depicted attending the king. <> he royal women of the Ptolemies also adopted the traditional accoutrements of the Egyptian queen, as recent studies of their statuary and their role in temple ritual suggest. In addition to Hathor, the goddess Isis functioned as the most important divine counterpart of the queens during this period. As in Pharaonic times, some outstanding personalities appeared who functioned in an almost-equal partnership with their respective kings (above all Berenike II and III, and Cleopatra III and VII), particularly by adding kings’ titles to their queenly titulary—frequently 1rt (“female Horus”)—and by acting as sole ritualists vis-à- vis the gods. However, their role strongly resembles that of Akhenaten’s great royal wife Nefertiti as well as of other ancient Egyptian queens who acted as representatives on behalf of minor kings (though it is not at all comparable to the role of the female kings Neferusobek, Hatshepsut, and Tauseret).” <>

Succession of the Kings of Ancient Egypt

Ramses III and Prince Amenherkhepeshef before Hathor

Succession was from father to son, preferably the son of the king and queen, but if there were no such offspring then the son of one of the Pharaoh’s “secondary” or “harem” wives. Susan Allen of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The descent of kingship was usually from father to son, but the role of mothers and queens was equally important. Ideally, the successor was the son of the king by the chief royal wife, who, as a close blood relative of the king, provided a double legitimacy to the succession. Throughout Egyptian history, the role of the queen as mother of the king, and therefore as a symbol of the powers of creation and rebirth, gave royal women considerable status and influence. Occasionally for political or dynastic reasons, queens assumed the kingship but, except for Hatshepsut, their reigns were usually brief. [Source: Susan Allen, Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]

“While historical records of succession are few, it seems that the inherent desire for the proper order of the world mitigated against usurpation of power and messy dynastic affairs such as were seen in the Ptolemaic Period (304–30 B.C.). The most important task of a king on his succession was to see to the burial of his predecessor and therefore to ensure order in both this world and the afterlife. The office of kingship was also flexible enough to allow for an occasional coregency, in which two rulers, an elder king and his junior partner, governed jointly.” \^/

Queen’s Role in Legitimizing the King’s Right to the Throne

Silke Roth of Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany wrote: “Although, according to divine paradigms, a king was succeeded by his son, there are numerous counter-examples of this ideal. Among the principles of legitimacy upon which a king’s right to the throne was based, the hereditary right through blood relation to a royal predecessor was of only secondary importance. Once the new sovereign succeeded to the crown (for example, through designation by a predecessor or by actual control of power), he was legitimized by the very act of holding the kingly office as “Horus” and “Son of Ra,” and therefore as legal heir to the throne—that is, through “divine legitimation.” Moreover, the king was ex officio considered as the son of his immediate predecessor, being in fact the last in line of the royal ancestors. Accordingly, the queen’s role in legitimizing the rule of her husband or son refers less to her own parentage or marriage-tie than to her ideological role as earthly embodiment of her divine counterparts. [Source: Silke Roth, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2009, <>]

“Similarly, the king’s office was not regularly transmitted through marriage to a princess of royal blood (a “royal heiress”), nor was it the custom of the heir to the throne to marry his (half-) sister in order to confirm his rule, although a brother-sister marriage between royal siblings was possible in principle. Hence, it is not surprising that even some eminent queens were beyond doubt of non-royal origin. <>

“From her biological capacity of assuring the succession to the throne derived the most important ideological role of the queen—that of mother-consort of the king. As such, she guaranteed both the continual renewal of kingship and of the individual officeholder respectively. This double role was based upon the paradigm of divine mother-consorts and became manifest in the queen’s titulary and insignia, as well as in her ritual function. In fact, it was shared by the king’s wife and the king’s mother. <>

“As earthly embodiment of Hathor, consort of the sun god and mother of Horus, it was primarily the royal spouse who functioned as a regenerative medium for the king in his role as representative of the sun-god on earth. In conjunction with her he procreated a rejuvenated form of himself, being father and son united in one person—that is, kA-mwt.f (“bull of his mother”). In the New Kingdom this role was particularly reflected in the ritual function of the future king’s mother as “God’s wife of Amun”. <>

“The king’s mother gained particular importance through her son’s accession to the throne, and therefore many royal mothers did not become manifest in the sources before this event occurred (for example, Mutemwia, mother of Amenhotep III; and Tuya, mother of Ramesses II). Her specific role in legitimizing her son’s rule naturally referred to the divine parentage of the king and was reflected in her attributes, especially the vulture’s headdress and the titles zAt nTr (“daughter of the god”) and mwt nTr (“mother of the god”), both titles attested as early as the Old Kingdom. Moreover, in the so-called“legend of the divine birth of the king,” she was represented as being impregnated by the sun-god incarnate and giving birth to his heir—i.e., her son, the reigning king.” <>

Rituals and Duties of the Kings of Ancient Egypt

It is believed that Pharaohs performed many duties and presided over many rituals. Mundane ceremonies are believed to have been performed by his sons. By buildings temples and making offerings the Pharaoh was of continuously renewing the bond the between the people, the Pharaoh and the gods.

Susan Allen of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The ancient Egyptians regarded their king and the office of kingship as the apex and organizing principle of their society. The king's preeminent task was to preserve the right order of society, also called maat. This included ensuring peace and political stability, performing all necessary religious rituals, seeing to the economic needs of his people, providing justice, and protecting the country from external and internal danger. It has sometimes been said that the ancient Egyptians believed their kings to be divine, but it was the power of kingship, which the king embodied, rather than the individual himself that was divine. The living king was associated with the god Horus and the dead king with the god Osiris, but the ancient Egyptians were well aware that the king was mortal. One of their most ancient rituals was the sed festival, or jubilee, at which the mortal king reaffirmed his fitness to continue as king. [Source: Susan Allen, Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]

After a pharaoh had been on the throne for 30 years a jubilee was held. From then on another was held every three years. During the celebration, which dates back to original pharaohs, rituals and feasts were held. The king's coronation was re-enacted. To top it all off the pharaoh was supposed to run around a track to demonstrate his fitness. Ramses had 13 jubilees. It is hard to imagine him going for a jog on his last one when he was he was nearly 90.♣

Many of the grandest temples such as Great Temples of Hatshepsut and Temple of Amenhotep III at the Colossi of Memnon were mortuary temples designed as places for people to gather for special religious rites and offerings connected with the cult of the pharaoh it was built for cult to guarantee that he lived on in the afterlife. Rulers often pillaged or remodeled the temples of their successor either to erase his memory or save money on building materials. Smashing statues was a way to disrupt the afterlife of their precursors.

Officials called “viziers” helped the king govern. The viziers acted as mayors, tax collectors, and judges. Other high officials who served the king included a treasurer and an army commander.

Ancient Egyptian Queen’s Ritual Duties and Court-Political Position

Silke Roth of Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany wrote: “From the Old Kingdom onward certain titles reveal that queens played a role in the cult of deities (for example, “priestess of Hathor,” “chantress of Amun,” “sistrum-player of Mut”). However, queens were only rarely depicted as sole ritualists vis-à-vis the divine addressee (the exceptions being deceased queens, Nefertiti during the Amarna Period, and Hatshepsut and Tauseret shortly before they became female rulers). If pictured in ritual scenes, which is the case only in a comparably small number of temple reliefs, the queen habitually follows the king, supporting his ritual performance by playing the sistrum and singing in order to pacify the divinity. From the Old Kingdom onward, the queen was represented in basically this manner, assisting the king at the offering ritual, the building ritual , and the hunting ritual. From the New Kingdom onward, she was also represented in the ritual of “smiting the enemies,” exceptions being Tiy and Nefertiti, who, themselves, were depicted smiting female enemies. In the course of the New Kingdom festivals, the queen occasionally played a more active role. During the Festival of Opet, for instance, her ship towed the bark of the goddess Mut (parallel to the king’s ship towing the bark of Amun), and in the Festival of Min, she played the ceremonial role of Shemait, who encircled the king seven times reciting ritual texts. [Source: Silke Roth, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2009, <>]

Queen Nefertari

“The queens were the highest-ranking female members of the royal court (Snwt) and the royal household (jpt nswt)—the so-called “harem”—which also included the secondary wives of the ruler together with the royal children, and which was a powerful force in its own right. As members of the harem, queens were occasionally involved in conspiracies to carry out the murder of the king. <>

“Archaeological finds in New Kingdom royal residences, and tomb representations from the same period, attest to the existence of separate palace apartments or buildings for the female members of the royal household, such as we see at Memphis/Kom Medinet el- Ghurab, Thebes/Malqata, and Amarna. In all probability, at least the principal wife lived near the king and accompanied him on his journeys through the country. As the most important members of the king’s court and household—both in life and in the afterlife—queens were usually buried close to the king’s tomb, often in the immediate vicinity of his mortuary complex, and sometimes actually inside his tomb. This proximity is also illustrated in the royal necropolis of Western Thebes, where we find in the desert valleys not only the kings’ tombs but the queens’, nearby, with the related cult complexes on the edge of the cultivation. <>

“Due to the fact that the majority of sources refer to the queens’ role in the ideology of kingship, there is little evidence that queens held political influence. Only rarely were queens depicted or mentioned as being present at acts of state, such as royal audiences, councils, and the public rewarding of officials. A representation of a queen rewarding a noblewoman (a clear parallel to the king rewarding an official) is unique. The Amarna Period represented an exception to this norm: during that time, the public appearance of the royal couple was celebrated to propagandize a new concept of kingship that promoted the queen as an almost coequal partner of the king. In other cases in which individual queens appeared as outstanding personalities, they mostly acted as representatives on behalf of minor kings (for example, Ankhenespepy II/Pepy II, Hatshepsut/Thutmose III, Tauseret/Siptah), or in support of an absent ruler (Ahhotep/Ahmose). However, such political roles were not formally reflected in the queens’ titulary and insignia. <>

“Significantly, that the queen played a role in foreign policy is attested by cross-cultural, rather than Egyptian, sources, exhibiting the realpolitik (political pragmatism) of the Egyptian state. In the diplomatic correspondence between Egypt and its Near Eastern neighbors during the New Kingdom, recorded on cuneiform tablets from Amarna and the Hittite capital, Hattusas, queens featured (if only exceptionally) among the actual correspondents (e.g., the dowager queens Ankhesenamun and Tiy; and with regard to the Egyptian-Hittite treaty, Tuya and Nefertari). Numerous letters concern marriage alliances negotiated by the Egyptian ruler and the other “great kings” of Mitanni, Babylonia, Assyria, and Hatti, as well as minor vassals from Syria and Palestine, who sent their daughters to the Egyptian court. Being a pledge of good diplomatic relations, these foreign royal wives together with their courts served as permanent missions for their home countries. <>

“In contrast, it was very unusual for Egyptian princesses to be sent abroad to marry foreign rulers. The alleged matrimonies of Egyptian princesses with the Israelite king Solomon (during the 21st-Dynasty reign of Siamun) and the Persian king Cambyses (during the 26th- Dynasty reign of Amasis) are controversial.” <>

Ritual Smiting and Royal Violence in Ancient Egypt

smiting on the Narmer Palette

Kerry Muhlestein of Brigham Young University wrote: “The language used to describe several sanctioned killings implies that they took place in a ritual context, while other texts are explicit about the ritual nature of the slaying. For example, Senusret I slayed offenders at the temple of Tod, Ramesses III captured and killed Libyans in a ritual context , and Prince Osorkon burned rebels in the temple of Amun at Karnak. In all of these cases ritual language is employed to describe the killings. For example, the text of Osorkon records the punishment of rebels: “Then he struck them down for him, causing them to be carried like goats on the night of the Feast of the Evening Sacrifice in which braziers are braziers at the going forth of Sothis. Every man was burned with fire at the place of his crime”. [Source: Kerry Muhlestein, Brigham Young University, 2015, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 <>]

“There is some evidence that the stereotypical smiting scene at times may have been an actual ritual. Undoubtedly Amenhotep II smote captives as part of his coronation ritual. Several late New Kingdom non-royal stelae represent the king smiting prisoners within temple grounds, perhaps indicating that the owner of the stela had witnessed the ritual. Some have disagreed with this interpretati on, such as Ahituv, while others, including myself , have supported Schulman’s claims, showing faults with the arguments of his detractors, such as illustrating that Ahituv was wrong in stating there was no corroborating evid ence for kings actually smiting prisoners, or demonstrating the illogic behind concluding that if Syrian prisoners were spared in the palace, none of them could have been smitten. <>

“Some texts describing Ramesses III’s dealings with captives can be taken to indicate that he subjected them to ritual smiting, such as when a captive prince and his visiting father engendered distrust in Ramesses and he “came down upon their heads like a mountain of granite”. Moreover, a number of specialized a nd individualized smiting scenes imply that these were based on real events, such as the depiction of a man with a unique physical deformity being struck by the king. While we cannot be sure, it is quite likely that smiting enemies was a royal ritual.” <>

Pharaohs, the Gods and the Afterlife

The pharaohs were considered to be gods---incarnations of falcon-head Horus, children of the sun god Re. They were descendants of the Amun, regarded as the first Egyptian king, who in turn descended from the sun-god Ra and the falcon god of kingship Horus. Egyptians believed they were given their authority to rule when the world was created.

Referred to as the "lord of all the sun disk encircles," the Pharaoh was believed to be one with the universe and the gods and was regarded as an intermediary between the gods and people on earth. Through them the life force was conveyed from the gods to the people.

A Pharaoh’s coronation was viewed not as "the making of a god but the revealing of a god." According to the ancient Egyptians, the pharaohs were the link between heaven and the earth and their breath kept the two worlds separate.♣

Pharaohs were obsessed with afterlife. When a pharaoh died he became the god Osiris. See Tombs

Herodotus on Pharaohs and Gods

Opening of the Mouth of Tutankhamun (King Tut)

Herodotus wrote in Book 2 of “Histories”: “Hecataeus59 the historian was once at Thebes , where he made a genealogy for himself that had him descended from a god in the sixteenth generation. But the priests of Zeus did with him as they also did with me (who had not traced my own lineage). They brought me into the great inner court of the temple and showed me wooden figures there which they counted to the total they had already given, for every high priest sets up a statue of himself there during his lifetime; pointing to these and counting, the priests showed me that each succeeded his father; they went through the whole line of figures, back to the earliest from that of the man who had most recently died. [Source: Herodotus, “The Histories”, Egypt after the Persian Invasion, Book 2, English translation by A. D. Godley. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1920, Tufts]

“Thus, when Hecataeus had traced his descent and claimed that his sixteenth forefather was a god, the priests too traced a line of descent according to the method of their counting; for they would not be persuaded by him that a man could be descended from a god; they traced descent through the whole line of three hundred and forty-five figures, not connecting it with any ancestral god or hero, but declaring each figure to be a “Piromis” the son of a “Piromis”; in Greek, one who is in all respects a good man.

“Thus they showed that all those whose statues stood there had been good men, but quite unlike gods. Before these men, they said, the rulers of Egypt were gods, but none had been contemporary with the human priests. Of these gods one or another had in succession been supreme; the last of them to rule the country was Osiris' son Horus, whom the Greeks call Apollo; he deposed Typhon,60 and was the last divine king of Egypt. Osiris is, in the Greek language, Dionysus. So far I have recorded what the Egyptians themselves say. I shall now relate what is recorded alike by Egyptians and foreigners, and shall add something of what I myself have seen.”

Horus Versus Seth and Pharaonic Rule

On the fight between Horus and Seth at the beginning of creation, Lee Huddleston of the University of North Texas wrote in Ancient Near East Page: “Father Geb faced a unique problem. Atum had resigned his rule to his only son, Shu; Shu in turn gave way for his only son, Geb. Geb had two sets of twins from Nut's one pregnancy. When it came time for him to turn over control of earth [EGYPT], he had two sons from which to choose the next ruler. Some stories suggest he may have divided Egypt; others say he gave it all to Osiris and gave the rest of the world to Seth. Whatever the circumstance may have been, Seth was unhappy with his lot. He murdered his brother, Osiris; cut his body into small pieces, and threw them into the NILE. There, Osiris merged with, and became the River. Isis, assisted by her sister, Nepthys, found all the pieces of Osiris except the phallus. Isis hovered over him imploring him to arise and impreg-nate her. Miraculously, Osiris did revive, and did impregnate his wife before passing to the West, the home of Atum, where he became the Spirit in whom the souls of the righteous dead would eventually find salvation. [Source: Lee Huddleston, Ancient Near East Page, January, 2001, Internet Archive, from UNT \=/]

“In term, Isis gave birth to Horus. She hid him from his uncle, Seth, until he was eighteen. Then she presented Horus to the Council of the Gods arguing that, as the only son of Osiris, Horus ought to be given his father's realm [Egypt]. Geb was unable to decide whether the young Horus or the older and stronger Seth should rule. There followed a series of contendings between the ex-ruler's brother and his son to determine which of them was best suited to rule Egypt. In the process, Seth was tricked into admitting that a son's rights of inheritance took precedence over the rights of a brother; and into the appearance of having dishonored himself. As a result of these contendings, the following conventions evolve.

“1) Horus is always P haraoh, and Pharaoh was King of Egypt by Right of Divinity. (In actuality, not all Pharaohs claimed to be Horus; some identified with Seth, especially if they were involved with foreign lands or their capitals lay in Seth's land; others identified with their own preferred gods.) The idea of a Divine King persisted in the Mediterranean basin until the triumph of monotheistic religions more than 3400 years later. 2) Pharaoh, at first possessed sole right to enter Heaven, but by 2200 B.C. the spiritual dynamics of Salvation were understood and the Democratization of Heaven completed.

“3) The Rule of primogeniture was another victor in the struggle between Horus and Seth for the birthright of Osiris. Horus, Isis, and their supporters used the argument that Osiris, the first born son of Geb, rightfully owned Egypt and that his Domain should pass intact to his Son, not to his brother. Horus' victory was, retroactively, a victory for Osiris' contention in his earlier quarrel with Seth. The Institution called Primogeniture has endured for more than five thousand years, but has declined in social acceptance with the decay of the Institution called the Nobility.”

Palaces and Royal Residence of of Amarna

Amarna north palace

Anna Stevens of Cambridge University wrote: “The full extent of the North Riverside Palace “has never been mapped and all that is visible today is a part of the thick, buttressed eastern enclosure wall, although excavations in 1931-1932 exposed a small stretch of what may have been the palace wall proper. To the north of the palace, and perhaps once part of it, is a large terraced complex containing open courts and magazines known as the North Administrative Building. The land to the east of the palace is occupied by houses that include several very large, regularly laid out estates, and also areas of smaller housing units beyond, running up to the base of the cliffs. [Source: Anna Stevens, Amarna Project, 2016, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 <>]

“This is the best recorded of the Amarna palaces, having been excavated first in the early 1920s and recleared and restudied in the 1990s. The palace was built around two open courts separated by a pylon or possible Window of Appearance, the second court containing a large basin that probably housed a sunken garden. Opening off each courtyard was a series of smaller secondary courts containing altars, magazines, an animal courtyard, probable service areas, and a throne room. A feature of the site was the good preservation of its wall paintings when exposed in the 1920s <>

“The North Palace and North Riverside Palace are generally thought to have been the main residences for the royal family, the palaces in the Central City playing more ceremonial and administrative roles. The North Palace has often been assigne d to female members of the royal family, whose names appear prominently here, although Spence considers it more likely that royal women had chambers within the North and North Riverside Palaces rather than an entirely separate residence.

“To the south again is a walled complex now termed the King’s House that was connected to the Great Palace by a 9 meters wide mud-brick bridge running over the Royal Road. At the King’s House, the bridge descended into a tree-filled court that led to a columned hall with peripheral apartments, one of which contained a probable throne platform. The famous painted scene of the royal family relaxing on patterned cushions originates from this building; other painted scenes include that of foreign captives, perhaps connected with a Window of Appearance. The complex also contained, in its final form, a large set of storerooms. <>

“Extending beyond the King’s House to the east was a series of administrative buildings, roughly arranged into a block, among them the “Bureau of Correspondence of Pharaoh,” where most of the Amarna Letters were probably found, an d the “House of Life.” To their south is a set of uniformly laid out houses generally thought to have been occupied by administrators employed in the Central City. In the desert to the east lies a complex identified by the EES excavato rs as military/police quarters. Nearby were several further enclosures, among them a small shrine, the House of the King’s Statue, which has been suggested as a state-built public chapel, perhaps built for those who worked in the Central City.” <>

Symbols and Crowns of the Egyptian Pharaoh

The symbols of authority of the ancient Egyptian king included a crook and a flail. The crook was a short stick curved at the top, much like a shepherd’s crook. The flail was a long handle with three strings of beads. When the king sat on his throne wearing all of his symbols of office—the crowns, scepters, and other ceremonial items—it was believed the spirit of the great god Horus spoke through him. [Source: Mark Millmore,]

Crowns and headdresses were mostly made of organic materials and have not survived but we know what they looked like from many pictures and statues. The best known crown is from Tutankhamun’s golden death mask. The White Crown represented Upper Egypt, and the Red Crown, Lower Egypt (around the Nile Delta). Sometimes these crowns were worn together and called the Double Crown, and were the symbol of a united Egypt.

There was also a third crown worn by the kings of the New Kingdom, called the Blue Crown or war helmet. This was called the Nemes crown and was made of striped cloth. It was tied around the head, covered the neck and shoulders, and was knotted into a tail at the back. The brow was decorated with the “uraeus,” a cobra and vulture.

Insignia of the Ancient Egyptian Queen

20120216-crook and flaial.png
crook and flail, Pharaoh symbols
Silke Roth of Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany wrote: “From as early as the 4th Dynasty the queen was characterized by a set of specific insignia—in particular, by various headdresses and hand-held emblems. By borrowing these insignia from, or sharing them with, female deities, the queen associated herself with her divine counterparts. Typically, these goddesses functioned as mothers and consorts in divine families and therefore played an important role in the ideology of kingship. [Source: Silke Roth, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2009, <>]

“Among the most important insignia are the vulture headdress (a cap made from a vulture’s skin) and the uraeus. Taken over by the queen from the tutelary goddesses and divine mothers Nekhbet and Wadjet, they were at first exclusively worn by the royal mothers (Dynasties 4 and 5). Later on, the vulture headdress became a symbol of motherhood par excellence and was adopted by other prototypical mother goddesses, such as Mut and Isis. From Dynasty 6 onward the king’s wives—being prospective royal mothers— also began to wear the vulture headdress and the uraeus. From the Middle Kingdom through the early 18th Dynasty the uraeus became a common emblem of the king’s daughters, as well. This association with the uraeus suggests a development in the status of the royal daughter during this period. <>

“In the 18th Dynasty, the double uraeus occurred as a brow ornament of royal wives and mothers. Apparently it indicated an association of the queen with the dualistic concept of Nekhbet and Wadjet, the goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt, respectively, especially when adorned with the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. Furthermore, it associated the queen with the two “solar eyes” and daughters of the sun god—primarily, Hathor and Tefnut. Crowned with the cow’s horns and sun disc, the so- called Hathoric uraeus appeared as single and double emblems, in clear reference to Hathor and the solar eye(s). It is first attested in the Amarna Period and was still in use in Ramesside times. Moreover, as early as Dynasty 18 a triple brow-ornament is known, consisting of two uraei flanking a vulture’s head (e.g., the uraei adorned with the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt and the vulture's head with the double crown as the embodiment of Mut; see Bryan 2008). Triple uraei occurred on queens’ statues in the 25th Dynasty, at the earliest, and are well known from the Ptolemaic Period (304–30 B.C.), when the middle uraeus was seemingly associated with the mother goddess Isis. <>

“In the 13th Dynasty a crown consisting of two tall feathers attached to the so-called modius (or kalathos) was added to the queenly insignia. Frequently combined with cows’ horns and the solar disk, it became one of the most important attributes of the Egyptian queen from the New Kingdom onward. It bore a solar connotation and identified the queen as an earthly embodiment of the cow goddess Hathor in her role as consort of the sun god Ra and mistress of heaven. <>

“Restricted to Tiy and Nefertiti, the “great wives of the kings” Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), were the so- called platform crown (also “tall blue crown”) and the khat-headdress, the latter associating the queen with the tutelary goddesses Isis, Nephthis, Selqet, and Neith (see the "first version" of the famous wooden head of Queen Tiy from Kom Medinet Ghurab). <>

“The divine was-scepter and the papyrus scepter of the goddess Wadjet were occasionally attested as queenly insignia in the Old Kingdom, when they frequently appeared in combination with the ankh-sign. These representations generally occur in the queens’ tombs, so it seems that they represented deceased, “deified” royal wives. A certain degree of deification of the living queen, in parallel to the king, was indicated by New Kingdom depictions of queens wearing the ankh-sign and carrying divine scepters. First attested in the Second Intermediate Period, one of the most frequent hand-held emblems of the New Kingdom queen was the so-called fly-whisk.” <>

Thrones in Ancient Egypt

Klaus P. Kuhlmann of the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo wrote: “By today’s definition, a “throne” is the seat of a king or sovereign. In ancient Egypt, a plethora of terms referred to the throne, but none apparently carried this specific connotation. Explicit reference to the seat of a king or god was made by addressing the latter’s “elevated” position. There were two major types of thrones: a basic (“sacred”) one of the gods and of pharaoh as their heir and successor that had the shape of a square box (block-throne) and a “secular” one that incorporated a pair of lions into a stool or chair (lion-throne) and depicted pharaoh as powerful ruler of the world. Thrones usually stood on a dais inside a kiosk, elevating the ruler well above his subjects and displaying his supreme social rank. At the same time, the arrangement was meant to evoke a comparison with the sun god resting on the primordial hill at the moment of creating the world. The enthronization of pharaoh was thought to be a perpetuation of this cosmogonic act, which was referred to as “the first time”. As an object, which could be desecrated (for example, by usurpation), the Egyptian throne underwent purification rites. There is no evidence, however, of it ever having received cultic reverence or having been deified (as the goddess Isis). [Source: Klaus P. Kuhlmann, German Archaeological Institute, Cairo, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2011, <>]

“For most people in Africa and the ancient Near East—worldwide, in fact—“squatting” was and is the common position of repose, as it was also for the ancient Egyptians. Amongst ordinary Egyptians, mats (tmA) remained the most commonly used piece of “furniture” for sitting or lying down. Pharaoh on his throne, therefore, ruled over “the mats,” i.e., his “lowly” subjects . There is evidence, however, that this basic household item originally conferred “status” to its owner, a fact in tune with modern ethnographic data from Africa. Gods are said to be “elevated” on their mats, or the justified dead will be granted the privilege of sitting on “the mat of Osiris”. Archaizing tendencies during the late stages of Egyptian history resulted in the use of the reed mat (= pj < wpj, “split,” i.e., reeds) as a word for “throne.”

Although forcing a posture, which “squatting” people generally experience as being less relaxing, stools and chairs were eagerly adopted by Egypt’s nobility because the raised position signaled “superiority” rather than being a means of achieving more comfort. Ancient Egyptians even attempted to “squat” on a chair. Like a crown or scepter, the chief’s chair became one of ancient Egypt’s most important royal insignia as the quintessential symbol of divine kingship. <>

“The manufacture of thrones involved precious materials like ebony and gold or electrum/fine gold. The frequent expression xndw bjAj (or: xndw n bjA, “throne made of iron,” e.g., PT 1992c) might more generally refer to the use of “mining products” (i.e., metal and precious stones for inlay work) rather than the use of “iron” as the manufacturing material of the throne. Offices connected to the throne were much less common than previously assumed. Assured are jrjw st pr aA, “guardians of the palace throne,” xntj xndw, “he before the throne,” TAj jsbt n nb tAwj, “carrier of the throne of the Lord of the Two Lands,” and maybe Xrj tp st nsw, “servant of the royal throne/chamber”. <>

Ancient Egyptian Thrones As Symbols of the King’s Divine Power

Ramses II

Klaus P. Kuhlmann of the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo wrote: “Gods acknowledged pharaoh as their “son” and legitimate heir by bequeathing to him their thrones as the one piece of ancestral symbols of office explicitly referred to. It was mainly Ra, Atum, Amun, Geb, and Horus who confirmed pharaoh’s rightful claim to power by saying “to thee I give my throne…”. This preeminent status amongst Egypt’s regalia derived from the dogma of pharaoh’s rule being first and foremost cosmogonic in nature. The king’s enthronization upon a dais was intended to recall and reenact the “first time” (zp tpj), i.e., the establishment of cosmic order and equilibrium (maat) when the sun god descended upon the primeval hill and created the world in its proper god-given state. This is why the throne could also be referred to as “she (i.e., st, nst) who keeps alive maat”. It has also been suggested that the throne might have had a deeper meaning representing the sky and that it was a symbol of perpetual rebirth. [Source: Klaus P. Kuhlmann, German Archaeological Institute, Cairo, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2011, <>]

“Usurpation of the throne resulted in its desecration and the need for ritual purification. No convincing evidence exists, however, that it ever became the object of cultic reverence or deification. Religious texts are free of any allusion to such a fact. PT 1153b - 1154b—a key reference in connection with any such suggestion—refer to the throne (-kiosk) as having been “made by the gods, made by Horus, created by Thoth” and not by “the Great Isis” on whose lap the newborn-kings were pictured, sitting as if on a throne. <>

“None of the many Egyptian terms referring to the “throne” imply the “regal” or “religious” connotation the word carries today. Being “special” as the seat of a god or king was expressed by referring to the throne as being “elevated,” i.e., standing raised above its surroundings. st, nst, jsbt, mnbjt, and bHdw are derived from lexical roots denoting “to sit” or “to rest”. Other expressions originally referred to physical aspects like shape—for example, xndw: from a curved bar; hdmw, “box,” for the block-throne — or position as in the case of the frequent term st wrrt and tpj rdww indicating the throne’s elevated position in the kiosk (or in the holy of holies) on a dais, which was also referred to as a “high rising and tall” mnbjt. <>

“Words for the royal “palanquin” are mostly self-explanatory: wTzt < Tzj/wTz, qAyt < qA ; for Hmr and zpA(t), cf. Semitic Hml, “carry,” and Semitic zbl, “basket,” respectively. Other words like bkr(t) (Coptic belke), bdj, ndm, and skA resist etymological explanation. Words semantically related to “throne” often show graphically “simple” determinatives like , (a litter with an ancient type of curved shrine), or (steps, dais) indicating that the object was a “place of rest” and could be carried or stood raised. The block-throne sign on the head of Isis (Ast: hse) is not a symbol but “writing” (= s/se). It allowed the identification of iconographically undifferentiated female deities just as other hieroglyphic signs like or on the head of other goddesses denoted a “reading” as “Nephthys” or “Nut,” respectively.” <>

Types of Ancient Egyptians Thrones

Klaus P. Kuhlmann of the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo wrote: “Basically, Egyptian thrones came in two shapes, which seem to have coexisted since early Old Kingdom times. A square block incorporating a short backrest represented a simple “traditional” type (earliest example under Khufu). It remains unclear whether this type of seat evolved from (a flight of three brick-made) stairs as early sign shapes seem to suggest or from a bundle of reeds. In general, the block-throne has a Hwt-like design ) on its sides. This is the typical throne of gods, who “preside” over a temple (Hwt-nTr), and it is mainly—but not exclusively—in a religious context that also pharaoh is shown on such a (“sacred”) block-throne. The other type is the lion-throne that combines a chair with a tall backrest with figures of two lions flanking it. Famous examples are the thrones of the Khafra statues from the king’s valley temple at Giza or Tutankhamen’s throne. No armrests are shown in examples of three-dimensional thrones from the Old Kingdom although they are part of the throne of queen Neith. Egyptian beds flanked by lions, cheetahs, or hippopotami offer several formal analogies to the lion-throne, but the concept is a common one and much older than Egyptian civilization. The earliest example—showing a seated female figure between two felids — comes from Çatal Höyük in Anatolia and dates to Neolithic times. [Source: Klaus P. Kuhlmann, German Archaeological Institute, Cairo, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2011, <>]

“The lion-throne was the characteristic (“secular”) royal throne of ancient Egypt. Armchair-type lion-thrones are frequently depicted from the New Kingdom on. By this time, the pairs of lion legs present in three-dimensional examples of the Old Kingdom had been reduced to four legs, and the backrest had been turned into the stylized shape of an elegantly (though unnaturally) erect tail. Stool-type lion-thrones (without armrests only seldom show the animal’s head). Textual evidence indicates that prior to the lion-throne gaining general acceptance, also stools with bull’s legs (frequently found in tombs of Egypt’s Proto- and Early Dynastic elite) had served as thrones. Lightweight stools and folding chairs were also embellished with symbols of royalty (lion legs, zmA) and accompanied the king into the field or during more pleasurable outings be turned into a rigid throne with a backrest. Possible explanations might be the aspect of royal “leisure” associated with such stool- types or, on the contrary, the symbolism derived from being used by a “warrior”-king. There is no apparent reason, however, to identify its function as “ecclesiastical”, comparable to medieval faldistoria (armless folding chairs). <>

“When it became necessary to carry the king in procession, either type of throne was simply put on a portable support. During inaugurations and jubilees, the support often took the shape of a basket, which gave the allusion that the king was “presiding” over the festival HAb) or was “the Lord of Sed Festivals” (nb HAb-sd). Prior to the Amarna Period, officials were received at court before the “elevated throne” (st wrrt), pharaoh “shining” (Haj) above them like the sun god on the primeval hill and embodying the last link to Egypt’s erstwhile king-gods. Akhenaten broke with this traditional throne kiosk imagery. Even the term st wrrt was exchanged for jsbt aAt (probably meaning the same: “elevated throne”), and during official functions, the royal pair appeared seated on a simple stool. Instead, the “window of appearance”—a dais with surrounding parapet and a front reminiscent of a broken-lintel doorway— became the essential feature of interaction between the king and his subordinates. Inspired, no doubt, by the country’s age-old concept of portable shrines (e.g., divine barges) and justice being spoken at the “gate”, Akhenaten adapted the “window” also for venturing before the public, adding it to the royal palanquin together with pairs of lions and sphinxes as symbols of royal and apotropaic power. Presumably, the contraption was meant to convey the message that the king was “approachable,” i.e., willing to grant audience and justice to the common people, too. This understanding is corroborated by the fact that during public oracular processions, also deities—for example, the deified Amenhotep I or Amun in his so-called “aniconic form”—were called upon while being carried about in similar palanquins with a broken-lintel facade. Reliefs and drawings depict just the parapet in side view, but three-dimensional examples also show the broken-lintel door in the front. This type of throne—at least of the aniconic form of Amun—seems to have been called bHdw. <>

Tutankhamun's throne

“The throne is shown to rest at least on a mat. Usually it stands raised on a - shaped (double) dais (surmounted by curvy canopies: ) or inside (often very elaborate) kiosks consisting of four columns supporting a canopy made of a framework of lintels surmounted by a cavetto cornice. The earliest example dates to the Middle Kingdom. Since Amenhotep III, more elaborate kiosks are in evidence packing two, even three kiosks into one another. The columns are usually of the lotus-capital type with or without buds tied to the shaft. So- called “lily”-capitals may replace the lotus or the “lily” occurs in combination with the lotus. Botanically the flower does not actually represent a type of lily, and it seems likely that this is a monumentalized version of the Upper Egyptian heraldic plant (a flowering type of “sedge”?), which has not yet been identified beyond question. Three-stage composite capitals of papyrus flowers (and buds) were also used and became more frequent from the Amarna Period on. A consistent feature on the kiosk since the New Kingdom are the winged solar disc and bunches of grapes on the lintel. <>

Symbols and Ornamentation on the Ancient Egyptian Throne

Klaus P. Kuhlmann of the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo wrote: “The vegetal features and the image of the solar god above it match the dais’ symbolic interpretation as the “primeval hill,” i.e., the fertile land appearing in the receding waters of the inundation. Sprouting with vegetation, Egypt provided the king with all kinds of vital produce and allowed him to lead a merry, carefree life. Representing two highly important vegetal commodities, lotus and papyrus epitomized Egypt’s most archetypal plants of the primordial world. Because of their symbolic and practical value in everyday life, they figured ubiquitously in art and architecture. In the time of Amenhotep III, vegetal capitals were also embellished by protomes of ducks, omnipresent in the pools and puddles left by the receding inundation. For Egyptians, the duck represented “fowl” as a basic type of nourishment and offering Apd, “bird”). Providing a counterbalance to the (Lower Egyptian) papyrus appears to have been the (Upper Egyptian) “lily”-capital’s sole raison d’être, which also explains its comparatively modest deployment in architectural designs since the time of king Djoser. Throughout the ancient world, wine was considered a drink of gods and royalty symbolizing a ruler’s happy and content life. It appears that the kiosk originated from primitive lightweight shades erected for trellising vines and for having a pleasurable time in a garden. [Source: Klaus P. Kuhlmann, German Archaeological Institute, Cairo, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2011, <>]

“Ornamental patterns—many of them hieroglyphic signs—decorating the throne and its paraphernalia relate symbolically to the dogma of divine kingship, to the power of rule, or functioned as apotropaica. A variation of the block-throne (Hwt) hieroglyph is the (srx) on the sides of the block-throne, the earliest examples dating to the time of Amenhotep III. Rarely, the srx was also combined with a lion stool. The srx-decoration was probably inspired by the Horus-name of the royal titulary and alludes to the king as “living Horus” and “Lord of the royal palace”. The fact that pharaoh’s rule was “based” on the gifts of eternal “life” (anx, ), “endurance” (Dd, ), and“wellbeing” (wAs, ) bestowed upon him by the gods is expressed by representing these signs along the dais. <>

“Amongst hieroglyphic symbols of authority and dominance, one finds the -sign (zmA, “unite”) in combination with papyrus and “sedge” symbolizing the “Two Lands” (i.e., Upper and Lower Egypt) united under one ruler. Hence the expression zmA(y)t, “unifier,” for the throne, which is said to “unite” (jab) the living under pharaoh. Gods of the country’s two parts, who are handling or tying the two heraldic plants of Upper- and Lower Egypt to the zmA, may augment the sign, as well as figures of northern and southern foreigners on lion- thrones. Foreigners—or their hieroglyphic symbol, the bow —are also represented on footstools or the dais. The theme of pharaoh triumphing over the rest of the world is also taken up on the armrest of thrones by depicting the royal sphinx trampling upon Egypt’s enemies. Graphic variations of the -hieroglyph on the dais (and footstool) illustrate pharaoh’s rule over the “civilized” Egyptian world, praising their leader. Differently colored stripes with a pattern reminiscent of feathers are also a frequent decorative design displayed on the sides of Hwt block-thrones. <>

“Essentially, lions and sphinxes flanking the king’s throne or before and on the dais seem to have been images of the king himself evoking a leader’s fierce strength and supremacy. This is suggested by the analogous griffin—furtive ruler of Egypt’s deserts—that also symbolizes aggressive, overwhelming power, as well as by the exchange of the lion protomes for human heads on the queen’s throne. Animals—because of their natural or imagined powers—took on the role of warding off evil and protecting the person of the ruler. Lion heads decorated the abaci of the throne kiosk, alternating with heads of the demon-god Bes, who is sometimes likened to the lion. Bucrania were mounted on the canopy supplementing the three dangerous lion aspects of the king by yet another one associated with deadly animal force dnD, “rage”). Kiosk lintels were also decorated with Hathoric-heads, recalling images of the king standing protected under the head of the Hathor-cow. Freezes of uraei crowning the canopy or snakes (Wadjet), vultures (Nekhbet), and falcons (Horus) protecting the king on arm- and backrests of the throne are all part of the comprehensive theme of divine animal powers watching over the king. “<>


cartouche of Thutmosis III

Cathie Spieser, an independent researcher in Switzerland, wrote: “The cartouche is an elongated form of the Egyptian shen-hieroglyph that encloses and protects a royal name or, in specific contexts, the name of a divinity. A king’s throne name and birth name were each enclosed in a cartouche, forming a kind of heraldic motif expressing the ruler’s dual nature as both human and divine. The cartouche could occur as a simple decorative component. When shown independently the cartouche took on an iconic significance and replaced the king’s, or more rarely, the queen’s, anthropomorphic image, enabling him or her to be venerated as a divine entity. Conversely, the enclosure of a god’s or goddess’s name in a cartouche served to render the deity more accessible to the human sphere. [Source: Cathie Spieser, independent researcher, Switzerland, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, <>]

“The cartouche derives from the Egyptian shen-ring, a hieroglyphic sign depicting a coil of rope tied at one end, meaning “ring, circle,” the root Sn (shen) expressing the idea of encircling. Symbolically, the cartouche represents the encircling of the created world by the sun disc—that is, the containment of “all that the sun encircles.” Originally, the shen-ring was probably an amulet formed from a length of papyrus rope looped into a circle with an additional binding. The cartouche is an elongated shen-ring, extended to accommodate and magically protect a royal name. <>

“The convention of enclosing the king’s name in a cartouche initially appeared on royal monuments and may possibly date back as early as the First Dynasty, although there is currently little conclusive evidence to support this supposition. Recent work on early writing may well shed light on the question. The cartouche was first used to enclose the king’s birth (given) name. The earliest attested example of an enclosed birth name— that of Third Dynasty pharaoh Huni, found on a block at Elephantine—is doubtful. Well attested, however, are examples on royal monuments of Sneferu (Fourth Dynasty) and his successors. By the middle of the Fifth Dynasty, during the regency of Neferirkara, the newly instituted throne name is also enclosed within a cartouche. <>

“The first occurrence of the use of cartouches to enclose queens’ names appears in the Sixth Dynasty. At this time we find the birth names of Ankhnesmeryra I and her sister Ankhnesmeryra II, also called Ankhnespepy—both wives of Pepy I— partially contained: cartouches enclose only the components “Meryra” and “Pepy,” these being the king’s throne and birth names, respectively. This convention reflects the queen’s position as “king’s wife,” but may further indicate, in a sense, that the king’s cartouche also became a part of the name of the queen, perhaps opening the way for queens to have their own names placed in cartouches. The name of queen Ankhnesmeryra I occurs in a private burial monument; that of Ankhnesmeryra II is found in her small pyramid at Saqqara. From the Middle Kingdom onward, cartouches enclosed the queen’s entire birth name; the birth name remained the only queen’s name to be enclosed by a cartouche. Occasionally epithets (both royal and non-royal) or god’s names could also be included. <>

“The cartouche remained in use until the end of Pharaonic civilization. When Pharaonic beliefs and the associated writing systems lost their relevance, the cartouche disappeared as well. The last pharaohs whose names are attested as written in cartouches are the Roman emperors Diocletian, Galerius, and Maximinus Daia of the beginning of the fourth century CE. The kings of Meroe in Sudan continued to use the cartouche until the fifth century CE.” <>

Function and Meaning of Cartouches

Cathie Spieser, an independent researcher in Switzerland, wrote: “The purpose of the cartouche is to protect the royal name, the name embodying, supernaturally, the ruler’s identity. Moreover, as a solar element depicting “all that the sun encircles,” the cartouche establishes a parallel between the sun and the pharaoh as long as he rules. [Source: Cathie Spieser, independent researcher, Switzerland, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, <>]

“The practice of encircling a written name to ensure its protection is ancient. In Predynastic times, a kind of cartouche formed by an elongated oval or square, sometimes crenellated and recalling the structure of a fortress, was employed to protect names of localities. A similar enclosure, the so-called serekh, or “palace façade,” was used from the First Dynasty onward to surround the king’s Horus name. <>

“The king’s throne and birth names enclosed in cartouches form a kind of heraldic motif expressing his dual nature: the birth name represents him on a terrestrial level as a human being, chosen by the gods, and the throne name represents him as an incarnation of divine power . The two cartouches may appear as a substitute for the anthropomorphic image of the king, but they are not its equivalent. When cartouches are used iconically, they reflect the king’s divine essence, in contrast to his anthropomorphic image, which is bound to his terrestrial aspect. Iconic cartouches could be worshipped by private individuals as an equivalent of the sun disc. They could also manifest the king in the role of various deities.” <>

Cartouches in Writing

carthouche of Seti I (Sa-Re)

Cathie Spieser wrote: “The cartouche isolates and foregrounds the name in a text while also magically ensuring the name’s protection. The cartouche could be written horizontally or vertically, with hieroglyphs oriented to the left or the right, or from top to bottom. [Source: Cathie Spieser, independent researcher, Switzerland, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, <>]

“The cartouche is generally preceded by a title referring to the enclosed name. The king’s throne name is entitled either nswt bjtj, “He of the sedge and the bee” (reading uncertain), mostly translated “King of Upper and Lower Egypt”/“Dual King” or nb tAwj, “Lord of the Two Lands.” His birth name is entitled either zA Ra, “Son of Ra,” or nb xaw, “Lord of Crowns/Appearances”. <>

“Most often one royal name is enclosed within a cartouche; however, from the end of the Sixth Dynasty through the Middle Kingdom sometimes two royal names are enclosed. In such cases the throne name precedes the birth name within the cartouche; sometimes the throne name is itself preceded in the cartouche by an epithet, such as nswt bjtj. From the Fourth Dynasty onward, it became the practice to include the epithet zA Ra within the cartouche of the king’s birth name. From the Ninth/Tenth Dynasties onward, the throne name could be preceded within the cartouche by the epithet nswt bjtj, but there is no discernable regularity or pattern in this practice. The regular inclusion of zA Ra within the cartouche is characteristic of the names of Eleventh Dynasty Theban kings. This practice survives only into the Hyksos Period and the Seventeenth Dynasty. The meaning of this feature is not clear; it may have been an attempt to endow royal names with greater sanctity, or, in the Eleventh Dynasty, it may have been an assertion of local identity. <>

“From the New Kingdom onward, excluding some rare exceptions, non-royal epithets could occasionally be included in the cartouche, such as the title jt-nTr, used by the late Eighteenth Dynasty king Aye, or Hm-nTr, used by the high priests of Amun ruling in the Twenty-first Dynasty. An example of the latter practice is that of Herihor, whose throne name was Hm-nTr tpj n Jmn, “High Priest of Amun.”The use of cartouches was also sometimes extended to pharaohs whose names clearly evoked their non-royal origins, especially during the Second Intermediate Period. Examples include the birth names of kings Imiramesha, meaning “general” or “commander of the army”; Nehesi, meaning “the Nubian” or “a troop soldier”; and Shemesu, meaning “the escort”. <>

“From the end of the New Kingdom, a cartouche enclosing the name of a deity could also substitute for an anthropomorphicrepresentation of the god. Cartouches enclose, for example, the names of Osiris and Horus in their numerous variants, Horakhti, Amun- Ra, and Anubis, among others. A cartouche of a divinized king, such as Amenhotep I, functioned in a similar manner. Whereas the royal cartouche reveals some idea of the divinity of the king, the use of the cartouche for gods’ names displays an intent to bring the gods to a level closer to the human sphere. Gods’ names enclosed in cartouches appear, on the one hand, in a context deriving from royal ideology that associates them with the solar disc; on the other hand, they are also associated with the solar destiny of the deceased individual who is assimilated to the god. Many images displaying a cartouche enclosing a god’s name refer to Spell 16 of the Book of the Dead, especially in the iconography of post-New Kingdom Theban coffins.” <>

Cartouches Iconography and Ornamentation

Cathie Spieser wrote: “The cartouche takes on iconic significance when it appears in place of the anthropomorphic image of the king (or, much more rarely, the queen). It should be understood that in such cases the cartouche is not intended as a substitute for the ruler’s image but rather as a presentation of the ruler as a divine entity. One example shows Thutmose IV’s cartouche as a falcon with human arms—an iconic representation of “Horus slaying his enemies.” Similarly, artistic strategies serve to indicate when the replacement of the ruler’s image is intended. A cartouche of Thutmose III, worshipped by the viceroy of Kush called Nehy, is displayed on the same scale as Nehy himself. That the cartouche is ornamented further increases its sacredness. Additionally, gods or goddesses can be depicted protecting the cartouche. [Source: Cathie Spieser, independent researcher, Switzerland, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, <>]

“Cartouches can be assimilated with a god and venerated as such. The autonomous cartouche (i.e., the cartouche shown independently) presents the king or queen as the manifestation of various gods or goddesses, sometimes in combination with rebuses, cryptograms, and wordplay. The cartouche becomes a component of the Horus falcon in representations identifying the king with “Horus slaying his enemies”. The cartouche could also depict the king as Horus Behdety, replacing the solar disc between the god’s wings. The king’s name written within a solar disc or ouroboros (“the snake that bites its tail”) rather than a cartouche assimilates the king with the god Ra. The king’s name written in the solar bark likely associates the king with Amun-Ra; indeed the birth name of Amenhotep III can be written with the solar- bark sign, connoting Amun. <>

“Ramesside royal sarcophagi in the form of a cartouche encircling the body of the king constitute a cosmogonic representation: they show the deceased king as Osiris enveloped by the bounded universe (“all that the sun encircles”). In such cases, the cartouche has an iconographic value but does not replace the image of the king. In the same way, the sarcophagus chambers from some earlier royal tombs—for example, the tombs of Thutmose I (KV38), Thutmose II (KV 42?), and Thutmose III (KV 34)—may take the form of a cartouche. The cartouche could also be used in the design of objects or furniture; for example, a wooden box in the form of a cartouche was found in Tutankhamen’s tomb. Cartouches, whether empty or enclosing a name, could serve as protective amulets, seals, and ring-seals, as displayed in the numerous examples found at el-Amarna. <>

“Ornaments served to protect the cartouche and to further emphasize the king’s or queen’s divinity. Some ornaments were placed atop the cartouche—we find cartouches surmounted by double-plumed solar discs, solar discs with or without a pair of uraei, and lunar discs, which in turn could be combined with ram, bull, or cow horns—whereas pairs of uraei with the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt are found adorning the sides. The cartouche can also occur without ornaments when it replaces the king’s or queen’s anthropomorphic image. <>

“The cartouche itself may surmount a potent associative symbol, such as the hieroglyph for “gold”, for “festival”, or for “the uniting of the Two Lands”, or the sign for the standard. The nbw-sign alludes to the “golden” radiance of the cartouche, considered an image of the sun disc. (In the Amarna Period, this solar radiance is reserved for the god Aten to the extent that the nbw-sign is excluded from iconography.) Moreover, the “nb” component of the nbw-sign perhaps also references “lord” and “all”—that is, the king as “ruler of all (the universe)”—constituting a display of multiple meanings. The Hb-sign may refer to the Sed Festival, the royal jubilee ritually celebrated by the king. The zmA- tAwj can bear one or multiple royal names. The jAt-sign is used to support many divinities and belongs to the emblems displaying the king’s (or queen’s) divine nature.” <>

Cartouche Veneration and Omission

cartouche of Nefertiti

Cathie Spieser wrote: “In the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1640 B.C.), cartouches in temple reliefs are shown receiving offerings from Nile gods, especially in procession scenes. New Kingdom iconography features scenes of officials venerating kings’ names. The officials express their loyalty to the king by praying to the king’s cartouche, which is itself assimilated with the rising sun; they also present funerary wishes, expressing their hope for continued existence in the afterlife. Starting in the reign of Hatshepsut, foreign chiefs are depicted prostrating before the ruler’s cartouches. A distinctive elaboration in the Ramesside Period is the veneration of cartouches by royal children. [Source:Cathie Spieser, independent researcher, Switzerland, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, <>]

“An empty cartouche serves as a hieroglyphic determinative for the word rn (“name”) when it designates either the name of a ruler or the king’s titulary, rn wr (“great name”). In the Ptolomaic and Roman Periods, a great number of reliefs (at the temple of Dendara, for example) display an empty cartouche for either kings or queens, designating the kingship or queenship, respectively. The idea of kingship can also be expressed at this time by a cartouche containing only the word “pharaoh”, examples of which may point to weaknesses in, or uncertainty regarding, the kingship at this point in history. <>

“Some names of the royal titulary—the Horus name, Two Ladies name, and Golden Horus names, specifically—were never enclosed within a cartouche. The selective use of the cartouche in the titulary may have been a way to emphasize the sanctity of the throne and birth names. “Conversely, it is noteworthy that in the Ramesside Period the absence of a cartouche enclosing a royal name—in particular contexts—could actually indicate the name- holder’s increased status and divinity. Kings’ birth and throne names without cartouches are displayed, for example, in monumental friezes on temple walls. In statuary, officials are depicted holding the king’s hieroglyphic names in their hands—the absence of cartouches now lending iconic value to the hieroglyphs. It therefore appears that each hieroglyphic sign of the royal name had, by this time, taken on power and divinity individually. The signs still belonged to a cohesive grouping that constituted a royal name, but each simultaneously took on its own role as a divine entity. <>

“This is particularly visible in a frieze from the bark chamber in the Temple of Khons at Karnak. Here, alternating images of Ramesses IV, in maturity and as a young man, are shown offering maat to the god Amun, the name of the god being part of the king’s throne name. Close examination reveals that the frieze is a kind of rebus. One of the alternating images shows the king wearing the khepresh crown surmounted by a sun disc, heqa scepter in hand, offering maat to Amun, who sits atop the signs reading stp n—thus presenting the king’s throne name, HoA-mAat-Ra stp-n-Jmn. The other plays on the king’s birth name and is rather more difficult to read. Itfeatures the young king or prince surmounted by a sun disc, maat feather in hand, offering maat to Amun, who sits atop the mr-sign. Under both the young Ramesses and the god Amun is a double-s. In this way, the king’s birth name is presented: Ra-msj-sw HoA-mAat- mrj-Jmn. Thus, we see that the hieroglyphs themselves played an integral role in the artistic design of the frieze, the absence of the cartouche enhancing their iconic value. “<>

Royal Names in Ancient Egypt

Günter Vittmann of the University of Würzburg wrote: “There are two types of names based on royal names: 1) Unextended royal names, consisting of either the birth name; 2) “Names composed with a royal name, often, but not always, forming a complete sentence. Examples of Unextended royal names: Jmn-m-HAt “Amenemhat”, abbreviated Jmny, 4-n-wsrt “Senusret”, 9Hwtj-ms “Thutmose”, 5Sno “Shoshenq” , PsmTk “Psammetichus”, JaH-ms “Amasis”—or the throne name, e.g., 4Htp-jb-Ra “Sehetepibra”, 2pr-kA-Ra “Kheperkara”, Mn- xpr-Ra “Menkheperra”, WAH-jb-Ra “Wahibra”, Nfr-jb-Ra “Neferibra”, 3nm-jb-Ra “Khenem- ibra”, these being the throne names of Amenemhat I, Senusret I, Thutmose III, Psammetichus I and II, and Amasis respectively, which were widely used as personal names during and after the reigns of those kings. [Source: Günter Vittmann, University of Würzburg, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2013, <>]

Examples of names composed with a royal name, with a complete sentence: Mry-ttj “Beloved by Teti”, Mry-Ra-anx “Merira (Pepy I is alive”), Ra-ms-s(w)-nxt “Ramesses is strong, or victorious”, anx-5Sno “May Shoshenq live”, 3nm-jb-Ra-mn “Khenemibra (i.e., Amasis) is enduring”, whose formulations are analogous to those of theophorous names as described above. <>

“Royal names often offer no more than the terminus a quo for dating; thus one must examine each case individually. In the Old Kingdom (2649–2150 B.C.), unextended royal names were generally not used as personal names, 6tj presumably being no exception as it need not be the king’s name. Compound basilophorous names were used, however, both during the reigns of the respective kings and later, e.g., 4nfrw-Htp “Seneferu is content”, 2wfw-nxt “Khufu is strong, or victorious”, 2wfw-mr-nTrw “Khufu is beloved by the gods”, 2wfw-m-Axt “Khufu is in the horizon”, anx(.j)-m-a-9d.f- Ra “My life is in the hand of Djedefra”. <>

Patterns of Royal Name-Giving in Ancient Egypt

Ronald Leprohon of the University of Toronto wrote: “In ancient Egypt the selection of royal names could follow a number of patterns, including borrowing from the ruler’s own family or from an illustrious predecessor. The names often announced a king’s policy or the situation in which the ruler found himself at his accession. [Source: Ronald Leprohon, University of Toronto, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, <>]

“Close examination of the four names taken by the king at his coronation—that is, the so-calledHorus, Two Ladies, Golden Horus, and Throne names—demonstrates how carefully such names were chosen. The nomenclature could be original to the incumbent, borrowed from his own family, or could hearken back to an illustrious ancestor; it could also announce a monarch’s policy or anticipate a victory over ignoble foreigners. <>

“The original titulary of Amenhotep III illustrates a number of the themes to be considered here. His Horus name, kA nxt xa m mAat, “The victorious bull who has appeared in truth,” is patterned after Thutmose III’s Horus name, kA nxt xa m WAst, “The victorious bull who has appeared in Thebes,” and directly borrowed from another Horus name of the same king, kA nxt xa m mAat. The latter designation is found on a number of obelisks erected at Heliopolis and Thebes to celebrate Thutmose III’s third Sed Festival. Because of their setting in temples, such monuments would have been readily available to Amenhotep III’s court. Thanks to his predecessors’ vigorous military campaigning as well as his father’s diplomatic alliances, Amenhotep III felt secure enough within his realm to declare in his Two Ladies name that he was “One who established laws and made the Two Lands peaceful” (smn hpw sgrH tAwj), thus revealing his internal policies. The king’s external policy was expressed in his Golden Horus name, aA-xpS Hwj sttjw, “The great-of- strength one who has struck down Asiatics”; the phrase approximates one of Thutmose III’s Golden Horus names, aA-xpS Hwj pDt 9, “The great-of-strength one who has struck down the Nine Bows”, the latter from an obelisk set up at Karnak Temple. Moreover, Amenhotep III’s throne name, nb mAat Ra, “Possessor of the cosmic harmony of Ra,” associates him with the divine realm. <>

Historical Development of Royal Titles

Ronald Leprohon of the University of Toronto wrote: “As the titulary developed, specific patterns emerged in the names. The monarchs of the newly united country selected aggressive designations; obvious examples are the Horus Narmer, Aha (“The fighter”), Den (“The [head] cutter”), and Adjib (“The slaughterer of hearts”). Some early dynastic names may even reflect actual political changes, such as the Horus Khasekhem (“The powerful one has appeared”), who, after defeating the Seth Peribsen, changed his name to Khasekhemwy (“The two powerful ones have appeared”), with the word sxmwj, “the two powerful ones,” referring to both Horus and Seth. This type of name change would become a vehicle for some kings to announce landmark victories, such as Nebhepetra Mentuhotep II, who changed part of his titulary according to the vagaries of his war against the Herakleopolitan foes. He firstcalled himself the Horus sanx jb tAwj, “The one who sustained the heart of the Two Lands.” By his fourteenth year, this was changed to the Horus and Two Ladies nTrj HDt, “The divine one of the White Crown,” and some time before his year 39, with the civil war over, he styled himself the Horus and Two Ladies zmA tAwj, “The one who has united the Two Lands.” [Source: Ronald Leprohon, University of Toronto, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, <>]

“With rulers using more than one name early on, other patterns also emerged; for example, the Two Ladies name often reflected the Horus name during the Old Kingdom. Some instances are the 4th-Dynasty kings Khufu (Horus mDdw, “The one who has been adhered to,” and Two Ladies mDd r nbtj, “The one who has adhered to the Two Ladies”) and Khafra (Horus wsr jb, “The strong-minded one,” and Two Ladies wsr m nbtj, “Who is strong by means of the Two Ladies”); the 5th-Dynasty king Niuserra (Horus st jb tAwj, “The [perfect] place of the mind of the Two Lands” and Two Ladies st jb nbtj, “The [perfect] place of the mind of the Two Ladies”); and King Teti of the 6th Dynasty (Horus sHtp tAwj, “The one who has propitiated the Two Lands,” and Two Ladies sHtp nbtj, “The one who has propitiated the Two Ladies”). <>

“It has been suggested that the second cartouche—usually thought to house the ruler’s birth (given) name—of a number of 5th-Dynasty kings simply contained a short form of the throne name (in much the same manner as a nickname). Thus Neferirkara’s second cartouche shows the name Kakai, Niuserra’s shows the name Ini, and Menkauhor’s holds the short form Ikau(hor). Because such hypocorisms were used so seldom, it is difficult to be too categorical about their significance, but they may help explain certain rulers’ names that seem to defy translation. <>

“With the five-fold titulary fully developed by the time of the 12th Dynasty, a clear progression of names can be detected from one king to another. After the 11th Dynasty was unable to furnish a proper heir or was replaced—perhaps even peacefully—the first ruler of the new family, Amenemhat I, used the Horus name sHtp jb tAwj, “He who has propitiated the mind of the Two Lands,” as well as the Golden Horus name zmA, “The uniter.” An additional Horus name, wHm mswt, “The one who has repeated births”, may well have announced a new era, reflecting the aspirations of a vigorous family to safeguard Egypt, and may have coincided with the move from Thebes to Itj-tawy, probably modern-day Lisht, south of the Memphite area. Amenemhat I’s son Senusret I pronounced himself the Horus anx mswt, “Long live the (re-)birth,” referring to his father’s legacy. With the family firmly on the throne, Amenemhat II could then rightfully choose Hkn m mAat, “The one who has rejoiced in cosmic harmony,” as both his Horus and Two Ladies names. An innovator, Senusret II proclaimed himself the Horus sSm tAwj, “The planner of the Two Lands,” perhaps anticipating his later reclamation works in the Fayum, and the Two Ladies sxa MAat, “The one who has caused Maat to appear,” following his father’s theme of maat-harmony. He also took a Golden Horus name Htp nTrw, “The gods are satisfied,” and the throne name xa xpr Ra, “The one (whose) manifestation has appeared, (like) Ra.” His son Senusret III continued the “divine” theme by calling himself the Horus nTrj-xprw, “Divine of manifestations,” along with his family’s theme of “birth,” reflected in his Two Ladies name, nTrj-mswt, “Divine of births.” He then repeated his father’s theme of “appearing” with his throne name xa kAw Ra, “The one (whose) kas have appeared in glory, (like those) of Ra.” Following his father’s vigorous policies, which had expanded the frontiers of Egypt up to the Second Cataract, Amenemhat III could now proclaim himself the Horus aA- bAw, “The one great of might,” the Two Ladies jT jwat tAwj, “The one who has seized the inheritance of the two lands,” and the King of Upper and Lower Egypt nj mAat Ra, “The one to whom belongs the cosmic harmony of Ra.” Similar progressions can also be found in the titularies of the 18th-Dynasty rulers.” <>

Borrowing Royal Names from Predecessors

Tutankhamun's cartouche

Ronald Leprohon of the University of Toronto wrote: “This adoption of forerunners’ titularies was, in fact, a common practice, especially within specific families or particular groups of rulers. Examples of the latter have been demonstrated for the Theban 13th and 17th Dynasties, who drew heavily from one another. Names could also be borrowed from illustrious predecessors. Ramesses IX went back nearly 12 centuries to Pepy II for his throne name, Neferkara; and Nectanebo I used Senusret I’s throne name, Kheperkara, from nearly 16 centuries earlier, for his own prenomen. [Source: Ronald Leprohon, University of Toronto, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, <>]

King Piankhy, the Kushite ruler who came north and defeated a divided Egypt to establish the 25th Dynasty, provides another specific example. He chose a number of Horus names, one of which—sHtp, “The one who has propitiated his Two Lands”—evokes the Horus name of the 6th- Dynasty king Teti, sHtp tAwj, “The one who has propitiated the Two Lands.” He was also known as the Horus kA nxt xa m WAst, “The victorious bull who has appeared in Thebes,” a direct borrowing from Thutmose III, whose titulary would have been known to the Kushites from the earlier monarch’s triumphal stela left at the temple of Amun at Gebel Barkal. One of Piankhy’s throne names, mn xpr Ra, “The enduring one of the manifestation of Ra,” was also taken directly from Thutmose III’s throne name. Another, wsr-mAat Ra, “Strong of truth (in the manner) of Ra,” was appropriated from the throne name of Ramesses II, whose inscriptions were also widespread in Nubia. In this respect, it is noteworthy that, for all their vaunted archaistic tendencies, the rulers of the 26th Dynasty did not borrow from previous kings for their own titularies, save for the fact that they returned to earlier, shorter, patterns for their names. <>

“Such borrowings imply a knowledge of past royal names. Perhaps the royal administration kept records of all or most royal names, which could be consulted when needed. The so- called Turin Canon is the best example of such a list, with its throne names and lengths of reigns. Other lists include the 5th-Dynasty Palermo Stone, the 6th- Dynasty annals found re-used as a sarcophagus lid, and a list of kings dating to the Third Intermediate Period found re-used in a Fatimid-era wall in Cairo. Although these catalogs are useful to us today, they do not supply the full five-fold titulary, which the Egyptians called nxbt. Such records surely existed, although they have not survived.” <>

Titles of the Queen of Egypt

Silke Roth of Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany wrote: “Significantly, a feminine equivalent of the ruler’s designation as nswt (“king”) did not exist in ancient Egypt. In fact, most of the queens’ titles and epithets related them to the king and the king as the earthly embodiment of the gods, respectively. Only from the Middle Kingdom onward did their titles indicate a ruling function. [Source: Silke Roth, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2009, <>]

“The most important and therefore most frequent queens’ titles include those that refer to their marriage, or kinship, to the king—Hmt nswt (“wife of the king”) and mwt nswt (“mother of the king”)—as well as the non- specific titles sAt nswt (“daughter of the king”) and snt nswt (“sister of the king”). The queenly office is also reflected in the titles mAAt 1rw-4tS (“the one who beholds Horus-Seth,” i.e., the king, used mainly in the Old Kingdom), jrjt pat (“the one who belongs to the pat,” i.e., the elite), wrt Hts (“great one of the hetes-scepter”), wrt Hst (“great one of favor”), wrt jmAt (“great one of grace,” used in the Middle Kingdom and later), and Xnmt nfr HDt (“the one who is united with the White Crown,” used in the Middle Kingdom and later, the “White Crown” being an attribute of the king). Commonly attested from the Middle Kingdom onward are Hnwt tAwi (“lady of the Two Lands,” i.e., Egypt) and, as early as the New Kingdom, Hnwt 5maw MHw (“lady of the South and the North”), Hnwt tAw nbw (“lady of all lands”), and nbt tAwy (“mistress of the Two Lands”). Evidence that the queen played a priestly role in the cult of Hathor and various other deities is provided by titles of the type Hmt nTr NN (“priestess of the god/goddess NN,” used in the Old and Middle Kingdoms) and Hmt nTr Jmn (“God’s wife of Amun,” used in the New Kingdom and later). <>

“In the course of a queen’s career—as her role progressed, for example, from that of a king’s daughter, to a king’s wife, to, finally, a king’s mother—the corresponding titles were added to her titulary. From as early as the Old Kingdom a typical string of “core” titles can be discerned, varying in range and order in later times. In instances where minimal titulary was provided, it appears that, at the very least, the titles “wife of the king” or “mother of the king” were mentioned. <>

“To obtain an heir and guarantee the succession to the throne, Egyptian kings were polygynous; therefore, usually several coexisting wives are attested for each sovereign. As a rule, only one “wife of the king” was depicted together with her husband, so it seems that only one of them officiated as queen by holding the queen’s titulary and insignia. It was not until the 13th Dynasty that the title Hmt nswt wrt (“great wife of the king”) was introduced to distinguish this “principal wife” from the secondary wives of the ruler.” <>

Herodotus Tale of Rhampsinitus (the Fictitious Egyptian King)

In his story of Rhampsinitus, a fictitious Egyptian king, Herodotus wrote in Book 2 of “Histories”: “The next to reign after Proteus (they said) was Rhampsinitus. The memorial of his name left by him was the western forecourt of the temple of Hephaestus; he set two statues here forty-one feet high; the northernmost of these the Egyptians call Summer, and the southernmost Winter; the one that they call Summer they worship and treat well, but do the opposite to the statue called Winter. 121A. This king (they told me) had great wealth in silver, so great that none of the succeeding kings could surpass or come near it. To store his treasure safely, he had a stone chamber built, one of its walls abutting on the outer side of his palace. But the builder of it shrewdly provided that one stone be so placed as to be easily removed by two men or even by one. So when the chamber was finished, the king stored his treasure in it, and as time went on, the builder, drawing near the end of his life, summoned his sons (he had two) and told them how he had provided for them, that they have an ample livelihood, by the art with which he had built the king's treasure-house; explaining clearly to them how to remove the stone, he gave the coordinates of it, and told them that if they kept these in mind, they would be the custodians of the king's riches. [Source: Herodotus, “The Histories”, Egypt after the Persian Invasion, Book 2, English translation by A. D. Godley. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1920, Tufts]

“So when he was dead, his sons got to work at once: coming to the palace by night, they readily found and managed the stone in the building, and took away much of the treasure. 121B. When the king opened the building, he was amazed to see the containers lacking their treasure; yet he did not know whom to accuse, seeing that the seals were unbroken and the building shut fast. But when less treasure appeared the second and third times he opened the building (for the thieves did not stop plundering), he had traps made and placed around the containers in which his riches were stored. The thieves came just as before, and one of them crept in; when he came near the container, right away he was caught in the trap. When he saw the trouble he was in, he called to his brother right away and explained to him the problem, and told him to come in quickly and cut off his head, lest he be seen and recognized and destroy him, too. He seemed to have spoken rightly to the other, who did as he was persuaded and then, replacing the stone, went home, carrying his brother's head. 121C. When day came, the king went to the building, and was amazed to see in the trap the thief's body without a head, yet the building intact, with no way in or out. At a loss, he did as follows: he suspended the thief's body from the wall and set guards over it, instructing them to seize and bring to him any whom they saw weeping or making lamentation.

“But the thief's mother, when the body had been hung up, was terribly stricken: she had words with her surviving son, and told him that he was somehow to think of some way to cut loose and bring her his brother's body, and if he did not obey, she threatened to go to the king and denounce him as having the treasure. 121D. So when his mother bitterly reproached the surviving son and for all that he said he could not dissuade her, he devised a plan: he harnessed asses and put skins full of wine on the asses, then set out driving them; and when he was near those who were guarding the hanging body, he pulled at the feet of two or three of the skins and loosed their fastenings; and as the wine ran out, he beat his head and cried aloud like one who did not know to which ass he should turn first, while the guards, when they saw the wine flowing freely, ran out into the road with cups and caught what was pouring out, thinking themselves in luck; feigning anger, the man cursed all; but as the guards addressed him peaceably, he pretended to be soothed and to relent in his anger, and finally drove his asses out of the road and put his harness in order. And after more words passed and one joked with him and got him to laugh, he gave them one of the skins: and they lay down there just as they were, disposed to drink, and included him and told him to stay and drink with them; and he consented and stayed. When they cheerily saluted him in their drinking, he gave them yet another of the skins; and the guards grew very drunk with the abundance of liquor, and lay down right there where they were drinking, overpowered by sleep; but he, when it was late at night, cut down the body of his brother and shaved the right cheek of each of the guards for the indignity, and loading the body on his asses, drove home, fulfilling his mother's commands. 121E.

Rhampsinit and the Masterthief (Dutch TV, 1973)

“When the king learned that the body of the thief had been taken, he was beside himself and, obsessed with finding who it was who had managed this, did as follows—they say, but I do not believe it. He put his own daughter in a brothel, instructing her to accept all alike and, before having intercourse, to make each tell her the shrewdest and most impious thing he had done in his life; whoever told her the story of the thief, she was to seize and not let get out. The girl did as her father told her, and the thief, learning why she was doing this, did as follows, wanting to get the better of the king by craft. He cut the arm off a fresh corpse at the shoulder, and went to the king's daughter, carrying it under his cloak, and when asked the same question as the rest, he said that his most impious act had been when he had cut the head off his brother who was caught in a trap in the king's treasury; and his shrewdest, that after making the guards drunk he had cut down his brother's hanging body. When she heard this, the princess grabbed for him; but in the darkness the thief let her have the arm of the corpse; and clutching it, she held on, believing that she had the arm of the other; but the thief, after giving it to her, was gone in a flash out the door. 121F.

“When this also came to the king's ears, he was astonished at the man's ingenuity and daring, and in the end, he sent a proclamation to every town, promising the thief immunity and a great reward if he would come into the king's presence. The thief trusted the king and came before him;Rhampsinitus was very admiring and gave him his daughter to marry on the grounds that he was the cleverest of men; for as the Egyptians (he said) surpassed all others in craft, so he surpassed the Egyptians.” 122.

Herodotus on Rhampsinitus and the Demeter Story

Herodotus wrote in Book 2 of “Histories”: “They said that later this king went down alive to what the Greeks call Hades and there played dice with Demeter, and after winning some and losing some, came back with a gift from her of a golden hand towel. From the descent of Rhampsinitus, when he came back, they said that the Egyptians celebrate a festival, which I know that they celebrate to this day, but whether this is why they celebrate, I cannot say. On the day of the festival, the priests weave a cloth and bind it as a headband on the eyes of one of their number, whom they then lead, wearing the cloth, into a road that goes to the temple of Demeter; they themselves go back, but this priest with his eyes bandaged is guided (they say) by two wolves49 to Demeter's temple, a distance of three miles from the city, and led back again from the temple by the wolves to the same place. 123. [Source: Herodotus, “The Histories”, Egypt after the Persian Invasion, Book 2, English translation by A. D. Godley. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1920, Tufts]

“These Egyptian stories are for the benefit of whoever believes such tales: my rule in this history is that I record what is said by all as I have heard it. The Egyptians say that Demeter and Dionysus are the rulers of the lower world.50 The Egyptians were the first who maintained the following doctrine, too, that the human soul is immortal, and at the death of the body enters into some other living thing then coming to birth; and after passing through all creatures of land, sea, and air, it enters once more into a human body at birth, a cycle which it completes in three thousand years. There are Greeks who have used this doctrine, some earlier and some later, as if it were their own; I know their names, but do not record them. 124.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except Amarna Palace, the Amarna Project

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato,; Mark Millmore,; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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