July 2009

Famous pharaohs

THE KING was not only the most powerful and important man in Egypt- he was thought to be a god. He was know as the pharaoh- a word which derives from a respectful way of  referring to the king by describing him as the ” great house” ( per-ao ), meaning the palace where he lived. The Queen of Egypt could also be seen as a goddess but was usually given the title of ” Great Royal Wife”- only rarely did women rule Egypt in their own right. There was an effective system of  training a prince to become a pharaoh, involving him becoming an expert sportsman and potential war leader. Often the ruling pharaoh would adopt his heir as “co- regent” to enable a smooth take- over when he died. Princes sometimes had to wait a long time. One pharaoh holds the record for the longest reign we know for any monarch. Pepy II came to the throne when he was six years old. He was still king of Egypt 94 years later when he was 100. It is quite remarkable in Egypt’s long history that we have only a few references to pharaohs being assassinated, usually as a result of a plot in the court to put a prince who was not the true heir on to the throne.


In Akhenaten’s reigh the traditional Egyptian gods were banished- only the sun-god was worshipped. To break the links with other gods, Akhenaten founded a new capital city and closed the temples of others gods. Queen Nefertiti helped her husband set up the cult of the sun-god Aten and probably ruled with him. After their death Tutankhamun and his successors restored the old gods. The names of Akhenaten and Nefertiti became hated and were removed from inscriptions and their temples were torn down.


This ruler came to the throne at only nine years old. He was obviously guided by his high officials, but seems to have been determined to bring back the old gods who had been banished by Akhenaten. The resting place of the young king Tutankhamun was the only tomb of a New Kingdom pharaoh to escape almost untouched by robbers. It was the last of the valley tombs to be discovered, being found by Howard Carter in 1922. Its contents included weapons, clothes, furniture, jewellery, musical instruments, and model boats, as well as the king’s famous coffins and mask. Many of these items were either made of solid gold or were richly decorated with gold leaf. The king was buried with his two still- born daughters and a treasures heirloom- a lock of hair of his grandmother Queen Tiye.



Discover the great civilization of the Nile valley-from the splendors of the pharaoh’s court to the everyday lives of ordinary people!

Egypt before the pharaohs

The period we normally think as “ancient Egypt” is the time when Egypt was ruled by the pharaohs-after c.3000 B.C. But who lived in Egypt before the pharaohs? In the early Stone Age people in Egypt lived on sites fairly high up on the land above the Nile from the Delta to Aswan. From about 5000 B.C., settlers came to Egypt from Palestine and Syria, from the Libyan tribes living to the west, and from Nubia in the south. Shortly before 3000 B.C., traders from southern Iraq also sailed to Egypt and some, attracted by the fertility of the country, stayed on. Soon these early settlers began to grow barley and domesticate cattle, and to build villages of mud huts in parts of the flood plain that seemed safe from the annual Nile flood. The period before 3000 B.C., has left behind objects such as magnificently carved ivories and slate palettes, as well as fine pots, often buried with their owners in brick-lined graves. To be continued…