10 Most Famous Pharaohs of Egypt
In ancient Egypt, the political as well as the religious leader of the entire people of Egypt was referred to as Pharaoh.
Here is our pick of the 10 greatest pharaohs of ancient Egypt:
Pharaoh Menes’s reign occurred around 3201 – 3101 BC. He was the founder of the first Egyptian dynasty. Menes’ main achievements as a king include the unification of two factions of Egypt: Upper and Lower Egypt. He also takes credit for rerouting the Nile River in Lower Egypt.
As pharaoh, Menes founded the ancient royal capital of Egypt – called Memphis – on a reclaimed territory. Historians and archeologists list the worship of gods and practice of sacrifices as some cultural influences of Menes. After 62 years of ruling Egypt, Menes was believed to have been killed by a hippopotamus.
Our pick for the second most famous pharaoh of Egypt has to be Tutankhamun. Tutankhamun’s reign spanned 1333 to 1323 BC. For some historians, he is popularly regarded as the most famous and greatest pharaoh of Egypt. Tutankhamun belonged to the 18th Dynasty. He came to the throne around the age of 8/9. Historians state that King Tut died before he turned 20.
The secret gold-filled tomb of Tutankhamun was discovered in the early 1920s. It became one of the most popular archaeological finds in the 20th century. Pharaoh Tutankhamun is linked with a glossy death mask of gold, which was discovered in his tomb, along with several other remarkable treasures. Today, the gold mask is named among the world’s most famous ancient artworks.
Tutankhamun’s father was Akhenaten (also known as the heretic pharaoh – see below). Tutankhamun reversed a lot of rules instituted by his father, most importantly, he restored Egypt to its polytheist culture.
RAMSES II (Ramesses the Great)
Ramses II (c. 1303-1213 BC) was the third pharaoh of the 19th Egyptian Dynasty. To signify how much impact he had on the Egyptian society, Ramses II is often referred to as Ramesses the Great. This famous pharaoh of Egypt likely ruled from around 1279 to 1213 BC before he died. He was the builder of great temples such as Ramesseum and the Abu Simbel temple.
Among the various pharaohs of Egypt, Ramses II was a king of strength and he formed an army of more than hundred thousand members. Having left a great legacy behind, Egyptians have named about nine other pharaohs after him.
It is for the above reasons why Ramses II is considered one of the greatest pharaohs of Egypt. Historians estimate that Ramses II lived for about 90 years before his death. He was succeeded to the throne by his thirteenth son, Merneptah. His tomb was first buried in the Valley of the Kings, an archeological site famed for its numerous royal tombs of ancient Egyptian rulers and royal family members. His body was later exhumed and kept in a museum.
The fourth famous Egyptian pharaoh on our list is Thutmose III. This pharaoh reigned over Egypt from about 1479 to 1425 BC. He was the 6th Pharaoh of the 18th Egyptian Dynasty. Owing to his insatiable thirst for power and dominance, Thutmose III has often been referred to as “the Napoleon of ancient Egypt” by modern scholars and Egyptologists. His first taste of power was when he co-ruled Egypt for twenty-two years with his stepmother by name, Hatshepsut.
After his stepmother’s death, Thutmose took over and enlarged the Egyptian empire; he rebuilt the kingdom’s army, turning the land into one of wealth and dominance in the region. It is for this reason Thutmose III constantly got revered and honored long after he died. The pharaoh is believed to have married a lot of wives [a quite common practice back then].
After his death around 1425 BC, the god king was laid to rest in the Valley of the Kings.
Queen Hatshepsut was a female Pharaoh from the 18th Dynasty. Among the few female pharaohs of Egypt, she certainly comes out tops. Being the 5th pharaoh in the dynasty, her remarkable rule earned her the epithet “Foremost of Noble Ladies”. Hatshepsut’s reign spanned from around 1479 to 1458 BC. She stood in Thutmose II’s place when Thutmose III was too young to rule following the death of his father.
Read More: 8 Greatest Female Rulers of Ancient Egypt
Her rise to power witnessed the construction of important buildings and many magnificent sculptures. Also, Egyptians lived in peace and harmony during her time on the throne. Even though her reign was highly successful, her successor Thutmose III defaced, destroyed or removed many of her images and sculptors from temples after her death. She gets on this list of famous pharaohs for her sheer bravery and finesse in dealing with the tense political situation (largely male-dominated as well) during her reign.
Akhenaten was an ancient Egyptian ruler (a pharaoh) of the 18th Dynasty whose reign lasted for 17 years. His reign likely started from around 1353 to 1336 BC. Akhenaten means, “Effective for Aten” (an aspect of the ancient Egyptian god of the sun, Aten). Egyptians remember Akhenaten as a monotheistic pharaoh, a ruler who dismantled the polytheistic worship of gods and goddesses of Egypt.
Pharaoh Akhenaten planted Aten – the sun god – as the supreme god of that civilization. This made him quite an unpopular figure in ancient Egypt.
In honor of his most preferred god Aten, this ancient Egyptian ruler even changed his name from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten.
Pharaoh Akhenaten also vested a lot of power in his queen, Nefertiti. This made her very famous as she acted like a co-ruler of the land of Egypt.
After the death of Akhenaten, Egyptians went back to their previous forms of polytheistic worship and belief system.
His son and successor Tutankhamun was responsible for reversing all the “heretic” ideologies perpetuated during Akhenaten’s reign.
Queen Cleopatra VII was a female pharaoh of Egypt who was the last ruler to come from the Ptolemaic dynasty (315 BC – 31 BC).
She was a descendant of an ancient ruler of Egypt, Ptolemy I Soter, who was one of the most trusted generals of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king who conquered many parts of the known world in the fourth century BC.
Her subjects associated her with a number of important ancient Egyptian goddesses, including Isis, the Egyptian goddess of magic, healing and fertility. Cleopatra’s reign lasted from about 51 to 30 BC. The Egyptian queen had the privilege of ruling Egypt before the Roman Empire made the land of Egypt a province of Rome.
Cleopatra was a woman of famed beauty and intelligence. It was said that she was the first Ptolemaic ruler to speak the Egyptian language. Furthermore, she could speak many other languages, including Hebrew, Median, Latin, and Ethiopian.
She is praised for using her political skills and wits, charm and beauty to develop close ties to some very powerful politicians and generals of Rome. For example, she had romantic relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. She then used the support she received to consolidate her rule in Egypt over her siblings.
Cleopatra came to power after succeeding her father Ptolemy XII when he died in 51 BC. She co-ruled Egypt with her brother Ptolemy XIII. At the height of her power, she was undoubtedly the most influential woman in the world at the time.
Following her death in 30 BC, her kingdom was annexed by Rome’s general Octavian (later Augustus Caesar, first emperor of the Roman Empire). Cleopatra was thus the last active pharaoh of Egypt.
Coming in eight on the list of most famous pharaohs of Egypt is Pharaoh Djoser. This pharaoh was also known as Zoser. He was the second pharaoh of the third Dynasty whose tenure lasted around 2630–2611 BC. Djoser was the first pharaoh to live in Memphis – the royal capital of Egypt. This is located southwest of Cairo in present-day Egypt. Djoser’s reign saw the construction of magnificent structures such as of the first step pyramid: the flat rectangular structure which houses the six-step pyramid.
Djoser became a popular pharaoh due to his limestone-painted statue which is considered as the oldest Egyptian life-size statue.
- Ancient Egyptian Pyramids: History and Interesting Facts
- Ptah – the Ancient Egyptian God of Craftsmen
Pharaoh Khufu was the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty. The ancient Greeks knew him as Cheops. Khufu was a successor to his father Sneferu.
Khufu gets onto our list of famous pharaohs because the Great Pyramid of Giza is widely attributed to him. The breathtaking pyramid measures a staggering height of about 481 ft (or 147 meters). It is the oldest and only remaining structure among the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.
Pharaoh Khufu ruled from about 2589 to 2566 BC. Today, his only remaining statue is a 9-centimeter ivory statuette which has been kept at a museum in Cairo, Egypt. Unfortunately, many important cultural artifacts or aspects of Khufu’s reign were undocumented. However, the good news is that Khufu fathered a lot of children, who went on to transform the land of Egypt.
Read More: Timeline of Ancient Egypt
Our pick for the 10th most famous pharaoh of Egypt is Amenhotep III. He was the 9th pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty. Amenhotep III was given the moniker, “Amenhotep the Magnificent”. Estimates of dates of his reign vary from around 1386 BC to 1350 BC. Amenhotep III rose to the throne after his father, Thutmose IV, died.
Amenhotep III’s reign was full of unprecedented success. He transformed Egypt into an international powerhouse with a great deal of artistic works that peaked during his era. Over the years there have been discoveries of a little over 258 statues of Amenhotep III. He is credited with the construction of the Temple of Amun, a temple in honor of the Sun and creator god Amun, a deity who was seen in similar light as the sun god Ra).
Frequently Asked Questions about Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs
Understanding the pharaohs is essential to grasp the cultural, religious, and political landscape of ancient Egypt, as these rulers were pivotal in shaping the course of Egyptian history.
Below, WHE presents some of the most asked questions about the Egyptian pharaohs: