Last week I went over some relatively important inventions in Ancient Egypt as well as some of their culture. This week I will discuss ancient Egyptian dynasties, and some of the most famous pharaohs of ancient Egypt.
What is a dynasty?
It's a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a number of years. In Ancient Egypt, they were families who often ruled for a considerable number of years and did impressive things, such as building pyramids, during their rule. There were more than 30 dynasties in Egyptian history.
The history of ancient Egypt is divided into three main periods: the Old Kingdom (about 2,700-2,200 B.C.E.), the Middle Kingdom (2,050-1,800 B.C.E.), and the New Kingdom (about 1,550-1,100 B.C.E.). The New Kingdom was followed by a period called the Late New Kingdom, which lasted to about 343 B.C.E (1).
What is a pharaoh?
The Pharaoh in ancient Egypt was the political and religious leader of the people and held the title 'Lord of Two lands' (because at one point Egypt was divided into two, Upper and Lower Egypt) and 'High Priest of Every Temple'. The early monarchs of Egypt were not known as pharaohs but as kings. The honorific title of `pharaoh' for a ruler did not appear until the New Kingdom. Monarchs of the dynasties before the New Kingdom were addressed as `your majesty' by foreign dignitaries and members of the court and as `brother' by foreign rulers; both practices would continue after the king of Egypt came to be known as a pharaoh (3).
The ancient Egyptian royal families were almost expected to marry within the family, as inbreeding was present in virtually every dynasty. Pharaohs were not only wed to their brothers and sisters, but there were also "double-niece" marriages, where a man married a girl whose parents were his own brother and sister. It is believed that the pharaohs did this because of the ancient belief that the god Osiris married his sister Isis to keep their bloodline pure (5).
During the Eighteenth dynasty (14th century B.C.), Akhenaten fell into power and reigned for 17 years (2). Nefertiti, whose name means "a beautiful woman has come," was the queen of Egypt, and the wife of pharaoh Akhenaten. She was rumoured to be the most beautiful woman of Egypt during the 14th century. She was Egyptian, and perhaps one of the things that made Akhenaten's and Nefertiti's relationship unique was that they were not related. Nefertiti and the pharaoh took an active role in establishing the Aten cult, a religious mythology which defined Aten, the sun, as the most important god and the only one worthy of worship in Egypt's polytheistic canon. It is believed that the king and queen were priests and that it was only through them that ordinary citizens could obtain access to Aten. Nefertiti changed her name to Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti, meaning "beautiful are the beauties of Aten, a beautiful woman has come," as a show of her absolutism for the new religion. The royal family resided in a constructed city called Akhetaton, in what is now known as el-Amarna, meant to honor their god. There were several open-air temples in the city, and at the center stood the palace. Akhenaten tried to bring about a departure from traditional religion, yet in the end it would not be accepted. After his death, his monuments were dismantled and hidden, his statues were terminated and his name was not to be included in the king lists, and traditional religious practices were gradually restored (2,4).
Tutankhamun, aka King Tut, is probably one of the most famous pharaohs in modern day, due to his surprisingly intact tomb, discovered in 1922. King Tut was the son of Akhenaten, but not of Nefertiti, because pharaohs were usually married to several women, but only named one to be Queen. King Tut was birthed by one of Akhenaten's sisters. Originally named Tutankhaten, meaning "the living image of Aten", because of his fathers strong beliefs in the one god, Aten. After his father's death, Tutankhaten was crowned king of Egypt at age nine. He married his half sister, Ankhesenamun, and changed his name to Tutankhamun, meaning "the living image of Amun"; he restored the ancient temples, removed all references to his father’s single deity, and returned the capital to Thebes. At the age of 19, king Tut died, although the reason for his death is unknown exactly, from his body archaeologists could tell he had many broken bones, malaria, and infections (6,7).
The Ptolemaic period was shortly after the Late New Kingdom (from 305-30 B.C.), this was the time where the Greek Ptolemy family ruled for 275 years during the Hellenistic period, and they were the last dynasty of ancient Egypt. Cleopatra belonged to this family. Cleopatra ruled ancient Egypt with her two younger brothers, and then with her son for almost 30 years. She was the last ruler of the Ptolemy dynasty.Well-educated and clever, Cleopatra could speak various languages and served as the dominant ruler in all three of her co-regencies. Her romantic liaisons and military alliances with the Roman leaders Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, as well as her supposed exotic beauty and powers of seduction, earned her an enduring place in history and popular myth (9). For centuries, she has been depicted as the ideal women, a symbol of great beauty and perfection; however, recent studies have shown that this was actually not the case, and that her facial features were rather strong and similar to that of a man, but the reason why she was thought of to be very seductive was because of how educated and well-spoken she was for a Queen, and she would seduce people with her words and mind rather than with her looks (8). Which, I found to be a very fascinating theory!
Fun Fact: Both men and women were equal under law, and that women had the right to marry who they wanted and divorce as well. They could also buy and manage their own proper, meaning women could inherit things on the female side of their family (8).
Thank you for reading!