Pharaoh (, US also ; Coptic: ⲡⲣ̅ⲣⲟ Pǝrro) is the common title now used for the monarchs of ancient Egypt from the First Dynasty (c. 3150 BCE) until the annexation of Egypt by the Roman Empire in 30 BCE, although the term "pharaoh" was not used contemporaneously for a ruler until Merneptah, c. 1210 BCE, during the Nineteenth dynasty, "king" being the term used most frequently until the middle of the Eighteenth Dynasty. In the early dynasties, ancient Egyptian kings used to have up to three titles: the Horus, the Sedge and Bee (nswt-bjtj), and the Two Ladies or Nebty (nbtj) name. The Golden Horus as well as the nomen and prenomen titles were added later.
In Egyptian society, religion was central to everyday life. One of the roles of the pharaoh was as an intermediary between the deities and the people. The pharaoh thus deputised for the deities in a role that was both as civil and religious administrator. The pharaoh owned all of the land in Egypt, enacted laws, collected taxes, and defended Egypt from invaders as the commander-in-chief of the army. Religiously, the pharaoh officiated over religious ceremonies and chose the sites of new temples. The pharaoh was responsible for maintaining Maat (mꜣꜥt), or cosmic order, balance, and justice, and part of this included going to war when necessary to defend the country or attacking others when it was believed that this would contribute to Maat, such as to obtain resources.
During the early days prior to the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Deshret or the "Red Crown", was a representation of the kingdom of Lower Egypt, while the Hedjet, the "White Crown", was worn by the kings of the kingdom of Upper Egypt. After the unification of both kingdoms into one united Egypt, the Pschent, the combination of both the red and white crowns was the official crown of kings. With time new headdresses were introduced during different dynasties such as the Khat, Nemes, Atef, Hemhem crown, and Khepresh. At times, it was depicted that a combination of these headdresses or crowns would be worn together.
The word pharaoh ultimately derives from the Egyptian compound pr ꜥꜣ, */ˌpaɾuwˈʕaʀ/ "great house", written with the two biliteral hieroglyphs pr "house" and ꜥꜣ "column", here meaning "great" or "high". It was used only in larger phrases such as smr pr-ꜥꜣ "Courtier of the High House", with specific reference to the buildings of the court or palace. From the Twelfth Dynasty onward, the word appears in a wish formula "Great House, May it Live, Prosper, and be in Health", but again only with reference to the royal palace and not the person.
Sometime during the era of the New Kingdom, Second Intermediate Period, pharaoh became the form of address for a person who was king. The earliest confirmed instance where pr ꜥꜣ is used specifically to address the ruler is in a letter to Akhenaten (reigned c. 1353–1336 BCE) that is addressed to "Great House, L, W, H, the Lord". However, there is a possibility that the title pr ꜥꜣ was applied to Thutmose III (c. 1479–1425 BCE), depending on whether an inscription on the Temple of Armant can be confirmed to refer to that king. During the Eighteenth dynasty (sixteenth to fourteenth centuries BCE) the title pharaoh was employed as a reverential designation of the ruler. About the late Twenty-first Dynasty (tenth century BCE), however, instead of being used alone as before, it began to be added to the other titles before the ruler's name, and from the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty (eighth to seventh centuries BCE) it was, at least in ordinary usage, the only epithet prefixed to the royal appellative.
From the Nineteenth dynasty onward pr-ꜥꜣ on its own, was used as regularly as ḥm, "Majesty".[note 1] The term, therefore, evolved from a word specifically referring to a building to a respectful designation for the ruler presiding in that building, particularly by the Twenty-Second Dynasty and Twenty-third Dynasty.
For instance, the first dated appearance of the title pharaoh being attached to a ruler's name occurs in Year 17 of Siamun on a fragment from the Karnak Priestly Annals. Here, an induction of an individual to the Amun priesthood is dated specifically to the reign of Pharaoh Siamun. This new practice was continued under his successor Psusennes II and the subsequent kings of the twenty-second dynasty. For instance, the Large Dakhla stela is specifically dated to Year 5 of king "Pharaoh Shoshenq, beloved of Amun", whom all Egyptologists concur was Shoshenq I—the founder of the Twenty-second Dynasty—including Alan Gardiner in his original 1933 publication of this stela. Shoshenq I was the second successor of Siamun. Meanwhile, the old custom of referring to the sovereign simply as pr-ˤ3 continued in traditional Egyptian narratives.
By this time, the Late Egyptian word is reconstructed to have been pronounced *[parʕoʔ] whence Herodotus derived the name of one of the Egyptian kings, Koinē Greek: Φερων. In the Hebrew Bible, the title also occurs as Hebrew: פרעה [parʕoːh]; from that, in the Septuagint, Koinē Greek: φαραώ, romanized: pharaō, and then in Late Latin pharaō, both -n stem nouns. The Qur'an likewise spells it Arabic: فرعون firʿawn with n (here, always referring to the one evil king in the Book of Exodus story, by contrast to the good king in surah Yusuf's story). The Arabic combines the original ayin from Egyptian along with the -n ending from Greek.
In English, the term was at first spelled "Pharao", but the translators of the King James Bible revived "Pharaoh" with "h" from the Hebrew. Meanwhile, in Egypt itself, *[par-ʕoʔ] evolved into Sahidic Coptic ⲡⲣ̅ⲣⲟ pərro and then ərro by mistaking p- as the definite article "the" (from ancient Egyptian pꜣ).
Sceptres and staves were a general sign of authority in ancient Egypt. One of the earliest royal scepters was discovered in the tomb of Khasekhemwy in Abydos. Kings were also known to carry a staff, and Pharaoh Anedjib is shown on stone vessels carrying a so-called mks-staff. The scepter with the longest history seems to be the heqa-sceptre, sometimes described as the shepherd's crook. The earliest examples of this piece of regalia dates to prehistoric Egypt. A scepter was found in a tomb at Abydos that dates to Naqada III.
Another scepter associated with the king is the was-sceptre. This is a long staff mounted with an animal head. The earliest known depictions of the was-scepter date to the First Dynasty. The was-scepter is shown in the hands of both kings and deities.
The flail later was closely related to the heqa-scepter (the crook and flail), but in early representations the king was also depicted solely with the flail, as shown in a late pre-dynastic knife handle that is now in the Metropolitan museum, and on the Narmer Macehead.
The red crown of Lower Egypt, the Deshret crown, dates back to pre-dynastic times and symbolised chief ruler. A red crown has been found on a pottery shard from Naqada, and later, Narmer is shown wearing the red crown on both the Narmer Macehead and the Narmer Palette.
This is the combination of the Deshret and Hedjet crowns into a double crown, called the Pschent crown. It is first documented in the middle of the First Dynasty of Egypt. The earliest depiction may date to the reign of Djet, and is otherwise surely attested during the reign of Den.
The khat headdress consists of a kind of "kerchief" whose end is tied similarly to a ponytail. The earliest depictions of the khat headdress comes from the reign of Den, but is not found again until the reign of Djoser.
The Nemes headdress dates from the time of Djoser. It is the most common type of crown that has been depicted throughout Pharaonic Egypt. Any other type of crown, apart from the Khat headdress, has been commonly depicted on top of the Nemes. The statue from his Serdab in Saqqara shows the king wearing the nemes headdress.
The Hemhem crown is usually depicted on top of Nemes, Pschent, or Deshret crowns. It is an ornate triple Atef with corkscrew sheep horns and usually two uraei. The usage (depiction) of this crown begins during the Early Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt.
Also called the blue crown, the Khepresh crown has been depicted in art since the New Kingdom. It is often depicted being worn in battle, but it was also frequently worn during ceremonies. It used to be called a war crown by many, but modern historians refrain from defining it thus.
Egyptologist Bob Brier has noted that despite their widespread depiction in royal portraits, no ancient Egyptian crown has ever been discovered. Tutankhamun's tomb, discovered largely intact, did contain such regalia as his crook and flail, but no crown was found among the funerary equipment. Diadems have been discovered. It is presumed that crowns would have been believed to have magical properties. Brier's speculation is that crowns were religious or state items, so a dead pharaoh likely could not retain a crown as a personal possession. The crowns may have been passed along to the successor.
During the Early Dynastic Period kings had three titles. The Horus name is the oldest and dates to the late pre-dynastic period. The Nesu Bity name was added during the First Dynasty. The Nebty name (Two Ladies) was first introduced toward the end of the First Dynasty. The Golden falcon (bik-nbw) name is not well understood. The prenomen and nomen were introduced later and are traditionally enclosed in a cartouche. By the Middle Kingdom, the official titulary of the ruler consisted of five names; Horus, Nebty, Golden Horus, nomen, and prenomen for some rulers, only one or two of them may be known.
The Horus name was adopted by the king, when taking the throne. The name was written within a square frame representing the palace, named a serekh. The earliest known example of a serekh dates to the reign of king Ka, before the First Dynasty. The Horus name of several early kings expresses a relationship with Horus. Aha refers to "Horus the fighter", Djer refers to "Horus the strong", etc. Later kings express ideals of kingship in their Horus names. Khasekhemwy refers to "Horus: the two powers are at peace", while Nebra refers to "Horus, Lord of the Sun".
The Nesu Bity name, also known as prenomen, was one of the new developments from the reign of Den. The name would follow the glyphs for the "Sedge and the Bee". The title is usually translated as king of Upper and Lower Egypt. The nsw bity name may have been the birth name of the king. It was often the name by which kings were recorded in the later annals and king lists.
The earliest example of a Nebty (Two Ladies) name comes from the reign of king Aha from the First Dynasty. The title links the king with the goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt Nekhbet and Wadjet. The title is preceded by the vulture (Nekhbet) and the cobra (Wadjet) standing on a basket (the neb sign).
The Golden Horus or Golden Falcon name was preceded by a falcon on a gold or nbw sign. The title may have represented the divine status of the king. The Horus associated with gold may be referring to the idea that the bodies of the deities were made of gold and the pyramids and obelisks are representations of (golden) sun-rays. The gold sign may also be a reference to Nubt, the city of Set. This would suggest that the iconography represents Horus conquering Set.
The prenomen and nomen were contained in a cartouche. The prenomen often followed the King of Upper and Lower Egypt (nsw bity) or Lord of the Two Lands (nebtawy) title. The prenomen often incorporated the name of Re. The nomen often followed the title Son of Re (sa-ra) or the title Lord of Appearances (neb-kha).