History Files


Ancient Egypt

The Pharaohs of Egypt

Compiled by Peter Kessler, 1 April 1999. Updated 12 May 2007

Thotmes / Tuthmosis III (1479-1447 BC)

He became a pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty at the age of six, upon the death on Tuthmosis II in 1501 BC. His throne was held safe for him for twenty-four years by Queen Hatshepsut and when he acceded the throne he initially respected Hatshepsut's reign and achievements.

His eastern vassals, for so long quiet, were starting to challenge Egypt's dominance, so he embarked upon a series of glorious campaigns, including the dramatic capture of Megiddo, and saw Egypt restored to her position of power. Egypt now controlled an empire which stretched from beyond the third cataract in Nubia to the banks of the River Euphrates in Syria.

Using his hard-won wealth, Tuthmosis attempted to out-build Hatshepsut. But after a while there was destruction alongside the construction. The royal masons had been charged with the task of removing all traces of the female pharaoh.

By the time of his death, some thirty-three years after his solo accession, Tuthmosis was confident that Hatshepsut's unorthodox reign would soon be forgotten.

Tuthmosis was to prove himself a calm and prudent general, a brave man not given to hasty or irrational actions. He did not start his solo reign with an assault on Hatshepsut's memory; indeed, he allowed her a traditional funeral, and waited until it was convenient to fit the desecration into his schedule.

Some of the destruction was even carried out by his son, after his death, when most of those who remembered Hatshepsut had also died. It was a remote, rather than an immediate, attack. Furthermore the attack was not a thorough one. Enough remained of Hatshepsut to allow modern scholars to recreate her reign in some detail.

Her tomb, the most obvious place to start the attack, still housed her name. Hatshepsut may have been erased from Egypt's official record, but she was never hated as Akhenaten 'The Great Criminal' would later be.

By removing all obvious references to his co-ruler, Tuthmosis could incorporate her reign into his own. He would then become Egypt's greatest pharaoh; the only successor to Tuthmosis II. Hatshepsut would become the unfortunate victim, not of a personal attack, but of an impersonal attempt at retrospective political correctness.


Akhenaten (1375-1358 BC)

Born as Amenhotep IV, his name means "the spirit of the Aten". Together with his wife, Nefertiti, Akhenaton introduced a monotheistic cult of one god, the sun god Aton, and abolished the worship of all the other traditional Egyptian gods.

He was branded the "Criminal of Amarna" (the city he built to the Aton). His name and memory, and those of three subsequent kings (including Tutankhamun, whose tomb was discovered in 1922), were erased from Egyptian history, and the Egyptian capital of Thebes (modern Luxor) was restored.


Seti I (Sethi) (1313-1292 BC)

The Egyptian god Seth murdered and dismembered his brother Osiris, but was later forgiven by Isis, his sister and the wife of Osiris, even though Seth had badly damaged Horus' eye in their fight.

Sethi I, the nineteenth dynasty pharaoh who built a great temple to Osiris at Abydos, the cult centre of Osiris, was named after Seth and so politely altered his name in the temple inscriptions to commemorate Osiris instead of Set. Thus, the Egyptians recognised the moral awkwardness of putting the name of Osiris' murderer on his temple, but this did not discredit the cult of Seth or the pharaoh named after him.


Sheshonk (Shishak / Sheshong) (circa 945-920 BC)

Sheshonk was a Libyan mercenary who managed to snatch Egypt from the hands of a weak Pharaoh. During his reign - the start of the twenty-second dynasty - he is best known for invading Israel and besieging Jerusalem. However, he did not enter the kingdom's capital and therefore was not responsible for carrying off the Ark of the Covenant to Tanis. A year after his return Tanis was supposedly buried by a months-long sandstorm.


Saite (26th Dynasty) Pharaohs (663-525 BC)

The system of Thirty Dynasties was formulated by the Egyptian priest Manetho, writing in Greek under the Ptolemies.

The Persians, who overthrew the XXVI Dynasty in 525, were reckoned by Manetho as the XXVII Dynasty. Sometimes the last Persian rulers of Egypt (Artaxerxes III, etc), and sometimes the Ptolemies, are called the XXXI Dynasty, but these are modern suggestions.

The XXVI Dynasty represents the greatest flowering of the Egyptian state and civilisation since the New Kingdom. Sadly, it was also the last hurrah of Ancient Egypt. The Saite Kings almost seemed aware of that themselves. They carried out probably the first official exploration of the pyramids, copying the Old Kingdom art they discovered and introducing their own burials into tombs that were already two thousand years old.

This antiquarian project is then found together with the first hints of the Hellenistic Age, since the reliance of the Saite pharaohs on Greek mercenary soldiers and the significant presence of Greek traders in Egypt launches a Greek presence that soon enough becomes dominant.



Text copyright P L Kessler. An original feature for the History Files.