The names of the pharaohs

The names of the pharaohs still live on, despite that the first pharaohs ruled some 5000 years ago. Their names were inscribed with hieroglyphs on the massive monuments they created, yet their commonly used names today has an origin in the ancient Greek transcription. Modern transcriptions of the names yield quite different names than those of the Greeks of antiquity.

Origins of the names of the pharaohs

The invaluable king lists of pharaohs were important to show the king beside revered ancestors, establishing their rightful rule. The names of the pharaohs still live on, despite that the first pharaohs ruled some 5000 years ago. Their names were inscribed with hieroglyphs on the massive monuments they created, yet their commonly used names today has an origin in the ancient Greek transcription. Modern transcriptions of the names yield quite different names than those of the Greeks of antiquity.

The full ancient Egyptian royal titulary consisted of up to five names meant to symbolise the power and might of the pharaoh:

  • Horus name — the oldest form of a pharaoh's name, often enclosed in a serekh, a sort of "heraldic crest" representing a palace facade.
  • Nebty name — the "Two Ladies", the heraldic goddesses Nekhbet and Wadjet, representing Upper and Lower Egypt respectively.
  • Gold name — gold was strongly associated with eternity, but the meaning of this title is disputed.
  • Throne name — (prenomen) the first of the two names written in a cartouche.
  • Personal name — (nomen) the name given at birth, often the name by which a pharaoh is known today.

The full titulary was announced at the coronation, when a pharaoh officially became king.

For millennia, the names of the pharaohs were only known from ancient Greek scholars - who wrote in Greek. Centuries later, they were superceded by Roman scholars, who used Latin. Many of the names still in use to this day can trace their origin to these ancient scholars.

Cheops, the builder of the Great Pyramid, is the ancient Greek transcription of Khufu.

Does the name Rathotis sound familiar? No? It is the ancient Greek version of Tutankhamun, but as King Tut was an unknown pharaoh until the late 19th century, thanks to modern Egyptology we know him by his Egyptian name.

Ramessisu, who left his name on more monuments than any other pharaoh, is the birth name of Ramesses II.

The ancient names has been used for millennia and are so firmly rooted in common memory that it would require a coordinated effort to correct.

Ancient Greek historians


Greek historians visiting Egypt in antiquity encountered ancient foreign names that were alien to them and approximated them into Greek. The main source for the knowledge came from the third century BC Egyptian priest Manetho, who composed his “History of Egypt” by melding material from the sacred temple archives, as well as popular traditions, legends and narratives. Most of the names of the pharaohs as we know them today originate from his books, or rather quotes from Manetho preserved by historians writing several centuries later. The names preserved by Manetho were well known throughout history, and it was not until the hieroglyphs were decoded in the early 1800’s, that the new science of Egyptology began to unravel the original names of the pharaohs.

Herodotus
450 BC
Histories
Manetho
250 BC
Aegyptiaca
Africanus
220 CE
Chronographai
Eusebius
325 CE
Chronicon
Josephus
100 CE
Contra Apion
Transmission
The sources
of Manetho

Egypt was already an ancient land when the Greeks and Romans conquered the Two Lands. It is prudent to be suspicious and sceptical about the reliability of the ancient historians and the fantastical tales. They were already centuries removed from Manetho, who himself was a millennium removed from Ramesses. Though everything must be taken with a grain of sand, they did at least preserve parts of the chronology of the pharaohs, however reliable it may be.

The Dynasties


The division of pharaohs into dynasties was invented by the Egyptian priest Manetho. Whenever some discontinuity, whether geographical or genealogical, occurred, a new dynasty was assumed. Some dynasties overlapped, with more than one pharaohs of claiming supremacy at the same time. This division of the ruling pharaohs is still used to this day, as it provides an easy way to distinguish and understand the long history of Egypt.

Old Kingdom
Old Kingdom
Dynasties 3-6
2686 – 2181 BC
Middle Kingdom
Middle Kingdom
Dynasties 11-12
2040 – 1802 BC
New Kingdom
New Kingdom
Dynasties 18 - 20
1550 – 1070 BC
Late Period
Dynasties
All Dynasties
from all periods

Other ancient Egyptian stuff


The ancient temples and monuments in Egypt awe visitors by the millions, as do the obelisks and museums all over the world. The art and culture of ancient Egypt still fascinate people from all walks of life, whether young or old. It brought you here. Enjoy your stay and hope you find what you were looking for. Here are some other ancient Egyptian subjects that might be of interest...

Turin kinglist Library
Free library of hard to find books regarding the king list.
Temples
Information about the ancient temples and monuments.
Obelisks
Information about the Ancient Egyptian obelisks.
Image gallery
Photos and illustrations concerning the king lists.
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