AskDefine | Define pharaoh

Dictionary Definition

Pharaoh n : the title of the ancient Egyptian kings [syn: Pharaoh of Egypt]

User Contributed Dictionary



From ecclesiastical Latin Pharao, from Greek Φαραώ, from Hebrew פַּרְעֹה (par‘ōh), from Egyptian pr-aA (per-aa) ‘great house’, from pr ‘dwelling-place, temple, house’ + the verb aA ‘great, spectacular’. Final H comes directly from the Hebrew.


  • /ˈfɛ:ɹəʊ/ /"fE:r@U/



  1. The supreme ruler of Ancient Egypt; a formal address for the sovereign seat of power as personified by the 'king' in an institutional role of Horus son of Osiris; often used by metonymy for Ancient Egyptian sovereignty

Derived terms


supreme ruler of ancient Egypt
  • Arabic: fir'aun
  • Czech: faraon, farao
  • Dutch: farao
  • Finnish: faarao
  • French: pharaon
  • Galician: faraón
  • German: Pharao
  • Hebrew: פַּרְעֹה (par‘ōh)
  • Hungarian: fáraó
  • Italian: faraone
  • Portuguese: faraó
  • Slovak: faraón
  • Spanish: faraón
  • Swedish: farao
  • Turkish: firavun

Extensive Definition

Pharaoh is the name for the official of kingship, and religious/political leader in the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt. Meaning "Great House", it originally referred to the king's palace, but the meaning loosened over the course of Egyptian history until it became interchangeable with the Egyptian word for king. Although the rulers of Egypt were generally male, the pharaoh was used on the rare occasions when a female ruled. Such rulers were believed to be the incarnation of Horus.


The term pharaoh ultimately derives from a compound word represented as pr-`3, used only in larger phrases like smr pr-`3 'Courtier of the High House', with specific reference to the buildings of the court or palace itself. 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 buildings and not the person.
The earliest instance where pr-`3 is used specifically to address the king is in a letter to Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) in the mid-Eighteenth Dynasty (1550-1292 BC) which is addressed to 'Pharaoh, all life, prosperity, and health!'.
From the Nineteenth Dynasty onwards pr-`3 on its own was used as regularly as hm.f'' 'His Majesty'. The term therefore evolved from one specifically referring to a building to a respectful designation for the king or prince, particularly by the Twenty-Second Dynasty and Twenty-Third Dynasty. By this time, the Late Egyptian word is reconstructed to have been pronounced *par-ʕoʔ whence comes Ancient Greek and then Late Latin . From the latter, English obtained the word "Pharaoh". Over time, *par-ʕoʔ evolved into Sahidic Coptic prro and then rro (by mistaking p- as the definite article prefix "the" from Ancient Egyptian p3).
A similar development, with a word originally denoting an attribute of the king eventually coming to refer to the person, can be discerned in a later period with the Arabic term Sultan.


The king of Egypt wore a double crown, created from the Red Crown of Lower Egypt and the White Crown of Upper Egypt. In battle, the pharaoh wore a blue crown of a different shape. All of these crowns typically were adorned by a uraeus, which was doubled under the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty.
The pharaoh also wore a striped headcloth called the nemes, which may be the most familiar pharaonic headgear. The nemes was sometimes combined with the double crown, as it is on the statues of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel.
The pharaoh would also wear a false beard made of goat hair during rituals and ceremonies.
Egyptologist Bob Brier has noted that despite its widespread depiction in royal portraits, no ancient Egyptian crown ever has been discovered. Tutankhamun's tomb, discovered largely intact, did contain such regal items as his crook and flail, but not a crown. Crowns were assumed to have magical properties, and Brier's speculation is that there were items a dead pharaoh could not take with him which therefore had to be passed along to his living successor.


The official titulary of the king by the Middle Kingdom consisted of five names; for some rulers, only one or two of them may be known.
Of the three great non-consort Queens of Egypt (Hatshepsut, Sobeknefru, and Twosret), at least Hatshepsut took the title pharaoh in the absence of an existing word for "Queen regnant". Also notable is Nefertiti who was made co-regent (the pharaoh's equal) during the reign of Akhenaten. Some scholars further suspect that her disappearance coincides with the rise of Smenkhkare to the throne after Akhenaten's death, making Nefertiti yet another woman who became pharaoh in Egyptian history. Although not typical, there are instances of women who were pharaoh early in Egyptian history also and its last pharaoh was Cleopatra VII. The royal lineage was traced through its women and a pharaoh had to be from that lineage or married to one of them if coming from without the lineage. This was the reason for all of the intermarriages in the royal families of Egypt.
During the eighteenth dynasty (sixteenth to fourteenth centuries B.C.) the title Pharaoh was employed as a reverential designation of the king. About the late twenty-first dynasty (tenth century B.C.), however, instead of being used alone as before, it began to be added to the other titles before the king's name, and from the twenty-fifth dynasty (eighth to seventh centuries B.C.) it was, at least in ordinary usage, the only title prefixed to the royal appellative. For instance, the first dated instance of the title Pharaoh being attached to a king'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 practise was continued under his successor Psusennes II and the twenty-first Dynasty kings. Meanwhile the old custom of referring to the sovereign simply as Per'o continued in traditional Egyptian narratives. The Biblical use of the term reflects Egyptian usage with fair accuracy. The early kings always are mentioned under the general title Pharaoh, or Pharaoh the King of Egypt; but personal names begin to appear with the twenty-second dynasty, although the older designation is still used, especially when contemporary rulers are spoken of. The absence of proper names in the first books of the Bible is no indication of the late date of their composition and of writer's vague knowledge of Egyptian history, rather to the contrary. The same is true of the use of the title Pharaoh for kings earlier than the eighteenth dynasty, which is quite in keeping with Egyptian usage at the time of the nineteenth dynasty.

Pharaohs in the Bible

The first king of Egypt mentioned by name in the Bible is Shishaq (probably Sheshonk I), the founder of the twenty-second dynasty and contemporary of Rehoboam and Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:40; 2 Chronicles 12:2 sqq.). The title pharaoh is prefixed to his name in the Great Dakhla stela—as in Pharaoh Shoshenq—which dates to Year 5 of his reign. 2 Kings 17:4 says that Hoshea sent letters to Pharaoh So perhaps identified with Osorkon IV, who was a minor pharaoh at Tanis who ruled over a divided Egypt. He was contemporary with Tefnakht of Sais and Nimlot of Hermopolis among many other Egyptian rulers. Taharqa, who was the opponent of Sennacherib, is called King of Ethiopia (2 Kings 19:9; Isaiah 37:9), and hence is not given the title Pharaoh which he bears in Egyptian documents. Last are two kings of the twenty-sixth dynasty: Necho II, who the Bible says defeated Josiah (2 Kings 23:29 sqq.; 2 Chronicles 35:20 sqq.), and Apries or Hophra, the contemporary of Sedecius (Jeremiah 44:30). Both are styled pharaoh in Egyptian records.



  • Sir Alan Gardiner Egyptian Grammar: Being an Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs, Third Edition, Revised. London: Oxford University Press, 1964. Excursus A, pp. 71-76.
  • Brier, Bob. PhD. History of ancient Egypt (Audio). The First Nation in History. The Learning Company. 2001.

Sources and external links

pharaoh in Afrikaans: Farao
pharaoh in Tosk Albanian: Pharao
pharaoh in Arabic: فرعون (لقب)
pharaoh in Bengali: ফারাও
pharaoh in Belarusian: Фараон
pharaoh in Breton: Faraon
pharaoh in Bulgarian: Фараон
pharaoh in Catalan: Faraó
pharaoh in Czech: Faraon
pharaoh in Danish: Farao
pharaoh in German: Pharao
pharaoh in Estonian: Vaarao
pharaoh in Modern Greek (1453-): Φαραώ
pharaoh in Spanish: Faraón
pharaoh in Esperanto: Faraono
pharaoh in Basque: Faraoi
pharaoh in Persian: فرعون
pharaoh in French: Pharaon
pharaoh in Galician: Faraón
pharaoh in Korean: 파라오
pharaoh in Hindi: फारो
pharaoh in Croatian: Faraon
pharaoh in Ido: Faraono di Egiptia
pharaoh in Indonesian: Firaun
pharaoh in Italian: Faraone
pharaoh in Hebrew: פרעה
pharaoh in Javanese: Pirangon
pharaoh in Georgian: ფარაონი
pharaoh in Kazakh: Перғауын
pharaoh in Kurdish: Fîrawin
pharaoh in Latin: Pharao
pharaoh in Latvian: Faraons
pharaoh in Lithuanian: Faraonas
pharaoh in Lingala: Faraon
pharaoh in Hungarian: Fáraó
pharaoh in Malayalam: ഫറവോ
pharaoh in Malay (macrolanguage): Firaun
pharaoh in Mongolian: Фараон
pharaoh in Dutch: Farao
pharaoh in Dutch Low Saxon: Farao
pharaoh in Japanese: ファラオ
pharaoh in Norwegian: Farao
pharaoh in Norwegian Nynorsk: Farao
pharaoh in Occitan (post 1500): Faraon
pharaoh in Uzbek: Firʼavn
pharaoh in Polish: Faraon
pharaoh in Portuguese: Faraó
pharaoh in Romanian: Faraon
pharaoh in Russian: Фараон
pharaoh in Simple English: Pharaoh
pharaoh in Slovak: Faraón
pharaoh in Slovenian: Faraon
pharaoh in Serbian: Фараон
pharaoh in Serbo-Croatian: Faraon
pharaoh in Finnish: Faarao
pharaoh in Swedish: Farao
pharaoh in Thai: ฟาโรห์
pharaoh in Vietnamese: Pharaoh
pharaoh in Turkish: Firavun
pharaoh in Ukrainian: Фараон
pharaoh in Yiddish: פרעה
pharaoh in Chinese: 法老

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Dalai Lama, Holy Roman Emperor, Inca, Kaiser, Simon Legree, absolute monarch, absolute ruler, all-powerful ruler, ardri, arrogator, autarch, autocrat, bey, cacique, caesar, cham, commissar, czar, despot, dictator, disciplinarian, driver, duce, hard master, kaid, khan, martinet, mikado, negus, oligarch, oppressor, padishah, pendragon, rig, sachem, sagamore, shah, sheikh, shogun, slave driver, stickler, tenno, tycoon, tyrant, usurper, warlord
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