One of the most fascinating and important aspects of Ancient Egyptian culture were the ruling Pharaohs. Second only to the gods-and sometimes revered as gods themselves-many works of ancient Egyptian art were meant to honor the rulers of that time period. The word Pharaoh is a Greek form of the Egyptian word “pero”, which means “Great House”. The term originally referred to the residence of the king, but caught on as a word to reference the king himself.
The Pharaohs were honored and worshipped, and not only ruled the kingdom, but served as religious leaders as well. The Pharaohs were commonly honored with large ornate palaces and temples. There are bas relief carvings and ornate jewelry among other mediums, all meant to adorn the palace and even the kings themselves.
A polytheistic society, the ancient Egyptians held strong beliefs about life after death. Many works of art were large tombs or cartouches dedicated to giving the kings an opulent afterlife. Often buried in pyramids or similar tombs, the rulers were buried with extensive treasures. One of the most famous and well preserved tombs is that of King Tutankhamen. Discovered in 1922 it contains thousands of priceless artifacts. Inside one of the chambers, there is an elaborate mural chronicling his death, burial, and journey to the afterlife.
It is believed that there were over 30 dynasties and 170+ rulers in a 3,000 year span-between the year 3150 and 30 BC. Occasionally, there were overthrows and even murders, but the majority of the Pharaohs passed the reign from father to son and so on. The Pharaohs were polygamists, and often the successor to the throne was chosen because their mother was a chief wife or a favorite wife of the king. The young kings-to-be were trained from a young age to be the successor of their fathers. At times, a brother would assume the throne when the ruling Pharaoh had no sons.
One exception to the usual system of was Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled after the death of her husband in the place of his son who would later take over the reign of the kingdom. She ruled the kingdom for approximately 20 years and led several successful military campaigns. She was also instrumental in bringing exotic goods to the empire through trade expeditions. Her reign was a time of peace and prosperity in the land.
Much of the art of Ancient Egypt is to honor the rulers of the time. During the 18th and 19th dynasties, there are many stone sculptures honoring the kings, queens, and even their families. Carved from granite, quartzite, grandiorite, limestone, and other materials, they portray their subjects in seemingly realistic detail. One well preserved example-a statue of Nefertiti, is even inlaid with crystal and ornately painted. There is evidence that other sculptures were painted as well, some even gilded with gold. Many of these sculptures also include markings linking the rulers to specific gods. These works of art give us a picture of the importance of the rulers and gods and the relationship between them in Egyptian society.
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