The pharaoh in ancient Egypt was the political and religious leader of the people and held the titles “lord of the two lands” and “high priest of each temple”. The name of the residence became associated with the ruler and over time, it was used solely for the village leader. The first monarchs of Egypt were not known as the pharaohs but the kings. The honorific title of “pharaoh” for a ruler did not appear until the period known as the new kingdom (1570-1069 BCE). The monarchs of the dynasties before the new kingdom were addressed to his majesty by foreign dignitaries and court members and “brother” by foreign rulers; Both of these practices would continue after the king of Egypt became known as a pharaoh.

The rulers of Egypt were generally the sons or declared heirs of the preceding pharaoh, born to the Great Wife (the pharaoh’s chief wife) or sometimes to a lesser wife favored by the pharaoh. At first, rulers married female aristocrats in an effort to establish the legitimacy of their dynasty by linking it to the upper classes of Memphis, then the capital of Egypt. This practice may have started with the first king, Narmer, who established Memphis as his capital and married Princess Neithhotep of the ancient city of Naqada to consolidate his rule and link his new city to Naqada and his hometown of Thinis. To keep the blood pure, many pharaohs married their sisters or stepsisters, and Pharaoh Akhenaten married his own daughters.

The main responsibility of the pharaoh was to maintain universal harmony in the country. The goddess Ma’at (pronounced “may-et” or “mi-eht”) was thought to work her will through the pharaoh, but it was up to the individual ruler to correctly interpret the will of the goddess and then act on it. Consequently, warfare was an essential aspect of pharaoh’s rule, especially when it was considered necessary for the restoration of balance and harmony on earth (such as the Poem of the Pentaur, written by the scribes of Ramses II the Great, in his courage in the battle of Kadesh attests). The pharaoh had a sacred duty to defend the borders of the land, but also to attack neighboring countries for natural resources if this was thought to be in the interest of harmony.