The Importance of the Pharaoh in New Kingdom Egyptian Society
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The King of the New Kingdom filled a position of much importance in Ancient Egypt, both culturally and politically. It was his (infrequently her) role to be not only seen as a leader, hunter, warrior, builder, administrator and ruler of an empire, but also as a central figure in religion and religious practices.
In order to maintain his position of authority and leader status, the King was prominent in Egyptian artwork and was often depicted in reliefs and royal statues. He would be shown wearing symbols of power, such as the Red Crown of Lower Egypt, White Crown of Upper Egypt, the Blue Crown of war (even if the kind did not take part in military campaigns), the Atef Crown and various headdresses. The King would also be shown with a uraeus beard and a kilt with bull’s tails and carrying a crook, flail and mace, all symbolic of his leadership.
As Egypt was known for its military prowess, it was important for the King to be seen as a hunter who used the same skills as warriors in battle. These were seen as strength, endurance, skill and courage. Depiction in commemorative scarabs of the King as hunting wild animals was representative of a conquest over chaos, which in itself was key to the maintenance of ma’at (order of the universe), another role of the King.
As one of the main roles of the King was to be the protector of Egypt, it was necessary for them to depict themselves as warriors, maintaining armies and forts, even if they themselves relied on diplomacy. The King would display all the skills of a warrior, such as archery, managing horses and charioteering, and the Sphinx was his symbol, depicted trampling the traditional enemies of Egypt. Tutankhamen’s tomb held chariots and weapons, and there are many reliefs showing Pharaohs driving over their enemies in their chariots.
The construction of buildings was a useful way for each King to show their respect for the gods and emphasise their own power. Many built new temples and shrines, as well as tombs and even new cities, such as those built by Akhenaton and Ramses II. The buildings were used as propaganda and often advertised and promoted military prowess or religious policies. They were a constant reminder of the power and glory of the King.
Although it was the viziers who held the role of chief administrator and highest judges of the realm, the King was still seen as a key figure in the running of New Kingdom Egypt. His decision making would range from public works to foreign policy, as well as controlling corruption and even inspecting gold mines.
In order to gain and maintain control over his people, the King of Egypt was an almighty conqueror. One of the most powerful rulers in the world, lesser kings from captured lands in the North and South would address the Pharaoh as “my lord” or “my sun”. Military campaigns, official correspondence, foreign marriages, diplomacy and numerous ceremonies of pomp and splendour were all important to retain the King’s power and influence.
A strong relationship with the gods and the Cult of the King was of prime importance in maintaining control of the New Kingdom Empire. Kings depicted themselves as part of the heavenly world, either by being associated with Horus in life and Osiris in afterlife or even as being the son of Re or Amen. The Kings built temples statues to themselves, and maintained divinity in specific kingship rituals, such as the coronation. They took part in religious feasts, festivals and processions, and acted as intermediary between the people of Egypt and the divine gods. Thus the Pharaoh was responsible for sustaining ma’at, the prosperity of the land, and for keeping it free from chaos and disaster, making the citizens entirely dependant upon him for safety and livelihood.
Through propaganda, depicting themselves as necessary and important in many aspects of Egyptian life and instilling themselves in religious practices, the Kings of New Kingdom Egypt were able to maintain their dominant and powerful role in society.