Kingship in ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, the king was believed to be a combination of the divine and the mortal. He was the link between the gods and mankind. Only men could be king, and kingship ideally passed from father to son. Rarely a woman, such as Hatshepsut (1479-1457 BC), became king. Little is known about the political environment surrounding the king, but records indicate that a number of rulers were usurped and some, such as Ramesses III, were assassinated.

The king was distinguished from ordinary people in several ways. He possessed five names, each introduced by a title defining his relationship to the gods and Egypt. His titles show that he was regarded as the force that held Upper and Lower Egypt together as a unified state. The king is shown in art wearing various crowns and other special items of clothing and regalia.

A major role of the king was to maintain the universal order, called 'maat'. He was the chief priest of the cult of every god, and the leader of Egypt's army. Temple decoration shows the king in battle and in cult activities, though the latter were in reality delegated to the priesthood. The king was expected to provide the gods with temples, and endow them with offerings. In return for this service, the gods passed down their favour to Egypt via the king.

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