King of Egypt

Supported through the generosity
of the Dorset Foundation

The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt presented themselves as all-powerful, brave military leaders and devout rulers. As representative of the gods on earth, it was a pharaoh’s duty to maintain universal order through ritual and by protecting Egypt from foreign enemies. Their monuments and treasures project an image of power, but the realities of Egyptian kingship were often very different. At times, Egypt was divided by civil war, conquered by foreign powers, or ruled by competing pharaohs.

The objects in this exhibition have been chosen to explore the role of kingship in ancient Egypt. They are divided into themes, reflecting royal life, duties, and challenges. Spanning over 3,000 years of history, they range from exquisite palace decorations to accounts of assassination attempts. While many surviving objects from Egypt project the image pharaohs wanted us to see, the exhibition also explores the realities of ruling this dynamic civilisation.

All of the objects in the exhibition can be found in the British Museum collection database online. See all of the objects 

Born of the gods

Pharaoh was thought to be an incarnation of the god Horus, and when he died he was transformed into the god Osiris.

See all Born of the gods objects 

A home for the gods

The Egyptian word for temple means ‘House of God’ and temple building was an essential part of the pharaohs’ relationship with the gods.

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Pleasing the gods

As High Priest, pharaohs performed the most important religious rituals, making offerings of prayer, clothing, food, drink and perfume.

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Royal life

Pharaohs often had very large families. Ramses II, for example, was said to be father to over 80 children.

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Palace life

Palaces were not only homes, but also official residences where domestic and foreign guests were received.

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Royal regalia and titles

Royal clothing separated the pharaoh from ordinary people, from elaborate jewellery to crowns and fine linen.

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Festivals and memory

Pharaohs celebrated their control over Egypt at jubilee festivals, but ancient stories show us they were not always highly-regarded.

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Officials and government

In the time of the pharaohs a vast administration of officials and scribes ensured the smooth running of the country.

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Adopting royal traditions

Ancient Egypt experienced several invasions, and foreign rulers often adopted Egyptian royal titles and religious traditions.

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A country in chaos

Ancient Egyptians believed pharaoh was responsible for maintaining order, but at times the country was divided by civil war.

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Imagery of war

Many artistic representations from ancient Egypt show pharaohs engaged in battle, smiting their enemies.

See all Imagery of war objects in this theme 

War and diplomacy

Pharaohs had armies to fight their battles for them, but they often relied on diplomacy, trading letters and gifts with foreign powers.

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Royal burial

Deceased kings were identified with Osiris, Lord of the Underworld, and the sun-god Ra to ensure their rebirth in the afterlife.

See all Royal burial objects