Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt
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It is said that the history of Ancient Egypt is measured, not in terms of centuries, but in terms of Pharaonic dynasties. And the Pharaohs presided over Egypt over the course of thirty dynasties that spanned some 3,000 years. Ray explains that the Pharaohs were regarded as having both human and divine qualities—and as acting both as political leaders and as sacred authorities. Each Pharaoh was revered as the embodiment of the god Horus, who was himself the successor of Osiris, who presided over the netherworld while Horus ruled on earth. And the Pharaoh was to be regarded as the embodiment of divine authority regardless of whatever human shortcomings might mar his earthly rule. In these respects, the Pharaoh was both a religious and a political icon, his right to rule on earth premised on his divine, iconic status.
The political, social, and cultural regime implemented by the Pharaohs was clearly one of the most effective in all of human history—both in terms of its longevity and in terms of the benefits that it provided for many Ancient Egyptians. Ray explains that, in addition to enduring for the better part of three millennia, the Pharaonic dynasties built Egypt into what was potentially the wealthiest country in the Ancient Mediterranean. Indeed, with the possible exceptions of Mesopotamia and China, Egypt might have been the wealthiest society in the entire Ancient world. Aside from basking in “proverbial” agricultural abundance, Ancient Egypt also boasted manufactured goods that were prized across the Near East. Its civilization was widely revered—though rarely successfully copied—by less fortunate and more immature societies. Nevertheless, the Pharaohs’ rule began to falter with the rise of the mighty Achaemenid or Persian Empire. From 525 BC to 404 BC, Egypt was made a province of the Persian Empire. Facing rule by “Pharaohs” from foreign lands and with exotic names, Egyptians reacted with a complex mix of denial, resentment, retreat to tradition, and profiteering. Egypt did ultimately succeed in regaining its independence from the Persians in 404 BC. However, it was able to maintain its autonomy only with technical assistance from the only other Mediterranean societies that retained their independence from the Achaemenid Empire: the Greek city-states. Finally, in 342 BC Egypt was defeated in a joint invasion by Persian and Greek forces. Nectanebo II, the third and last Pharaoh of the Thirtieth Dynasty, would be the last native rule of Ancient Egypt. The long, remarkable reign of the Egyptian Pharaohs had ended.