On Wikipedia, I started from the page of Ramses II, who is described as a pharaoh, and kept clicking on the 'predecessor' link. Every predecessor was a pharaoh until I got to Ahmose I.


Ahmose I is also listed as a pharaoh but the page shows that he had two predecessors, Kamose and Khamudi, both of whom are listed as either 'king' or 'ruler' instead of pharaoh.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamose https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khamudi

The predecessor pages of both Kamose and Khamudi omit the title of pharaoh for several generations. I didn't go too far up the Khamudi predecessors, but the Kamose predecessors are all listed as kings up until Sobekemsaf I, who is listed as a pharaoh.


Sobekemsaf's predecessor, Rahotep, is also written as a pharaoh, but my predecessor search ends there as there is no predecessor link on his page.


Rahotep is in the 17th Dynasty. I checked some previous dynasties, and it appears that all the prior rulers were called kings, up until the 13th Dynasty where they are called pharaohs again. I stopped searching here because I'm guessing going back to the 1st Dynasty will have similar results as switching back and forth between king and pharaoh.

So, my question is, what exactly is it that makes a pharaoh and how does it differentiate from king? In other words, why aren't Kamose and Khamudi listed as pharoahs?

  • 2
    It's quite complicated and it depends on which users of the word 'pharaoh' you are talking about (ancient Egyptians or historians, or perhaps folks who write Wikipedia articles etc.). The Wikipedia entry for Pharaoh partly answers your question. Apr 30, 2021 at 6:08
  • 1
    How does this map onto Wikipedia’s description of the term as being initially applied to the royal palace, then becoming a reverential title for the king around the 1300s BCE, being added to their other titles around 1000 BCE and then becoming the sole epithet around 700 BCE? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pharaoh
    – Gaurav
    Apr 30, 2021 at 6:18
  • Related: history.stackexchange.com/q/64177 Jun 11, 2021 at 11:40

2 Answers 2


A Pharaoh must rule over all of Egypt; other sovereigns who rule over only part of Egypt are mere kings.

One might think of Pharaoh being similar to a German or Anglo-Saxon King of Kings, except for the absence of subordinate kings. I would definitely not use Emperor as a synonym, as I can find no indication that the tile of Pharaoh implies imperial ambitions outside of Egypt. (Many pharaohs had such ambitions - but it's not implied in the title.)

The Egyptian Seventeenth dynasty was one of great turmoil, with the Hyksos invaders ruling over much of Egypt for several generations. During this time there are no Pharaohs, until Ahmose I ejects the last Hyksos and e-establishes pharaonic rule over all of Egypt, from Thebes.

  • 2
    I would add that I think the term 'Pharaoh' implies an element of divinity, like a 'God King' rather than a 'King of Kings'.
    – jgphilpott
    May 1, 2021 at 23:05
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    @JacobPhilpott - There is a (religious) ceremonial component to the title too, which is why after it became a Roman territory the Roman Emperors didn't have the title.
    – T.E.D.
    May 2, 2021 at 1:08
  • @T.E.D. That makes sense! .. Would it be fair to say the Roman equivalent would be the Pope? Except that the Pharaoh is head of state as well as religion?
    – jgphilpott
    May 2, 2021 at 5:26
  • 4
    @JacobPhilpott: Far better is equivalency to the Holy Roman Emperor as one crowned (and blessed) by the Pope - though perhaps just in his function as King of the Germans. May 2, 2021 at 9:07
  • Just a comment in your "Hykos invaders" comment...Last year there were a couple articles making the rounds that said there was evidence that the Hykos weren't a foreign invasion (sudden influx) but rather a community of immigrants who settled in the region about 100 yrs prior and then took advantage of the political instability to take control of government etc. May 7, 2021 at 10:23

Technically speaking, ancient Egyptian rulers wre all kings, and pharaoh was more or less a nickname for the ruler which later gradually became an official title.

Pharaoh (/ˈfɛəroʊ/, US also /ˈfeɪ.roʊ/;[3] Coptic: ⲡⲣ̅ⲣⲟ Pǝrro) is the common title now used for the monarchs of ancient Egypt from the First Dynasty (c. 3150 BCE) until the annexation of Egypt by the Roman Empire in 30 BCE,[4] although the term "pharaoh" was not used contemporaneously for a ruler until Merneptah, c. 1210 BCE, during the Nineteenth dynasty, "king" being the term used most frequently until the middle of the Eighteenth Dynasty.


The word pharaoh ultimately derives from the Egyptian compound pr ꜥꜣ, */ˌpaɾuwˈʕaʀ/ "great house", written with the two biliteral hieroglyphs pr "house" and ꜥꜣ "column", here meaning "great" or "high". It was used only in larger phrases such as smr pr-ꜥꜣ "Courtier of the High House", with specific reference to the buildings of the court or palace.[7] From the Twelfth Dynasty onward, the word appears in a wish formula "Great House, May it Live, Prosper, and be in Health", but again only with reference to the royal palace and not the person.

Sometime during the era of the New Kingdom, Second Intermediate Period, pharaoh became the form of address for a person who was king. The earliest confirmed instance where pr ꜥꜣ is used specifically to address the ruler is in a letter to Akhenaten (reigned c. 1353–1336 BCE) that is addressed to "Great House, L, W, H, the Lord".[8][9] However, there is a possibility that the title pr ꜥꜣ was applied to Thutmose III (c. 1479–1425 BCE), depending on whether an inscription on the Temple of Armant can be confirmed to refer to that king.[10] During the Eighteenth dynasty (sixteenth to fourteenth centuries BCE) the title pharaoh was employed as a reverential designation of the ruler. About the late Twenty-first Dynasty (tenth century BCE), however, instead of being used alone as before, it began to be added to the other titles before the ruler's name, and from the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty (eighth to seventh centuries BCE) it was, at least in ordinary usage, the only epithet prefixed to the royal appellative.[11]

Other notable epithets are nswt, translated to "king"; ḥm, "Majesty"; jty for "monarch or sovereign"; nb for "lord";[12][note 2] and ḥqꜣ for "ruler".


So "king" is the more or less correct English translation of one title of ancient Egyptian monarchs, while "pharaoh" is the English form of the ancient Egyptian term for the palace, which later became a title for the monarch of Egypt.

And I am not certain whether the Wikipedia pages on Egyptian rulers follow the practices of modern Egyptologists when deciding whether to use pharaoh or king to describe a ruler, and I am not certain if it makes any difference.

  • Is there any text that Egyptologists employ in using the term Pharoah pre-Akhenaten and Pre-Thutmose? Because Rahotep precedes both Thutmose and Akhenaten, and is written as a pharaoh. Snefru is also written as a pharaoh, while he precedes all three mentioned above by more than thousand years.
    – Samid
    May 2, 2021 at 3:35

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