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Digital Subscriptions > BBC History Revealed Magazine > January 2016 > Need to Know

Need to Know


Pharaohs were all-powerful, and all-pampered…

The role of pharaoh was a very public one. Being High Priest of Egypt’s temples and representative of the gods on Earth – not to mention a political leader, responsible for the secular and sacred – certainly drew some attention.

The pharaoh’s day would have begun in his vast royal palace – its rooms, halls, courtyards and gardens all lavishly decorated with wall paintings, gilded furnishings and more. is was a building created to impress; suitable for a god on Earth.

A plethora of servants ensured the pharaoh had everything he required, including the impressively named ‘Chief of the scented oils and pastes for rubbing his majesty’s body’. Like the pharaoh’s surroundings, his rich clothing, make-up and jewellery reflected his status, as did his frankincense perfume – a sacred scent used in rituals and ceremonies.

Much of his day was spent on a throne, or dais, in the palace’s massive audience chamber, where he would attend matters of state, receive foreign emissaries, plan new building projects, discuss military campaigns or debate the religious questions of the day – including how the pharaoh should prepare himself for afterlife.

Leisure time was also important: swimming, hunting and fishing, as well as lounging on riverboats, are all believed to have been popular pharaonic activities.

Pharaohs could have countless wives – essential for ensuring the continuation of the dynasty – with one chief spouse known as the ‘King’s Principle Wife’. She, together with other wives, concubines and royal children, resided in the Royal Harem, away from the royal state apartments. As well as the education and care of the royal offspring, the Harem was also responsible for court entertainment.

9 The age at which Tutankhamun is thought to have become a ruling pharaoh

HOLY HAREM Pharaoh Taharqa (reigned c690-64 BC) leads his wives through a festival crowd


In 2010, a giant granite statue of Pharaoh Taharqa was found in Dangeil, Sudan – the furthest south of Egypt a pharaonic statue has ever been found.




(Reigned c2460-58 BC)

Ruling for just two years, Neferefre is considered the most documented ruler of the Fifth Dynasty. Artefacts and texts discovered in Neferefre’s mortuary temple (inside the unfinished Pyramid of Neferefre at Abusir) revealed previously unknown facts about life in the Old Kingdom (2649-2150 BC). The 2,000 papyri, inscribed plaques and other objects from his funerary monument shed light on how royal mortuary temples were run – there was even a timetable for priests and inventories of temple equipment.

Other documents told of offerings coming into the temple (such as bread and beer) and the workers’ wages. This implies that pyramid temples continued to be used for religious purposes after a pharaoh’s internment. In Neferefre’s case, an offering service for the deceased leader was held at the temple every day, with other festivals and rituals performed at other times.

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The January 2016 issue of History Revealed