History

The 2-minute guide to the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt

Take a trip back in time with us and enjoy this fast, simplified history lesson on some of the most influential pharaohs from Ancient Egypt. First, it’s important to know that Ancient Egypt covers a timeline spanning from 3100 BCE to 395 CE and is divided into nine distinct periods. This follows the rise and fall of Egypt from its Predynastic Period to its decline under the Roman Empire. We’ll specify the period during which each pharaoh reigned.

Narmer

Limestone head of Narmer
Credit: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg)/ CC BY-SA 

Predynastic and Early Dynastic Period, circa 3150-3100 BCE

Most people think of Ancient Egypt as a completely unified kingdom, but it went through several iterations with various smaller kingdoms that often conflicted. Narmer came to power at the end of the Predynastic Period and is credited with being the first king to unify Upper and Lower Egypt.

Djoser

Aerial view of the Sakara Pyramid and tombs in Giza, Egypt
Credit: Mina Ryad/ Shutterstock

Old Kingdom - 3rd Dynasty, circa 2686-2649 BCE

While not much is known about Djoser’s life, you have him to thank for the iconic prevalence of pyramid-like structures in Ancient Egypt. A common focus for pharaohs was to create ornate tombs that would give them a grand entrance into the afterlife. Djoser is credited with creating the first step pyramid. Truth be told, though, it was his trusted advisor, Imhotep, who conceptualized and oversaw the project.

Snefru

Pyramids in Giza
Credit: Vlad Siaber/ Shutterstock

Old Kingdom - 4th Dynasty, circa 2600 BCE

No one can pinpoint exactly how long Snefru ruled as the first pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty during the Old Kingdom Period. Most scholars guess that it was somewhere between 24 and 30 years. But what we do know is that Snefru (also spelled Sneferu) was the genius behind the first solid pyramid (like those in Giza) as an upgrade from Djoser’s step pyramids.

Pepi II

Sphinx statue with a pyramid in the background
Credit: Lingbeek/ iStock

Old Kingdom - 6th Dynasty, circa 2278 BCE

Pepi II ruled during the 6th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom. He stands out because he was the longest-ruling pharaoh of Egypt, reigning over the lands for as many as 94 years, according to scholars. While the first half of his rule was a time of peace and prosperity, the second half was tumultuous and full of intrigue.

Senusret I

Art from the middle kingdom
Credit: nexusimage/ iStock

Middle Kingdom - 12th Dynasty, circa 1971-1926 BCE

It must be nice to be a ruler and never worry about fighting a war. Senusret was a pharaoh from the 12th Dynasty during the Middle Kingdom and is best known for having never fought a war. He’s also known for expanding farmable lands through irrigation and for being the first pharaoh whose tomb depicts his face and true features — a style most people associate with Egyptian design.

Ahmose I

Statues outside of the Valley of the Kings
Credit: markgoddard/ iStock

New Kingdom - 18th Dynasty, circa 1549-1524 BCE

Ahmose I was the founder of the 18th Dynasty during the New Kingdom. Besides being a founder, he’s best known for launching the effort to reunify Egypt. In the previous era, the Second Intermediate Period, the lands split again into an Upper and Lower Kingdom because of invaders and conflicts between members of the ruling class. As was common among Egypt’s royal family, Ahmose I married his sister Ahmose-Nefertari.

Hatshepsut

The Hatshepsut temple in the Valley of the Kings
Credit: karayuschij/ iStock

New Kingdom - 18th Dynasty, circa 1473-1458 BCE

Not all the pharaohs were men, and Hatshepsut, who reigned during the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom, is one of the most well-known female rulers. She was supposed to serve only as a regent after her husband, Thutmose II, died. But after six years as a regent, she upgraded herself to pharaoh. There must have been bad blood between her and her departed husband/half-brother, because she had his name stricken from several statues across Egypt.

Tutankhamun

Tutankhamun's sarcophagus at the Tutankhamun exhibition, Slovakia
Credit: Jaroslav Moravcik/ Shutterstock

New Kingdom - 18th Dynasty, circa 1332-1323 BCE

Despite how famous “King Tut” is, he didn’t have a particularly long reign. He ascended to the throne at the age of 9 and presided over Egypt for nine years. Keeping with tradition, he married his half-sister Ankhesenamun. Because he was so young, he’s not considered an influential pharaoh for his time. However, the interest in him since the discovery of his astoundingly intact tomb in 1922 cements his place on this list.

Rameses II

Rameses II statue in Luxor temple
Credit: matias planas/ Shutterstock

New Kingdom - 19th Dynasty, circa 1279-1213 BCE

Contrary to what Cecil B. DeMille would have you believe, there’s very little historical link between Rameses II’s life as played by Yul Brynner in “The Ten Commandments,” and the real pharaoh (also sometimes spelled Ramses). While the movie version of him was always bested by Moses, and Rameses II suffered massive defeat at the Red Sea, the real Rameses II was considered the greatest pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty — and he was prolific, too. He had at least 95 children, was married to Nefertari Meritmut (unrelated to Ahmose I’s wife), was known for his military prowess, and had a habit of striking older pharaohs’ names from their tombs so he could replace them with his own.