13 Essential Egyptian Pharaohs Who Shaped Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt was built by a succession of great rulers contributing to the world’s longest continuing civilization. Let’s discuss Pharaohs

Mar 24, 2020By Jono Elderton
Egyptian Pharaohs, Thutmose III, Hatshepsut, and Senusret
Left to right; Egyptian Pharaohs Senusret I, Thutmose III, and Hatshepsut


Ancient Egypt was the world’s longest-continuing civilization before collapsing with the ascension of Rome. Throughout its timeline, numerous Pharaohs separated themselves from contemporaries through great deeds, shrewd stewardship, wealth, and expansion. Read on for 13 prominent pharaohs crucial to building the mighty fabric of Ancient Egypt.


13. Narmer, 1st Dynasty (3150 – 3100 BC)

Narmer, Petrie Museum, London


Narmer is believed to be the ruler who fully unified Upper and Lower Egypt during his reign from 3150–3100 BC. He led during a time of great social and political change as Ancient Egypt began to resemble the Pharaonic model that became central to Egypt. Much of his fame can be attributed to the Narmer Palette stone tablet, one of the earliest Ancient Egyptian artifacts ever found and the first depiction of an Egyptian King.


12. Djoser, 3rd Dynasty (2630 BC – 2611BC)

King Djoser’s Ka Statue, Step Pyramid Complex, Saqarra


The Step Pyramid of Djoser was the very first pyramid built by the Ancient Egyptians and is the earliest large monument built with stone. Most people recognize Djoser for building the Step Pyramid, but he boosted the economy by opening mines to find copper for tools, turquoise for jewelry, and minerals for eye make-up. He traded cleverly for needed goods, created new jobs, and improved Egypt’s farming system.


11. Sneferu, 4th Dynasty (2613 – 2589 BC)

Sneferu, Dahshur/Egyptian Museum, Cairo


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Sneferu was the founder of the 4th Dynasty, research suggests he was a great and wise king. He reigned for nearly 50 years before his death and the ascension of Khufu. Sneferu built great wealth through trade and war with Nubia (now Sudan) in the south, allowing him the opportunity to build famous landmarks, such as the Bent Pyramid and Red Pyramid.


10. Khufu, 4th Dynasty (2589 – 2566 BC)

Khufu, Egyptian Museum, Cairo


Khufu became King of Egypt in 2589 BC with the death of his father Sneferu. He is responsible for building the Great Pyramid at Giza the lone Seventh Wonder of the World still standing. Much like his son Khafre, Khufu was depicted by Herodotus as a tyrant and persecuting Pharaoh, however, modern archeologists question the validity of those claims due to the stability and economic standing of Egypt during his period.


9. Khafre, 4th Dynasty (2558 – 2532 BC)

Khafre, Egyptian Museum, Cairo


Khafre was the son of Khufu, builder of the middle Pyramid in the Great Pyramid Necropolis at Giza. He’s also believed to be responsible for the Great Sphinx flanking the causeway to his monument. Khafre led Egypt during a time of great economic strength, and despite being demonized by later Greek historians, he was king during one of Egypt’s most famous periods.


8. Senusret I, 12th Dynasty (1971 BC – 1926 BC)

Senusret I, Altes Museum, Berlin


Senusret I was Pharaoh during the 12th Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom and ruled for 45 years. He was an expansionist king campaigning predominantly in Nubia, establishing a new southern border. Domestically he championed improved irrigation and farming along the Nile – particularly within Faiyum. While not as prolific as his peers he built monuments such as the Heliopolis Obelisk, and helped usher in new interpretations of art and hieroglyphics.


7. Ahmose I, 18th Dynasty (1549–1524 BC)

Ahmose I, MET Museum, New York


King Ahmose I took the throne as a child when Egypt was being overrun by the Hyksos and in economic ruin due to mine closures and restricted trade. After being helped in regency by his formidable mother Queen Ahhotep I, Ahmose established a firm rule and was consequently able to drive the Hyksos out and stabilize the economy.

His significance as a great ruler is exemplified by his pyramid at Abydos, the last known pyramid built by an Egyptian king. It was originally nearly 50 meters tall (162 ft) but has been reduced to rubble due to being built from mud-brick rather than stone.


6. Hatshepsut, 18th Dynasty (1479–1458 BC)

Hatshepsut, MET Museum, New York


Hatshepsut began her reign as regent to her nephew Thutmose III, who was only two when she began overseeing Egypt. She kept the throne for the next twenty years then became Pharaoh, as she governed shrewdly and with great success.

Hatshepsut rebuilt trade routes that had been destroyed during the Hyksos invasion and re-established relationships with neighboring states, including obtaining great riches from the Land of Punt to build Egypt’s economy into a formidable position.

She commissioned a fantastic array of buildings and monuments, including the famous Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut below the cliffs of Deir el Bahari. Her rule ended abruptly after Hatshepsut inadvertently poisoned herself attempting to treat a hereditary skin condition.


5. Thutmose III, 18th Dynasty (1458 –1425 BC)

Thutmose III, MET Museum, New York


Thutmose III took the throne after the death of his aunt Queen Hatshepsut, who was his regent after the death of his father Thutmose II. He conducted numerous lengthy military campaigns, including the conquest of Syria, growing Egypt into an unmatched regional superpower. His expansion saw the Egyptian coffers filled with plunder obtained through war, trade, compulsory grain acquisition, and taxation.

Thutmose III built many great monuments, two of which are obelisks now residing in London and New York, and rebuilt the Great Hypostle Hall at Karnak Temple

Toward the end of his reign, Thutmose III defaced temples and buildings related to Hatshepsut in order to strengthen the claim of his heir Amenhotep II and keep Hatshepsut’s progeny from attempting a revolt.


4. Amenhotep III, 18th Dynasty (1388–1351 BC)

Amenhotep III, British Museum, London


In modern times Pharaoh Amenhotep III has been just as famed for his relatives – the revolutionary Pharaoh Akhenaten, and his son Tutankhamun – as he is for great deeds during his kingship.

Amenhotep III was renowned for international diplomacy and sound domestic stewardship during his reign of nearly 50 years. He rarely had to mobilize the army into battle.

He was a prolific builder responsible for the Temple of Mat at Luxor, two pylons, and a colonnade. At one stage he had built the world’s largest funerary complex at Thebes, but it was destroyed in less than two centuries due to the constant flooding of the Nile.

When Amenhotep III died in his early 50’s due to ongoing problems with obesity caused by arthritis, his loss was mourned by the foremost leaders in civilization, who held him in the highest esteem.


3. Horemheb, 18th Dynasty (1319 BC -1292 BC)

Horemheb as scribe, Museum of Metropolitan Art, New York


King Horemheb remains a low-profile Pharaoh but assumed a large role in Ancient Egypt. His well-organized, sensible governance was crucial in moving on from the chaos of the Amarna Kings.

Horemheb was a commoner. He built his reputation in the military under Akhenaten as a gifted scribe, administrator, and diplomat. He led the army during the short reign of King Tutankhamun before taking the crown after Ay’s death.

Horemheb brought stability and prosperity back to Ancient Egypt, stamped out graft and corruption, and laid the platform for sustained growth under the famous 19th Dynasty Pharaohs such as Ramesses II.


2. Ramesses II, 19th Dynasty (1279 – 1213 BC)

Ramesses II (The Younger Memnon), British Museum


Ramesses II is one of the great pharaohs. Despite a fondness for propaganda and self-aggrandizement, he was Pharaoh for arguably Ancient Egypt’s most prosperous and stable period, achieving more over the 66-year span of his rule than numerous contemporaries combined.

Ramesses II spent the early part of his reign subduing enemies such as the Hittites, Syrians and Nubians; the Battle of Kadesh was the start of his fame and a rallying point amongst the populace. Ramesses II was also responsible for monumental building projects such as Abu Simbel, his capital Pi-Ramesses, and his mortuary temple Ramesseum in Luxor.


1. Cleopatra VII, Ptolemaic Kingdom (51 – 31BC)

Bust of Cleopatra VII, Altes Museum, Berlin


Cleopatra VII was the final ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom in the period preceding Rome’s annexation. One of Egypt’s most famous figures, her ability as a leader and politician has been diminished by her family’s incestuous hierarchy and her salacious love affairs with Caesar and Mark Antony.

Cleopatra took the throne with Egypt in debt and under threat. Through political maneuvering and sheer ruthlessness, she was able to stave off the demise of Egypt until Octavian eventually made her succumb. Cleopatra’s a real-life Shakespearean tragedy, allegedly committing suicide by snakebite after the death of lover Mark Antony in 31 BC with Rome closing in.

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By Jono EldertonJono Elderton is an Australian writer with a passion for Ancient Egypt. He has worked as a journalist, media manager, and English teacher. After travelling extensively worldwide and teaching in Thailand and Japan, he now lives in the outback and writes about ancient cultures, mythology, and the arts.