What Was the Religious Role of a Pharaoh?

by Rae Williams

Ancient Egyptian pharaohs were religious and political leaders who held immense power as they were seen not just as kings, but as mortal reincarnations of Horus, one of the ancient Egyptian gods. As well as holding the official title ''Lord of the Two Lands,'' referring to Upper and Lower Egypt, the Pharaohs also held the title ''High Priest of Every Temple.'' The pharaohs, who were considered living gods, were the ultimate authority in both civil and religious matters and were seen as being responsible for maintaining universal harmony in Egypt.

Maintaining Ma'at

The pharaoh's main responsibility was maintaining universal order, known as Ma'at. Ma'at was the concept of balance and harmony, deified as a goddess of the same name who was believed to prevent the universe from entering a state of chaos. The goddess Ma'at was thought to communicate with the pharaoh, whose duty it was to interpret her will and act accordingly. All of his other religious and political duties stemmed from the pharaoh's sacred obligation to maintain Ma'at in Egypt. It was believed that if he failed in this task, the world would be destroyed.

Chief Priest

The pharaoh's official role as ''High Priest of Every Temple'' meant he was responsible for maintaining the Egyptian people's good relationship with the gods by acting as an intermediary. The pharaoh was expected to officiate at certain religious rituals and ceremonies, and build temples and monuments to honor the gods. Because of this, the pharaoh was often held responsible when natural disasters like floods and famine occurred as these were taken as signs of displeasure from the gods.

Judge, Lawmaker and Administratror

To maintain Ma'at effectively, the Pharaoh also had to ensure the land was productive and profitable and the people obeyed the law. The Pharaoh was believed to have the ability to see good and evil, and the divine authority to make laws and to punish those who broke them. One of the well known symbols of the pharaohs, the crook and flail, represents their duty to uphold justice by rewarding the innocent and punishing the guilty.

Military Commander

Another of the Pharaoh's sacred duties was the responsibility for defending the Egypt's borders. The Pharaoh was in charge of both the army and the navy, and was expected to make war on other countries to gain land and resources, to protect Egypt, and keep foreigners out. Even in making war, all of the Pharaoh's actions were seen as essential to maintaining Ma'at and keeping the universal order in balance.

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