What Was a Pharaoh's Life Like in Ancient Egypt?

Pharaohs were clean-shaven but wore human hair beards as adornment.
... John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The pharaohs were the rulers of ancient Egyptian dynasties between about 3000 B.C. and 30 B.C. Revered as gods by their subjects, They ruled over large extended families and were responsible for maintaining harmony in their expansive kingdom. The life of a pharaoh was marked by pampering, procreation, power and prestige.

1 Fit for a King

Upon rising from his bed in the morning, the pharaoh would be taken to a separate room where servants -- with titles such as "Chief of The Scented Oils and Pastes for Rubbing His Majesty's Body" -- oversaw the pharaoh's grooming. After cleansing the pharaoh, servants cut his hair and fit him with a human hair wig. They applied his eye makeup, using a dark shadow and liner called "kohl". The servants dressed the pharaoh in a linen kilt and added his jewelry, which usually included a large gold pendant on a wide neck chain. His morning routine completed, the pharaoh was ready for the day ahead.

2 Father of Many

Pharaohs usually had dozens of children, the result of having one or two major wives, several minor wives and numerous concubines. The pharaoh only recognized as official heirs the sons and daughters of his major wives and sometimes favored lesser wives. Pharaohs frequently married female family members, including daughters, to keep the family bloodline pure. The Pharaoh's family time usually included a midday meal with his wives and their children. When the pharaoh's sons were old enough, he would play board games with them or take them on his official rounds. The evening meal, which often featured musical entertainment, was for the pharaoh, his wives and sometimes honored guests.

3 Feared and Revered

The pharaoh owned all of the dynasty's land and made all its laws. His chief responsibility was maintaining harmony in his empire and acting as intermediary between his subjects and the goddess, Ma'at. The pharaoh's first order of business each day was to receive people in his audience chamber. Foreign merchants and ambassadors would bring gifts for the pharaoh. Royal officials would appear before the pharaoh to obtain approval for building or irrigation projects. Generals would call on the pharaoh to discuss military matters. Visitors would prostrate themselves before the pharaoh in humble and absolute reverence. The pharaoh delegated certain powers to high-ranking officials, but he alone could declare war or order a death penalty.

4 Feats of Wonder

The pharaohs authorized the building of all the empire's structures, including temples and statues of themselves. They also arranged the building of their own and their family's massive tombs, many in the shape of pyramids. The pyramids of three pharaohs -- Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure -- make up the Giza pyramid complex in Egypt. Khufu's tomb, The Great Pyramid of Giza, is the only survivor of the Seven Wonders of The World. While these elaborate structures memorialized the pharaohs' deaths, the hieroglyphs, artifacts and sarcophagi found within the pyramids have provided researchers and scholars with a wealth of information about the pharaohs' lives.

5 The Feminine Side

Among the few female pharaohs was Hatshepsut, daughter of Thutmose I and widow of Thutmose II. Surviving inscriptions on the walls of her temple indicate she slowly took on the trappings of a male before proclaiming herself pharaoh during the 18th dynasty. As pharaoh, she gave up her titles as queen, began wearing the traditional kilt and headdress of a pharaoh, and also adopted a wig and false beard. It's likely Hatshepsut was attended to in the same manner as male pharaohs -- although by female slaves -- and conducted daily business just as her father and husband had done.

Laura Leddy Turner began her writing career in 1976. She has worked in the newspaper industry as an illustrator, columnist, staff writer and copy editor, including with Gannett and the Asbury Park Press. Turner holds a B.A. in literature and English from Ramapo College of New Jersey, with postgraduate coursework in business law.