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Qa'a stele, found at the tomb of King Qa'a
Qa'a stele, found at the tomb of King Qa'a, First Dynasty (3000-2800 B.C.)

Head of Thutmosis III (E14370)
Head of Thutmosis III (E14370), Dynasty 18. He wears the tall, bulbous crown of Upper Egypt with a rearing uraeus at his brow, symbolizing his royal power.

Bronze statuette of Turankhamun (E14295)
Bronze statuette of Turankhamun (E14295). It originally had inlays of gold.

Ramses II in the guise of Osiris
Ramses II (69-29-1) in the guise of

The head of Osorkon II (E16199)
The head of Osorkon II (E16199), Dynasty 22.

Plaque of a Ptolemaic king (E14315)
Plaque of a Ptolemaic king (E14315), Ptolemaic Period (305-30 B.C.)

Bust of a Ptolemaic king (E14314)
Bust of a Ptolemaic king (E14314), Ptolemaic Period (305-30 B.C.)

Gallery Tour


One of the defining features of ancient Egyptian civilization is the tremendous importance of its semi-divine rulers, the pharaohs. The office of Egyptian kingship was perceived as sacred and the kings themselves were understood to be intermediaries between mankind and the gods. The role of pharaoh is most visible in the emphasis placed on the king in the monumental record. The University of Pennsylvania Museum's (UPM) Egyptian collection has an outstanding collection of material relating to kingship and royalty.

Qa'a Stele
Stelae were often set up in pairs in front of the tombs of the earliest kings of Egypt. King Qa'a, a ruler of the First Dynasty (3000-2800 B.C.) was buried at the site of Abydos. The stele depicts the name of the king inside a rectangularly shaped symbol known as a serekh. The lower part of this rectangle is decorated with a representation of niched facaded found on royal buildings from this period. The serekh is surmounted by a falcon representing the god Horus, a deity associated with the ruling king and his divine office.

Thutmosis III
One of the most powerful kings of the Eighteenth Dynasty (1539-1292 B.C.) was Thutmosis III. He came to the throne as a young child and during the early part of his reign shared rule of Egypt with his father's sister-wife, Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled as a pharaoh in her own right. After her death, Thutmosis III succeeded in becoming on the greatest pharaohs of the New Kingdom. He expanded the borders of Egypt by conquering Asia as far as the Tigris-Euphrates valley.

Also in the Museum's collections is a small statue of King Tutankhamun (1333-1323 B.C.). He wears a nemes headdress and kilt. This type of kneeling statue was often a part of temple equipment and may have been housed in a sacred barque that was carried in religious processions. The statue is made of black bronze and certain elements of the piece were originally decorated with a contrasting gold gilding. Traces of gilt remain on the king's nipples and headdress. The eyes and eyebrows may also have been inlaid originally with another precious material.

The Pharaoh Akhenaten (1353-1335 B.C.) of the 18th Dynasty was responsible for the religious, artistic, and cultural revolution known as the Amarna period. Akhenaten raised a single deity, the Aten or sun disk, to the position of sole god in Egypt, a drastic change from its traditional polytheistic religion. During this time, artistic and literary styles underwent similar changes. Two and three dimensional representations of people are characterized by elongated heads, necks, and limbs; full breasts, stomachs, hips, and thighs; and slender waists. Scenes of the royal family replaced those of the traditional deities in temples, tombs, and private votive contexts. After Akhenaten's death, religious and artistic traditions were restored.

Ramses II
Ramses II, often called "Ramses the Great," was one of the most prolific builders in Egyptian history. His productivity was unmatched in other areas of his life as well: for example, he fathered more than 100 children with his two principal wives, Queens Nefertari and Asetnofret, along with his many secondary wives. During his 67 year reign (1290-1224 B.C.), Ramses built more monuments to himself than any other pharaoh. His record of the Battle of Kadesh was recorded in at least eight different places throughout Egypt. One monumental statue in the UPM's collection from the site of Abydos depicts the king in the guise of the great mortuary god Osiris. The king is shown wearing the white crown and a false beard. He grasps the crook and the flail, traditional elements of royalty, in his hands. This statue was originally brightly painted and some of its original color still remains.

Osorkon II
The pharaoh Osorkon II was the fourth king of the 22nd Dynasty (945-712 B.C.), a series of rulers of Libyan origin that spanned 200 years. During the early part of the reign of Osorkon II, the country was divided and Harsiese, the High Priest of Amun in Thebes declared himself king in the south. After Harsiese's death, Osorkon II reunited Egypt and set off a major building campaign, including an impressive hall in the temple of Bastet at Bubastis. The UPM's head of Osorkon (the body is in the Cairo Museum) comes from the site of Tanis (the seat of Dynasty 22) and was originally part of a kneeling figure of the king.

The identity of some of the kings in the Museum's collection are not certain. The style of the portraits, however, dates them to the 30th Dynasty or the beginning of Ptolemaic period. Dynasty 30 (380-343 B.C.) was the last time that native rulers occupied the throne of Egypt. In 332 B.C., Egypt was conquered by Alexander the Great and in year 305 B.C., Ptolemy I, one of Alexander's generals, came to the throne. This reign ushered in a royal line of Greek rulers who would maintain control of Egypt until the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C., and the suicide of Cleopatra VII the following year, when Egypt fell into Roman control under Octavian.

The human-headed sphinx with a lion body was a powerful symbol of royal might. The ruler was often shown in the form of a sphinx trampling enemies. The UPM's sphinx is made of red granite and weighs 13 tons; it is the largest sphinx exhibited in the United States. Originally carved in the Middle Kingdom, it was later recarved several times. In the 19th Dynasty Ramses II (1293-1185 B.C.) altered the facial features to reflect his own and added an inscription. Later, his son, King Merenptah, added a hieroglyphic inscription with his own name and titles around the base. The sphinx was found within the sacred enclosure of Ptah at Memphis.


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