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Role of Theocracy in shaping Ancient Egypt

Regarded as an intermediary between the human beings and the divine, the king in Ancient Egypt, ruled by a mandate of gods, or in other words, a theocratic monarchy system of government was being followed where the king used to represent the will of the divine through the laws that were passed and the policies that were approved. While the early Egyptian ruler was addressed as ‘King’, it was not until the New Kingdom of Egypt (1570-1069 BCE) when the term ‘Pharaoh’ (originally, the royal palace in ancient Egypt) started to represent the leader of the government.

It was believed that they were sent on this planet of humans because God chose them for the welfare of humanity, which is why the pharaohs had garnered huge religious belief among the masses. Pharaohs were both the religious leaders and also, the heads of the state. Many scholars still believe that the first-ever pharaoh was Narmer, also called Menes. Even though it is still not ascertained, experts believe that he was the first ruler to unite the lower and upper Egypt, which is why they were given the title of ‘the Lord of the Two Lands’. 

At the helm of the government was the Pharaoh, the ruler and under him/her, was the Vizier, who was the primary leader of the government or as in modern times in India, the prime minister. Under the vizier were the rulers of an area of land called the Nome, also known as the Nomarchs. Under them were the chief treasurers, army officials, and the ministers of public works. Scribes also formed an important part of the government. They would keep track of the finances and record the taxes. They also used to determine the growth in the population of the area they were overseeing. 

The powers of the pharaohs were divided on two fronts- religious and political. People used to believe that the pharaohs had received all the authority and the control directly from God. They were the high priest of the temple’ and also ‘the lord of the two lands. As supreme rulers, regardless of the gender, they were responsible for the proper functioning of the legislative and the executive council of the government. Additionally, they commanded the supreme Egyptian military. While they did have advisors to guide them during their reign, they were second to none and hence, solely chartered all the decisions that affected the kingdom. 

Since they were the ‘high priests’, they also used to supervise the construction of the temples and the holy performance of the sacred rituals to honour the gods and justify their position as the earthly representation of the one above all. They determined the religion for the temples in ancient Egypt. When the Pharaoh Akhenaten descended the throne, most of the people were polytheistic. He declared that Egypt is a monotheistic land and made the people worship a god called Aten. However, Egypt returned to its fundamental beliefs after the death of Akhenaten

As the representative of the union of the upper and lower Egypt, the pharaohs were held responsible for politically ruling Egypt and had to handle legal disputes among other obligations towards the state of affairs. They also made sure that everyone under their rule has enough food supply to meet his/her basic requirements. Seemingly, they also had control of the floods of the River Nile that fertilized the surrounding farmlands. They were believed to be in direct relation with the sun god, Ra which made them care for the citizens as their children and hence they were also titled as the ‘Father’. It is hence not unfair to conclude that Pharaohs had essentially no limits to their powers. 

The display of theocracy was not just restricted to the powers, the authority or the responsibilities, but it was also manifested in the architecture in ancient Egypt. Egyptians made pyramids for the dead pharaohs following their belief to preserve the body of their master and keep the souls alive so that the Egyptians could go into the afterlife. The Egyptians were skilful doctors and hence embalming (the process of preserving the body after the death to make sure that it does not rot) was performed. Even though they used to take out every organ from the body of the dead, they left the heart as it was. They believed that the heart was the foundation of life. These pyramids unfold the mysteries of the past. Not to mention the legendary Tutankhamen, a pharaoh who died at the very early age of nineteen, whose tomb was discovered by Howard Carter loaded with treasures. 

The pharaohs were the foundational pillars of equality in terms of status and gender and more than a ruler, they were ‘Fathers’, a divine representation of the supreme. While a lot of pages in the history of the world have been unfolded, a lot of it, and even more, is still preserved at the places that man still has to discover and in the time that man still has to travel back in. 


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1 Comment

  1. Manya Jain

    Really well written and enriching!

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