From the later half of the 5th Dynasty onwards, the full royal titulary consisted of 5 titles or great names. Each title expresses a part of the role of the King in society and shows the divine nature of kingship.
The Horus Name is the oldest part of the royal titulary. It finds its origins in the Pre-Dynastic Period, a period during which the Ancient Egyptian society as well as the role of the King gradually started taking shape. The earliest known examples of this title comprise of a falcon, generally taken to represent Horus perched upon a decorated rectangular panel, known as serekh, which symbolises the Royal Palace. In some cases either the falcon, the serekh or both can be missing.
The symbolism of this title is very strong, as it expresses a close relationship between the earthly power of the King (the palace) and divine power of the celestial god Horus, the falcon who, from high above oversees the entire country and can strike at any prey below.
While this may originally have been some sort of banner or emblem that conveyed the message of royal supremacy, from the Late Pre-Dynastic Period onwards the title includes one or more signs written inside the rectangular panel that express a particular aspect of the god Horus. It has been pointed out that 1st Dynasty titles often convey the image of an aggressive Horus, with names like Horus Aha ('Horus the fighter') or Horus Djer ('Horus the strong'), while during the 2nd Dynasty, the emphasis seems to be more on maintaining the country's stability, with a name like Horus Hetepsekhemwi ('Horus, the two powers are at peace').
Other names of the 2nd Dynasty reflect upon the role of the King in more theological terms and relate him to the other gods. With names as Horus-Netjerikhet ('Horus, the most divine of body') or Horus Kha-ba ('Horus, arisen as a Ba'), the 3rd Dynasty sees a further evolution of this title into a theological programme that expresses the relationship between Horus, the King and the other gods of the Egyptian pantheon.
The Horus Name would stay the most important part of the royal titulary throughout the Early Dynastic Period, after which it gradually lost some of its importance to the Prenomen and Nomen titles. It would, however, remain a part of the formal titulary until the end of the Pharaonic culture.
The Nebti Name is introduced by a hieroglyphic group representing a vulture and a cobra, each seated on a basket. The two baskets are read as nb.tj, which means ‘The Two Ladies’, a reference to Nekhbet (vulture) and Uto (cobra), the patron goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt respectively.
The Nebti Name thus symbolises the country’s duality, its division into the narrow Nile Valley of Upper Egypt, and the Nile Delta of Lower Egypt, yet at the same time, it promotes the King as the one who guarantees the unity of the country.
The earliest know certain occurrence of the Nebti Name as a royal title, is dated to the reign of Horus Den of the 1st Dynasty.
An earlier instance of the symbol of the Two Ladies found on the Naqada Label, dating from the reign of Horus Aha, is more likely to refer to a shrine dedicated to the two goddesses named 'The Two Ladies Endure' rather than to Menes, the semi-legendary King credited with uniting the Upper and Lower Egypt. This instance does, however, show that the concept of the Two Ladies as a symbol of both the dualism and the unity of Ancient Egypt, goes as far back as the early 1st Dynasty.
During most of the Early Dynastic Period the Nebti Name was frequently combined with the title nsw-bi.tj, which is often translated as 'King of Upper and Lower Egypt'. This has made some scholars think that originally, the Nebti element may have been part of the nsw-bi.tj title and that it only became a separate title during the Old Kingdom.
The meaning of the nsw-bi.tj title is discussed below, under Prenomen.
The Greek interpretation of the Nebti element as 'Lord of the Crowns' is secondary and perhaps the result of the temple scenes showing the two goddesses crowing the King.
Golden Falcon Name
The meaning of the third part of the royal titulary, the Golden Falcon Name is somewhat more disputed. It is introduced by a hieroglyphic group that represents the falcon god Horus perched on a symbol that usually represents "gold".
Based on the Greek equivalent of this title on the Rosetta Stone, which translates into English as 'superior to (his) foes', it has been proposed that the hieroglyphs symbolised Horus as victorious over Seth, 'the Ombite' (another possible reading of the hieroglyph on which the falcon is standing). This was, no doubt, the interpretation of Greek times, when the opposition between Horus and Seth was much more pronounced than in earlier times. For these earlier periods, however, the evidence may point in another direction.
If the Golden Falcon Name symbolised Horus’ victory over his enemy Seth, one might expect that the names following this group should be aggressive in nature, but most of the time, those names are far from being bellicose.
Both Kheops of the 4th Dynasty and Merenre of the 6th Dynasty have the title with two falcons over the "gold" sign. These two falcons are frequently used as a symbolic representation of the reconciled gods Horus and Seth. This contradicts the interpretation of the "gold" sign as a symbol of the vanquished god Seth.
In a context dealing with the titulary of Thutmosis III of the 18th Dynasty, that king says: "he (Amun) modelled me as a falcon of gold". Thutmosis III’s co-regent Hatshepsut calls herself 'the female Horus of fine gold'. The concept of the golden falcon can be definitely traced back to the 11th Dynasty. An inscription of the 12th Dynasty describes the Golden Falcon Name as the 'name of gold'.
The notion of gold is strongly linked to the notion of "eternity". The burial chamber in the royal tombs of the New Kingdom was often called the 'golden room' not (only) because it was stacked up with gold, but because it was there for eternity. The Golden Falcon Name may convey the same notion of eternity, expressing the wish that the king may be an eternal Horus.
The prenomen is the part of the titulary that follows the hieroglyphic group representing a papyrus plant and a bee, read as nsw-bi.tj. Although this group is usually translated as 'King of Upper and Lower Egypt', another reference to Egypt's geographical duality, it may originally have referred to the dual role of the King himself. The first part, nsw(.t), appears to refer more to the divine aspects of kingship, where the second part, bi.tj, seems to be connected more to the worldly responsibilities of the King. In time, however, the meaning of this title seems to have shifted towards a reference to the country's geographical duality.
The title first appeared before the Nebti Name (see above), during the reign of 1st Dynasty king Den. For most of the Early Dynastic Period, this title and the Nebti title were closely related and were often used together. Towards the end of the 3rd Dynasty, both titles seem to have started to live their own lives and the nsw bi.tj title, gaining in importance, was used to introduced a new element in the royal titulary: the prenomen.
It would eventually replace the Horus Name as most important official royal name.
The prenomen that followed the nsw bi.tj title from the end of the 3rd Dynasty on, was usually written in a cartouche: an oval ring fixed to a straight line, conveying the image of eternity.
The prenomen itself almost always contained the name of the god Ra. Typical examples are 'pleasing to the heart of Ra' (Amenemhat I) and 'lord of the cosmic order is Ra' (Amenhotep III). One of the first cases of Re as an element in a king’s name is with Khephren of the 4th Dynasty (Khaf-Ra).
The presence of the name of Ra in the prenomen indicates that this part of the title was given to the King when he ascended the throne and that it put him in a narrow relationship with the solar god.
The nomen is introduced by the epithet sA Ra 'son of Ra'. It was added to the royal titulary in the beginning of the 4th Dynasty. It was from that time on, that the royal titulary became established in the form discussed here.
Like the prenomen, the nomen was written in a cartouche. Several sources show that this name was often the King's name of birth. It is almost the equivalent of our family name, for the 11th Dynasty affect the names Antef and Mentuhotep, the 12th Dynasty the names Amenemhat and Sesostris, the 13th Dynasty shows several kings of the name Sebekhotep and the 18th Dynasty consists almost entirely of ruler named Amenhotep or Thutmosis.
From the later half of the Old Kingdom on, the principal name is the prenomen, and this is often found alone or accompanied only by the nomen.
Occasionally, one may find the name of a god or goddess in a cartouche. This was especially the case for Osiris-Onnophris and Isis in the temple inscriptions dated to the Greek-Roman Period.
Words and expressions related to kingship
Additions to the royal titles
In the prenomen, the nsw bi.tj title can sometimes be followed or even be replaced by the phrase nb tA.wj 'Lord of the Two Lands', a reference to the country's geographical duality.
A Queen can be called nb.t tA.wj, 'Mistress of the Two Lands', but only in the rare case where a Queen actively exercised kingly powers, did she get the title of nsw bi.tj. Thus nsw bi.tj and nb(.t) tA.wj were not completely interchangeable and the latter must be considered more an addition to the former rather than a synonym.
Sometimes, the phrase nTr nfr 'the good god' is placed before the prenomen or the nomen, as a confirmation of the divine and benign nature of the King. It can also be used independently in reference to the King.
Another title sometimes placed between 'son of Ra' and the actual nomen was nb xa.w 'lord of the apparitions'. This title again highlights the narrow link between the King and the sun: the King’s ascension to the throne is likened to the rising of the sun on the Eastern horizon.
The word normally used for 'King' was nsw. This is the same word that was used as part of the title nsw bi.tj, discussed above and at least in its origins, it appears to refer more to the divine aspects of Kingship than to the role of the King as a worldly leader. The word for kingship, nsjw.t, was derived from nsw.
We commonly refer to the kings of Ancient Egypt as 'Pharaohs'. This was in fact the word used by the Greeks and the Hebrews to denote the rulers of the Nile-country. This word is derived from the Egyptian pr-aA, 'the Great House', a word originally used to denote the palace or the court.
From the end of the 12th Dynasty onwards the health wish 'may it live, prosper and be in health' was often added when referring to 'the Great House' but still it seems to mean only the palace or the court.
The earliest certain instance where 'the Great House' actually refers to the King himself is in a letter to Amenhotep IV (Akhenaton), which is addressed to 'Pharaoh, may he live, prosper and be in health'.
From the 19th Dynasty onward it is used occasionally just as '' might be used. We read 'Pharaoh did such and such'. In other words the term has become a respectful designation for the King, just as 'the White House' sometimes refers to the person living in it rather than to the building itself.
The final development was when a proper name was added to the title, as in 'Pharaoh Hophra' of the Old Testament (Apries of the 26th Dynasty). The earliest known Egyptian example of this use is under one of the Shoshenks of the 22nd Dynasty.