Pharaohs of the Sun by Guy De La Bédoyère

Reviewed by Richard Tutin

Ancient Egypt has held its fascination despite the passage of time. In fact, this fascination has increased as we move through the twenty-first century. While we like to think that Queen Cleopatra is probably the most remembered Egyptian monarch, she is eclipsed by a predecessor whose name has been on people’s lips since his tomb was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. Though one of the last pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty, he is the one whose name is remembered by more people even though his reign was very short. I refer to Tutankhamun.

Guy De La Bédoyère’s aim in this book is to show how Tutankhamun’s life and reign was shaped by the decisions and actions of his predecessors. Each Pharaoh during the two hundred and fifty years of the 18th Dynasty’s existence added their contribution to the way in which it progressed, reached its pinnacle, and then gradually faded away as the government of Egypt moved on into the next Era.

De La Bédoyère offers us very detailed chapters about the lives of the individual dynastic pharaohs. As he says, painting a clear picture of Egypt between 1550BC and 1295BC can be very difficult. Buildings and writings associated with this period have not survived well. Erosion, physical destruction and desecration have all left their mark. It is surprising that Egypt has any monuments of the period left to be explored and examined. Succeeding pharaohs and their officials added to the confusion by appropriating tombs and buildings for their own use. They also, from time to time, erased the hieroglyphic stories and memories of their predecessors in order to give their achievements more stature. Their recycling efforts are on a par with the modern desire to repurpose buildings and other resources as much as possible.

Perhaps the greatest influence on Tutankhamun was the reign of his father Akhenaten whose nine years on the throne tried to change the power and religious structures that had held Egypt together for centuries. Tutankhamun’s ascent to power can be seen as an attempt to return Egypt to its long-standing traditions and power sharing arrangements. It is unfortunate that he had no heir to succeed him when he died in 1327BC. It was not long after his death that the 18th Dynasty faded away and the 19th Dynasty began with the accession to the throne of Ramesses I.

One of the striking elements in this book is the lack of reference to ordinary life in Egypt at the time. The focus and spotlight are on the Pharaohs who went to great lengths to promote themselves and their achievements but had little regard for the lives and sufferings of the people whom they ruled. Life in Egypt would have been very hard because of the self-centred attitude and actions of those in power. De La Bédoyère’s attention to detail and ability to bring disparate facts and thoughts together make this a handy reference book for those seeking information on this period in the history of Ancient Egypt.

Guy De La Bédoyère has written a large number of books on the Roman world over the past thirty years, most recently Praetorian: The Rise and Fall of Rome’s Imperial Bodyguard. He was part of Channel 4’s archaeology series Time Team for fifteen years. He has degrees from Durham, London and University College. He has lectured in Britain and abroad, mainly Australia, and is an accredited lecturer of the Arts Society.

Pharaohs of the Sun

[2022]

by Guy De La Bédoyère

Little, Brown

ISBN 978 140871 424 9

$34.99; 547pp

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