Modern technology has done a lot to aid in our understanding of the past; from DNA tests to satellite imagery to audio engineering, scholars and non-scholars alike can explore what life was like for our ancestors and how they continue to impact the world around us. Through the shared efforts of archaeologists, forensic scientists, and graphic artists, we've gained a better understanding of individuals and produced facial reconstructions of historical figures. But bringing history alive isn't always easy, especially when there's a paucity of historical evidence with which to work.
Luckily, ancient Egyptian mummification methods offer unique insights into the faces of famous pharaohs. Using skeletons and masks, alongside an extensive understanding of daily life in ancient Egypt, professionals across disciplines are bringing new life to some of the best-known rulers who have ever lived.
Lived: unknown - c. 1336 BCE
Ruled: c. 1353 BCE - c. 1336 BCE
Egyptologist Donald Redford described Akhenaten as "a man deemed ugly by the accepted standards of the day, secluded in the palace in his minority, certainly close to his mother, possibly ignored by his father, outshone by his brother and sister, unsure of himself."
Known as Amenhotep IV before changing his name - and the religion of his kingdom - Akhenaten was supposedly deformed, exhibiting features of Marfan syndrome, including long extremities and facial features. He may have also suffered from Klinefelter syndrome, a genetic condition that causes larger breasts in men.
Other scholars speculate he had Fröhlich's syndrome which causes large thighs and a big head. The feminine and oddly proportioned features Akhenaten has in works of art could be attributed to these disorders, or it may reflect the religious, political, and cultural shift closely associated with his reign.
Lived: c. 1481 BCE - 1426 BCE
Ruled: c. 1479 BCE - 1426 BCE
When Egyptologist Gaston Maspero saw the body of Thutmose III, he lamented its poor condition, but he commented:
Happily the face... appeared intact when the protecting mask was removed. Its appearance does not answer to our ideal of the conqueror. His statues, though not representing him as a type of manly beauty, yet give him refined, intelligent features, but a comparison with the mummy shows that the artists have idealized their model. The forehead is abnormally low, the eyes deeply sunk, the jaw heavy, the lips thick, and the [cheekbones] extremely prominent; the whole recalling the physiognomy of Thûtmosis II, though with a greater show of energy.
While there is no mention of his facial features, scholars speculate Thutmose III suffered from a skin disease which caused small, scabrous pox, which also afflicted his father, Thutmose II.
Lived: unknown - c. 1155 BCE
Ruled: c. 1186 BCE - c. 1155 BCE
Ramesses III's sculptures depict him with a broad face and sturdy legs, but the busts and statues of Ramesses III may not give a good representation of how he looked. Many of his figures resemble those of Amenhotep III, only "somewhat reworked around the eyes," leading scholars to believe the statues represent the sculptor's limited style rather than an honest depiction.
Ramesses III's mummy was uncovered, but due to his unnatural passing, historians have focused more on his slaying during a royal coup than his looks.
Lived: unknown - c. 2466 BCE
Ruled: c. 2575 BCE - c. 2465 BCE (or c. 2470 - 2447 BCE)
Famously depicted on the Great Pyramid at Giza, Khufu - called Cheops in Greek - is shown in sculpture and inscription sitting upon his throne wearing a crown; but it was his personality that got the attention of Herodotus.
According to the 5th century BCE writer, Khufu was greedy, and when he became king, he "brought [the Egyptian people] to every kind of evil." It was said he forbade people from worshipping in the temples, forced terrible conditions on the laborers building the Great Pyramid, and had his daughter demand money from those laborers.