- "There can be only one Ra."
Ra was the Goa'uld System Lord who personified the Egyptian sun god, and the first to discover the Tau'ri. His mate was Hathor, by whom he had a son, Heru'ur, and his brother was Apophis. His elite Jaffa were the Horus Guards. Because of his power, authority, and cunning, Ra was the most powerful of the System Lords. Despite the animosity System Lords feel for each other, Ra was recognized as the Supreme System Lord of the Goa'uld Empire, a title which made him nominal Emperor of the Goa'uld. It was because of this, and his supposed murder of Egeria, that the Tok'ra took their name, which literally means "against Ra". After some 10,000 years of despotic rule, Ra was finally killed by Colonel Jack O'Neill and Dr. Daniel Jackson, who ringed an enhanced nuclear warhead on board his ship after the Abydonians rebelled and he was forced from the planet. (Stargate, SG1: "Children of the Gods", "Thor's Chariot", "The Tok'ra, Part 1", "The Tok'ra, Part 2", "Cure")
First Goa'uld Dynasty
Nothing is known of Ra before he appeared in 22,000 BC at Apep's side, an underlord alongside Nut and Thoth, who was given ownership over a portion of Atok's territory and forces after his death at the hands of Apep. United under the rulership of Apep, Ra and his kind swept across the Milky Way galaxy like a plague, taking many worlds under their control and very nearly wiping out the Unas. It was during this time that Anubis grew in Apep's favor, eventually earning a place at his side and becoming his most trusted adviser. By 17,800 BC Apep's original sons and daughters, Ra among them, became jealous of Anubis for the favor he had with Apep.
It was perhaps only fitting that Anubis killed Apep, and that this very act caused the Goa'uld to do the one noble deed in their history; they banded their forces together in order to defeat Anubis. The battles raged for hundreds of years, very nearly decimating the Goa'uld themselves taking many Unas with them before Anubis was eventually defeated in 17,400 BC and banished by the Goa'uld collective. Ra instated himself as the new ruler of the Goa'uld Empire, reinstating the old order which had been put in place by Apep. It was at this time that Ra also banished Thoth for his creation of the unstable Sarcophagus, though Thoth's understudy Telchak remained.
To show his appreciation for her help in the fight against Anubis, Bastet was rewarded by Ra himself, who also introduced the former servants Osiris and Isis into the ranks of the underlords. To ensure that the Anubis incident could never happen again, Ra also dismantled the superweapon which had been Anubis's staplepoint in his attacks and divided the crystals which powered it amongst the remaining Goa'uld. It was then that the First Goa'uld Dynasty ended, making way for the second. (RPG: "Living Gods: Stargate System Lords")
Second Goa'uld Dynasty
With the Unas of P3X-888 in short supply and the Goa'uld symbiotes growing once more at a steady rate, Ra and the other Goa'uld were forced to push the limitations of their species. By 16,000 BC, Ra had managed to solidify his authority and appointed a new form of rulership to govern the Goa'uld and thus the System Lords were formed with Ra as the Supreme System Lord. Ra stated that entry into the body was awarded by a vote from the current members, creating a power system that served for thousands of years. Joining the first ranks of the System Lords were Osiris, Isis, Tiamat, and finally Yu who, at that time, was thought to be a progressive ruler. During this period, Ra also took Egeria as his queen, though others such as Hathor would later fill this position.
By 14,000 BC, the Goa'uld discovered small quantities of Naquadah which caused Ra to petition the System Lords for a new era of expansion, offering exclusive rights and access to the now dwindling Unas in exchange for shipments of the valuable material. Their attention diverted away from gaining power of their own, the System Lords set about exploration in order to gain more and more Naquadah. It was perhaps because of this expansionist nature that the Goa'uld ran afoul of the Asgard for the first time in 13,860 BC. Seeing the Goa'uld for what they were, the Asgard immediately declared themselves enemies of the System Lord collective and the Goa'uld responded in kind.
Relishing the opportunity to flex their muscles, the Goa'uld soon struck against the Asgard but it became apparent that they were more than a match for the stolen technology of the Goa'uld. The Goa'uld begrudgingly retreated and, having lost the co-ordinates for their homeplanet and thus their primary source for hosts, Ra once again called for stockpiles of Naquadah as well as putting an end to the ritual cannibalism which had been a part of Goa'uld society for generations. Nearly four thousand years later, with their resources running low, the System Lords performed a daring attack against both the Asgard and the Furlings which struck a resounding effect. Rather than winning the war, however, this simply caused the two races to fight back even harder and in the years that followed the Asgard dealt the Goa'uld many major setbacks, though strangely did not press the attack. Perhaps if they had known the danger that the Goa'uld would pose to the galaxy in years to come, the Asgard would have pushed harder.
Despite the lack of a head-on attack, many skirmishes and bloody battles raged on for several centuries and, somehow, Ra found himself leaving his Unas host in order to take the body of the Asgard Famrir. However, the Asgard physiology began to reject Ra. Worse, in 9,177 BC, he was injured in a battle with the Asgard. Fleeing his Asgard pursuers, Ra found a lush world in an alien system; Earth. It was there that he found the solution to the lack of hosts in a race of primitives who bowed to his divinity; the Tau'ri. Transferring himself into one of these primitives, Ra became infused with new vigor and life, soon discovering that they provided a near-ideal host for his race. Planting a Stargate which he had brought with him—the original remained undiscovered in the ice of Antarctica—Ra claimed Earth as his own. (RPG: "Living Gods: Stargate System Lords")
Ra quickly enslaved the Human race, using the Stargate to keep in contact with the other Goa'uld, and informing them of his new bounty. The System Lords soon fought amongst themselves for the right to claim some of the Tau'ri, but Ra instated a system which gave each System Lord stewardship in order for them to visit the planet and claim some followers who were taken to a world of the Goa'uld's choice to act as breeding stock. Ra also divided the planet into strict geographical lines to ensure that no System Lord would encroach upon another's territory—he, however, took place as the ruling god in several other cultures such as the Canaanites where he was known as El. Ra himself took some of his followers offworld to a planet known as Abydos where he used them as slaves to mine Naquadah for himself. (RPG: "Living Gods: Stargate System Lords")
Things seemed to be going well for Ra, as his ruling of the System Lords seemed to be working better than any before him. However, in 9,002 BC, Setesh managed to coax Osiris and Isis into attempting an assassination of Ra; this ended badly for the two as Ra stripped them of their titles and forcibly removed them from their hosts, putting them in canopic jars so that they could suffer for eternity. Because of this, Setesh went into hiding so that Ra could not take his vengeance on him. (SG1: "Seth", "The Curse")
It was soon after this, around 8,721 BC, that the renegade Anubis returned from his banishment at the head of a conquered army and came with the promise to eliminate the Asgard in exchange for absolute loyalty and control of the Goa'uld. Furious at such pomposity, Ra assembled his own army and rallied several other System Lords behind him in order to once again defeat Anubis. Despite his previous victory, most Goa'uld took this opportunity to either turn against Ra and join forces with Anubis or simply stand on the sidelines to see which ruler came out victorious. The end result was Anubis being defeated once again but, before Ra could deliver the final blow, Anubis made his escape through a Stargate from assistance within Ra's forces.
Having played on Ra's distraction, Sokar seized control of Earth before Ra could return and transformed it into a vision of hell, making clear his plans to seize Ra's position as Supreme System Lord. Furious, Ra threw Sokar off of Earth with the help of the other System Lords, most notably Cronus and Apophis. Sokar fled on a starship and, though his power was diminished, Sokar continued to battle against Ra and all of his followers— particularly Apophis. In 4,006 BC, Apophis dealt a critical blow to Sokar's forces which once again stabilized Ra's rule, though again Sokar survived and went back to rebuilding his forces.
Sometime before 3,000 BC, Ra populated the world of Seket-Hetep with slaves he had "rescued" to work for him. It quickly became one of his most dedicated religious centers but, a few decades after it was first colonized, it was cut off entirely from the Stargate network. Though Ra was no longer able to visit his people, their belief had already been built into their society and no word of the rebellion on Earth ever reached them so they continued to serve him for thousands of years. (RPG: "Living Gods: Stargate System Lords")
In the original timeline of Earth, the Tau'ri became aware of the truth behind the Goa'uld, learning that they were not in fact all-powerful gods but simply beings with advanced technology and so rose against their oppressors. Choosing the moment when the System Lords were at their most complacent— and indeed when Ra was overseeing his other territories— they overthrew their oppressors as well as the Jaffa guards, killing several on-planet Goa'uld and burying the Stargate. While the loss of the Tau'ri was a great affront to Ra, his continuing battles with the Asgard demanded more of his attention and so, as he had several other breeding planets, he simply let Earth be. (Stargate)
However, when SG-1 became trapped in 3,000 BC after traveling back in time to acquire a Zero Point Module from Ra, they tried to aid the Egyptians in overthrowing Ra, but Brigadier General Jack O'Neill, Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter and Teal'c were all executed and caused Ra to remove the Stargate when he fled the planet. However, a team comprising of an O'Neill, Carter and Teal'c from an alternative future arrived on the scene in 2,995 BC to make sure the Gate was buried in Giza so it could be discovered in 1928 as it was in the original timeline. (SG1: "Moebius, Part 2")
In 2492 BC, after the alternate SG-1 caught his attention by raiding Abydos for an immature symbiote for Teal'c and then going directly back to Earth, Ra returned in his Ha'tak to reconquer the planet. Ra initially regained full control over the area around the Stargate, but didn't expand further, apparently having left in such a rush he didn't take a full contingent of Jaffa with him. He was hampered by a rebellion led by both the alternate SG-1 and the real SG-1 who followed three rogue Tok'ra through time. While on Earth, Ra met Egeria who claimed to have been a Goa'uld trapped on Earth by the rebellion and was charmed by her, quickly trusting her and giving her a kara kesh. Eventually, what appeared to be the Ancients attacked his Ha'tak and Ra retreated to his ship to fight back. Ra figured out it was just a few Puddle Jumpers (two of which were the Time Jumpers and one was piloted by a descendant of the Ancients) and tried to steal the Stargate and leave. When the Jumper piloted by Doctor Carolyn Lam targeted the Pel'tak, Egeria used the distraction to blast Ra with a kara kesh, severely injuring him. She then had Teal'c injure him in the side with a staff weapon and claimed that the alternate Daniel Jackson had escaped and done so. With Ra injured, Egeria had him placed in the sarcophagus and took command of the Ha'tak, ordering a retreat to Abydos. Ra never returned for fear of admitting he screwed up to the other Goa'uld and potentially damaging his power. (Stargate SG-1: Moebius Squared)
After the rebellion
Word of this revolt somehow left the planet and made its way to the Goa'uld breeding ground of Dendera, most likely through a System Lord working against Ra, where the Goa'uld queen, Marasis, ruled in Ra's stead. The Humans living there had long embraced the thoughts of rebellion and so word of Earth's triumph sparked them into action, and soon Ra and Marasis's forces were overthrown, and the native Denderrans purged the Tomb of Ra of any Goa'uld influence, treating it as a holy place for their rebellion.
Because of Earth and Dendera's rebellion against him, Ra outlawed writing on all of his worlds and caused them to come to a technological standstill. On planets which were rich in Naquadah, Trinium, or other materials which he needed, Ra forced his subjects into slavery and mined the planets for everything they were worth. On some worlds, such as Abydos, he used only a handful of Jaffa and scare tactics to keep the local population in check while on other, more densely populated worlds he employed his massive armies as shock troops as well as intrusive police forces.
Despite this, Ra was known to richly reward those who served him well and commonly showered them with wealth and honors. However, any who went against him were treated to torture and death, as well as being forced to serve under him unconditionally. On most of his worlds, Ra's people would congregate in small cities where they would be allowed a degree of autonomy provided they did not rebel against him and as long as they continued to work in the mines to pay their tribute. Ra was known to have a select group of allies who he could trust to side with him in times of crisis, including his queen Hathor and his son, Heru'ur, who worked as his agent for several millennia while secretly plotting to overthrow him.
Having witnessed the stagnation of the Goa'uld for several millennia, as well as Ra's singular desire to wipe out the Asgard, the Queen Egeria spawned a legion of symbiotes in 1,002 BC which opposed the ways of Ra in order to change the balance of power. To add insult to injury, she even named her children the Tok'ra—literally meaning against Ra—and began her rebellion against the other Goa'uld. (SG1: "Crossroads", "Cure")
Ra's queen Hathor, one of the last Goa'uld who remained on Earth after the Stargate was buried, was later imprisoned in her tomb in 332 BC for all eternity. Luckily for her, the tomb had a Sarcophagus which kept her alive for thousands of years before she was freed by a team of archaeologists. (SG1: "Hathor").
Hundreds of years later, in 37 BC, the Goa'uld lost two key worlds as well as several other vital installations. Suspecting at first the Asgard, Ra later discovered that it had in fact been a traitor in his midst and so convened a meeting of the System Lords to deal with the situation. It was at this meeting that Egeria finally revealed her act of betrayal and so was sentenced to eternal damnation inside a stasis jar on Pangar, though she too was found thousands of years later and also freed. Because of this, Ra and the other Goa'uld outlined several new measures to keep the control of both Goa'uld queens and Naquadah in check.
Because of all these happenings during the course of Ra's rule, the System Lords under him once again went back to quarreling amongst themselves, threatening to undo all that Ra had worked towards when he tried to unify his race. Summarily, Ra singled out any of his enemies who had sided with Anubis in his last attempt at power and expelled them all from the ranks of the System Lords, bringing about the end of the Second Goa'uld Dynasty. Ra soon began to impose his will on the Goa'uld once more, attempting to regain the power he once had over ten thousand years ago and creating a new group of System Lords, this time incorporating Apophis, Ba'al, Bastet, Cronus, Morrigan, Olokun and Yu among others.
The Goa'uld once again went back to fighting the Asgard and, for the first time, started to make progress against their more advanced foe. Discovering that the Asgard's other allies had somehow disappeared, they kept pushing the battles on even after hearing of another threat which had emerged. It was in 257 AD, after yet another setback, that Ra once again instigated a new set of principles, this time demanding that the other Goa'uld acquiesce and laying out formal terms for the appropriation of Goa'uld larva, Jaffa, and the division of Naquadah. Due to the renewed threat of the Asgard, the other symbiotes accepted the terms and, for a time, learned to work together for the greater goal.
Sometime before Teal'c became Apophis' First Prime, Ra was at war with Apophis. They were battling over a planet and Ra appeared to be winning the battle but Apophis soon got the upper hand and decimated Ra's forces. For winning the battle, Bra'tac offered Teal'c to become his successor. This major loss may have led to Ra's downfall.
Ra's reliance on the Humans always puzzled the other System Lords, as he used them not only as servants, slaves, and religious leaders but also as warriors and even bodyguards. Indeed, by 1995, Ra's First Prime was Anubis, a Human who had been raised by the people of Abydos and turned into a vicious leader. He was often known to hand-pick Human warriors from the ranks of his armies—beings who other System Lords would treat as cannon fodder—and promote them to be senior officers in his military.
Nearly two thousand years later, the first team who traveled from Earth through the Stargate to Abydos encountered Ra. Realizing they were Tau'ri, he decided to send the nuclear warhead they brought back to Earth, enriched with Naquadah, which would cause an explosion one hundred times greater than originally intended. He also ordered Dr. Daniel Jackson to execute Colonel Jack O'Neill, Major Charles Kawalsky, and Major Louis Ferretti, lest the Abydonians doubt their "god", taking an amulet with his symbol that Catherine Langford gave Jackson. A group of youths, having learned the truth about Ra, helped the Tau'ri to escape. Jackson and Kawalsky encouraged the natives to rebel against Ra.The youths and the Tau'ri hijacked the Naquadah tribute being sent to Ra's mothership, and Ra ordered the warhead sent to Earth. At that point, the attack began. Confined to just their numbers, the battle began with the Horus Guards, easily overpowering them. Jackson also ringed aboard his mothership, hoping to revive a dead Sha're. Ra discovered them, and attempted to kill Jackson with his hand device. However, as this was going on O'Neill used the transportation rings to decapitate Ra's First Prime, which also took Jackson and Sha're off the ship (although not before Jackson stole back the amulet). Moments later, Kasuf and the rest of the Abydonians arrived en mass, rebelling against Ra. Believing Abydos lost, Ra took his ship into orbit. O'Neill had activated the warhead, but Ra had disabled the deactivation. Unable to stop the countdown, O'Neill and Jackson ringed the warhead aboard Ra's ship while it was orbiting the planet, destroying the ship and finally killing Ra. (Stargate)
Aftermath of Ra's death
After Ra's death, an unknown Goa'uld System Lord, later found to be Apophis—traveled to various worlds, including Earth, to find a suitable host for his mate. Many individuals, including Major General George S. Hammond, thought Apophis was actually Ra. This was disproven after Jackson finally figured out the differences between the two System Lords. (SG1: "Children of the Gods")
Many System Lords rose to great power in the vacuum caused by Ra's death; however, none had the sort of command over the others that Ra had held. The main ones that rose to power were Apophis (killed by SG-1 and the Replicators), Anubis (defeated once and for all by Oma Desala by engaging him in an eternal struggle) and Ba'al (killed by an alternate Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell after the fall of the System Lords).
During a mission shortly after meeting Aris Boch, SG-1 were tricked into participating in the Trial of Ra—a contest where those who sought to become particularly high-ranking servants of Ra competed in various trials across different planets as part of a scheme by Mat, Ra's mate, to kill them in revenge for Ra's death. During this quest, SG-1 learned that Ra was not a Goa'uld, but was another race entirely, their discoveries suggesting that Ra had some unspecified ties to the Ancients and Ascended beings. (SG1: "The Barque of Heaven")
In 2003, Anubis, who had managed to return a year before, traveled to Abydos in search of the Eye of Ra, one of the Eyes of the Goa'uld and a powerful power source for his superweapon. Daniel Jackson, who had Ascended, discovered that Ra had hidden it on Abydos and Anubis realized it too and attacked the planet. Eventually SG-1 found a secret chamber in the Abydos pyramid which Ra used as a treasure room. Among the treasures were the Eye of Ra in a secret compartment and the Lost City tablet that told the story of the Ancients and the existence of their Lost City. Anubis eventually got the Eye of Ra and destroyed Abydos, but SG-1 escaped with the tablet from Ra's collection and began their search for Atlantis. (SG1: "Full Circle")
Years later, another Goa'uld claiming to be Ra risen from the dead started his rise to power. Although he seemed to possess all the knowledge and talents of Ra, even going so far as to locate several hidden caches of resources hidden away by Ra, he was in fact simply the offspring of Ra and so contained his genetic memory. Despite this, he managed to draw many Jaffa to him, who truly believed he was the Sun God. (RPG: "System Lord Plot Hooks")
Though he managed to draw Serpent, Horus, and Jackal Guards to his side, it is unknown what happened to this Ra other than the fact that he did at least visit Abydos during the second year of the Stargate program where his Guards shot three of the Abydonians dead, injuring another. While this was taking place, Cassandra Fraiser was asking Daniel Jackson about the history of Ra, wanting to know about the legend that the Tau'ri had managed to defeat but having been unable to read the mission reports due to them being classified. Daniel proceeded to tell her what he knew of Ra's original rule on Earth, his subsequent retreat to Abydos and his ultimate death. Cassandra's only question at the end of the story was if Daniel was sure that Ra was killed in the explosion above Abydos. (SG1: "Ra Reborn Prequel")
- In an alternate reality visited by Daniel Jackson in 1998, Ra was likewise killed during the Abydos Mission, though it is unclear if his death occurred under the same circumstances as in the prime reality. His death indicated to the Goa'uld that the Tau'ri were a significant threat to them, resulting in Apophis' devastating attack on Earth in 1998. (SG1: "There But for the Grace of God")
- In an alternate timeline created by a time traveling SG-1, Ra was overthrown in the rebellion in 2995 BC but took the Stargate with him when he left. As a result, he was presumably still alive in the present of the timeline that it created as a team never traveled to Abydos. (SG1: "Moebius, Part 1")
- In an alternate timeline created by Ba'al in which Stargate Command never existed, Ra was one of many Goa'uld that allied under the banner of Lord Ba'al and fought against the resisting rebel System Lords. In 2008, he was promised a domain on Earth by the Sovereign Ba'al upon the successful conquest of the planet. (Stargate: Continuum)
- In an alternate timeline, Ra invaded Earth in 1947 with the help of Qetesh and her First Prime Cameron Mitchell. Using Mitchell and Qetesh's host Vala's knowledge of Earth, Ra's invasion was a success, but he had no idea Qetesh planned to assassinate him with Earth's atomic bombs and take control of his empire. He was killed when SG-1 with the help of the Asgard An beamed an atomic bomb on his ship shortly after they destroyed Qestesh and her ship the same way, killing him. (Stargate SG-1: Roswell)
Like all Goa'uld, Ra was arrogant, egotistical, and overconfident. He was apparently convinced that he was absolutely invincible, and never seemed to fear any possible threat (which would be his ultimate downfall).
Even for a Goa'uld, Ra was very egotistical, a consequence of being in such a great position of power for so long. He was shown as not being very self-aware, seldom bringing changes.
Despite his arrogance, Ra was a keen planner, and seemed to have a better understanding of the human psyche than other System Lords. This is possibly the reason his closest servants were children, and the way he had them shield him (knowing that someone would not normally fire upon children). Ra was also ruthless and didn't tolerate failure or insubordination. In contrast to his confidence, Ra was also rather paranoid and recognized that steps needed to be taken to ensure that the Tau'ri were not given a chance to rebel. When the possibility that his divinity could be challenged or doubted, he would react ruthlessly, killing innocent people to reaffirm his authority. He outlawed reading and writing, fearing (perhaps correctly) that literacy and spread of knowledge would threaten his reign.
He held the Tau'ri in little regard, seeing them as little more than tools for him to manipulate as he saw fit. Ra also apparently seemed to see his soldiers as pawns, made evident when he put his children slaves in danger. Ra cared nothing for innocent people, slaughtering them without hesitation and attempting to wipe out a massive number of Tau'ri in one fell swoop.
Ra's relationship with the System Lords is unknown. However, seeing as the System Lords recognized him as the strongest among them, it can be assumed that they had at least a somewhat, albeit grudging, respect for him.
Behind the scenes
Ra was created by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin for the 1994 movie, Stargate. The character was based on the sun god from Egyptian mythology. Ra was portrayed in the film by Jaye Davidson. However, the masked Ra was not played by Davidson as the mask was extremely heavy and was therefore worn by a stuntman. This also allowed Davidson to not have to appear on location since Ra is masked in the only scene in which he appears outdoors.
The late Sir John Gielgud was considered for the role of Ra.
In the film, Ra's true form bears no resemblance whatsoever to a Goa'uld, as their nature as a serpent-like parasites was created for the series. The change was completely ignored for the series, but a few authors attempted to provide explanations in expanded universe materials. One explanation is put forward in Stargate SG-1: The Barque of Heaven, where it is suggested that Ra was not actually a Goa'uld, but a member of an unidentified race with some connection to the Ancients, explaining his unusual power and abilities compared to traditional Goa'uld. An RPG source suggested that Ra successfully took an Asgard, Famrir, as a host, but Asgard biology proved incompatible with the symbiote.
Although Ra was mentioned many times throughout Stargate SG-1, he was never seen in the flesh until the two-part finale of season 8, "Moebius, Part 1" and "Moebius, Part 2," in which SG-1 travel back to 3000 BC - even then he only appeared in masked form, played by Jay Williams. Ra finally appeared again, this time unmasked, in the DVD movie Stargate: Continuum, again played by Williams - Ra appears in one scene, alongside the other Goa'uld System Lords, and has only one line of dialog ("Yes my lord.").
Jaye Davidson despised the costumes he wore so much, on the last day of shooting his scenes, after hearing the final "cut", he stripped naked on the set without going to his trailer. Moreover, Davidson retired from acting after completion of this film. He has only appeared in one film since, and that was five years later. He disliked the attention he received after The Crying Game (1992) making him reluctant to take the role of Ra in Stargate (1994). He didn't want to just turn the offer down so he made what he expected to be an unacceptable demand of $1 million. This was accepted and he appeared.