During the Predynastic period of Egyptian history, the Upper Egyptian town of Nekhen or Hierakonpolis, dedicated to the ancient god Horus, may have been a center of regional power. There, in the archaeological season of 1897-98, J.E. Quibell and his associate F.W. Green, uncovered a fragmented, and incomplete, macehead. Maceheads are among the earliest symbols of ancient royal power in Egypt, and throughout its Pharaonic history, were included in relief carvings as the weapon used by the king to smite Egypt’s enemies. This macehead is larger in size than the one attributed to King Narmer.
Because of the carvings on the Scorpion macehead, it has been attributed to a chieftain or king, named Scorpion. While even at this early period some kingly names such as those of “Ka” and “Crocodile” appear within a serekh—and the serekh continued to hold the king’s names through the first several recorded dynasties, Scorpion’s name, as indicated by a figure of a scorpion, never appears within a serekh.
The macehead, now in the Ashmolean Museum in Britain, depicts a man wearing the now familiar white crown of Upper Egypt. Clothed in ritual dress, with a bull’s tail hanging from the back of his belt, the chieftain towers over his attendants. He seems to be performing a ceremony using a hoe, perhaps for farming, or breaking ground for a temple or city.
Narmer: According to Manetho, who compiled the dynastic history during the Ptolemaic period of Egypt, King Menes unified Upper and Lower Egypt. It is possible that Narmer and Menes were one and the same, which would make Narmer the first king of Egypt. It may also be possible that Menes and Aha (perhaps the son and heir of Narmer) were one and the same.
Menes is known from the Abydos and Turin king lists, and Narmer’s name appears first on a seal impression that lists the first kings and Meryneith. In addition, an ivory label, found in the Naqada tomb of Queen Neithotep, bears the name Meni, also perhaps indicating Narmer was Menes.
Narmer’s most familiar monuments are a large two-sided palette and a macehead, smaller in size than the one attributed to Scorpion. Both palette and macehead contain Narmer’s name in rebus. The palette rests in the Cairo Museum, while the macehead rests at the Ashmolean at Oxford in the United Kingdom.
The Narmer Palette was discovered by J.E. Quibell at Hierakonpolis in 1897-98. On one-side, it depicts Narmer wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt, smiting an enemy. On the reverse side, he is depicted wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt, inspecting rows of decapitated enemies. Since he wears the crowns of each of the Two Lands, this seems to bear out that he reigned over a united Egypt.
The Narmer macehead was also discovered at Hierakonpolis. The scene it depicts has been interpreted in three differing ways. Petrie and others think the scene depicts a political marriage between Neithotep, a princess from Lower Egypt, with Narmer from Upper Egypt. Whatever the circumstance of a royal wedding, Neithotep’s grave was found at Naqada in Upper Egypt. Within it was found an ivory label, which includes the name Aha and Men—father and son, perhaps. Other scholars think the macehead scene depicts a celebration by Narmer of his military conquest of Lower Egypt. The third theory regards the macehead as commemorating a royal jubilee, or Sed-festival. Most recently, new studies of the macehead result in a theory that the scenes are not commemorative of any event, but instead, are simply representations of year-names. The king’s figure sits under a canopy on a high dais. He is robed in a long cloak, holds the flail, and wears the Red Crown. He is attended by fan-bearers, body-guards, and an official who could be a vizier. Three men race towards him, and others above them carry standards. A cloaked figure sits in an enclosure facing the king.
The serekh of Narmer’s name has been found on pottery from the east Delta, carved into the rocks on the trade route from Coptos to Quseir, and in Palestine at several locations. While no specific evidence has been found anywhere of any military action under Narmer, it seems apparent that trade relations continue throughout the region.
Aha: Manetho records this king’s name as Athothis. Aha is known from both the Abydos king list and from the Palermo Stone. His name is translated as “the fighter.” Manetho records that Aha built his palace at Mennefer/Memphis in Lower Egypt. Yet he seems to have followed the custom of his predecessors and was buried at Abydos. A subsidiary tomb contained objects bearing the name of Benerib-translated as “sweet of heart”-which may refer to his wife. An ebony label found at Abydos may record an expedition against the Nubians, yet thus far his name has not been discovered outside the Nile valley.
Djer: Manetho records this king’s name as Kenkenes. Djer’s name may translate to “Horus Who Nurtures.” He was apparently remembered millenia later as something of a physician, as Manetho claimed that he wrote about anatomy and the treatment of diesases. A treatment for hair strengthening has been attributed to Djer.
His mother may have been named Khenthap, perhaps another wife of Aha. Khenthap is known from the Cairo Annals Stone dated to the Old Kingdom. Whether or not he was son, he became king after Aha. Djer ruled a long time, as he celebrated at least one Sed-festival around his 30th regnal year, indicated in a seal impression from his tomb depicting him wearing the ritual robe and the two crowns.
His consorts may have been named Herneith and Nakhtneith. The tomb at Saqqara attributed to Herneith contained items bearing Djer’s name. Nakhtneith was buried in a subsidiary grave in his funerary complex at Abydos.
Djer’s reign must have known some prosperity. This tomb is larger in size than either tombs attributed to Aha or Narmer. Surrounding his tomb were over 300 subsidiary burials of courtiers, artists and women—all who seem to have been sacrificed to serve the king in the afterlife.
A wealth of copper tools, vessels and weapons were found buried in a great mastaba at Saqqara which is dated to his reign, and some turquoise jewelry was found in his own tomb. Both finds indicate trade with Sinai. Pottery jugs and vases containing wine and oil, all of Palestinian origin, were also found in his tomb. But for all that, Djer’s name, like that of Aha, has not yet been found outside Egypt.
Djet: Manetho records this king’s name as Uenephes. Djet’s name has also been transliterated as Zet, or Wadji. An inscription cut in the rocks in the western desert south of Edfu shows the usual djt sign in the serekh, but accompanied by the wdjet sign as well. The Horus-falcon that is generally depicted atop these serekhs, in this case, reportedly wears the double crown, making it then the earliest known depiction of this particular iconography.
Djet may have reigned for only a short time, less than twenty years. One high official, named Amka, apparently began his career under Djer, and continued through into the early part of Den’s reign. Djet’s familiar funerary stela, bearing the glyph of his name, rests in the Louvre.
There is no direct evidence for a specific wife of Djet. But a woman named Merytneith (A) was buried in a tomb containing material bearing the names of Djer, Djet and Den. Both Baker and Shaw list her in the kingly chronology, after Den.
Den: Manetho records this king’s name as Usaphaedos. Den, also written as Udimu, is the Horus who Strikes. His throne name or nsw-bity name was Semti (which is written with the sign for high desert, or foreign land-perhaps reflecting his preoccupation with the northern frontier.. This is the first recorded use of this royal title, which is usually translated as King of the sedge and bee, or Upper and Lower Egypt.
Den was the son of Meryneith and most likely the son and heir of Djet. Meryneith is thought to have reigned as regent until he reached majority. Manetho gives Den a reign of 20 years, yet he celebrated two Sed Festivals, so other estimates have him reigning as long as 40-45 years. This seems reasonable, as many examples of foreign trade goods discovered dated to his reign indicate expansion into Asia. Fragments of the Palermo Stone also indicate military activity, with references to “smiting” various peoples and lands, possibly in Syria and Palestine. Like Djer, a prescription attributed to Den is recorded in the Ebers medical papyrus.
More than 120 subsidiary burials surrounded Den’s tomb at Abydos. Four stelae from that cemetery are believed to belong to his spouses. The names of three are thought to be Semat, Serethor and Seshemetka. Den’s chancellor or head of the treasury, and seal-bearer, was a man named Hemaka, who is known from his rich tomb discovered by Emery at Saqqara (further indication of the prosperity of this reign). Among the artifacts discovered therein were inlaid gaming discs and a circular wooden box, containing the oldest papyrus to survive from Egypt. Den’s own tomb possessed a granite pavement, and its wooden roof was supported by granite blocks.
Merneith: Both Baker and the OHAE list Merneith in the kingly order after Den. Neither O’Connor/Silverman nor Dodson/Hilton list her at all. Manetho also omits her name from his record.
Merytneith, meaning “Beloved of Neith” seems to have taken the throne, either ruling alone for a time, or as regent for her son Den while he was a child (assuming she was Djet’s consort). Her tomb at Abydos contains material bearing the names of Djer, Djet and Den. Her stelae from there which bears her name now rests in the Cairo Museum. Her name-signs appear on the Palermo Stone and on a clay seal impression, which lists the kings from Narmer to Den, including her with the epithet King’s Mother. Oddly, a later necropolis seal apparently belonging to Qa’a, the last king of this first dynasty, omitted her name from the list of kings. While her tomb and stela were much like those of the contemporary kings, her name was never written within a serekh. Perhaps her status was uncertain even in her time. Perhaps she was honored with the burial at the Umm el Qa’ab cemetery because she was a King’s Mother who was needed to reign until the prince came of age.
Anedjib: Manetho records his name as Miebidos. Andjib, translated as “safe is his heart,” is known from the Abydos and Saqqara king lists, the Palermo Stone, and the Turin Canon. The Saqqara king list, now in the Cairo Museum, was found in the tomb of the Royal Scribe Thunery. Its list begins with Anjib and ends with Ramesses II. On the Saqqara king list Andjib is specifically referred to as a king of the Thinite region and named the first king of united Egypt-perhaps indicating a time of some strife again between Upper and Lower Egypt.
A series of inscribed stone vessels found in the galleries beneath the Step Pyramid at Saqqara contained the sequence of kings from Den to Qa’a, including the name of Andjib. His name also appears on the necropolis sealing of Qa’a and thus there is no doubt that Andjib succeeded Den and preceded Qa’a. It is not known if he was a direct descendant of Den, or, if not, from whence he was able to become king.
While his tomb was surrounded by the usual group of subsidiary burials like his predecessors, it was small, and poorly constructed. Elite tombs during his reign were better constructed. One example is Tomb #3038 at Saqqara, built as an eight-stepped structure for a high official named Nebitka, and is notable for that reason. Tomb 1371 H.2 at Helwan is also of superior construction. Yet Andjib reigned long enough to apparently celebrate a Sed-festival, as indicated by two stone vessel fragments, one from Saqqara and the other from Abydos. Yet his name also has been found at only three sites in Egypt: Saqqara, Helwan and Abydos, and possibly at En Besor.
Semerkhet: Manetho records this name as Semempses. Semerkhet’s nomen is Iri-netjer, meaning “priestly figure.” He is known to be the successor to Andjib from the inscribed stone vessels found beneath the Third Dynasty Step Pyramid. He may have reigned only little more than 8 years. However, the legitimacy of his reign sparks some question. His reign is preserved in entirety on a Cairo Fragment of the Palermo Stone. This fragment names his mother as Baterytes, or Betrest, but does not name his father, although he may have been a son of Andjib.
Since his tomb contained a number of stone vessels that were initially inscribed for Andjib, but then re-inscribed for Semerkhet. This has suggested to some scholars that Semerkhet was in fact a usurper to the throne. Manetho wrote that during his reign, a very great calamity befell Egypt. Yet Semerkhet’s name appearing in proper order of succession on the stone vessels from the Step Pyramid and on Qa’as sealing seem to belie that theory. While his complete reign is on the Cairo Fragment, the events recorded at only ceremonies of kingship. Trade and military activity seem to have declined during this time. His is also the first reign where no elite tombs were built at Saqqara, yet that could be understandable if he reigned for such a short time.
Qa’a: Manetho records this name as Bienekhes. Qaa’s name means “his arm is raised.” The first year of Qaa’s 26-year reign is known from the Cairo Fragment of the royal annals. He made a royal progress through the land, and collected timber for the royal workshops. He officiated in various religious cult festivals and celebrated two Sed-Festivals.
Along with sealings and labels from Saqqara, Helwan and Abydos, Qaa’s name also appears in rock-cut inscriptions at the Wadi Hellal near Elkab in Upper Egypt. An ivory gaming rod found in his tomb also suggests farther contacts, as it depicts a bound Asiatic captive. Trade apparently continued between Egypt and Syro-Palestine at this time. One elite tomb at North Saqqara, mastaba S3505, dates from Qaa’s reign and belongs to a man named Merka. He bears the most extensive list of titles, administrative, religious, and courtly, by any single person during this period. He may have been a member of the royal family, although his specific connection in that regard is unknown.
End of First Dynasty
While Qaa is considered canonically to be the last king of the first Dynasty, two ephemeral kings—called Ba, and Seneferka– must be referenced herein, if only to highlight the possibilities of ongoing debate when history or evidence thereof is misty and uncertain.
Neither O’Connor/Silverman, nor Dodson/Hilton, nor the OHAE, nor Manetho, refer to either king. Baker and Wilkinson both discuss them, as does Francesco Raffaele on his website. Kim Ryholt also wrote an article on Sneferka in 2000 for the Journal of Egyptian History.
Neither Ba, nor Seneferka, appears on any later king lists. If they existed at all, if they were usurpers, perhaps their record was expunged. But while theories are fun to conjure, and Egypt is certainly a place to inspire many theories of all kinds—a closer look at what is currently known is reasonable—and perhaps more interesting.
Ba, whose name-sign is written with the bird, is attested only once, on a stone vessel fragment from the Step Pyramid. The inscription is similar to known inscriptions for Qaa, so the vessel may have been inscribed originally for Qaa but then taken over by a successor, the otherwise ephemeral Ba.
The second name is Seneferka. This name is attested twice: once, on a fragment of siltstone found in the surface debris of the elite cemetery at North Saqqara, and again on a similar plate in the Step Pyramid. On this second piece, the serekh was carved over a partially erased serekh of Qaa. This does not necessarily mean Sneferka immediately succeeded Qaa, as was supposed by Emery. Since it was found on the surface, not within a tomb or other structure, the fragment cannot be properly used for dating purpose. It was also suggested by Lacau and Lauer, and also mentioned by Wilkinson, that perhaps Qaa simply took Sneferka as an alternate Horus name for a short time. Certainly, sealings of Hetepsekhemwy in Qaa’s tomb suggest a smooth transition between 1st and 2nd dynasties—Qaa may have in fact been interred directly by Hetepsekhemwy.
Ryholt alternately offers that Seneferka is simply a king also named Neferkara, who is named on the Turin, Saqqara and Abydos king lists as belonging to the second dynasty after Weneg and Sened. The Turin King list contains a partial entry for the late 2nd Dynasty, Ryholt writes, for a king named at least in part, neferka. The name was only partially copied by the ancient scribe and omits the initial part of the prenomen. Both the Saqqara and Abydos lists record the king’s name as Neferka. Ryholt posits that the correct record in the Turin list should be emended to read nfr-ka, or even Neferkare, either way, making that king one and the same with Seneferka. Neferkare is included in the king-list tradition but not by contemporary sources, and Sneferka is attested in contemporary sources but not included in the king-list—making the two one and the same would remove this problem. Sneferka would then belong toward the end of the Second Dynasty, and that, perhaps, he became king when he was already elderly.
Raffaele offers the possibility (also apparently offered by Dodson in a separate article that currently I do not have) that, despite the idea that Hetepsekhemwy interred Qaa as his immediate successor, it is still possible that Seneferka and Ba (and a third king called Sekhet) may have reigned, albeit briefly, after Qaa. This would not have precluded Hetepsekhemwy from performing any funerary commemoration.
Hetepsekhemwy: Manetho is credited with organizing the kings into dynasties. He recorded this king’s name as Bokchos or Boethos (his nomen can be transliterated as Bedjau) and gives him a reign of 38 years.. There seems to be little doubt that Hetepsekhemwy succeeded to the throne after Qa’a. According to jar sealings, he was involved in the burial (or at least commemorating the funeral of) his predecessor, as was the responsibility of the successor to the throne. He may not, however, have been Qaa’s son, hence the start of a new dynasty according to Manetho. Hetepsekhemwy’s name translates as “The Two Powers are at Peace,” which may refer to some social, or political, problem which he had to overcome. Some of the royal tombs at Abydos were robbed and burned at about this period. Perhaps a usurper attempted to, or actually did, take over power even briefly and Hetepsekhemwy had to quell the rebellion. See the above discussion about the ephemeral king Seneferka for more on this theory.
His tome at Saqqara (not at Abydos) was discovered in 1901. It contained many jar-sealings bearing his name as the tomb’s owner, and numerous jar-sealing of Nebra who was his successor. Apparently his tomb has not been extensively studied; and moreover, it is not known if his body lies therein.
Hetepsekhemwy’s name appears on inscribed stone vessels from the Step Pramid, on two inscribed stone bowls found in the pyramid complex of 4th dynasty king Menkaure, and on stone vessel fragments from the Abydos tombs of 2nd dynasty rulers Peribsen and Khasekhemwy. An alabaster vessel fragment found in an Early Dynastic-period grave at Badari is inscribed with his serekh, the name of an estate, and the title of a mortuary priest. The most important place wherein his name appears is on a pink granite statue of a priest named Hotepdief, who apparently was responsible for the mortuary cults of Hetepsekhemwy and his two immediate successors, Nebra and Nynetjer. The names of all three kings are inscribed on the statue, in order.
Nebra: Manetho records his name as Kaiechos or Khoos (his nomen can actually be transliterated as Kakau) and gives him a reign of 39 years. Nebra’s tomb has not yet been discovered, although it is likely at Saqqara, probably south of the Step Pyramid complex near the tombs of Hetepsekhemwy and Nynetjer. A funerary stelae bearing his name sign in serekh now rests in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. It is noted that his name has also been written as Raneb, because the sign that could represent the god Ra is written first. But in honorific transcription that does not require that the god’s name precede the rest of the name. It also does not require that the form Nebra then requires that “ra” simply denote the sun, rather than the god.
A hoard of jar-sealings with Nebra’s name was found in the tomb of Hetepsekhemwy, which again seem to indicate his involvement in the funerary arrangements for his royal predecessor. Nebra may also have simply appropriated the tomb for himself. His name also appears on stone vessels from the Step Pyramid complex (one bears the serekh of Nynetjer but refers to an estate of Nebra). Evidence of his reign does not extend much beyond the Memphis area. A stone bowl from Peribsen’s tomb at Abydos was originally inscribed with the name of Nebra’s palace, but was erased and replaced with the name of Nynetjer. It might be mentioned right here that it is not necessary to read too much into the tendency to “usurp” items already inscribed by previous kings. As will be noted in the New Kingdom, this was done, perhaps as a matter of course and may signify nothing at all.
The name “Nebnefer” is attributed by some scholars like Edwards, Gardiner and von Beckerath to be the nws-bity part of Nebra’s titular, but there is no evidence to support this. Nubnefer is known from fragments of two schist bowls from the Step Pyramid, which bear the inscriptions King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nebnefer, and the Mansion Enduring of Life. That does of course still leave a question as to what king the inscription refers.
Manetho records his name as Binothris or Biophis. His nomen is translatered at Banetjern. He is considered one of the best known kings of Dynasty 2, and considering the extent of knowledge of the others that is not saying much. The entire fourth register of the Palermo Stone is devoted to 16 years of his reign, and another 9 years comes from the Cairo Fragment. Since a stone vessel from the Step Pyramid indicates a 17th
occasion of the biennial cattle count, he ruled at least 34 years and may have ruled for about 40 in total. An otherwise unprovenanced alabaster statuette in the George Michailides Collection shows him wearing the Heb-Sed festival robe. This statuette is the earliest identifiable example of three-dimensional royal statuary from Egypt.
Nynetjer’s tomb was discovered at Saqqara near the tomb of Hetepsekhemwy. Although it was sealed, it was entered at some time in the past and used as a cache for Late Period mummies and mummy cases. His name is not much attested to outside the Memphis area, leading some scholars to theorize that the earlier 2nd Dynasty kings were all centered in Lower Egypt, and that this led to a dynastic struggle. But there is no other evidence to support any such chaos.
[…]: NB the break here is from Baker. He names Peribsen among his list of five “unplaced” kings, fourth after Neferkare, Neferkaseker, Nebnefer, and just before Sened, all before Khasekhemwy. Dodson/Hilton and the OHAE include Weneg and Sened as Kings 3 and 4, then Peribsen, then Khasekhemwy. O’Connor/Silverman exclude Weneg and Sened.
[Nebka acc OHAE] [O’Connor/Silverman posits him the same as Sanakht]
Djoser Netjerkikhet (first king for Baker)
Sanakht [OHAE and Wilkinson place him (and Nebka, for W.) possibly after Khaba]
Sekhemkhet [OHAE, Baker, and Wilkinson place him after Djoser. Baker then shows a gap.]
Wilkinson names a king Qahedjet after Huni. Baker considers Qahedjet, Sanakht and Sedjes all as unplaced kings.