Egyptian History

Early Dynastic Kings ( First Dynasty )

First Dynasty

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.

First Dynasty tombs

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.


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