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Ancient Egypt | The First Pharaohs


 

DW | Ancient Egypt

03 – The First Pharaohs

 
 

Prior to unification, the land was divided into two distinct regions, known as Upper Egypt in the south and Lower Egypt in the north. Each region had its own distinctive culture, administrative systems, and rulers. These kings each had a crown – a symbol of royal power. In the south (in Upper Egypt), it was white and conical in shape. In the north (in Lower Egypt), it was red and shorter, with a peak at the back.


What is interesting to note is that no crown has ever been found for the two kingdoms. Archaeologist Bob Brier speculates that these royal crowns were the 'one thing' that the pharaoh couldn't take with them into the afterlife. These crowns become one once the two kingdoms are unified, resulting in the crowns being worn together with the Red Crown in front of the White Crown.


The unification of these kingdoms brought together the strengths of both regions, leading to the birth of a united Egyptian state.

 
 

3.1 - Pharaoh Narmer (c. 3100 BC)

 

Among the notable figures who played a pivotal role in unifying Egypt was Pharaoh Narmer, whose reign in the early dynastic period set the stage for the rise of a powerful and enduring civilization. Also known as Menes, Pharaoh Narmer is considered one of the earliest known rulers of ancient Egypt, his reign beginning at a date estimated around 3100 BC. His name means "stinging or fierce catfish".


Pharaoh Narmer hailed from the south, specifically from the city of Thinis. The Narmer Palette, a significant archaeological artifact, depicts Narmer as a powerful and authoritative figure, wearing the crowns of both Upper and Lower Egypt. This symbolized his dominion over the entire land.


Pharaoh Narmer's unification efforts were not confined to military conquest alone. He implemented various strategies to solidify his authority and foster unity. This included establishing administrative centers, appointing loyal officials, and promoting a sense of shared identity through religious and cultural practices. His actions laid the foundation for a centralized government and a standardized religious and bureaucratic system that persisted throughout Egyptian history. This centralization also facilitated long-distance trade, promoted economic growth, and contributed to the flourishing of art, architecture, and literature.


Furthermore, the concept of divine kingship, which became central to Egyptian society, originated during Narmer's reign. Pharaohs were regarded as the intermediaries between the gods and the people, solidifying the ruler's divine authority and ensuring stability and harmony within the kingdom. These religious practices and iconography developed during Narmer's reign with symbols such as the Djed and the Ankh.


The Djed

The Djed symbol holds significant importance in ancient Egyptian culture, representing stability and prominently appearing in various forms of Egyptian art and architecture. Despite its ubiquity, the Djed is often overlooked due to its widespread presence throughout pillars, tomb walls, palace walls, papyrus sheets, and sarcophagi.


While the exact origin of the Djed remains uncertain, it is associated with the god Ptah, an early creator deity from the Predynastic Period. The symbol holds strong connections to the god Osiris and his resurrection, symbolizing his backbone, the tamarisk tree (which enclosed Osiris in the myth), or four pillars rising one after another. However, the concept of "stability" appears to be the primary meaning attached to the Djed by the ancient Egyptians, carrying the utmost significance.


The Ankh

The Ankh symbol, a cross with a loop at the top, is one of the most recognizable symbols from ancient Egypt. It represents "life" or "breath of life" in Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Egyptians believed that life extended beyond the earthly existence and into the eternal afterlife. As such, the Ankh embodies both mortal existence and the concept of the afterlife. It is an ancient symbol found in tomb paintings, inscriptions, and was also worn by Egyptians as an amulet. The association of the Ankh with the afterlife led to its adoption by Coptic Christians in Egypt during the 4th century A.D. The symbol eventually evolved into the Christian Cross that is recognized today.


Egypt, as the first nation in history with a powerful centralized government, relied on a stable governing system. Although the government would occasionally collapse, the people consistently returned to the "divine order" under the rule of a pharaoh. The centralized government facilitated monumental public works projects, such as the construction of the Great Pyramids. Evidence from tomb paintings reveals the use of large work gangs, comprised of people rather than beasts of burden, pulling ropes to move massive statues and stones. It is crucial to note that the Egyptians employed human labor for extensive agricultural projects.


Narmer's unification of farmers and their work on the irrigation system would result in the building of the great pyramids in only a few hundred years.


The Narmer Palette

In 1897, Egyptologist J.E. Quibell, conducting excavations at Hierakonpolis in Upper Egypt, made a remarkable discovery known as the Narmer Palette. This ancient artifact, dating back over 1000 years at the time of its burial, holds significant historical importance as it reveals the unification of Egypt during the end of the Predynastic Period. The Narmer Palette, a ceremonial slate stone standing about 2 feet tall, was originally used for grinding cosmetics, possibly for offerings at a shrine dedicated to a local deity.


Within Egyptian temples, a sacred space known as the "Holy of Holies" existed, accessible only to priests. This revered area often housed a bronze statue depicting the specific god of the temple. Each morning, the priests anointed the statue with oils and cosmetics and presented offerings of food. The Narmer Palette likely served as the cosmetic grinder for such a temple. However, this palette goes beyond its functional purpose and becomes the world's first historical document, narrating a story and setting artistic standards. It portrays the king as the embodiment of Egypt, with hierarchical proportions distinguishing them from commoners. The Pharaoh, believed to be the earthly representation of the god Horus, is consistently depicted larger than others.


The Narmer Palette portrays Narmer wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt on one side, signifying his kingship in the south. The iconic "smiting pose" is depicted, with the king holding a war club above his head, about to strike down an enemy grasped by the hair. The background shows swampy plants, indicating that the enemy may have hailed from the Delta Region in the north of Egypt. This defeated enemy has a nose ring connected to a falcon, symbolizing the Pharaoh, believed to be the god Horus on Earth.


Behind the king, a smaller figure carries a pair of sandals. This individual, the sandal-bearer to the king, holds a significant position akin to a viceroy, often second only to the Pharaoh. The top of the palette features the hieroglyphs for King Narmer's name, represented by a fish and a chisel, indicating his status as the first king of Egypt. The depiction of the Pharaoh's name, known as a serekh, resembles the façade of a palace, akin to the outer perimeter wall of Djoser's step pyramid.


The Narmer Palette's reverse side showcases a victory procession, with Narmer wearing the Red Crown symbolizing the unification of Egypt. The scene depicts defeated, headless enemies, symbolizing Narmer's triumph. Below Narmer, intertwined necks of two creatures, possibly panthers or leopards, represent the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. A fortress or walled city is depicted beneath the creatures, being broken down by a bull, which also becomes a symbol of Narmer's reign.


The Narmer Palette vividly illustrates Narmer's conquest of the Delta, destruction of a walled city, and his ascension as the first king of a unified Egypt.


Tomb B17 & B18

Narmer, the ancient Egyptian pharaoh, was laid to rest in the Umm el-Qa'ab necropolis at Abydos, the southern city. The choice of Abydos as the burial site can be attributed to its significance in the myth of Osiris, where it served as the sacred city where Osiris, the god of the afterlife, was interred. Renowned archaeologist Flinders Petrie, known for his contributions to dating systems, conducted excavations at this site in the late nineteenth century. Petrie's primary focus was not on seeking treasures but on acquiring knowledge, leading him to explore sites that other archaeologists overlooked. His excavations at Abydos unearthed some of the earliest burials in Egypt.


The tombs discovered by Petrie were simple underground structures made of mud brick. Most of these tombs featured a stele, a large stone with a rounded top, often used as a boundary marker by later kings. Carved onto these steles was a falcon, symbolizing the pharaoh as the divine entity Horus. The falcon stood atop the serekh, which depicted the façade of a palace and contained the king's name.


Narmer's tomb, labeled as B17 and B18, comprised two interconnected chambers lined with mud brick. Considering its age of over 5000 years and the extensive looting it had endured over time, it is remarkable that any valuable discoveries were made within it. Among the findings were inscriptions on wood and bone, seal impressions, flint arrowheads, flint knives, and a fragment of an ebony chair leg. These items likely formed part of the original funerary assemblage.


Additionally, burial sites were also established in the northern region at Saqqara, a location named after Sokar, the god of the dead. The existence of two burial sites served a symbolic purpose, denoting the pharaoh's dominion over both Upper and Lower Egypt, or the north and south. It remains uncertain which of the two burial sites served as the actual resting place for certain pharaohs, as some burials were deliberately designed as false or cenotaphs.

 
 

3.2 – Pharaoh Hor-Aha (c. 3050 BC)

 

Pharaoh Hor-Aha inherited a unified kingdom from his predecessor, Narmer, and became the first king of the first dynasty. The commonly used name Hor-Aha is a rendering of the pharaoh's Horus-name, an element of the royal titulary associated with the god Horus, and is more fully given as Horus-Aha meaning Horus the Fighter.


For the Early Dynastic Period, the archaeological record refers to the pharaohs by their Horus-names, while the historical record, as evidenced in the Turin and Abydos king lists, uses an alternative royal titulary, the nebty-name. The different titles of a pharaoh's name were often used in isolation, for brevity's sake, although the choice varied according to circumstance and period.


Mainstream Egyptological consensus follows the findings of Flinders Petrie in reconciling the two records and connects Hor-Aha (archaeological) with the nebty-name Ity (historical).


The same process has led to the identification of the historical Menes (a nebty-name) with Narmer (a Horus-name) evidenced in the archaeological record (both figures are credited with the unification of Egypt and as the first pharaoh of Dynasty I) as the predecessor of Hor-Aha (the second pharaoh).


Hor-Aha's reign, around 3050 BC, saw the further consolidation of a unified kingdom and the establishment of Memphis as a strategically important capital city. Located in a well-defended area, Memphis served as a safeguard against potential invasions from the sea and was challenging to access from the desert.


Hor-Aha is believed to have introduced the cult of Sobek, the crocodile god, in the Faiyum region. Sobek, known for his strength and power, later gained popularity during the Middle Kingdom and became associated with the god Horus. Additionally, Hor-Aha likely established the cult of the Apis-bull in Memphis, a religious practice that endured until 400 A.D. The worship of Apis extended through the Greek and Roman periods. Apis, originally a fertility deity connected to agriculture, symbolized the renewal of life for the god Ptah. After death, the Apis-bull became assimilated with Osiris, the ruler of the underworld, reflecting the belief in life after death.


Despite enjoying a relatively peaceful reign, Hor-Aha initiated a series of military campaigns against Egypt's southern neighbor, Nubia, and its western neighbor, Libya. These military initiatives set the stage for future conflicts and the establishment of Egyptian control in the regions. Hor-Aha also engaged in trade relations with Syria-Palestine, further expanding Egypt's influence and economic opportunities.


According to the historian Manetho, Hor-Aha met his demise when he was carried away by a hippopotamus. Although this account may be legendary, it highlights the importance of the Nile and its wildlife in ancient Egyptian culture. The Palermo Stone, an ancient artifact, records a hippopotamus hunt during the reign of Den, who succeeded Hor-Aha.


Tomb B10, B15, & B19

Hor-Aha's tomb consists of three spacious chambers, known as B10, B15, and B19. These rectangular chambers were excavated in the desert floor and lined with mud bricks. Notably, the tomb is situated directly adjacent to Narmer's tomb, highlighting the continuity and close connection between the reigns of these early Egyptian kings.


One striking innovation in Hor-Aha's tomb is the burial of members of the royal household alongside the pharaoh. The circumstances surrounding their deaths, whether through murder, suicide, or later burial, remain subjects of intense debate among scholars. The burials include individuals such as servants, dwarfs, women, and even dogs, reflecting the diverse roles and significance of these individuals in the royal court.


Adjacent to Hor-Aha's main chambers, a total of 36 subsidiary burials were arranged in three parallel rows. These subsidiary burials provide additional insights into the social structure and practices of the time. They likely include individuals of various ranks and roles associated with the royal court, emphasizing the hierarchical nature of Egyptian society.


As a symbol of royalty and power, Hor-Aha was honored with a group of young lions in his tomb. These regal animals served as a representation of his royal status and authority. Their inclusion further emphasizes the association between the pharaoh and divine kingship.


Hor-Aha's tomb continues to fascinate and provide valuable insights into the early dynastic period of ancient Egypt.

 
 

3.3 – Queen Neithotep (c. 3050 BC)

 

Queen Neithotep holds a significant place in ancient Egyptian history as one of the earliest known female rulers. Queen Neithotep was born into a noble family and likely belonged to the city of Naqada. She rose to prominence during a period when the country was transitioning from separate city-states to a unified kingdom. Her exact connections and lineage remain a subject of speculation and ongoing research.


Neithotep is believed to have held the title of queen and regent during the reigns of her husband, Pharaoh Narmer, and her son, Pharaoh Hor-Aha. As regent, she assumed the responsibilities of governance and exercised power on behalf of her young son, which speaks to her elevated status and authority. Her presence and influence likely helped to consolidate the authority of the early kings and foster a sense of continuity.


Neithotep's Tomb

Neithotep's tomb, discovered in the ancient city of Naqada, is one of the most remarkable archaeological findings associated with a female ruler. The tomb's lavishness and the presence of prestigious grave goods reflect the high status and importance accorded to Neithotep.


Neithotep's tomb was unearthed in 1897 by British archaeologist James Quibell during excavations in Naqada. Naqada was an important settlement during the Predynastic and early Dynastic periods of ancient Egypt and served as a center of power and influence.


The tomb of Neithotep exhibits distinct architectural characteristics. It is constructed using mud bricks and consists of multiple chambers. The tomb of Neithotep yielded a wealth of artifacts and offerings. These included intricately crafted pottery vessels, ornate jewelry such as necklaces, bracelets, and amulets, cosmetic palettes, figurines, and ceremonial objects. The quality and craftsmanship of these items demonstrate the skilled artistry of the time and the value placed on providing Neithotep with items befitting her status.


Neithotep is closely associated with the goddess Neith, a powerful deity associated with war, wisdom, and creation. This connection suggests that Neithotep may have had a special religious role or patronage. Neithotep's tomb and her association with the goddess Neith underscore her elevated status and lasting impact. Through her achievements, Queen Neithotep has become an enduring symbol of female empowerment and a testament to the complex social dynamics of ancient Egyptian society.

 
 

3.4 – Pharaoh Djer (c. 3000 BC)

 

Pharaoh Djer, was the third pharaoh of the 1st Dynasty, who ruled around 3,000 BC. His name means "Defender of Horus."


Pharaoh Djer ascended to the throne following the reign of his predecessor, Pharaoh Hor-Aha. He hailed from the city of Thinis, an important political and religious center of ancient Egypt at the time. The exact details of his lineage and family ties remain uncertain, but it is believed that he was a direct descendant of Narmer.


During his reign, which lasted for an estimated 41 years, Pharaoh Djer embarked on various endeavors that contributed to the growth and stability of ancient Egypt. He continued the military campaigns initiated by his predecessors, extending Egyptian influence and control over neighboring regions. These campaigns included expeditions to Nubia, the Sinai Peninsula, and possibly the eastern Delta region. He also set about the economic and religious organization of the country, establishing a palace at Memphis.


Tomb O

Djer was involved in the construction of monumental structures, including the expansion of the royal necropolis at Abydos. His tomb, labeled Tomb O, is one of the largest and most elaborate tombs of the early dynastic period, with the remains of 318 courtiers, reflecting the king's elevated status and the growing importance of funerary rituals.


From the Middle Kingdom onward, it was thought that the tomb was the burial place of Osiris. Among the pilgrims to this tomb was Pharaoh Userkare of the 13th Dynasty, who provided a statue of Osiris for the shrine of the cult center.


The tomb of Pharaoh Djer yielded a range of artifacts, including pottery, jewelry, weapons, and ceremonial objects. These items provide insights into the material culture and craftsmanship of the time, as well as the belief in the importance of providing the deceased with provisions for the afterlife. Within the tomb, archaeologist Flinders Petrie discovered the earliest surviving royal jewelry: four gold and turquoise bracelets.


An interesting story from Egyptologist Bob Brier about this discovery... He states that Petrie excavated differently than other archaeologists. He paid his excavators for what they found, paying market value for their discoveries. Other archaeologists tried to confiscate everything and it was often said at the time that they only found large statues, never small objects... meaning the workmen looted everything.


During the excavation of Djer's tomb, the workmen discovered a mummy's arm, stuck in a wall, wearing this ancient royal jewelry. During the ancient tomb robbery, one of the thieves may have hid this from the others with plans to return later so he could claim the treasure for himself. For some reason he never returned. Petrie was away from the site at the time of its discovery, but returned and it was brought to him. The mummy's arm contained two of the four bracelets: one was a gold bracelet with serekhs, the other was of little gold falcons. Petrie weighed this jewelry and paid the excavator the value of it in gold sovereigns.


The mummy's arm and jewelry was eventually sent to the Cairo Museum in 1901. The curator at the time, took off the bracelets, and threw out the mummy's arm as useless! The arm of the oldest royal mummy was just thrown away! As Petrie would later note: the Museum could be a very dangerous place.


A collection of ivory tags bearing the name and titles of Djer were found at Abydos. These tags were likely used to mark or label various objects, attesting to the administrative organization and bureaucratic systems established during his reign. Several ceremonial maceheads bearing Pharaoh Djer's name and elaborate iconography have been discovered. These maceheads depict scenes of royal authority and religious rituals.


Djer supported the development and refinement of religious and cultural practices in ancient Egypt. He promoted the veneration of gods, including the god Horus, and fostered the cult of Osiris.

 
 

3.5 – Pharaoh Djet (c. 2980 BC)

 

The ancient Egyptian king Djet, also known as Hor Djet “Horus cobra or Horus who strikes”, was most likely named after the vulture goddess of Upper Egypt, Wadjet (or Uadjet). It is likely that he was the son of Djer, although there is no direct evidence of this. Queen Mereneith became his wife and was probably the mother of his successor, Den. She may also have acted as her young son’s regent upon the death of Djet.


Djet is generally considered to be the ruler named “Wenephes” by Manetho. If so, he reigned for about 23 years, in roughly 2980 BC. Unfortunately, he left little evidence of his existence other than his tomb in Abydos.


Tomb Z

Djet was buried in (Tomb Z) at Abydos just west of his father, Pharaoh Djer's tomb. There are 174 subsidiary graves surrounding the tomb and the overall look of the plan of Djet’s tomb gives the impression of being a copy of Djer’s. There is evidence that Djet's tomb was intentionally burned, along with other tombs at Abydos from this period. The tombs were later renovated because of their association with the cult of Osiris.


Djet owes his fame to the survival of one of his artistically refined tomb steles. Originally, there would have been a pair of these steles at the tomb entrance. It is carved in relief with Djet's Horus name, and shows that the distinct Egyptian style had already become fully developed by this time. Another artistic

landmark discovery was his ivory comb. It is the earliest surviving depiction of the heavens symbolized by the outspread wings of a falcon.

 
 

3.6 – Queen Merneith & Pharaoh Den (c. 2970 BC)

 

Queen Merneith

Queen Merneith (Meryneith or Mereneith, “beloved of Neith“), is considered by some to be the first female ruler of Egypt and possibly the world. However, it is unclear whether she reigned alone for a period or reigned alongside her husband Djet (if he was her husband) and then acted as regent for her son Den. She is named as the King’s Mother on a seal impression created during Den’s reign, but was not recorded on some of the other kings lists.

Manetho does not refer to Merneith by name, but he does state that there were eight pharaohs in the first dynasty, which is correct if you include Merneith as a pharaoh. However, it is also possible that he included Narmer in the first dynasty (and not dynasty 0), and so counted eight pharaohs.


Her name appears on the Palermo Stone without the title “King’s Mother”, but as the fragment is damaged and the name of Djer is also followed by that of his mother it is difficult to draw a firm conclusion from this. She appears with the title “King’s mother” on the kings list from the tomb of her son Den.


The most compelling evidence that she was a ruler, rather than just a consort (like Queen Neithotep), is her tomb in Abydos (Tomb Y). Because it was constructed on the same scale as the kings of that dynasty and was surrounded by satellite burials for forty servants and the burial of a solar boat, when it was discovered Petrie concluded he had discovered the grave of a pharaoh.


The base of her tomb consisted of a stepped structure concealed within the usual rectangular shape of the Mastaba (a low flat “bench” shaped tomb). This may have been an early fusion of Northern and Southern styles which led to the development of the stepped pyramid complex.


Stone vessels and seal impressions bearing her name, along with a stela on which her name was written in an archaic form using the crossed arrows of the ancient goddess Neith were found. A bowl found in her tomb is labeled as “that which is from Merneith’s treasury”, confirming it was an offering from the royal treasury not her personal property. This would be highly unusual for a person without royal prerogative.


Pharaoh Den

Pharaoh Den, also known as Hor-Den, ruled for 42 years, starting his reign around 2970 BC. Pharaoh Den is the best archaeologically-attested ruler of this period. Den is said to have brought prosperity to his realm and numerous innovations are attributed to his time in power. The reign of Den appears to have been a prosperous one. He limited the authority of the high court officials which had had grown dangerously powerful.


Den was the first to use the title "King of Lower and Upper Egypt", and the first depicted as wearing the double crown. He pursued a vigorous foreign policy, rapidly turning his attention to the Near East with an Asiatic campaign in the first year of his reign. He even brought back a harem of female prisoners, an act which was to be copied hundreds of years later by Amenhotep III.


Tomb T

Den was buried in (Tomb T) one of the largest and most finely built tombs in Abydos. This was the first tomb to have a flight of stairs leading to it, those of earlier kings being filled directly above from their roofs. Tomb T is also the first tomb to include architectural elements made of stone rather than mud-brick.


In the original layout for the tomb, a wooden door was located about halfway up the staircase, and a portcullis placed in front of the burial chamber, designed to keep out tomb robbers. The floor of the tomb was paved in red and black granite from Aswan, and this was the first architectural use of such hard stone on a large scale.

 
 

3.7 - Pharaoh Anedjib (c. 2930 BC)

 

Anedjib, whose name means “safe is his heart”, is recorded as a Thinite king, on the Saqqara Kings List. Anedjib was probably the son of Den but it is not entirely clear who his mother was. Wilkinson has proposed (following his reconstruction of the Palermo Stone) a reign of around ten years despite the fact that he celebrated a Heb-sed Festival which normally took place in or around the thirtieth year.


Also known as the Sed festival, it was a ritual renewal of power which was intended to demonstrate the king's vigor. The festival was celebrated after 30-years of reign, after which it was repeated every third or fourth year. It was basically a re-enactment of the king's coronation ritual and were primarily held to rejuvenate the pharaoh's strength and stamina while still in power, celebrating the continued success of the pharaoh. This ceremony was an occasion for the issuance of commemorative objects, such as stone vases bearing the king's name.


If Den reigned for around thirty years, from around 2930 BC, he may have been of a fairly advanced age when he became king and there is some evidence that he had to contend with a number of uprisings in Upper Egypt. The fact that his name was erased from a number of artifacts suggests that he may have been deposed by Semerkhet.


Tomb X

Anedjib was buried in (Tomb X) in one of the smallest of all royal tombs in this area. His tomb had an

entrance at the eastern side and a staircase that lead into the burial chamber. The burial chamber was

surrounded by 64 subsidiary tombs and simply divided by a cut-off wall into two rooms.


The smaller of the two chambers contained several cylinder seals and was probably a storage chamber. The burial chamber was made of wooden planks set in the desert sand without any other foundations. Some of these planks were well preserved. The roof of the chamber was held up by wooden posts, one of which was found still intact by Flinders Petrie.

 
 

3.8 – Pharaoh Semerkhet (c. 2920 BC)

 

Pharaoh Semerkhet, whose name translates to "Companion of the Divine community" or "Companion of the gods," ruled Egypt around 2920 BC. He remains a vague figure in the history of early Dynastic kings of Egypt as the details surrounding his rule are scarce. Semerkhet may have been an usurper, based on evidence indicating the erasure of the previous king's name, Anedjib, from stone vessels, which were replaced with Semerkhet's own name. Additionally, his absence from the 19th Dynasty Saqqara king list, while both Anedjib and Qaa are mentioned, further fuels this speculation.

Notably, Semerkhet's tomb yielded a wealth of artifacts originating from the tombs of Queen Merneith and Pharaoh Den, but no Saqqara tomb of high officials bears the king's name. This also raises suspicions, as officials of that time meticulously documented their service under their respective kings in their tombs, desiring to pass on the honor to future generations. However, it was not uncommon for kings of the period to erase their predecessors' names and replace them with their own. Another plausible explanation could be that Semerkhet's reign was relatively short, and most of his officials outlived him, resulting in the absence of his name in officials' and priests' tombs.

While the Greek historian Manetho mentions serious unrest during Semerkhet's rule, there are no records substantiating such claims. It is possible that any unrest, if it did occur, was deliberately omitted from official depictions, as a king's reign had to be portrayed as successful. This tradition may have already developed during this early period.

Tomb U

Semerkhet constructed Tomb U, which was initially excavated by Sir William Flinders Petrie in 1899. Semerkhet did not have a tomb in Saqqara, unlike his predecessors who built their tombs there.

The burial chamber of Semerkhet's tomb is covered in brick and measures 29.2 x 20.8 meters. The tomb's entrance does not feature stairs but rather a 4-meter-wide ramp leading directly to the main chamber. The ramp begins 10 meters outside the tomb and was found covered in aromatic oils that retained their scent, according to Petrie's account. Adjacent to the ramp, objects from the Ramesside era, such as baskets and jars, were found, suggesting that the tomb may have been opened and restored during that time. It is worth noting that the site became associated with Osiris during the Ramesside period, with Pharaoh Djer's tomb being believed to be the burial place of Osiris's head.


Initially, the king's mastaba covered an additional 67 subsidiary tombs, indicating that these individuals may have been buried simultaneously with the king. The circumstances surrounding their burial, including whether they were willingly sacrificed, remain speculative. Notably, among the subsidiary burials were two dwarfs, suggesting that Egyptians held respect for such individuals (one of the dwarfs was named Neferit).


Only 17 seals were discovered within the tomb. Outside, there was a black granite funerary stela bearing the king's name, which was customary during that time . As we noted, such stelas were typically erected in pairs outside the tomb. The objects found within the tomb included materials made from ebony, amethyst, turquoise, and copper, as well as fragments of furniture.

 
 

3.9 – Pharaoh Qa'a (2910 BC)

 

Qa'a, whose name signifies "his arm is raised," served as the final Pharaoh of the First Dynasty of Egypt, around 2910 BC. The lineage of Qa'a's parents remains unknown, but it is believed that either his predecessor Anedjib or Semerkhet was his father, as it was customary to pass the throne to the eldest son. According to Manetho's account, which aligns with this tradition, Semerkhet was likely Qa'a's father.


Limited information is available regarding Qa'a's reign. Inscriptions on stone vessels indicate that he celebrated a second Sed festival, suggesting a reign of at least 33 years. Despite the apparent prosperity of Qa'a's rule, evidence suggests that after his death, a dynastic war erupted between different royal houses competing for the vacant throne. In the tomb of the high official Merka, a stone vessel bearing the name of a king named Sneferka was discovered. It remains unclear whether "Sneferka" was an alternative name for Qa'a or if he was a separate, short-lived ruler.


Egyptologists such as Wolfgang Helck and Toby Wilkinson propose the existence of another mysterious ruler named "Horus Bird," whose name was found on vessel fragments dating to the end of the First Dynasty. It is speculated that Sneferka and Horus Bird vied for power, and it was Hotepsekhemwy who ultimately resolved the conflict and ascended to the throne, initiating the Second Dynasty. Indicative of this theory are signs of grave robberies and fires discovered in the royal tombs of Abydos. Clay seals of Hotepsekhemwy found in Qa'a's tomb suggest that he either renovated the tomb or buried Qa'a, possibly in an attempt to legitimize his own reign.


Tomb Q

Qa'a's tomb in Abydos was relatively spacious, measuring 98.5 x 75.5 feet (or 30 x 23 meters). The considerable size of his burial site indicates a lengthy reign. German archaeologists excavated this tomb in 1993 and uncovered 26 subsidiary burials, suggesting sacrificial offerings. Additionally, an exquisite tomb stela belonging to Qa'a was also discovered.


Pharaoh Hotepsekhemwy succeeded Pharaoh Qa'a and established the 2nd Dynasty of Egyptian Pharaohs. The Second Dynasty of Egypt, (2890 - 2686 B.C.) rose from the turmoil which ended the First Dynasty, and was marked by uprisings (or, at least, internal difficulties) throughout. The precise cause of this civil unrest is unclear as sources for this period are confused, and even the dates of the rulers are unreliable.


We'll focus on this 2nd Dynasty of Egypt in the next episode.

 

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