The memorable years which gave Egyptologists their first glimpse of the predynastic period also brought them face to face for the first time with the earliest dynasties, which commenced areound 3,000 BC. The pioneer in this field was E. Amelineau, a Coptic scholar with no previous experience of excavating. Supported by funds from private sources he started operations at Abydos in 1895, working westwards until he reached a low spur of the desert known as Umm el-Ka'ab 'Mother of Pots' after the innumerable potsherd covering the surface. In this remote spot, a full mile distant from the cultivation, he came upon a cluster of brick pit-tombs which subsequently proved to have belonged to the kings of the 1st and 2nd Dynasties. According to his count they were sixteen in number, and since, so far as he could see, the royal names were all of the Horus-name type while none of them corresponded to the names in Manetho and the king-lists, he naturally concluded that his new kings were those 'Followers of Horus' whom the Turin Canon of Kings gives as predecessors of Menes (the first king of the Unified Upper and Lower Egypt) and whom Manetho describes as Demigods of Manes. Closer study by competent philologists quickly dispelled this error. Amelineau's excavation was badly conducted and badly published, and it was fortunate when, in 1899, Flinders Petrie obtained a permit to investigate the site once more. The highly successful results of his work were made accessible very quickly in several memoirs published by the Egypt Exploration Fund. The cemetery was found to have been sadly devastated long before Amelineau added to the confusion. The burnt wooden linings of the tombs and the wide scattering of broken fragments were tracked down to Coptic Christians of the fifth or sixth century. In spite of these disadvantages Petrie was able, besides making plans of the tombs, to recover a vast multitude of important objects, including inscribed stone vessels, jar-sealings, ebony and ivory tablets, as well as several superbly carved stele of imposing size.
Meanwhile scholars in Europe went to work on the inscriptions found by Amelineau. Griffith in England and Sethe in Germany were among the first to recognized that they were in the presence of the remains of Manetho's 1st and 2nd Dynasties. An epoch-making article by Sethe (1897) drew special attention to the facts that in some cases the Horus-name of the king was accompanied by another introduced by the title 'King of Upper and Lower Egypt' or by this followed by the Two-Ladies title. It was these secondary names which corresponded to those in the Ramesside king-lists and in Manetho. Thus the Usaphais whom Manetho gives as the fifth king (Den) of the 1st Dynasty was traced back to a hieroglyphic group probably to be read as Zemti, while Manetho's sixth king (Anedjib), Miebis, was unmistakably written as Merpibia. The seventh one (Semerkhet), Manetho's Semempses, appeared as a priestly figure holding a stick at Umm el-Ka'ab and a scepter in the Abydos king-list, while the eighth and last king of the dynasty, using Ka'a (Qa'a) as his Horus-name and occasionally also his personal name, was only slightly, and quite comprehensible, disguised as Kebh in the Abydos list and the Turin Canon. It should be noted that this discussion assumes the list of kings in the 1st Dynasty to include Narmer, Aha, Djer, Djet, Den, Anendjib, Semerkhet and Qa'a, though many current texts list Narmer as belonging to Dynasty 0 prior to unification, so that there would only be seven kings during the 1st Dynasty.) The historic sequence of these four kings was luckily confirmed by two incised stone vases discovered many years later. This opportunity is taken to note that the transcription of hieroglyphs belonging to the earliest period is a matter of great difficulty, so that names are apt to be rendered very differently by various scholars, as will be apparent from two Horus-names of the 1st Dynasty. That belonging to the fourth king (Djet) read as Zet by Petrie clearly equates its bearer with the cobra-goddess, whose name probably sounded more like Edjo than like Uadji as advocated by some. On the other hand, if for the fifth king Petrie's Den is here preferred to Sethe's widely accepted Udimu (Den)meaning 'the water-pourer', it is because this is highly speculative and it seemed better to retain their usual values for the two alphabetic signs with which the name is written.
The problems raised by the first four kings of the 1st Dynasty, with Menes at their head, are less easily solved and demand a wider perspective than has sufficed for the last four. It is desirable, therefore, here to provide some account of some excavations prior to Petrie's decisive discoveries at Abydos, In 1897 Petrie's partner J.E. Quibell had been digging at El-Kab, an important site on the east bank some distance to the north of Edfu. Here the local goddess was the vulture Nekhbet who shared with the cobra Wadjet of Buto in the Delta the honor of providing the Pharaoh with his Two-Ladies title. In view of the great antiquity of that title an important find might have been expected, but Quibell's results were disappointing. All the more exciting, therefore, was the success awaiting him in the following year at Kom el-Ahmar across the river. This was known to be the ancient Nekhen mentioned in certain Old Kingdom official titles, and the Greek Hieraconpolis on account of the falcon-god Horus who was the principal deity worshipped there. The great prize was the famous slate palette of Na'rmer. It needed but little study to recognize in this object an indisputable link between the late predynastic and the earliest dynastic periods. Material, design, and subjects of palettes now familiar to the reader, and on the other hand the Horus-name Na'rmer was soon to make its appearance at Umm el-Ka'ab. The only other remains of him are votive offerings found in the temple of Hieraconpolis.
One of the most interesting finds during this period was a most impressive large, broken mace-head of hard limestone carrying scenes in high relief attributed to a leader we know refer to as the Scorpion king. The main scene is ceremonial, as on most similar memorials of the 1st Dynast, and has as a central figure the king wielding a hoe in both hands. He wears a tunic fastened over his left shoulder and the bull's tail, a common attribute of royalty, attached above the girdle. On his head is the crown of Upper Egypt. Of greater historical importance are the representations in the upper register. Here is seen a procession of military standards surmounted by the emblems of various nomes or provinces, including those of Min and the animal of Seth. Tied to each standard by a rope passing round its neck is a dead or almost dead lapwing. Facing in the opposite direction, was another procession of standards having bows similarly attached, but only one complete standard is preserved. The general meaning is clear. The Scorpion king claimed victories over the Nine Bows, meaning the various people in and on the borders of Egypt, and also over a later often mentioned part of the Egyptian population known as the Erkheye or 'Lapwing-folk' who were held by many Egyptologist to have been the subjugated inhabitants of the Delta. It is significant, however, that in spite of the widespread victories of which the Scorpion boasts he makes no pretense of having been the king of a united Egypt.
That honor was reserved for Na'rmer, who on one side of his palette wears the white crown of Upper Egypt, while on the other, as well as on a mace-head of almost equal importance, he has assumed the red crown of Lower Egypt, apparently the first Egyptian monarch to do so. It is precisely this fact which justifies the belief that Na'rmer was none other than Menes himself. It is needless to comment at great length on scenes which to a large extent explain themselves, but two features of the palette are too interesting to be passed over in silence. To the right of the figure of Na'rmer with arm upraised to brain the enemy whom he holds by the forelock is an enigmatic group of emblems combined into a single whole. It is clear that as yet the learned men of the county had not developed the power of writing complete sentences. The most they could do was to exhibit a complex of pictures which the spectator would then translate into words. That the falcon of Horus represents Na'rmer is evident, and the rope attached to the head of a bearded enemy and held in the falcon's hand needs no commentary. The bolsterlike object from which the prisoner's head protrudes is obviously his native country, and it is now held that the six papyrus plants growing out of it represent Lower, Egypt, of which the papyrus was the symbol. Thus the entire complex would mean 'The falcon-god Horus (i.e. Na'rmer) holds captive the inhabitants of the papyrus-country'. It is perhaps not fantastic to interpret the device occupying the middle of the verso as symbolizing the union of the two halves of Egypt. The two long-necked felines appear to be restrained from fighting by a bearded man on each side. Up above, Na'rmer, as King of Lower Egypt, is seen inspecting the results of his victory. In front of him are the standards of his confederates and there is a ship which appears to have brought him to the place where his decapitated enemies are still lying. Thus this splendidly devised and executed votive palette may reasonably be understood as commemorating the very events upon which rest the fame of Menes as founder of the Pharaonic monarchy.
For the historian the point to be emphasized is the homogeneity of the remains in both parts of the country. Architecturally there are indeed certain differences between north and south, the greatest perhaps being the absence of the palace-facade paneling at Abydos, though it is present in the great Naqada tomb. In both areas there is much variation between the various tombs. In all other archaeological respects the similarity amounts almost to identity, and this applies alike to furniture, stone vessels, tools, and the tablets or labels used for dating. In the jar-sealings the similarity is particularly apparent. The same patterns and the same hieroglyphic combinations occur at both Memphis and Abydos. No more convincing testimony to the unity of the land could be desired. There is evidence too of identical customs that tend to corroborate the connection with Mesopotamian culture. Many of the great tombs are surrounded by long lines of small burial chambers adjoining one another, and the contents of these attest the immolation of servants or other living creatures to accompany their lord in the hereafter. In one of Emery's tombs at north Saqqaraattributed on slender grounds to a Queen Merneit many adult skeletons were found in the same contracted position all facing in the same direction. Emery tells us that:
Emery goes on to say that some of the objects found in these intact tombs suggest definite professions, and he tells us of the presence of model boats in one case and in another that of a copper chisel contained in an alabaster vase. At Abydos the corresponding subsidiary graves contain rough stele giving personal names sometimes accompanied by hieroglyphs indicating sex, condition, or the like. Many of the occupants were women. Some of them captives of war and there were several dwarfs and even a few dogs. A title often found on cylinder seals seems to show that some of the buried were above the rank of menials, and in one case for which there is a still more remarkable counterpart among Emery's finds, both dating from the reign of King Ka'a (Qa'a), an imposing stele bears title clearly belonging to a personage of much distinction.
Could these really only be the tombs of fine noblemen outdoing in splendor the sovereigns of whom they were the vassals? Such was the inevitable first impression given by an immense 'palace-facade mastaba' at north Saqqara with which the series of discoveries opened. This was attributed by Emery to a provincial administrator named Hemaka on the strength of many jar-sealings there found. But the Horus Den, the fifth king of Egypt's 1st Dynasty,, was also prominent upon the jar-sealings, which mention too a 'seal-bearer of the King of Lower Egypt' with a name compounded with that of the goddess Neith. Now Hemaka is again found in conjunction with King Den at Abydos. Of his importance there is no shadow of a doubt, but it may here be said once and for all that jar-sealings are almost useless as evidence for the ownership of a tomb, though if they give, as they often do, the name of a king they are good evidence for the date. By way of illustration we may recall the tomb at Naqada where the tablet of Menes was found. This tomb is only a trifle smaller then that ascribed to Hemaka, but three times larger than the largest of the supposed royal tombs at Abydos.
The tomb at Abydos which Petrie doubtingly attributed to King 'Aha is an insignificant single chamber which can hardly have been his. At Naqada, sealings of the Horus 'Aha are numerous, the serekh sometimes standing alone, but sometimes accompanied by the hieroglyphs for ht and sometimes by three identical birds. Since these birds occur alone on several stone jars it has been suggested that they gave the name of the noble who owned the tomb. But there are two more plausible candidates for the ownership, firstly 'Aha himself and a secondly a Queen Neit Hetepu. The name of the queen is written in a most interesting way. The element Hetepu is enclosed in a serekh surmounted by the crossed arrows which were the archaic way of writing the name of Neith, the goddess of the Lower Egyptian city of Sais. The analogy with the Pharaonic Horus title is complete, and we find both at Abydos and at Saqqara the name of another queen or princess Merneit. The element -neit at Abydos in the names of some the sacrificed slave-women, provides a plausible conjecture that diplomatic marriages were arranged between royal ladies from Sais and the conquering king from Upper Egypt. Doubtless the queen-to-be was accompanied by other women as concubines, accordingly, but it is by no means improbable that the Naqada tomb was that of 'Aha's spouse, though why she should have been buried in this remote spot is inexplicable. There was a supposition that the tomb was that of 'Aha himself, when he was at first thought to be Menes. This has been rendered most unlikely by Emery's discovery at Saqqara of a vast mastabas in which the sealings almost all showed the name of the Horus 'Aha either alone or accompanied by the above-mentioned signs for ht or else by hieroglyphs. They appeared to read 'son of Isis', though it would be surprising if the consort of the god Osiris were really named at so early a date. Thus there seems considerable likelihood that the Saqqara tomb is really that of 'Aha.
The facts concerning the three tombs which have been claimed as his burial-place have been discussed at length merely to serve as an example of the difficulties with which their excavators have confronted us. Emery's highly successful digs have brought to light no less than fourteen great palace-facade mastabas extended in a line along the edge of the escarpment, and in all of them jar-sealings of the 1st Dynasty kings have disclosed the approximate dates. Apart from Na'rmer, only Semempses (Semerkhet) is missing, and the large Cairo fragment of the Palermo Stone shows that he reigned no more than nine years. Emery is convinced that he has discovered the actual tombs of the other six kings of the dynasty from 'Aha onwards, and since we have reason to believe that Menes moved from the south to make Memphis his capital his hypothesis is highly probable. But Djer is mentioned in two tombs and Den in four or even five, while the great tomb known as GizaV has almost as good a claim as Saqqara to have belonged to Edjo (Djet) the Serpent King. Two of the tombs are perhaps rightly thought to have been those of queens, and it is possible after all that the tomb ascribed to Hemaka may have actually been his. This possibility arises with regard to a magnate named Sabu under 'Andjyeb, though not to the prince Merka under Ka'a (Qa'a). In none of the fourteen tombs is there absolute certainty. Also there are still scholars who maintain that Abydos was the authentic royal cemetery, and they can point as proofs to the magnificent stone stele which stood in front of the great burial chambers and among which that of the Serpent King in the Louvre is the finest.
They Egyptians of much later date may themselves have believed that their earliest kings were buried there, for they placed in the Abydene tomb of Djer a huge sarcophagus representing the god Osiris, the prototype of all dead Pharaohs. Emery's belief, for which there is much to be said, is that the tombs at Abydos are cenotaphs due to the theory that the Pharaoh ought to possess separate tombs King of Upper and King of Lower Egypt respectively. That an Egyptian king could erect for himself two huge pyramids, and those even in the same neighborhood, was seen in the case of Snofru. For written testimony to the existence of cenotaphs the reader may be reminded of what is stated about Queen Tetisheri.
Under King Djer the large Cairo fragment of the Palermo Stone mentioned a 'Smiting of Setje', a geographical expression which we must render approximately as 'Asia', and under a later monarch we read of a 'Smiting of the Iuntyu' an equally vague designation of the peoples living to the north-east of the Delta. An exceptionally fine tablet formerly in the MacGregor collection represents King Den in the act of massacring an Asiatic who is shown inhabiting the sandy desert presumably of Sinai. The accompanying hieroglyphs present no difficulties of interpretation, reading clearly 'First time of smiting the Easterners'. Perhaps even more interesting than this reference to what may have been no more than a border incident is this evidence of the rapid development of hieroglyphic expression. Before the end of the 1st Dynasty it will have become possible to convey the gist of whole sentences by sequences of separate signs.
Manetho's SECOND DYNASTY of nine kings from Thinis presents even more intractable problems than its predecessor. Four of the Manethonian names are recognizable, despite grave distortion, in the Ramesside king-lists, though it needed a demonstration of great acumen to show how Manetho's Tlas originated in a King Weneg known only from fragments of bowls stored in the underground galleries of the Step Pyramid. The king-list enumerate eleven kings in place of Manetho's nine, but of these only four find confirmation in the monuments. The order of the first five kings is established with certainty, but the existing remains ignore Boethos and Kaiechos and offer us in their stead a Hotepsekhemui and a Nebre'. The former name is interesting, for it signifies 'The Two Powers are pacified' and we shall soon find evidence that expression implies recovery from a precedent condition of turmoil or anarchy; the reason for the transition from Dyn. I to Dyn. II can thus be divined. Though Boethos is unknown to the contemporary hieroglyphs, the form Bedjau in which the king-lists introduce it to us is found on an Old Kingdom writing-board in front of five well-known kings of Dyns. IV and V. With the third king of Keyn II we reach a sequence of three kings, namely Binothris, Tlas and Sethenes, where the monuments, the king-lists, and Manetho are in agreement, for Binothris is evidently the extended equivalent of the hieroglyphic name which to the eye appears to read Nutjeren, though scholars have argued in favor of the transcriptions Ninetjer or Neterimu. Concerning Tlas we have already spoken, and Sethenes is undoubtedly the Send to whom we shall return later; a most curious name since it means 'the Afraid'. It may here, however, be added that Ninetjer presides over the fourth line of the Palermo Stone in such a way as to show that he reigned not much less that thirty years.
With one exception of Nebka, the remaining six names in the king-lists are a mystery, since not a trace of their bearers has been found elsewhere. Neferkare, Manetho's Nephercheres, may indeed be fictitious, since the reference to the sun-god Re' in its termination seems to point to later times, and there were in fact monarchs so called in Dyns. VI, VIII, and XXI. Nor need there be any perplexity about 'Aha which appears to be the correct reading in the Turin Canon, an isolated occurrence possibly the result of corruption of some kind. On the other hand Neferkaseker, Hudjefa, and Beby of the Ramesside tradition cannot be dismissed quite so easily, the more so since the Canon attributes to them reigns of substantial length. It can only be supposed that they were deemed by Manetho and his forerunners to be superior to those of certain Pharaohs of the south who completely ignored them. To those Pharaohs, four at most and possibly only two, we now turn. At Umm el-Ka'ab, Petrie excavated at opposite ends of the protodynastic cemetery a small tomb belonging to a King Peribsen and an exceptionally elongated one belonging to a King Khasekhemui. The first of the former monarch showed the extraordinary feature of being surmounted by the Seth-animal instead of the usual falcon of Horus, while the second of Kha'sekhemui exhibited the Seth-animal and the Horus-falcon face to face, each wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. Explanations which have already been given, as well as the analogy of Queen Neit Hetepu commented upon, leave no doubt as to the meaning of this procedure, and this is born out by the name Kha'sekhemui itself and by the addition Nebuihotpimef which follows as part of the name.
As has here more than once been pointed out, little importance can be attached to small objects found in distant parts, but there is some solid evidence of dealings, friendly or otherwise, between these later kings of Dyn. II and the north. Not only do there exist sealings giving Peribsen the epithet 'conqueror of foreign lands', but there are also grounds for thinking that it was he who introduced the cult of Seth into the north-eastern Delta. Concerning the fragmentary stela of Kha'sekhem from Hieraconpolis we have already spoken; conflict with a Libyan enemy is there clearly indicated. Nothing more definite, however, can be learned about the events of this troubled period. That its kings did not fall into immediate disrepute is evident from the inscription of some mastabas at Saqqara which presumable belong to Dyn. IV. In one of them a certain Sheri declares himself to have been overseer of the priest of Peribsen in the necropolis, in the house of Send, and in all his places. More problematic are some broken pieces from the tomb of a prophet of that King Nebka whom the Turin Canon and the Abydos king-list place immediately before Djoser. This king is named also in the story of the Magicians referred to above, where, however, it seems to be implied that his reign fell between those of Kings Djoser and Snofru. From what has been already said Nebka could not have been the predecessor of Djoser and Snofru unless he were a successful rival of Kha'sekhemui. The nineteen years assigned to him remain a problem. In the footnotes to the list of kings below may be ready the fantastic occurrences attributed to the kings of Dyn. II by Manethos. It need hardly be repeated that those occurrences are drawn from the fictional literature which was evidently one of the Egyptian historian's main sources of inspiration.
3rd Dynasty (2650 - 2575 BC)
The Third Dynasty, which with the next three dynasties constitutes the Old Kingdom, is characterized by the grand line of pyramids running along the western desert from near the level of modern Cairo. The second king of Dynasty III was the monarch whom later generations knew by the name of Djoser, and whose importance as the founder of a new epoch, even though it was his brother Nebka who founded the dynasty, is marked in the Turin Canon by the exceptional use of red ink. Djoser's outstanding achievement was the Step Pyramid at Saqqara overlooking the great city of Memphis. This is a massive structure rising in six unequal stages to a height of 204 feet. Egypt has no more remarkable spectacle to offer than the comparatively recently excavated and restored complex of buildings of which that earliest of the pyramids forms the center. The credit for this is, however, probably due less to Djoser himself than to his famous architect Imhotep (Gk. Imouthes), whose later reputation as a writer and healer ultimately led to his deification and identification with the Greek demigod Asclepios. It is not without reason that Manetho ascribes to Imhotep the invention of building in stone, since Djoser's great funerary monument was in fact the first to be constructed wholly in that material. The royal tombs of the previous dynasties had been mastabas of brick, with little employment of granite and limestone except for flooring and the like.
Please stay tuned for Part three.....