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Wars History : 1st Dynasty of Egypt

The presence of a sign
group looking like a Nebti-
name on the Naqada Label
has led many Egyptologists
to believe that Menes is to
be equated with the Horus Aha

A stone vessel found at Saqqara lists the Nebti-names of the 4 last kings of the 1st Dynasty.
According to the Ancient Egyptian tradition, voiced by the Kinglists, Herodotos and Manetho, the 1st Dynasty was founded by a king named Meni, or, in Greek, Menes. The same tradition has credited Menes with many deeds, among them the conquest of the Nile delta (Lower Egypt) thus unifying Upper and Lower Egypt; the founding of Memphis as the united country’s new capital; the building of dams and the founding of many new cults and temples.

There has been a lot of debate as to the identity and even the existence of this seemingly legendary king, as the archaeological record does not mention any king of that name. The basis of this problem lies in the royal titulary and its evolution. The oldest known sources that mention a king only refer to him using his Horus-name. From the Old Kingdom on, however, kings would be identified by their Prenomen and/or their Nomen. As the Kinglist tradition was based on these later additions to the royal titulary, the chroniclers had to come up with a Prenomen for the Early Dynastic Kings. Although from the reign of the Horus Den on, they often took the kings’ Nebti-names as their Prenomen, the relationship between the names in the Kinglists and those mentioned on the archaeological sources is not always clear. This is the case for all kings preceding the Horus Den, the first four kings of the 1st Dynasty.

Detail from the Macehead of
‘Scorpion’, showing the king
with the White Crown

Several sources have been interpreted as providing the link between a Horus-name and the name Men(es), but every interpretation is questionable at the very least. The Naqada Label was once believed to show that Men(es) was the Nebti-name of the Horus Aha. The absence of any further Nebti-names during the reigns of Aha and his two successors, however, makes this interpretation unlikely.

The interpretation of a type of seal combing a Horus-name with some additional hieroglyphic signs as a Prince’s Seal, which would show that the Horus Narmer had a son named Men(es), is too far-fetched to be taken serious. The additional signs on the seal need not per definition refer to a name and even if they do, this name can have belonged to any high official or member of the ruling elite.

The archaeological sources have not allowed us either to relate any of the deeds traditionally credited to Menes, to one single archaeologically attested king. Several of these deeds actually belong to the repertoire of the ideal king who was supposed to ensure the regular flow of the floods by building dams, to appease the gods by creating cults for them, to destroy Egypt’s enemies, …

The Narmer Palette has long been interpreted as evidence that the Horus Narmer was the one who conquered the Nile delta and united Upper and Lower Egypt. Indeed, Narmer is shown wearing the White Crown, traditionally associated with Upper Egypt, while striking down an enemy identified as living in the marsh-lands (image to the left). On the other side of the Palette, Narmer wears the Red Crown, traditionally associated with Lower Egypt (the Nile delta), while inspecting the bodies of decapitated enemies.

A mace-head shows Narmer wearing the Red Crown during a census in Lower Egypt. This representation has often been viewed as further evidence that Narmer seized control on this part of the country and imposed his authority on it.

The presence of a sign group looking like a Nebti-name on the Naqada Label has led many Egyptologists to believe that Menes is to be equated with the Horus Aha (more…).

Narmer’s presumed predecessor, the Horus Ka (or Sekhen), however, levied taxes in the Nile delta and must therefore have had at least partial control over this part of the country. The mace-head of a king identified as ‘Scorpion’, assumedly a predecessor or perhaps a contemporary of Narmer, has also been brought into the debate, as one reconstruction might show that ‘Scorpion’ too may have worn both the White and the Red Crowns .

The assumption that king’s before Narmer may have ruled over a united Egypt, and their tentative identification of Menes as the Horus Aha, has led several authors to believe that there was a Dynasty ‘0’ before the rule of Menes. This hypothetical dynasty would have been composed of ‘Scorpion’, Ka, ‘Mouth’ and Narmer. ‘Scorpion’, however, has only been attested at Hierakonpolis and ‘Mouth’ may not even have been a king at all.

It must also be noted that the identification of Menes as the Horus Aha is not supported by any evidence and that the Red Crown may initially have been of Upper Egyptian origin before it became the symbol of Lower Egypt, at the latest during the early 1st Dynasty. A pot-shard found at Naqada in Upper Egypt and dated several generations before the reign of Narmer bears the representation of the Red Crown. This is now believed to be an indication that the Red Crown was of Upper Egyptian origin.

But perhaps to learn more about the beginning of the 1st Dynasty, we should first have a look at its end. A palace vessel found underneath the Step Pyramid of the Horus Netjerikhet at Saqqara lists the Nebti-names of four kings. These names correspond well to the last four kings of Manetho’s 1st Dynasty.

A stone vessel found at Saqqara lists the Nebti-names of the 4 last kings of the 1st Dynasty.

From other archaeological sources, we know that these four kings correspond to the Horuses Den, Anedjib, Semerkhet and Qa’a respectively. It is thus safe to conclude that these four archaeologically attested kings correspond with the last four kings of Manetho’s 1st Dynasty.

The next clue to the identification of Menes and a confirmation of the chronology of the 1st Dynasty is provided by two seals found in 1985 and 1995 at the royal cemetery at Umm el-Qa’ab. The first, dated to the reign of the Horus Den, lists the kings Narmer, Aha, Djer, Djet and Den. The list ends with the mention of the royal mother Meretneith, the mother of Den who took up regency of the country during Den’s childhood. The names of the first three kings in the list are preceded by the name of the god Khentamentiu, the protector of the cemetery.

The second seal is dated to the reign of Qa’a, the last king of the 1st Dynasty. It starts with Khentamentiu and then lists Qa’a, Semerkhet, Anedjib, Den, Djet, Djer, Aha and Narmer. The royal mother Meretneith is no longer included, probably because her regency was no longer viewed as an independent rule.

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