Hotepsekhemwy, the 1st King of Egypt's 2nd Dynasty
by Jimmy Dunn
Perhaps because it does not have the prestige of the 1st Dynasty, or the great monuments built during the 3rd Dynasty, Egypt's 2nd Dynasty seems almost an interlude. It is doubtful that Egyptologists have put the effort into this era that they have the dynasties before and after it. Regardless, it would seem that the 2nd Dynasty must have been a time when the economic and political foundations were put in place for a strong centralized state, though our lack of archaeological evidence does not support this conclusion.
Basically we know the names of the first three rulers of the 2nd Dynasty, Hotepsekhemwy, Raneb and Nynetjer, from inscriptions on the back of a statue (now in the Egyptian Antiquities Museum) of a priest named Hotep-dif (or perhaps, more accurately, Redjit. Of the first of these rulers, little is known. Hotepsekhemwy (Hetepsekhemwy) was this king's Horus name, which means "Pleasing in Powers". His birth name was Hotep which passed in the royal titulary as both Nesut-bity and Nebty name of the Horus Hotepsekhemui. We are told that his nebty name meant, "the Two Mistresses are at peace", which implies that perhaps Upper and Lower Egypt was once more united after a period of trouble. On the other hand, it may have also been a proclamation of desire, wishing the two powers to be at peace. It is fairly clear that later in the dynasty, some troubles might have existed between northern and southern Egypt. Manetho gave him a reign of 38 years, though little has been found to substantiate this claim, and there is little to show for such a long reign. According to some modern sources, his reign may have lasted for 15 to 25 years, with the absolute dates being 2845 until 2825 BC. Evidence exists that Hotepsekhemwy probably developed somewhat subtle and reasonable changes in both religion and the administration of Egypt. Seals bearing his name have been found near the 5th Dynasty pyramid of Unas at Saqqara, that may indicate he had a tomb nearby, but it has not been specifically identified. The seals are associated with two enormous series of underground galleries. Two of the first three kings of the dynasty may have been buried here, with the third possibly in a substructure over which Djoser's Step Pyramid was built.
Neither has a tomb for Hotepsekhemwy been found at Abydos, nor any evidence to support a tomb there, though his processors of the 1st Dynasty built tombs in that location. Interestingly, however, seal impressions of Hotepsekhemwy were discovered in the tomb of his predecessor, Qa'a, leading the German Archaeological Institute at Cairo, the team that excavated Qa'a's tomb to believe that Qa'a was probably Hotepsekhemwy's father. Hence, there would not be a break in the Dynasties for family reasons. However, some scholars believe that there were rulers in between Qa'a and Hotepsekhemwy, which would change the above assumptions. While Manetho provides no reason for the dynastic change between Qa'a and
Hotepsekhemwy, it may have been the result of a shift in the royal power center to Memphis. Almost as a trivia note, we will add that an earthquake took place in the vicinity of Bubastis in the Nile Delta during this king's reign according to Manetho.
Other items attesting to this king include a bone cylinder, perhaps from Helwan, now in the Brooklyn Museum. It displays the serekh of Hotepsekhemwy in simplified form but in sharp detail. Two stone bowls inscribed with the name of Hotepsekhemwy were also found by Reisner in Menkaura's pyramid complex at Giza, while an alabaster vessel fragment bearing his name was found in grave 3112 at Badari. Hotepsekhemwy was succeeded by Reneb, where we first find the inclusion of the sun god into the kings name. From there, the religion of Egypt would transform into the basis for the great pyramids.
Last Updated: April 28th, 2011
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