Khasekhem/Khasekhemwy of Egypt's 2nd Dynasty
by Jimmy Dunn
Khasekhemwy is perhaps the best attested ruler of the 2nd Dynasty, a period that we know very little about in general. Egyptologists have normally placed him as the successor of Seth-Peribsen, though Manetho lists three kings between them, consisting of Sethenes (Sendji), Chaires (Neterka) and Nebhercheres (Neferkara). However, there is no archaeological evidence for these kings and almost no other information to verify their existence. However, some Egyptologists believe he had another immediate predecessor named Khasekhem, with an obviously similar name, though other scholars believe Khasekhem and Khasekhemwy were in fact the same person. They argue that Khasekhem changed his name to Khasekhemwy after he squashed a rebellion, thus reuniting Upper and Lower Egypt. His new Horus name means "The Two Powerful Ones appear". Afterwards, the rendering of his name on his serekh was surmounted by both the Horus falcon and Seth jackel, marking it as unique in Egyptian history.
Perhaps Khasekhemwy's use of both the Horus and Seth god's representations in his name was an act of reconciliation. We might even assume a politically inspired unification of the country, were it not for evidence to the contrary. He in fact is believed to have married a northern princess, but apparently only to cement the control he gained through battle. On a stone vase, we find recorded, "The year of fighting the northern enemy within the city of Nekhet." Nekhet, now known as el-Kab, lies on the eastern bank of the Nile across from the ancient capital, Nekhen, known to the Greeks as Hierakonpolis. Hence, this was a major and dramatic battle between Upper and Lower Egyptians. On the base of two seated statues of Khasekhemwy, we are told that some 47,209 northerners were killed, a huge number considering the relatively small population of Egypt during the early dynastic period.
The Northern princess that Khasekhemwy married, a woman named Nemathap (Nimaatapis), who jar sealings reveal as "The King-bearing Mother". She probably mothered the earliest rulers of Egypt's 3rd Dynasty including Djoser.
It is also important to note that the earliest inscriptional evidence of an Egyptian king at the Lebanese site of Byblos belonged to the reign of Khasekhemwy.
Khasekhemwy apparently undertook considerable building projects upon the reunification of Egypt. He built in stone at el-Kab, Hierakonpolis and Abydos. He apparently built a unique, as well as huge tomb at Abydos, the last such royal tomb built in that necropolis (Tomb V). The trapezoidal tomb measures some 70 meters (230 ft) in length and is 17 meters (56 ft) wide at its northern end, and 10 meters (33 ft) wide at its southern end. This area was divided into 58 rooms. Prior to some recent discoveries from the 1st Dynasty, its central burial chamber was considered the oldest masonry structure in the world, being built of quarried limestone. Here, the excavators discovered the king's scepter of gold and sard, as well as several beautifully made small stone pots with gold leaf lid coverings, apparently missed by earlier tomb robbers. In fact, Petrie detailed a number of items removed during the excavations of Amelineau. Other items included flint tools, as well as a variety of copper tools and vessels, stone vessels and pottery vessels filled with grain and fruit. There were also small, glazed objects, carnelian beads, model tools, basketwork and a large quantity of seals.
Nitched Walls of the Enclosure
However, probably more impressive is a structure located in the desert about 1,000 yards from the tomb. Known as the Shunet el-Zebib (storehouse of the Dates), it was a huge rectangular structure measuring 123 x 64 meters (404 x 210 ft). The mudbrick walls of the structure, with their articulated palace facade, were as much as 5 meters (16 ft) thick and as high as 20 meters (66 ft). Incredibly, fragments of these mudbrick walls have survived for nearly 5,000 years. Some Egyptologists believe that the complex of buildings within this enclosure may have functioned in a capacity similar to a mortuary temple.
In fact, it had much in common with the enclosure of Djoser's Step Pyramid at Saqqara. Besides the niched inner walls of the parameter, a large mound of sand and gravel covered with mud brick, approximately square in plan, was discovered within the enclosure. Located in a similar position within the enclosure as the Step Pyramid in Djoser's complex, this mound may have been a forerunner of the step pyramids. Regardless, Khasekhemwy's structures are seen as an important evolutionary stage of the ancient Egyptian mortuary complex. We believe that Khasekhemwy died in about 2686 BC.
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