Ninetjer (Nynetjer): The Third King of Egypt's 2nd Dynasty

Ninetjer (Nynetjer)
The Third King of Egypt's 2nd Dynasty

by Jimmy Dunn

The name of Ninetjer

As we descend into the murky far past of Egypt's history, there is no surprise that historical details become blurred, and this certainly applies to the period between the death of Qaa at the end of the 1st Dynasty and the accession of Netjerikhet Djoser in the 3rd Dynasty. Most of the kings of the 2nd Dynasty remain obscure, and we frequently know little more about them than Egyptologists of a generation past. However, the identity and order of the first three kings is certain, thanks to an inscribed statue in the Cairo Museum, and other contemporary monuments and later kings lists can be reconciled with reasonable certainty for the first five rulers.

However, the Palermo Stone records a significant drop in the average height of the annual inundation of the Nile River, and therefore it is possible, if not likely, that ecological factors may have produced tensions and for a while, at least towards the end of the Dynasty, Egypt may have even been divided. Yet, up untiland through the reign of Ninetjer, the Two Lands seems to have been ruled as one.

A granite statuette of the mortuary priest named Hetepdief, implies (because their names are listed on his shoulder) that there was continuity between the first three kings of the 2nd Dynasty, for their mortuary cults were served by only one individual, and it is known that Ninetjer maintained the mortuary cult of at least one predecessor.An inscribed stone vessel discovered in the Step Pyramid juxtaposes the serekh of Ninetjer and the ka-chapel of Hetepsekhemwy.

The Priest, Hetepdief

Ninetjer (Nynetjer) was this kings Horus name, and simply means "godlike", or "He Who Belongs to the God". The term god probably in this instance references Re, the sun god.

Ninetjer is actually by far the best attested king of the early 2nd Dynasty. Given the position of his titulary on the Palermo Stone, he must have ruled Egypt for at least thirty-five years, though Manetho gives him forty-seven. In fact, most of what we know of this king is derived from the annals recorded on the Palermo Stone, where the whole fourth register records events between his fifth or sixth year through his twentieth or twenty-first. However, the king is also evidenced by three fine tombs in the elite cemetery at North Saqqara containing sealings of Ninetjer, as well as one across the Nile in the Early Dynastic necropolis at Helwan. There were additionally five different jar-sealings of the king discovered in a large mastaba near Giza. However, more sealings of Ninetjer eventually led to the identification of the king's own tomb at Saqqara (though some scholars doubt that this is clearly his tomb).

The Palermo Stone

From the Palermo Stone, we learn of the foundation of a chapel or estate named Hr-rn during the king's seventh year on the throne. Otherwise, most of the events evidenced on that record are regular ritual appearances of the king and various religious festivals. A festival of Sokar apparently was held every six years during his reign, and the running of the Apis bull was recorded twice during years nine and fifteen of his reign. Most of the festivals recorded during his reign were held in the region of Memphis, with the exception of a ceremony associated with the goddess Nekhbet of Elkab during year nineteen.

The fact that most activity associated with this king occurred in the region of Memphis may be important. Little evidence of the king is found outside of this region and it may be that his activities was largely, if not completely confined to Lower Egypt. Towards the end of his reign, there was a good deal of internal tension in Egypt, perhaps even civil war. The Palermo Stone tantalizes us with the possibility of this beginning in Ninetjer's thirteenth year. It records the attack of several towns including one who's name means "north land" or "House of the North" (the other city was Shem-Re). Some have interpreted this entry in the Palermo Stone to mean that Ninetjer had to suppress a rebellion in Lower, or Northern Egypt.

Unfortunately, the Palermo Stone ends with the nineteenth year of his reign. However, inscriptions on stone vessels, which probably date to the latter part of his reign, appear to record several other events, such as a four occurrence of the Sokar Festival, which probably took place in year twenty-four, and the "seventeenth occasion of the [biennial] census", which may have occurred in his thirty-fourth year on the throne.

Small alabaster statue of Ninetjer

Other than the various inscribed stone vessels, only two other artifacts have been unearthed that bear the king's name. One of these is a small ivory vessel from the Saqqara area, but the other is a small statue of considerable significance, both to the king's history and especially Egyptian art. The statuette is made of alabaster, depicting the king on his throne and wearing the close fitting robe associated with the Sed-festival. Upon his head rests the White Crown of Lower Egypt. This crude stone statuette of unknown provenance, now in the Georges Michailides Collection, represents the earliest complete and identifiable example of three-dimensional royal statuary from Egypt.

It also provides evidence that the king celebrated at least one Sed-festival, which would have been likely given the apparent long reign of Ninetjer. While no contemporary inscriptions evidence this celebration, there was also a stock of stone vessels discovered in the Step Pyramid galleries that may have been prepared for this event. Some scholars theorize that this further evidences the difficulties late in the king's reign, suggesting that these were never distributed due to domestic unrest which disrupted communications and weakened the authority of the central administration. Hence, the stone vessels were later appropriated by subsequent kings of the late 2nd and early 3rd Dynasties.

The name of Ninetjer's successor to the throne, Peribsen (Seth-Peribsen), unusually referencing the god Seth, is another piece of evidence indicating unrest. However, it is likely that Peribsen did not directly replace Ninetjer. It is likely that as many as two or more shadowy rulers (Weneg, Sened and Nubnefer) took the throne of perhaps a divided Egypt. in the interim. However, most modern kings' lists do not reference all of them, and some list only one or two.

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Last Updated: August 21st, 2011


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Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian; Nicholson, Paul 1995 Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers ISBN 0-8109-3225-3
Early Dynastic Egypt Wilkinson, Toby A. H. 1999 Routledge ISBN 0-415-26011-6
History of Ancient Egypt, A Grimal, Nicolas 1988 Blackwell None Stated
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2
Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, The McManners, John 1992 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-285259-0