Egypt: Netjenkhet Djoser, the 2nd King of Egypt's 3rd Dynasty

Netjenkhet Djoser, the 2nd King of Egypt's 3rd Dynasty

by Jimmy Dunn

Netjenkhet Djoser, the 2nd King of Egypt's 3rd Dynasty

Netjerikhet Djoser was the 2nd King of Egypt's 3rd Dynasty, and was probably the most famous king during this period. He is also sometimes referred to as Zoser, and by the Greeks, Tesorthos. Through contemporary sources, he is only known by his Horus and Nebt-names, Netjerikhet, "the divine of body". Djoser may have been the king's birth name and appears only in later records. The earliest evidence that the two names belong to the same king is found on a long inscription on a large rock on the island of Sehel at Aswan.

According to the Turin King list, Netjerikhet Djoser ruled for about 19 years, following the 20 year long reign of the otherwise unattested Nebka (Sanakhte). However, some archaeological sources have shown that Djoser may be considered as the first king after Khasekhemwii, the last king of the 2nd Dynasty. The order by which some predecessors of Kheops are mentioned on the Papyrus Westcar may confirm that Nebka must be placed between Djoser and Huni and not before Djoser. The fact that the Turin King list has noted Djoser's name in red may also be significant, indicating a reverence for this king late into Egypt's history.

Netjenkhet Djoser, the 2nd King of Egypt's 3rd Dynasty

In view of Djoser's building projects, particularly his monumental complex at Saqqara, the number of years credited to him by the Turin King list has been in doubt. It is not impossible that the Turin King list may have mistook some bi-annual cattle-counts for whole years. If this is indeed the case, then Djoser may have ruled up to 37 or 38 years.

Nimaathapu (Nimaethap), the wife of Khasekhemwi, is known to have held the title "Mother of the King". This makes it likely that Netjerikhet Djoser was her son, with Khasekhemwi his father. Three royal women are known from during his reign, including Inetkawes, Hetephernebti and a third one whose name is destroyed. One of them might have been his wife while the others were perhaps daughters or sisters. The relationship between Netjerikhet and his traditional successor, Sekhemkhet is not known.

Netjenkhet Djoser, the 2nd King of Egypt's 3rd Dynasty

It is possible that during Djosers reign the king managed to extend Egypt's southern border as far as Elephantine at the Nile's First Cataract. The inscription near modern Aswan on the Island of Sehel, which is a Ptolemaic forgery cut by the priests of the god Khnum of Elephantine, lays claim to some 137 km (85 miles) of territory south of their temple, known as the Dodekaschoinoi. This claim is made under the authority of Djoser, who, the inscription reads, was advised by Imhotep, his famous vizier, to make the grant of land to the temple of Khnumin order to end a famine in Egypt. In part, the text, written during the time of Ptolemy V. Epiphanes over 2000 years after the death of Djoser, partly states:

"My heart was in sore distress, for the Nile had not risen for seven years. The grain was not abundant, the seeds were dried up, everything that one had to eat was in pathetic quantities, each person was denied his harvest. Nobody could walk any more; the old people's hearts were sad and their legs were bent when they sat on the ground, and their hands were hidden away. Even the courtiers were going without, the temples were closed and the sanctuaries were covered in dust. In short, everything in existence was afflicted."

The text goes on to record Djoser's attempt to find the origins of the Nile flood and to understand the role played by Khnum in the inundation. He then makes an offering to Khnum, and the god appears to him in a dream, promising,

"I will cause the Nile to rise up for you. There will be no more years when the inundation fails to cover any area of land. The flowers will sprout up, their stems bending with the weight of the pollen."

Ptolemy V Epiphanes was no doubt actually referring to himself in the guise of Djoser, having to struggle with the effects of a famine. Regardless of whether there was a famine in Djoser's time, this stele is evidence of Djoser's continuing fame throughout Egypt's dynastic period. Also important is the fact that Ptolemy V Epiphanes was making an attempt to identify himself with Djoser, who Egyptians saw as an idea king and the founder of the Memphite dynasty. Later kings would imitate much about Djoser, and generally regard him as a king they wished to be associated with.

Netjerikhet Djosers foreign policy was one of careful establishment of Egyptian presence in economically important places. He sent several military expeditions to the Sinai, during which the local Bedouins were defeated, and an inscription at Wadi Maghara would indicate that he also had turquoise mined in the region. The Sinai owed its importance to the Egyptian economy for its valuable minerals turquoise and copper. It was also strategically important as a buffer between the Asian Bedouin and the Nile valley.

Netjenkhet Djoser, the 2nd King of Egypt's 3rd Dynasty

Netjerikhet Djoser is mostly known as the king who commissioned the building of the Step Pyramid at Saqqara and the temple complex surrounding it. This is often recognized as the first monumental building made of stone. His name is linked with that of the architect who planned and constructed the first stone buildings in the world, the high-priest and vizier Imhotep, who may also have built the Step Pyramid of Djosers successor, Sekhemkhet. Besides the technological advances and the Ancient Egyptian craftsmanship, the building of Djoser's funerary complex at Saqqara also demonstrates the organizational skills of the central government. It would probably be the Step Pyramid which caused most of Djoser's fame during ancient times, and it is certainly why his name is known to so many today.

Djoser is also attested by fragments from a shrine in Heliopolis, a seal impressions in the tomb of Khasekhemwy in Abydos, a seal impressions from tomb 2305 in Saqqara, a seal impression from the tomb of Hesy in Saqqara, seal impression from Hierakonpolis and seal impression from Elephantine.






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