Egypt: Early Dynastic Kings, Part II, A Feature Tour Egypt Story

Early Dynastic Kings, Part II

By Marie Parsons

In the 2nd Dynasty, bronze vessels were made in Egypt for the first time. The entire ancient Near East had entered the Bronze Age.

Six kings may have ruled in the 2nd dynasty, which lasted little more than 200 years. The names of the first three rulers, Hetepsekhemwy, meaning "Pleasing in Powers," Raneb, meaning "Ra is the lord," and Nynetjer, meaning "Godlike," were inscribed on the back of a statue of a priest named Hotepdief. This priest presumably was in the royal mortuary cult at Saqqara for these kings.

Horus Hetepsekhemwy

Hetepsekhemwy may have reigned for 38 years. Sealings with his name have been found near the 5th Dynasty pyramid of Unas at Saqqara, though the tomb attributed to him was empty. Sealings with his name have also been found in the offering chambers nearest the entrance of Qaas tomb, perhaps indicating that Hetepsekhemwy oversaw the burial of his predecessor. In addition, an grave from Badari dated to the Early Dynastic period contained an alabaster vessel fragment inscribed with the royal serekh, the name of an estate, and the title of a mortuary priest.

Horus Nebra

Ranebs name should more appropriately be Nebra, "lord of the sun." He reigned for 39 years, according to Manetho. A granite stele from Abydos with Nebras name in serekh. appears today in the Metropolitan Museum. Sealings with his name were also found with those of Hetepsekhemwy in the royal gallery tomb at Saqqara, so Nebra may have overseen the burial of his predecessor in turn. Nebras name in serekh also appears cut on a rock near Armant in the western desert, close to an ancient trade route linking the Nile with its western oases.

Manetho records that Nebra introduced the worship of the sacred goat of Mendes, of the sacred bull of Mnevis at Heliopolis, and of the sacred Apis bull at Memphis. However, it is now believed that since a stele dating from King Dens reign during the 1st Dynasty attests to his founding of the Apis cult, the worship of the Apis bull is dated earlier.

Horus Nynetjer

Nynetjer is the best attested king of the early 2nd Dynasty. He ruled for 47 years according to Manetho, and the Palermo Stone attests to at least 35 regnal years. The royal annals record events between his 6th and 26th regnal year, including various feasts of gods, including Sokar, a "running of the Apis bull" in the 9th regnal year, a military campaign in the 13th year, and in year 15, the birth of Khasekhemwy, the fifth and last king of the 2nd dynasty. The foundation of a chapel named Hr-rn is recorded for the 7th regnal year.

With the exception of a ceremony in the 19th regnal year associated with the goddess Nekhbet of El-Kab, most of the festival activities of the king were closely connected with the Memphis region. That is to say, Nynetjer kept himself and his court closer to the Delta area and Lower Egypt. Perhaps this influenced the internal tensions toward the end of his reign. The Palermo Stone records that in the 13th regnal year, two towns were attacked. The name of one town has been translated to mean "northland," perhaps referring to Lower Egypt.

Ephemeral rulers

Some rather ephemeral rulers may have reigned after Nynetjer died. The royal names of Weneg and Nubnefer were found incised on stone vessels found in galleries beneath the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara. Weneg, if he existed at all, may have ruled only in the north, as he is unattested outside of Saqqara. Since Unas leveled a good portion of Saqqara for his pyramid and causeway, Wenegs tomb and tombs of others may lie beneath that pyramid.

Another ephemeral successor to Nynetjer was Sened. A block inscribed with the words nswt-bity Snd was found reused in the funerary temple of King Khafre at Giza, though it may be more correctly dated later than the 2nd Dynsty. But an inscription dated to the 4th Dynasty from the tomb of a man named Shery, who may served in the royal mortuary cults, mentions King Sened, and indicates that his mortuary cult was celebrated at Saqqara and still current more than 100 years after his death. Sherys titles suggest a connection between the cults of Sened and Peribsen. If this is true, perhaps Sened ruled in the north and Peribsen in the south, an initially amicable division. One last piece of evidence for the existence of Sened was the appearance of his name on the belt of a ate Period bronze statuette of a king.

Early Dynastic Kings, Part II

Horus Sekhemib/Set Peribsen

The fourth king of the 2nd Dynasty came to the throne under the name of Sekhemib, and reigned for 17 years. During his reign the rivalry that seemed to be left merely simmering between north or Lower Egypt and the Delta, and south or Upper Egypt, reached the boiling point once again and a period of internal unrest began. It is thought possible that the basis for the story of the Contendings between Horus and Set is dated to this time, as the followers of each deity fought for control of the throne of unified Egypt.

Whereas all the kings up to now had had a Horus name and used the Horus falcon on their royal serekhs, Sekhemib changed that. He not only changed his name from Horus Sekhemib, meaning "powerful in heart," to Set Peribsen, meaning "Hope of all hearts," but he also replaced the Horus falcon with the Set animal. His granite funerary stele from Abydos shows this serekh change.

Peribsen chose to be buried back in Abydos rather than in Saqqara as had his recent predecessors, and though he is not attested outside Upper Egypt, as earlier mentioned, his mortuary cult was apparently celebrated in Saqqara.

Horus-Set Khasekhemwy

Khasekhemwy was the last king of the 2nd Dynasty. He may have been born with the name Khasekhem, but after putting down the various rebellions and once more uniting Egypt, he changed his name to Khasekhemwy, meaning "The Two Powerful Ones Appear." He also included both the Horus falcon and the Set animal on his serekh and added the epithet nbwy -htp im=f, meaning "the two ladies are at peace in him," perhaps referring to the tutelary goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt, once again united under his sole rule.

Early Dynastic Kings, Part II

A study of Nile levels recorded on the Palermo Stone indicate that the annual inundation had significantly dropped after the end of the 1st Dynasty. Perhaps ecological as well as political factors influenced the repeated upsurge in conflict between Upper and Lower Egypt.

Early Dynastic Kings, Part II

An inscription on a stone vase reads, "The year of fighting the northern enemy within the city of Nekheb." The vulture goddess Nekhbet was the royal tutelary deity of this city, now known as el-Kab, which lay on the eastern bank of the Nile opposite the city of Nekhen or Hierakonpolis. Two seated statues of Khasekhemwy have inscribed around their bases images of contorted bodies, supposedly northern rebels, with a figure of 47,209 recorded as the number killed.

Khasekhemwys tomb at Abydos is unique, trapezoidal in shape, 230 feet in length and varying from some 56 feet wide at one end to 33 feet at the other, with a stone burial chamber in the center. A royal scepter of gold and sard, and several small stone pots with gold-leaf lid coverings, were overlooked by tomb-robbers. About 1000 yards away from the tomb is the Shunet el-Zebib, a rectangular mud-brick structure 404 feet by 210 feet. Its walls stand up to 66 feet high and are about 16 feet thick. It contains a central burial structure of stone.

Early Dynastic Kings, Part II

Khasekhemwy married a northern princess named Nimaathap, who was called "king-bearing Mother" on a jar-sealing, and later on she was seen as the ancestress of the 3rd Dynasty.


  • Chronicle of the Pharaohs by Peter A. Clayon
  • Early Dynastic Egypt by Toby Wilkinson
  • History of Ancient Egypt by Nicolas Grimal

Marie Parsons is an ardent student of Egyptian archaeology, ancient history and its religion. To learn about the earliest civilization is to learn about ourselves. Marie welcomes comments to