Khaba, a Shadowy King of Egypt's Late, 3rd Dynasty

Khaba, a Shadowy King
of Egypt's Late, 3rd Dynasty

by Jimmy Dunn

The cartouche of Khaba from the 3rd Dynasty

We know very little about the King, who probably occupied the throne of Egypt near the end of the 3rd Dynasty, named Khaba, who's name means "The Soul Appears". His nswt-bity and nbty names are unknown. It has been suggested that the king's birth name might have been Teti.

In the Turnin King List, this king's name is marked as "erased", but is credited with a reign of six years. The fact that his name was marked as "erased" may mean that there were dynastic problems, or simply that the scribe who composed the Turin King List was unable to read his name from more ancient records.

A bowl inscribed with the name of Khaba

Khaba is attested to at four, and perhaps five sites in Egypt, including a mastaba (Z-500) at Zawiyet el-Aryan, where eight alabaster bowls inscribed with the king's serekh in red ink were unearthed. This mastaba is located in an area about two kilometers south of the Giza Plateau, halfway between Giza and Abusir on the west bank of the Nile, adjacent to the so-called "layer pyramid". While there is no evidence from this unfinished pyramid itself to link it with Khaba, it is generally attributed to him on the basis of the inscribed stone bowls found nearby.

Evidence of Khaba in Southern Egypt is attested by sealings found at Hierakonpolis and Elephantine. Those from Hierakonpolis come from the Early Dynastic town, either from houses or from the Early Dynastic stratum beneath the Old Kingdom temple of Horus. The Elephantine sealing was unearthed from the eastern town, and depicts a divine figure, perhaps the god Ash, holding a long scepter, flanked by serekhs of Khaba. There is also a diorite bowl of unknown provenance inscribed with the serekh of Khaba that is now in London's Petrie Museum, and another diorite bowl now in a private collection which is said to have come from Dahshur is likewise inscribed.

The Layor Pyramid south of Giza

Unfortunately, even Khaba's position within the order of succession has not been established beyond doubt, though he most certainly ruled in the latter part of the 3rd Dynasty. Most scholars appear to believe that he was the next to last king of the dynasty, though it has been suggested that Khaba could be the Horus name of the last king, Huni. Stone bowls inscribed with the name of a king were common during the 1st and early 2nd Dynasties ending with the reign of Khasekhemwy, but are not attested to again until the reign of Sneferu. Hence, this appears to suggest that Khaba preceded Sneferu of the 4th Dynasty by only a short period. Furthermore, the sealings of Khaba come from two sites where Huni erected small step pyramids, which also tends to suggest that Khaba might be identified as Huni. Nevertheless, most scholars identify Khaba as one of Huni's predecessors. Because of the close architectural similarity between Sekhemkhet's unfinished pyramid and the one at Zawiyet el-Aryan, Khaba may be most plausibly identified as Sekhemkhet's immediate successor, provided that the layer pyramid indeed belongs to Khaba. The substructure of this pyramid is so very similar to the pyramid of Sekhemkhet that it must have been built very near in time to his.

A seal impression of Khaba

Little else is know about this king, one of many Egyptian rulers who remain mostly anonymous. However, as a king ruling within a major dynasty, Khaba actually stands out for our lack of knowledge about him. Though almost always listed as one of the last kings of the 3rd Dynasty, many modern references otherwise ignore his reign. We know nothing of his family, or for that matter, any of his building projects beyond the uninscribed Layer Pyramid, nor do we have much idea about his foreign or domestic policies. This is perhaps another reason that it is tempting to equate him with Huni. He was apparently never buried in the layer pyramid, and his body has never been identified. While we may never know much about this king, hopefully archaeologist will someday provide us with more information than is now currently available.


Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Atlas of Ancient Egypt Baines, John; Malek, Jaromir 1980 Les Livres De France None Stated
Chronicle of the Pharaohs (The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt) Clayton, Peter A. 1994 Thames and Hudson Ltd ISBN 0-500-05074-0
History of Ancient Egypt, A Grimal, Nicolas 1988 Blackwell None Stated
Monarchs of the Nile Dodson, Aidan 1995 Rubicon Press ISBN 0-948695-20-x
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2