Egypt: Sekhemib/Seth-Peribsen of Egypt's 2nd (second) Dynasty


by Jimmy Dunn

Set Peribsen

Were Hitler and his gang to have won the second World War, there would not be a question of whether history would justify his atrocities, but rather simply how they would have been justified, and how the actual winners such as Churchill and others would have been made to look evil. The curse of our past is that the winners will write our histories, recording their triumphs as good over evil. But in many instances, though we would like to think World War II is not one of these, the winners have simply buried their own wrong doings while spotlighting any atrocities committed on the part of the losers.

In ancient Egypt, we find what sometimes appears to be almost a primeval struggle between good and evil. This conflict between the followers of Seth (Set) and the followers of Horus is very ancient and may very well form a component of our modern theological concepts. Yet there may have, during the predynastic period, actually been a battle between real rulers, symbolically or otherwise associated with these two gods, over control of Egypt. In the end, the followers of Horus seem to have (more or less) triumphed, and in general, Seth as a god, appears to us as the more sinister of the two, even though one might say he was never really completely vilified.

A Stela of Peribsen

Left: A stele of Seth Peribsen

At a few points in Egyptian history, normally when we see conflicts between the north and south, Seth appears to gain favor with the Egyptian royalty. As an example, we have the 4th (or possible the 6th) king of Egypt's 2nd Dynasty. This king originally ascended the throne as Sekhemib, meaning "Powerful in Heart". However, for the first time since the beginning of the 1st Dynasty, he specifically broke from tradition, associating his name with Seth rather than Horus. His name was changed from Sekhemib to Seth-Peribsen (Peribsen meaning "Hope of all Hearts"). However, it should be noted at this point, that apparently a minority of Egyptologists believe that Sekhemib and Seth-Peribsen were two different kings. Furthermore, some would have him changing his name from Seth Peribsen to Horus Sekhemib, though in our context of earlier Egyptian kings, this seems less likely.

Apparently, the rivalry between Upper and Lower Egypt sparked a period of internal unrest within the country, when seemingly, the followers of Seth gained an upper hand that would take at least some hold on the country through the end of this Dynasty. Most of the 1st and early 2nd Dynasty kings are better attested to in the north of Egypt, while the later kings of the 2nd Dynasty are better known from the south. However, some argue that the reign of Seth Peribsen was not nearly as violent as we might believe, and that his name change was more politically motivated in order to assure peace. Others see it as a period when upper and lower Egypt may have simply separated due to the difficulties in administering such a large state.

Egyptologists seem ready to admit that the events of the second dynasty are extremely uncertain, if not the most uncertain in Egyptian history. It is entirely possible that the events surrounding Peribsen's name change are related to religious and theological motivations that remain unknown, due to the complex mythology surrounding Horus and Seth.

It is likely that if conflicts did occur during this period, it was eventually settled by Khasekemwy, the last king of the dynasty, though perhaps not without compromise (together with no small amount of bloody conflict). His serekh (a palace facade containing his name) is surmounted by both the Jackal of Seth and the falcon of Horus. By the 3rd Dynasty, all of the kings reverted back to the Horus title.

Even though Seth-Peribsen was considered a legitimate king by later generations of ancient Egyptians, it is clear that the followers of Horus (at least in relationship to the followers of Seth) dominated Egyptian history. If indeed the struggle was originally not between gods, but rather mortal men under the leadership of ancient kings, two things seem clear. First, during at least the early dynasties, Seth (as a god) was not seen to be nearly as sinister as in later times. However, as time passed and the worship of Horus and his association with the King grew ever stronger, the attributes of Seth suffered. We know Seth today as a god of confusion, the spirit of disorder and the personification of violence, as well as bad faith. Yet in the Egyptian spirit of balance and duality, he was a necessary component of their religion.

Seth-Peribsen may have ruled for around 17 years. His predecessor is often listed as Nynetjet, though there is evidence and some acceptance among Egyptologists that two rulers, named Weneg and Sened, may have reigned between these two kings. We know that Egyptian power extended as far south as Elephantine during his reign, for seal impressions bearing his name were discovered there in 1985. Apparently, there was a temple dedicated to Seth on the Island during later times.

Seth-Peribsen's tomb at Abydos

Left: Seth-Peribsen's tomb at Abydos

Seth Peribsen apparently built a fairly small tomb (P) at Abydos with a burial chamber lined with mudbrick, of which only the substructure survives.As might be expected, there has been no tomb of his found at Saqqara, were many of the 1st Dynasty kings were buried.






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