Sanakhte, A Mysterious King of Egypt's 3rd Dynasty

Sanakhte, A Mysterious King of Egypt's 3rd Dynasty

by Jimmy Dunn

Uncertainty swirls around the placement, and also the events of the 3rd Dynasty king known as Sanakhte (Sanakht). He may have been Nebka, who was known to manetho, and listed on both the Turin Cannon and the Abydos king list as the first king of this dynasty. However, this is problematic to say the least, for we base our belief that he was Nebka on a source that lists his Horus name, Sanakhte, together with a second name that ends with the element "ka" Most of the information we have on this king refers to him as Nebka. In fact, some sources list the two as separate kings, with Nebka founding the 3rd Dynasty and Sanakhte ruling later, perhaps after Khaba.

However, despite this, mud seal impressions bearing the name of Nethery-khet Djoser from the Abydos tomb of the last king of the 2nd Dynasty Khasekhemuy and connected with the burial seem to suggest that Khasekhemuy's widow and her already ruling son Djoser were in charge of the king's burial. On the basis of sealing from the tomb of Khasekhemwy, which name her as "Mother of the King's Children," the wife of the last ruler of the 2nd Dynasty seems to have been one Nimaethap. The latter name was also found, with the title of "King's Mother", upon seal impressions from Mastaba K1 at Beit Khallaf, a gigantic monument dated to the reign of Djoser. Hence, on the basis that Djoser was succeeded by Sekhemkhet and of indications pointing to Khaba as the third in line, Nebka may have been the fourth king of the dynasty, to be equated with the Nebkara following Djoser-teti and preceding Huni in the Saqqara king list.

Many theories regarding the rule of Sanakhte have been advanced, including the possibility that Sanakhte, as a member of a former ruling family, usurped the throne from the ruling family at the beginning of the dynasty. Hence, Djoser could have indeed buried his father, Khasekhemuy, and won back the throne from the usurper, Sanakhte. However, we are told that today, most Egyptologists do believe that he was a latter king of the Dynasty, even though most current documentary resources continue to equate Sanakhte with Nebka, as the 1st King of Egypt's noteworthy 3rd Dynasty who probably ruled from This near Abydos.

Little is known of this king, despite a reign of some 18 or 19 years (others might attribute a much shorter reign of from five to seven years, which would allow a better fit for him ruling before Djoser), for his reign is missing from the Palermo Stone, and important source of information on this period of Egyptian history. However, Nebka is mentioned in Papyrus Westcar. The only large scale monumental building that can possibly be attributed to him is at Beit Khallaf (mastaba K2). His name also appears on the island of Elephantine in southern Egypt near Aswan on a small pyramid. Another of the few sources we have evidencing this king is a fragment of a sandstone relief from Wadi Maghara in the Sinai. It would seem that he, along with Djoser, began the exploitation in earnest of the mineral wealth of the Sinai peninsula, with its rich deposits of turquoise and copper. It shows the king's name in a serekh before his face. The relief depicts Sanakhte, who is about to smite an enemy, wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt. We also know of a priest of Nebka's mortuary cult who appears to have lived in the reign of Djoser.

Fragment of a sandstone  relief bearing the name of Nebka

Some Egyptologists continue to believe that he may have been the brother of his famous successor, Djoser (or Zoser), or if not, perhaps his father, but apparently current thought among Egyptologists leans against this. It has been suggested that his tomb at Saqqara was incorporated into the Step Pyramid of Djoser, though little real evidence for this exists, but it has also been suggested that his is a little known monument that seems to nicely fill the typological lacuna between the Shunet el Zebib and the Step Pyramid at Saqqara.


Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
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
Who Were the Phraohs? (A history of their names with a list of cartouches) Quirke, Stephen 1990 Dover Publications ISBN 0-486-26586-2