March 26, 2012

Djer , Djet and Den Kings of Ancient Egypt

Djer , Djet and Den Kings 
Djer (probably Manetho's Athothis) succeeded Hor-Aha and is said to have reigned for 57 years. Once more, we rely on the evidence of the ivory and wood labels from Abydos and Saqqara for information. The hieroglyphs on all these labels are at an early stage in the development of writing and are often difficult to make out and prevent us from being positive as to their full meaning. One of these - an example in ivory from Abydos - has four lines of characters which include two ships, the sign for town and Djer's name in a seiekh. It appears to record a visit to the northern Delta cities of Buto, one of the early capitals of Egypt, and to Sais, already noted for its temple to the goddess Neith. The other label bearing his name, which is wooden and comes from Saqqara, seems to record some kind of religious event that may have involved human sacrifice. In the early period of Egyptian history, sacrificial (satellite) burial occurred (as at the Royal Tombs of Ur in Mesopotamia), but this wasteful practice was soon abandoned and, much later, mummiform figures called ushabtis were provided to perform the necessary menial tasks required in the next world..

Stela depicting the Horus name of the pharaoh Djer, on display at the Cairo Museum
Around Djer's large tomb at Abydos (Tomb O) were over 300 satellite burials of retainers who had gone to the grave at the same time as the principal interment. Some of these were provided with simple wooden coffins and grave markers. Military expeditions were obviously still necessary since a schematic rock drawing near Wadi Haifa shows enemies cast into the water beneath the keel of a ship whilst another enemy is seen tied to the front of an Egyptian warship (just as Ahmose the admiral, son of Ebana, describes in his later tomb at el-Kab; below, p. 97). To one side Djer's Horus name is inscribed within a seiekh.

Djer's successor is generally given as Djet (also referred to as Uadji) but it seems possible, to judge from the size (141 x 52 ft, 43 x 16 m) and location of a tomb at Saqqara (no. 3503) and a large tomb at Abydos (Petrie's Tomb Y), that there was a queen who either reigned alone between them or was later regent for a short period. The name on the large stone grave stele found at the Abydos tomb is Merneith, at first thought to be that of a king but later identified as a queen (consort of Djer). Her name has recently been found at Abydos on a clay seal impression that gives the names of the early kings in order from Narmer to Den, confirming her status and giving her the title of 'King's Mother', presumably of Den for whom she may have acted as regent during his minority. Around her Abydos tomb were 41 subsidiary burials of servants, the office of many of them in the queen's service being indicated by the grave's contents.

Djet's tomb at Abydos is Tomb Z. The one at Saqqara (no. 3504), for¬merly ascribed to the king and virtually twice the size of the Abydos structure, is now recognized as that of the noble Sekhem-kha, whose sealings were much in evidence in the debris. There was a number of subsidiary (sacrificial) burials made around both monuments, 174 at Abydos and 62 individual burials at Saqqara. Djet's great stone funerary stele from Abydos is a consummate piece of sculpture. The Saqqara tomb of Sekhem-ka (no. 3504) also produced surprises: running round the outer edge of the palace fagade was a low bench with a series of about 300 clay bulls' heads modelled in relief, each provided with a pair of real bull's horns. As previously mentioned (cf. Palette of Narmer, above), the bull was a potent symbol of royalty and it seems curious for it to be found decorating the plinth around a noble's tomb.

Serekh containing the name of Djet, on display at the Louvre
With the next king, Den (or Udimu), the historical record becomes stronger. There are many labels and inscriptions on stone vases which cite this king and events in his reign. There is also an interesting correlation across to the Palermo Stone (p. 11). We can identify Den (Udimu) via his throne name, Semti, as king of the Two Lands (nsw-bt), with a king in the Abydos King List (p. 11) called Hesepti. From here we turn to Manetho for a correlation with his Usaphaidos with a reign of 20 years. On the Palermo Stone, with its annual records cited via principal events, there are several which tally with similar events known for Den from surviving labels. Those on the Palermo Stone relate to an unidentified king, but run sequentially for 14 years and appear to refer to the later years of the reign. There is a fair probability, therefore, that the Palermo Stone sequence relates to Den, and the subsequent listings to his successors. These we know to be Anedjib, Semerkhet and Qa'a in that order, for they appear thus following Den's (Udimu's) name on an inscribed stone vase from the galleries beneath the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. This sequence takes us to the end of the 1st Dynasty and has recently been confirmed by the sequence given on a clay sealing from Abydos.

A particularly interesting ivory label from Abydos, inscribed for Den, probably from a pair of sandals, records 'The first time of the smiting of the East' with Den shown, mace upraised in the classic pharaonic posture (p. 18), clubbing a foreign chieftain. This appears to correlate with the 'Smiting of the Troglodytes' recorded on the Palermo Stone, as the second year within a sequence of 14 years of an unidentified king.

Professor W.B. Emery found a tomb (no. 3035) at Saqqara in 1935 that, despite the numerous jar sealings present of Hemaka, the king's great chancellor, was at first thought by many to be the tomb of the king, Den, by virtue of its great size and the magnificent finds. The tomb has now been reassigned to Hemaka. Although much destroyed, the collection of objects recovered, the largest group of excavated Early Dynastic material, was of supremely high quality.

Ivory label of Den from Abydos showing the king, with uplifted mace, smiting an Asiatic captive. He is identified by his Horus name in a serekh above the unfortunate foe. Note the Anubis- topped standard that precedes the scene. British Museum.
Den's Abydos tomb (Tomb Z, 62 x 49 ft/19 x 15 m) was much smaller than the Saqqara tomb previously ascribed to him (185 x 83 ft/56 x 25 m) and it had 174 satellite burials around it. On the grounds of architectural similarity, Emery considered that a badly destroyed tomb found at Giza, almost as large as Hemaka's at Saqqara, and which had the graves of sacrificed servants around it, might be the tomb of Den's queen, whose name is not known.

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