Manetho's Egyptian History (also known as Notes about Egypt) gives us the basic structure or skeleton of Egyptian chronology that we use today. He divided Egyptian history into dynasties (essentially, ruling houses) and we recognize 30 of them from the unification of Egypt in c. 3100 BC down to the death of the last native Egyptian pharaoh, Nectanebo II, in 343 BC. Sometimes the last phase of ancient Egyptian history after this date has two dynasties added - the 31st and 32nd - which are the Second Persian Period, and the Macedonian rulers linked with the Ptolemaic Dynasty, which ends with the suicide of the last of the Ptolemies, Cleopatra VII, in 30 BC.
Curiously, although great reliance is placed on Manetho, no full text of his work survives. Perhaps one day a papyrus edition will be found, possibly coming from one of the cities of the Faiyum which have produced so much literary and historical material on papyri from the Graeco-Roman period. Manetho's History is known to us only by chance since it was highly thought of in antiquity and several writers whose works have survived quoted extensively from it. Principal amongst these was Josephus (writing in the late 1st century AD), in his Jewish Antiquities and Contra Apionem, and the Christian chronogra- phers Sextus Julius Africanus, whose Chronicle comes down to c. AD 220, and Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, whose writings add another 100 years into the early 4th century. Some 500 years later, the work of the last two writers was used as a basis for a history of the world by George the Monk who was secretary (hence his also being known as Syncellus) to the Byzantine Patriarch Tarasius (784-806). All these authors took what they wanted for their own purposes from their sources and so Manetho's account only exists in fragments within these later works.
Manetho's sources were very mixed. He obviously had access to temple records, since we know that he was a priest in the temple at Heliopolis (the Biblical city of On). His name itself has overtones of learning because it appears to be associated with Thoth, the ibis-headed god of wisdom who invented hieroglyphs. It may mean 'Beloved of Thoth' or possibly 'Gift of Thoth'. He had sources such as the official papyrus histories, the sacred books in the temple and, not least, the historical inscriptions on the temple walls such as the king lists described below, Ramesses Ill's account of his battles with the Sea Peoples at Medinet Habu, and many more that have not been preserved. To all these possible sources, however, he added a lot of popular traditions and stories of the kings, some of which are far from credible. He was also, obviously, conversant with the writings of Herodotus, the Greek historian from Halicarnassus, who had visited Egypt around 450 BC and written much about the land and its history in Book 2 of his History.
Manetho and The Cult of Serapis
Manetho lived during the reign of Ptolemy I, Governor and Satrap of Egypt from 323 to 305 and king from 305 to 282 BC. Plutarch tells us that Manetho was one of the two priestly advisors to the king and that he had been concerned with the introduction of the cult of Serapis. This god, represented as a bearded man with a corn modius (measure) on his head, was a conflation of Egyptian and Greek ideas which had wide appeal and whose cult, under Rome, spread as far as Roman York (Corpus Inscr. Lat. VII, 240). Alexandria was noted for its temple to Serapis with the famous cult statue by the sculptor Bryaxis, introduced into the temple about 286 BC, as well as for its later Library and also being the burial place of Alexander the Great. Manetho’s association with the foundation of the cult may be acknowledged by the appearance of his name on a statue base found in the temple of Serapis at Carthage (CIL VIII, 1007); it may have been a portrait bust of him, but we shall never know.