March 27, 2012

Nynetjer, Seth-Peribsen and Khasekhemwy Pharaohs

The third king, Nynetjer, ruled for 47 years according to Manetho's calculations. Little happened during most of these: the Palermo Stone records events between Years 6 and 26 of his reign, including various feasts of gods; a 'running of the Apis bull' in Year 9; a military campaign in Year 13 when there occurred the 'hacking up of the city of Shem-Re' and the 'House-of-the-North',- and in Year 15 the birth of Khasekhemwy, next king but one. Manetho also adds that it was decided that women could occupy the throne, but Merneith had apparently pre-empted this in the previous dynasty.

Cartouche name of Nynetjer in the Abydos list
The fourth king of the dynasty came to the throne under the name of Sekhemib and reigned for 17 years. During his reign, however, the simmering rivalry between north and south reached boiling point once more, and a period of internal unrest ensued. The conflict was of a politico-divine nature, legitimized in part by the mythological struggle between the two gods Horus and Seth, who fought for control of the kingdom of Egypt. It was of the utmost significance, therefore, that Sekhemib dropped his Horus name in favour of a Seth name, Seth-Peribsen - indicating perhaps that the followers of Seth gained the upper hand. Peribsen's granite funerary stele from Abydos is clear evidence of this change in allegiance, since the falcon above the serekh of his Horus name has been replaced by the animal of Seth, with its pointed ears. A later king, Khasekhemwy, was obviously a religious diplomat because he incorporated the names of both gods with his, and apparently managed to mollify both factions.

Manetho inserts three kings between Peribsen and Khasekhemwy: Sethenes (Sendji), Chaires (Neterka) and Nephercheres (Neferkara), reigning respectively for 41, 17 and 25 years. The evidence for these kings is slight and archaeological remains are non-existent. Khasekhemwy was the last king of the dynasty, although some authorities suggest that he had an immediate predecessor with a very similar name, Khaselchem. Others opine that they are one and the same person who reigned for 30 years. According to this theory, Khasekhem changed his name to Khasekhemwy after he had put down various rebellions and thus united the land; meaning 'The Two Powerful Ones appear', the new name incorporated both the Horus falcon and the Seth animal on the serekh.

Prior to the restoration of peace, it appears that northern enemies struck south, since an inscription on a stone vase records: 'The year of fighting the northern enemy within the city of Nekheb.' The vulture goddess Nekhbet, shown in the inscription, was the patron deity of Nekheb (now known as el-Kab) - on the opposite, eastern, bank of the Nile to the ancient capital of the southern kings, Hierakonpolis (Nekhen) - and was much revered by the rulers of that city. The fighting must have been desperate if northerners could get so far south and into the capital city. The number of northerners killed is given as 47,209, represented as contorted bodies around the bases of two seated statues of Khasekhemwy. The statues, one of schist and the other of limestone, come from Hierakonpolis and show the king closely wrapped in his heb-sed cloak (p. 19). In both he wears the White Crown of Upper Egypt, indicative of his victory over northern Lower Egyptian enemies. They are each remarkable artistic studies at this early period.

[Right] One of a pair of limestone seated statues of Khasekhemwy from Hierakonpolis (shared between Cairo and Oxford, p. 26). The schematic hieroglyphic inscription around the base records his success as king of Upper Egypt (he wears the White Crown) over Lower Egyptian enemies. Cairo Museum.
Khasekhemwy died in about 2686 BC, and his huge tomb at Abydos is unique: it is trapezoidal in shape, 230 ft (70 m) in length and varying from some 56 ft (17 m) wide at one end to 33 ft (10 m) at the other, with a stone-built burial chamber almost in the centre. The robbers missed one prize item in their looting - the king's sceptre of gold and sard, as well as several beautifully made small stone pots with gold-leaf lid coverings. About 1000 yards away from the tomb in the desert at Abydos is the Shunet el-Zebib, a vast rectangular mud-brick structure, 404 x 210 ft (123 x 64 m). Its walls, with their articulated palace facade, are up to 16 ft (5 m) thick and almost 66 ft (20 m) high; they are an incredible survival, being nearly 5000 years old. It is not known what the exact purpose of the building was, much as it may look like an impressive fort. Excavations revealed evidence of complicated internal buildings, and it may have been connected with the provision made for the king's ka (soul) in his tomb nearby.

As the dynasty ends with Khasekhemwy so, through him, the next one starts. He apparently married a northern princess to cement the good relations between the followers of Horus and Seth. She was called Nemathap and a jar-sealing gives her title as 'The King-bearing Mother'. Later ages saw her as the ancestral figure of the 3rd Dynasty, much as Queen Aahotep was regarded as ancestress of the New Kingdom.

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