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Egypt: Who Was Menes?

Who was Menes? By Jimmy Dunn

According to ancient sources, Menes was the founder of a unified Egypt, the first king of the 1st Dynasty. Actually, Menes is the Greek form of the name provided by the third century ! Egyptian historian, Manetho. Alternative forms include Min "provided by #erodotus$, Minaios "provided by %osephus$, and Menas "provided by Diodorus &iculus$, and there are other variations as well.

't seems almost certain that the various Greek forms of the name render the Egyptian name Mni, found in the Abydos and (urin king lists, although the etymology of the name is problematic. &ome have proposed a connection with the verb, )to endure), while others wish to connect it with the Egyptian indefinite pronoun mn, meaning )so*and*so), that is, a substitute for a forgotten name. +ne scholar, %ames Allen, has sought to link the name Meni with the Egyptian name of the city of Memphis "Mn*nfr$, which Menes is said to have founded. According to Menetho, Menes founded a dynasty of eight kings from this. Manetho gives Menes a reign of about si,ty years "si,ty*two years according to Africanus, si,ty according to Eusebius$. #is principal achievement is said to have been the foundation of Memphis, on land reclaimed from the -ile by means of the construction of an immense dike. Manetho reports that Menes campaigned abroad, which we now know is very possible. Diodorus &iculus says that he was the first law*giver and that it was he would establish the divine cults in Egypt. #e is also said by .liny to have invented writing, which is highly improbable. Manetho also tells us that Menes was eventually carried off by a hippopotamus. /hat seems clear to us is that Menes must have been another name given to one of the better attested kings of the 1st Dynasty, if he indeed was not a legendary figure composed of several of them. Many scholars do believe that he represents a specific king, but who e,actly this might be is an argument almost as old as Egyptology itself. (oday, the two primary candidates are -armer and Aha. /e are more certain, though not entirely, that these two individuals reigned successively, with -armer preceding Aha. 'f -armer is considered to be Menes, then Aha would be the second ruler of the 1st Dynasty. +therwise, -armer would be the last ruler of the .redynastic .eriod, or as some have suggested, Dynasty 0.

.erhaps the most important aspect of this discussion is to remember that there has been no absolutely conclusive proof that either of these individuals was Menes, even though many scholars will and have voiced absolute opinions, because their absolute opinions are not unified. /e do not know with any certainty who Menes actually was, and we may never have the answer to this 1uestion. 2urthermore, opinions over the years have swung to and fro. -armer3s claim rests largely on his earlier historical position and on the -armer .alette, which has been interpreted as showing the king in the act of con1uering 4ower "-orthern$ Egypt. 'n 1567 %.E. 8uibell had been digging at El*9ab, an important site on the east bank some distance to the north of Edfu. #ere the local goddess was the vulture -ekhbet who shared with the cobra /ad:et of uto in the Delta the honor of providing the .haraoh with his (wo* 4adies title. -ekhbet was representative of upper Egypt, while /ad:et that of 4ower Egypt. (hat year, he found little success, but the ne,t, while :ust across the river at 9om el*Ahmar, he had more luck. (his was known to be the ancient -ekhen mentioned in certain +ld 9ingdom official titles, and the Greek #ierakonpolis on account of the falcon*god #orus who was the principal deity worshipped there. (he great pri;e he found was the famous slate palette of -a3rmer. 't needed but little study to recogni;e in this ob:ect an indisputable link between the late predynastic and the earliest dynastic periods. Apparently, though there is some confusion in the published work of 8uibell at #ierakonpolis, he also found in the same deposit fragments of a ceremonial mace head belonging to -armer and some other mace head fragments inscribed with the name of &corpion, one of -armer3s predecessors. (he si;e, weight and decoration all suggest that it was a ceremonial palette, rather than an actual cosmetics palette for daily use. (he titulary of #orus -armer appears on both of its relatively flat faces. (he top of both sides are decorated in a similar manner. #is name is inscribed in the form of a serekh, situated between two bovine heads. 't has been suggested that these heads represent cows, and are an early reference to a #athor*like cult, but they could also easily be bulls heads, certainly symbolic of Egyptian kingship. -evertheless, they more likely represent a #athor goddess, who in some mythology was the mother of #orus, the falcon god who was, at least in later times, manifested in the form of the king. .

2ront and ack of the -armer .alette

+n the front side of the palette, :ust under the king3s name, is a scene depicting -armer wearing the <ed !rown of 4ower Egypt. #e holds a mace in his left hand, while in his right he holds a type of flail. efore him are the symbols for his name, though not written in a serekh. #e is followed by a servant who holds his sandals in his left hand and some kind of basket in his other hand. Above the servant is a symbol of unknown meaning. %ust in front of the king walks another figure who may either have long hair or some sort of unknown headdress. #e is also accompanied by symbols of unknown meaning. #owever, a similar individual with the same symbols can also be found on the ceremonial mace*heads of both -armer and &corpion, and they have at times been described as perhaps being shaman, or priests, though their appearance would be very atypical of later Egyptian priests. .receding all of these figures are four individual who each hold a standard. (he standards include some kind of animal skin, a dog "or perhaps a seth*animal$, and two falcons. (he emblems might either represent the house of -armer, or perhaps more likely, regions that already belonged to his kingdom. (his procession is approaching, on the right of the scene, ten decapitated corpses who lie on the ground with their heads tossed between their legs. Above these victims is depicted a ship with a harpoon and a falcon in it. (hese symbols are usually interpreted as the con1uered region. 'f the symbols for the nomes "provinces of ancient Egypt$ remained the same over time, then this could be the region of Mareotis, the 7th 4ower Egyptian nome. 'n front of these symbols is also the wing of a door and a sparrow, which are thought to mean )create) or )found). (herefore, one might speculate that -armer founded a new province from this con1uered land. (he central, largest scene on the front of the palette is an interesting one depicting two men tethering the stretched necks of two fabulous animals. (he tying together of the necks of the two animals has often been interpreted as the :oining of =pper and 4ower Egypt, though in fact there is nothing much to indicate that these two animals were symbolic of southern and northern Egypt. (his is a uni1ue image in Egyptian art, and one must remember that the taming of wild animals was a traditional symbolic task of the king. (he scene at the bottom of the palette3s front face continues the imagery of con1uest and victory. A bull, almost certainly a symbol of the king3s vigor and strength, tramples a fallen foe and attacks the walls of a city or fortress with its horns. (he name of the city or fortress is written within the walls, but unknown to us. Most of the back side of the palette is taken up by a central scene, finely carved with highly detailed raised relief. 't shows the king, who must certainly be -armer, in the classical pose found throughout Egyptian history of smiting his enemies with a war mace. #e wears a short

kilt with a dangling animal3s tail, and on his head is what appears to be the /hite !rown of =pper Egypt. ehind him we once again find a servant who holds the king3s sandals in his left hand and a basket "or perhaps water bottle$ in his right. /e also see that, around his neck, is probably a cylinder seal for the king. Again, there are signs written behind this man3s head that may denote his title, but their e,act reading and meaning are unclear.. (he fact that the king is represented as barefooted and followed by a sandal*bearer may suggest a ritual nature for the scene depicted on the palette. (he enemy is depicted kneeling before the king, naked but for a slight girdle. ehind the enemy are two signs that include a harpoon and perhaps a lake, the meaning of which is also unclear. 't is possible that this represents the origin of the enemy, or where the possible underlying battle took place. #owever, one must also remember that later in Egyptian history, such scenes were highly symbolic, and need not represent a real event. Above the enemy3s head, facing the king, is what most scholars believe to be a personified marshland, with a mans head rising from it. +ut of the land, si, papyrus plants are growing, indicating that it was marshland, usually identified as the Egyptian Delta by most scholars. A falcon, symbolic of the king, is perched on top of the papyrus plants and appears to draw the breath of life out of the nostrils of the marshland3s face. /hile the marshland is often mentioned by those who suppose -armer to be the uniter of =pper and 4ower Egypt, and therefore Menes himself, some cautious scholars have also noted that, at this early time, it could in fact be symbolic of any marsh area, such as the 2ayoum. #owever, we might tentatively believe that this was a region of 4ower "northern$ Egypt, given the symbolism on the front of the palette. As a side note, in later times, the papyrus plant was used, though drawn somewhat differently than this, to denote the number 1,000. &ome believe that the scene on the -armer palette only mean that the king subdued >,000 enemies, but this is a rather unlikely interpretation. elow this central scene at the bottom of the palette lie two enemies, who have probably fallen in battle. (o the left of each is a hieroglyphic*like sign. +ne is a knot, while the other is apparently a wall. oth signs are usually interpreted as names of places that have been overthrown by -armer, though we have no real idea of what places these might be. 'n his book, Egypt of the .haraohs, &ir Alan Gardiner tells us that the symbolism of this palette is obvious, but unfortunately, a detailed analysis of it shows that, while there may be some evidence indicating a victory of the south over the north, such evidence is at least somewhat murky. !learly the palette is overall militarily symbolic, and most likely the enemies who -armer has overcome are from a marshy region. (hat -armer wears what appears to be both the <ed and /hite crown are more convincing, but still not altogether conclusive. &ome scholars have pointed out that, while the /hite and <ed !rowns were symbolic of =pper and 4ower Egypt, respectively, in later times, at this early period one or both of them could have had other importance. -a3rmer also made his appearance at =mm el*9a3ab "8a3ab$ at Abydos, together with the other early dynastic rulers "where their tombs are located$. (he only other remains of him are votive offerings found in the temple of #ierakonpolis.#owever as a side note, it seems that -armer3s name was recently discovered incised on a piece of an imported Egyptian wine :ar in the -ahal (illah region of southern 'srael by the =!&D archaeological research e,pedition.

Aha3s claim as Menes comes mostly from the hieroglyphs "phonetic mn, sometimes referred to as men$ associated with his name on various ob:ects. #owever, it is uncertain whether there e,ists an unbroken tradition of knowledge on the part of the Egyptians about the foundational king that could connect the name Mni with any historical person. ?et, it should be noted that fragments of clay :ar seals from Abydos, alternating -armer and the word or name mn, suggests that mn was a leading person and possibly successor to -armer. /e know the name of #or*Aha, or Aha, the 2ighter or 2ighting #awk, by his name sign appearing in a serekh on a potsherd, now in the ritish Museum, and by an ivory label from the tomb at -a1ada of -ithotep "possibly his mother and the wife of 9ing -armer, or also possibly his own wife$. (his label also shows the nbty name Mn in front of the serekh. (he reading of the hieroglyphic sign of mn on several ivory tablets belonging to 9ing Aha, and on a plate fragment, has prompted speculation that Aha is Menes. Again, however, many scholars also do not accept that mn e1uates with Menes.

2inally, there is various other evidence, some of which suggests that -armer may have, for the most part, united Egypt, but that it was his son Aha who solidified this union and established Memphis. +ther theories also suggest that -armer and Aha were one and the same person. 'n the end, no one knows, but isn3t it interesting that such fine points can be argued about a man or men who lived over @,000 years ago. +ne must also keep in mind that much of what we know of Menes was recorded over twenty*five hundred years after his death. 't is likely, with new discoveries, that we may find out more about these early giants of Egyptian civili;ation, but then again, we may never fully know who really was, Menes. Resources:
Title Author Date Publisher Reference

Number Chronicle of the Pharaohs (The Reign-By-Reign Clayton, Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Peter A. Egypt) $istory of Ancient Egypt, A 0onarchs of the (ile 54ford $istory of Ancient Egypt, The ,ri#al, (icolas Dodson, Aidan 'ha/, &an !!" Tha#es and $udson %td &'B( )-*)))*)+"-) (one 'tated &'B( )!"-2!*-3)-4

!-- Blac./ell !!* Ru1icon Press 3)))

54ford &'B( )- !6ni7ersity Press - *)8"-3

Egypt: Aha! Or is it King Menes?, A eature !our Egypt "tory


Aha! Or is it King Menes? By Marie #arson

Manetho and #erodotus are the )best) historical sources for the tradition that Menes was the unifier and first 9ing of a unified Egypt. Manetho lived in &ebennytos in the Delta during the .tolemaic period. #e was a priest, perhaps chief priest, of <a, and served as a consultant to the early .tolemaic rulers on the cult of &erapis. =sing perhaps source materials such as the annals now called the .alermo &tone and the (urin !anon, Manetho recorded a list of the 9ings of ancient Egypt from pre*dynastic times through to the .ersian con1uest. (he .alermo stone, inscribed on both sides of a black basalt slab, dates from the 2ifth Dynasty and records names of the kings of the 1*@th Dynasties. (he first three dynasties consist almost e,clusively of events that give the years their names.

(he 9ing*list on this stone mentions several pre*dynastic kings as well as the name of -armer, Menes, and Aha. (he 9ing*list at Abydos in the temple of &eti ' also includes the name of Menes. ut is Menes also -armer, or is Menes, Aha, that is, a second, or nisw bity name, for either of these kingsA /as Menes a name at all, or was Menes a titleA !onfusions about names and corresponding identities by the way may have to do with the fact that later king lists show the nbty names, while those on monuments usually list the #orus names. /e know of -armer by his famous palette, macehead, and by :ar seals. 't should be noted herein that fragments of clay :ar seals from Abydos, alternating -armer and the word or name mn, suggests that mn was a leading person and possibly successor to -armer. /e know the name of #or*Aha, or Aha, the 2ighter or 2ighting #awk, by his name sign appearing in a serekh on a potsherd, now in the ritish Museum, and by an ivory label from the tomb at -a1ada of -ithotep "possibly his mother and the wife of 9ing -armer$. (his label also shows the nbty name Mn in front of the serekh. (he reading of the hieroglyphic sign of mn on several ivory tablets belonging to 9ing Aha, and on a plate fragment, has prompted speculation that Aha is Menes. &ome scholars however do not accept that mn e1uates with Menes. &ome speculate the mn to mean merely a )someone), i.e. designating any person on whose behalf ritual ceremonies were undertaken.

(his second name Mn which could means )established,) could be the origin of the name Menes by Manetho and still later by #erodotus, but this is by no means certain. A label found at Abydos, where he had at least one tomb constructed, shows the #orus name of Aha, with sacred barks, a shrine of -it, and possibly some indication of the name Memphis. A wooden label from Abydos indicates he had to subdue rebels in -ubia, and another label indicates he built a temple to -eith or -it in the Delta at &ais. +ne of these labels may show a ceremony called )<eceiving the &outh and the -orth) over an unidentified ob:ect, possibly first representation of the binding together of lotus and papyrus stalks which later came to represent both halves of Egypt. 'f Aha was the successor to -armer, that is, the first king to begin his reign over a fully unified Egypt, it may make sense that he would establish a new capital and undertake such a ceremony as may have been represented. (he first line on the .alermo stone is determined by hieroglyphs for )king), some shown wearing the red crown and some the double, that is both white and red, crowns. &o for the reign of Aha, who may be Menes, the Annals record thisB ?ear C D 1B (he ?ear of . 'n which took place the 2estival of the irth of Anubis. ?ear C D EB (he ?ear of . 'n which took place.. ull. ?ear C D FB (he ?ear of .. in which took place the 2estival of the irth of. ?ear C D 7 "A$ D 1B (he ?ear of the 2ollowing of #orus in which took place the 2estival of the irth of Anubis. ?ear C D 7 "A$ D EB (he last civil year of the reign of the 9ing, of which he reigned the first si, months and seven days. 9ing Menes is traditionally believed to have begun Egyptian history. ut according to the (urin !anon and Manetho, there were historical events which preceded Menes, such as a series of semi*divine rulers who filled the gap between the reign of gods and of the emergence of Menes. (he .alermo stone mentions these )followers of #orus.) 't is also thought that perhaps the 2ollowers of #orus referred to a royal progress through the cities of =pper and 4ower Egypt so that the 9ing could visit his domain. Manetho wrote this about 9ing MenesB )After the dead and the demigods comes the 1st Dynasty, with 5 kings of whom Menes was the first. #e was an e,cellent leader. 'n what follows are recorded the rulers from all of the ruling houses in succession. Menes of (hinis, whom #erodotus calls Men, and his 7 descendants. G(hinis, or (his, was apparently a city or town near Abydos and the point of origin for the first dynasties. Menes, we are told ruled for about >E years, led the army across the frontier and won great glory. #e was killed by a hippopotamus.) #erodotus was a Greek historian who traveled in Egypt and recorded his own observations as well as the stories that he was told by priests and other Egyptians. #erodotus wrote that Menes was the first king of Egypt and dammed up the -ile near what was to become Memphis, in order to reclaim land on which he then founded the city. !ertainly, about the time of Aha, Memphis did become the administrative center of government. Although it is believed that Aha built his grave at Abydos, his name has been found inscribed on material from cemeteries in the Memphite region, at (ura, (arkhan and #elwan. =nder his reign, tombs were built at &a11ara, which have been attributed to high*ranking government officials and nobles. (he tomb of Aha was a comple, of three large brick*lined chambers number 10H1@H16 roofed over with wood. (o the east were a set of graves whose young male occupants were apparently sacrificed at the time of burial. (he monumental part of this tomb lay to the northeast where a large rectangular enclosure of brick, with corner bastions and towers was erected. 9ing Ahas grave was built of several separate chambers, in three stages. 't shows traces of large wooden shrines in three chambers, and FF subsidiary burials containing the remains of young males aged E0*E@ years old. &even young lions also were buried nearby one of those graves.

As more work is done at both Abydos and &a11ara, new evidence may come to light which will help fill in some of the gaps surrounding the mystery of who Menes may in fact have been.