Podcast – Ancient Egypt – 02 – The First Pharaohs

Podcast – Ancient Egypt – 02 – The First Pharaohs


Welcome to the DW World History Podcast Series. In the last episode we discussed Prehistoric
Egypt and ended with the small communities along the Nile unifying into two separate
kingdoms. In this episode we’ll discuss how Egypt became
the first nation in history, reveal the first historical document in the world, and show
how Egypt unified by following the first pharaohs. At this time Egypt was divided into separate
kingdoms: Upper and Lower Egypt. By 3200 B.C., they appeared to have been ruled
by different kings. These kings each had a crown – a symbol
of royal power. In the south (in Upper Egypt), it was white
and conical in shape. In the north (in Lower Egypt), it was red
and shorter, with a peak at the back. What is interesting to note is that no crown
has ever been found for the two kingdoms. Archaeologist Bob Brier speculates that these
royal crowns were the ‘one thing’ that the pharaoh couldn’t take with them into the afterlife. These crowns became one once the two kingdoms
were unified, resulting in the crowns being worn together with the Red Crown in front
of the White Crown. During the division of Egypt, communication
between the two kingdoms was probably limited. Travel, whether by donkey, or by boat, was
difficult. The common farmer did not have the financial
resources for a good boat. Pharaoh Narmer In 3150-3100 B.C., Egypt became unified when
King Narmer from the south conquered the north. Now, through the unification of Egypt, a standing
army was possible because centralization focused on resources where they were needed most. The annual flooding of the Nile could now
be turned to public advantage and irrigation projects could be organized with large numbers
of people working for the common good. These farmers coaxed the Nile’s banks by irrigation
ditches, which further developed agriculture. Egypt was the first nation in history with
a powerful centralized government. This government would collapse at times, but
the people would always go back to the ‘divine order’ of a stable government ruled by a pharaoh. Egypt’s Great Pyramids were only possible
through a centralized government that facilitated the tradition of massive public works projects. Tomb paintings have been discovered that reveal
Egyptians in large work gangs as they pulled on ropes while moving large statues and stones. It is important to remember that the Egyptians
used people, not beasts of burden for large agricultural projects. Narmer’s unification of farmers and their
work on the irrigation system would result in the building of the great pyramids in only
a few hundred years. The Narmer Palette Egyptologist J.E. Quibell, who was excavating
at Hierakonpolis in Upper Egypt in 1897, discovered the Narmer Palette. This amazing object had been dedicated toward
the end of the Old Kingdom and was an ancient relic even then, over 1000 years old at the
time it was buried. This object is especially rare because it
reveals the unification of Egypt. The Narmer Palette is a ceremonial stone,
about 2-feet high, that is made of slate. It was used to grind cosmetics, but not for
cosmetic use in daily life. It may have been used to grind cosmetics for
offerings at a shrine to a local god. In the back of most Egyptian temples was a
sacred place called the ‘Holy of Holies’, where only the priests could go. In this place, a bronze statue was usually
present that depicted the certain god of the temple. Every morning the priests would anoint the
statue with oils and cosmetics and give the statue an offering of food. The Narmer Palette was most likely the slate
stone – cosmetic grinder – for such a temple. But this palette tells a story, and for that,
becomes the first historical document in the world. The Narmer Palette also sets the standard
for certain artistic conventions. The king is portrayed as the symbol of Egypt,
and hierarchical proportions were used to distinguish kings from commoners. The kings were almost always created larger
than others. The Pharaoh was believed to be the god Horus
on Earth. On one side of the palette, Narmer is shown
wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt, indicating that he is the king of the south. He is in a pose that will be repeated for
3,000 years – the smiting pose – where the king holds his war club above his head
while he is about to strike down an enemy he holds by the hair. This war club is called a mace – a weapon
which is basically a rock on a stick. In the background of this pose, we see swampy
plants, which may indicate that the enemy was from the Delta Region, the swampy, marshy
area in the north of Egypt. This enemy has a ring in his nose. A string is attached to this nose ring which
is held by a falcon. The falcon is the symbol of the Pharaoh.,
who again is the god Horus on Earth. Behind the king is an image of a little man,
about 1/5 the size of Narmer, who is carrying a pair of sandles. He is the sandle-bearer to the king. Now don’t think of him as a typical servant. The sandle-bearer to the king was like the
Mesopotamian cup-bearer to the king. His rank was most likely vizier, similar to
a viceroy, someone usually second only to the king. If you look closely, you see that he is sort
of hunched over and he is holding his shoulder because he is wearing a garment that doesn’t
quite fit him right. He’s wearing a leopard skin, which is the
sign of a high priest. So, not only was he the Vizier of Egypt, he
was also the High Priest. And for another 3,000 years, this leopard
skin is going to be the sign of the High Priest. He also has a necklace on, which is probably
his seal of authority. This was a cylinder seal that was rolled out
in clay to stamp his name when he had to do official things for the king. Now we know the king is Narmer based on the
hieroglyphs in the rectangle at the top of the palette. Its a fish and a chisel – the fish is ‘Nar’
and the chisel is ‘Mer’ – Narmer. This is the first name of a pharaoh that we
have. He is considered the first king of Egypt. This serekh – the image of the Pharaoh’s
name – is depicted as the facade of the palace. You can see this clearly when you observe
the outer perimeter wall of Djoser’s step pyramid. Another thing to notice is that everyone is
standing on registers, lines beneath the feet. Like the serekh, this will become another
artistic convention that will be continued for thousands of years. The men beneath this register are either dead
or attempting to escape his wrath. On the other side of the palette is the victory
procession, with Narmer wearing the Red Crown representing the Unification of Egypt
and the headless enemies vanquished by the new king. Beneath Narmer are two incredible beasts,
either panthers or leopards with long necks like a giraffe. Their necks are intertwined by servants. These necks most likely represent the unification
of Upper and Lower Egypt. Beneath them is a fortress or a walled city
of some sort. This wall is being broken down by a bull who
will also become a symbol of Narmer. This palette shows that Narmer has come to
the Delta, destroyed the walled city, taken over the land, and captured the king. He has become the first king of a unified
Egypt. Narmer was buried in the necropolis of the kings of the 1st Dynasty at Abydos, known
as the Umm el-Qa’ab. Why a burial at the southern city of Abydos? In the myth of Osiris, this was the sacred
city where Osiris was buried. Flinders Petrie, the archaeologist we discussed
earlier who developed the dating system for clay pots, excavated these tombs in the late
nineteenth century. Petrie was not looking for treasure, he was
looking for knowledge, and so he often excavated sites that other archaeologists did not want. Petrie excavated here and discovered the earliest
burials in Egypt. These tombs were simple underground mud-brick
tombs and most had, in front of them, a stele – a round topped large stone often used
as boundary markers by later kings. On this stele, was a carved falcon – representing
the pharaoh as the god Horus. The falcon stood on top of the serekh, another
depiction of the palace facade containing the king’s name. Narmer’s tomb consisted of two joined chambers
(B17 and B18), lined in mud brick. As the tomb dates back more than 5000 years,
and has been pillaged repeatedly from antiquity to modern times, it is amazing that anything
useful could have been discovered in it. Inscriptions on both wood and bone, seal impressions,
as well as dozens of flint arrowheads were discovered in Narmer’s tomb, along with flint
knives, and a fragment of an ebony chair leg. All of these items might be a part of the
original funerary assemblage. Burials for kings were also created north
at Saqqara, a location named for Sokar, the god of the dead. Why two burials? One burial site was a false one, or cenotaph. Thus, the two represented a symbolic way of
denoting power over the north and south, Upper and Lower Egypt. We’re not sure, for certain pharaohs, which
burial was the real one. Pharaoh Hor-Aha Hor-Aha, his successor, was likely his son
who inherited a unified kingdom. Becoming the first king of the first dynasty,
Hor-Aha founded Memphis in the north, as a capital city. This location was crucial for strategic reasons. It was too difficult to get to from across
the desert, and was a good location to guard against invasion from the sea. Hor-Aha was most likely the founder of the
cult of the crocodile god, Sobek, in the Faiyum region. Sobek was the main god of the army for his
strength and power and would eventually be popularized during the Middle Kingdom and
associated with the god, Horus. Hor-Aha probably established the cult of the
Apis-bull at Memphis, which would last until 400 A.D. The worship of Apis was continued by the Greeks,
and after them by the Romans. Apis was the first god of Egypt, originating
as a fertility deity connected to agriculture. The Apis-bull was entitled “the renewal of
the life” of the deity Ptah: but after death he became “Osorapis, the Osiris Apis”. The bull was assimilated to Osiris, the ruler
of the underworld, just as the dead were assimilated to Osiris. Hor-Aha appears to have enjoyed a peaceful
reign, although this did not prevent him from initiating a long series of wars against the
Nubians and the Libyans – Egypt’s southern and western neighbors – and establishing
trading relations with Syria-Palestine. These military and economic initiatives were
carried on by his successors. According to Manetho, Hor-Aha met his end
when he was carried away by a hippopotamus. The Palermo Stone records a Hippo hunt in
the reign of Den, later in the same dynasty. The tomb of Hor-Aha comprises of three large chambers (designated B10, B15, and B19), which
are directly adjacent to Narmer’s tomb. The chambers are rectangular, directly dug
in the desert floor, their walls lined with mud bricks. A striking innovation of Hor-Aha’s tomb is
that members of the royal household were buried with the pharaoh. Whether they were murdered or committed suicide,
or whether they were buried later are all highly debated topics. Among those buried were servants, dwarfs,
women and dogs. A total of 36 subsidiary burials were laid
out in three parallel rows north-east of Hor-Aha’s main chambers. As a symbol of royalty, Hor-Aha was even given
a group of young lions. Queen Neithotep (Neithhotep) Neithotep (Neithhotep) is the earliest known
royal lady of Ancient Egypt. She was once thought to be a male ruler. Her large mastaba, and the royal serekh containing
her name on several seal impressions, previously led historians to the erroneous belief that
she may have been an unknown king. More recent discoveries suggest that Neithotep
might have been a spouse of Hor-Aha, and the mother and co-regent of successive ruler Djer. Archaeological evidence also indicates that
she may have ruled as pharaoh in her own right, and as such, would have been the earliest
female monarch in history. Queen Neithotep was buried in Naqada in a huge mastaba, known as the Great Tomb. It was made of hardened mud-bricks and the
outer walls were niched. It has now been completely destroyed due to
time-conditional erosion. Pharaoh Djer Djer’s reign was characterized by further
developments in foreign policy, including expeditions into Nubia, Libya, and the Sinai. He also set about the economic and religious
organization of the country, establishing a palace at Memphis. Djer was buried in (Tomb O) at Abydos with the remains of 318 courtiers. His tomb was one of the largest and most complex
tombs of the First Dynasty. From the Middle Kingdom onward, it was thought
that this tomb was the burial place of Osiris. Among the pilgrims to this tomb was King Userkare
of the 13th Dynasty, who provided a statue of Osiris for the shrine of the cult center. Within the tomb, archaeologist Flinders Petrie
discovered the earliest surviving royal jewelry: four gold and turquoise bracelets. An interesting story about this discovery…
Petrie excavated differently than other archaeologists. He paid his excavators for what they found,
paying market value for their discoveries. Other archaeologists tried to confiscate everything
and it was often said at the time that they only found large statues, never small objects…
meaning the workmen looted everything. During the excavation of Djer’s tomb, the
workmen discovered a mummy’s arm, stuck in a wall, wearing this ancient royal jewelry. During the ancient tomb robbery, one of the
thieves may have hid this from the others with plans to return later so he could claim
the treasure for himself. For some reason he never returned. Petrie was away from the site at the time
of its discovery, but returned and it was brought to him. The mummy’s arm contained two of the four
bracelets: one was a gold bracelet with serekhs, the other was of little gold falcons. Petrie weighed this jewelry and paid the excavator
the value of it in gold sovereigns. The mummy’s arm and jewelry was eventually
sent to the Cairo Museum in 1901. The curator at the time, took off the bracelets,
and threw out the mummy’s arm as useless! The arm of the oldest royal mummy was just
thrown away! As Petrie would later note: the Museum could
be a very dangerous place. Pharaoh Djet Very little is known about Djer’s successor,
Djet, except that he led an expedition into the Red Sea, perhaps to exploit the mines
in the Eastern Desert. Djet was buried in (Tomb Z) at Abydos just west of his father, King Djer’s tomb. There are 174 subsidiary graves surrounding
the tomb and the overall look of the plan of Djet’s tomb gives the impression of being
a copy of Djer’s. There is evidence that Djet’s tomb was intentionally
burned, along with other tombs at Abydos from this period. The tombs were later renovated because of
their association with the cult of Osiris. Djet owes his fame to the survival of one
of his artistically refined tomb steles. Originally, there would have been a pair of
these steles at the tomb entrance. It is carved in relief with Djet’s Horus name,
and shows that the distinct Egyptian style had already become fully developed by this
time. Another artistic landmark discovery was his
ivory comb. It is the earliest surviving depiction of
the heavens symbolized by the outspread wings of a falcon. Queen Merneith According to archaeological records, at the
very beginning of his reign, Den had to share the throne with his mother, Merneith, for
several years. It seems that he was too young to rule himself. Therefore, Merneith reigned as a regent or
de facto pharaoh for some time. Den’s mother was rewarded with her own tomb
at Abydos. In 1900 Flinders Petrie discovered her tomb and, because of its size, believed it belonged
to a previously unknown pharaoh. The tomb was excavated and was shown to contain
a large underground chamber, lined with mud bricks, which was surrounded by rows of small
satellite burials, with at least 40 subsidiary graves for servants. Eight storage rooms were built against all
four walls, and were found filled with pottery. The actual burial chamber was dug deeper than
the storage rooms. A stele with the name of Merneith was found
in the burial chamber. Pharaoh Den The reign of Den appears to have been a prosperous
one. He limited the authority of the high court
officials which had had grown dangerously powerful. King Den was the first to use the title “King
of Lower and Upper Egypt”, and the first depicted as wearing the double crown. He pursued a vigorous foreign policy, rapidly
turning his attention to the Near East with an Asiatic campaign in the first year of his
reign. He even brought back a harem of female prisoners,
an act which was to be copied hundreds of years later by Amenhotep III. Den was buried in (Tomb T) one of the largest and most finely built tombs in Abydos. This was the first tomb to have a flight of
stairs leading to it, those of earlier kings being filled directly above from their roofs. Tomb T is also the first tomb to include architectural
elements made of stone rather than mud-brick. In the original layout for the tomb, a wooden
door was located about halfway up the staircase, and a portcullis placed in front of the burial
chamber, designed to keep out tomb robbers. The floor of the tomb was paved in red and
black granite from Aswan, and this was the first architectural use of such hard stone
on a large scale. Pharaoh Anedjib Den’s successor, Anedjib, probably came to
the throne late in life, so late in fact that he quickly celebrated his Sed festival. Also known as the Heb-sed festival, it was a ritual renewal of power which was intended
to demonstrate the king’s vigor. The festival was celebrated after 30-years
of reign, after which it was repeated every third or fourth year. It was basically a re-enactment of the king’s
coronation ritual and were primarily held to rejuvenate the pharaoh’s strength and stamina
while still in power, celebrating the continued success of the pharaoh. This ceremony was an occasion for the issuance
of commemorative objects, such as stone vases bearing the king’s name. Anedjib was buried in (Tomb X) in one of the smallest of all royal tombs in this area. His tomb had an entrance at the eastern side
and a staircase that lead into the burial chamber. The burial chamber was surrounded by 64 subsidiary
tombs and simply divided by a cut-off wall into two rooms. The smaller of the two chambers contained
several cylinder seals and was probably a storage chamber. The burial chamber was made of wooden planks
set in the desert sand without any other foundations. Some of these planks were well-preserved. The roof of the chamber was held up by wooden
posts, one of which was found still intact by Flinders Petrie. Pharaoh Semerkhet Semerkhet became known through a tragic legend
handed down by Manetho, who reported that a calamity of some sort occurred during Semerkhet’s
reign. The archaeological records seem to support
the view that Semerkhet had a difficult time as king, but the nature of the calamity is
unknown. Semerkhet was buried in (Tomb U) in Abydos. While excavating, Petrie found no stairways
like he did at the necropolis of Den and Anedjib. He found a ramp, four meters wide, that lead
straight into the main chamber, which was of simple construction. Pharaoh Qa’a Not much is known about the reign of Smerkhet’s
successor, Qa’a, but he seems to have ruled for over 30 years. His relationship with previous rulers is unknown. The fact that he built his tomb next to Semerkhet’s
and Den’s could be seen as an indication that he was closely related to both kings. Qa’a had a fairly large tomb (Tomb Q) in Abydos that contained 26 satellite burials. The burial chamber was a rectangular pit measuring
10 by 5 meters. It was entered through a descending stairway
coming from the northwest. A beautiful tomb stele of Qa’a was also recovered
from the site. There are indications that the tomb was built
in several phases, with fairly long periods without building activity. Second Dynasty (2890 – 2670 B.C.) King Hotepsekhemwy succeeded King Qa’a and
established the 2nd Dynasty of Egyptian Pharaohs. The Second Dynasty of Egypt, (2890 – 2670
B.C.) rose from the turmoil which ended the First Dynasty, and was marked by uprisings
(or, at least, internal difficulties) throughout. The precise cause of this civil unrest is
unclear as sources for this period are confused, and even the dates of the rulers are unreliable. Some of the names of the kings given by Manetho
are not supported by any archaeological evidence, and may be duplications of earlier rulers
under other names. During the Second Dynasty, developments in
culture and military expansion continued, especially in Nubia, but war between Upper
and Lower Egypt seems to have occupied many of the rulers and the nation may have even
been divided during this time. Under the rule of the first pharaohs, Egypt
grew from a largely agrarian culture to an increasingly urbanized state. The Egyptians seem to have been careful, however,
to avoid the pitfalls of urbanization which characterized Mesopotamian cities, such as
over-population and over use of land and water resources. The Rise of the Old Kingdom is our focus in
the next episode. Thank-you for joining us!

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