Horus name

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Horus name (Serekh name) in hieroglyphs
Horus name

facade (of the palace)
Serekh of king Djet with the Horus falcon above
Seth-Re Peribsen.svg
Serekh of king Peribsen with the image of Set the god of the Desert and a sun disc above

The Horus name is the oldest known and used crest of Ancient Egyptian rulers. It belongs to the "Great five names" of an Egyptian pharaoh. However, modern Egyptologists and linguists are starting to prefer the more neutral term: the "serekh name". This is because not every pharaoh placed the falcon, which symbolizes the deity Horus, atop his (or in some cases, her) serekh. [1]

Crest (heraldry) top component of an heraldic display

A crest is a component of a heraldic display, consisting of the device borne on top of the helm. Originating in the decorative sculptures worn by knights in tournaments and, to a lesser extent, battles, crests became solely pictorial after the 16th century.

Ancient Egypt ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa

Ancient Egypt was a civilization of ancient North Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in the place that is now the country Egypt. Ancient Egyptian civilization followed prehistoric Egypt and coalesced around 3100 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under Menes. The history of ancient Egypt occurred as a series of stable kingdoms, separated by periods of relative instability known as Intermediate Periods: the Old Kingdom of the Early Bronze Age, the Middle Kingdom of the Middle Bronze Age and the New Kingdom of the Late Bronze Age.

The royal titulary or royal protocol is the standard naming convention taken by the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. It symbolises worldly power and holy might and also acts as a sort of mission statement for the reign of a monarch.


Heraldic appearance

The picture of the Horus name is made of two basic elements: A sitting or walking figure of a certain deity holds a rectangular, ornamental vignette, imitating the floor plan of a palace facade and the royal courtyard. The rectangular vignette is called serekh, after the Egyptian word for "facade". There are countless variations of the facade decor in the serekh. The complexity and detail of the facade decor varied remarkably depending on the object on which it was present. It seems that no strict artistic rules for the design of the serekh itself existed. The name of the pharaoh was written inside the free space that represents the royal courtyard. [2] [3] [4]

Vignette (graphic design) in graphic design, a unique form for a frame to an image, either illustration or photograph

A vignette, in graphic design, is a unique form for a frame to an image, either illustration or photograph. Rather than the image's edges being rectilinear, it is overlaid with decorative artwork featuring a unique outline. This is similar to the use of the word in photography, where the edges of an image that has been vignetted are non-linear or sometimes softened with a mask – often a darkroom process of introducing a screen. An oval vignette is probably the most common example.


Horus name of Shoshenq V, incised above Nekhbet and Wadjet. Fragment of a plinth, black basalt. From Fayum, Egypt. 22nd Dynasty. The British Museum, London Horus name of Shoshenq V, incised above Nekhbet and Wadjet. Fragment of a plinth, black basalt. From Fayum, Egypt. 22nd Dynasty. The British Museum, London.jpg
Horus name of Shoshenq V, incised above Nekhbet and Wadjet. Fragment of a plinth, black basalt. From Fayum, Egypt. 22nd Dynasty. The British Museum, London

The symbolic meaning of the Horus name is still disputed. It seems obvious, at least, that the name of a king was addressed straight to the deity on top of the serekh. In most cases it was the falcon of the god Horus. This is based on the Egyptian tradition and belief[ citation needed ] that a living king was commonly[ vague ] the herald and earthly representative of Horus. [3] A good example is the name of 2nd Dynasty king Raneb. His name was written with the sign of the sun () and the sign of a basket (néb). Altogether, the name reads "Lord of the sun of Horus", thus integrating Horus as the royal patron into the king's name. [5] Scholars point to the symbolic and expressive strength of the Horus falcon: hovering high in the sky, stretching out his wings widely and seemingly looking over all of Egypt, this heraldic animal represented omnipresence and an outstretching power. Additionally, the names of early dynasty kings show, when translated, an astonishing aggressiveness, which clearly expresses the wish of Egyptian kings to be untouchable and undefeatable, thanks to the god Horus. During the 2nd Dynasty, the serekh names of the kings reveal a rather peace-seeking nature, expressing the wish of the pharaohs to rule over an unwavering world full of order and harmony: the epitheton of the Horus name of King Sekhemib, Per-en-ma'at (meaning "he who achieves Ma'at"), is the clearest early expression of this. As already mentioned, most Egyptian kings favored Horus as their dynastic name patron. [4]

In a few cases, especially during the midst of the 2nd Dynasty, at least two serekh names seem to contradict the Horus tradition. The most prominent example is king Seth-Peribsen. He first replaced the falcon figure of his serekh by the walking animal of the god Seth. Then, his name was written in a plural form, thus being addressed to Seth as well as to Horus. The serekh names of his followers Sekhemib and Khasekhemwy were similarly built. Khasekhemwy went even further and placed both divine figures of Horus and Seth above his serekh, in an attempt to accentuate the dualism of a serekh name. The remarkable behaviour of the 2nd Dynasty kings can possibly be explained by the Egyptian belief that a king represented Horus and Seth in the same ways. Maybe said kings simply wished to express this dualism by willingly changing the appearance of the serekh and replacing divine figures on its top. [3] [4]

Seth-Peribsen ancient Egyptian ruler

Seth-Peribsen is the serekh name of an early Egyptian monarch (pharaoh), who ruled during the Second Dynasty of Egypt. His chronological position within this dynasty is unknown and it is disputed who ruled both before and after him. The duration of his reign is also unknown.

Khasekhemwy Final king of the Second dynasty of Egypt

Khasekhemwy was the final king of the Second Dynasty of Egypt. Little is known about him, other than that he led several significant military campaigns and built the mudbrick fort known as Shunet El Zebib.

Introduction and history

As already mentioned, the Horus name is the oldest known and used royal title. Its introduction reaches back to the time of the Naqada II period at 3400 BC, and its development can be observed on objects from Naqada II to the 1st Dynasty. However, at the time of introduction, the serekhs of kings were yet anonymous. Later the name of the king was written beside the serekh or omitted completely. In many cases the serekh lacks the Horus falcon, and in other cases, such as the serekh of king Ka, the serekh seems to be held by Horus upside-down. [1] During the middle and late Naqada III period (3200 - 3030 BC.), kings started to write their name inside their serekhs. Some of the best known early examples are the names of Scorpion II and Ka. Under these kings, the serekh was introduced in its final form. [3] During the 1st Dynasty, an odd fashion can be observed: On several clay seals from the Abydene tombs of king Hor-Aha, Qa'a and queen Meritneith, the Horus names of all archaeologically detected kings from Narmer to Qa'a are listed in one single and smooth row. All of these Horus names are missing a serekh. The exact reason for this is unknown, but it demonstrates complexity within the tradition of royal titulary, which is not fully understood even today. [1]

Ka (pharaoh) Predynastic pharaoh of Upper Egypt

Ka, also (alternatively) Sekhen, was a Predynastic pharaoh of Upper Egypt belonging to Dynasty 0. He probably reigned during the first half of the 32nd century BC. The length of his reign is unknown.

Scorpion II second of two kings of that name during the Protodynastic Period of Upper Egypt

Scorpion II, also known as King Scorpion, refers to the second of two kings or chieftains of that name during the Protodynastic Period of Upper Egypt.

Hor-Aha Egyptian pharaoh

Hor-Aha is considered the second pharaoh of the First Dynasty of Egypt by some Egyptologists, others consider him the first one and corresponding to Menes. He lived around the 31st century BC and is thought to have had a long reign.

Special serekhs

During the introduction and development of the serekh names, three examples of special serekhs are of very special interest to Egyptologists and historians.

The first example is the serekh of a protodynastic king known as "Double Falcon". The serekh of this particular king has a top that is sharply bent inwards at the very middle. The inside of the serekh is filled with a great many little dots. This makes the upper part of the serekh look like the hieroglyphic sign of a two-topped mountain, the sign for "desert" or "foreign land". A further curiosity of Double Falcon's serekh are the two falcon figures, each one resting on one corner atop the bent serekh and facing each other. Egyptologists and historians are convinced that this unusual king's name has a deeper meaning. Most possibly it points to Lower Egypt and Sinai, since Double Falcon's name has been found only at these two sites. [6]

Double Falcon ruler of Lower Egypt from Naqada III during the 32nd century BCE

Double Falcon was a ruler of Lower Egypt from Naqada III. He may have reigned during the 32nd century BCE. The length of his reign is unknown.

A second unusual serekh is that of King Hor-Aha. It shows the Horus falcon reaching into the serekh with his claws and holding a mace and a shield, forming the word Aha, meaning "fighter of Horus". The arrangement is intriguing, because normally the Horus falcon and the hieroglyphs inside the serekh were out of reach and independent of one another. The motive and deeper meaning of Aha's serekh are unknown.

The third examples of unusual serekhs are those of several queens, including the serekh of queen Meritneith. For a long time it was believed by scholars that the royal title of a serekh was reserved for male rulers only. For this reason, it was long thought that Meritneith was a man, until mud seal impressions revealed the female title mwt nesw ("mother of (the) king"). The tomb stela of Meritneith also proved the true gender of this queen. Thus, queen Meritneith was the first Egyptian female ruler who was allowed to use the serekh. However, her serekh is surmounted by the standard of the goddess Neith, not by a falcon figure. A similar case is that of the infamous queen Hatshepsut of the 18th Dynasty. She also used a serekh, and like queen Meritneit, had long been thought by scholars to have been a man. [7] [8] Another queen, Sobekneferu of 12th Dynasty, also used a serekh. She was the first female pharaoh to use the full royal titulary. [9] Another possible female pharaoh might have been queen Khentkaus I of 4th Dynasty. Nonetheless, these cases show that exceptions in the gender allocation of the serekh as a royal title were always possible. In fact, the Ancient Egyptians seemed to have no bigger problems with being ruled by a woman. [7] [8]

See also

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