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Menes (fl. c. 3200–3000 BC) [6] ( /ˈmnz/ ; Ancient Egyptian : mnj, probably pronounced */maˈnij/; [7] Ancient Greek : Μήνης) [5] was a pharaoh of the Early Dynastic Period of ancient Egypt credited by classical tradition with having united Upper and Lower Egypt and as the founder of the First Dynasty. [8]

Pharaoh Title of Ancient Egyptian rulers

Pharaoh is the common title of the monarchs of ancient Egypt from the First Dynasty until the annexation of Egypt by the Roman Empire in 30 BCE, although the actual term "Pharaoh" was not used contemporaneously for a ruler until Merneptah, c. 1200 BCE. In the early dynasty, ancient Egyptian kings used to have up to three titles, the Horus, the Sedge and Bee (nswt-bjtj) name, and the Two Ladies (nbtj) name. The Golden Horus and nomen and prenomen titles were later added.

Early Dynastic Period (Egypt) period of Ancient Egypt immediately follows the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt

The Archaic or Early Dynastic Period of Egypt is the era immediately following the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt c. 3100 BC. It is generally taken to include the First and Second Dynasties, lasting from the end of the Naqada III archaeological period until about 2686 BC, or the beginning of the Old Kingdom. With the First Dynasty, the capital moved from Thinis to Memphis with a unified Egypt ruled by an Egyptian god-king. Abydos remained the major holy land in the south. The hallmarks of ancient Egyptian civilization, such as art, architecture and many aspects of religion, took shape during the Early Dynastic period.

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 identity of Menes is the subject of ongoing debate, although mainstream Egyptological consensus identifies Menes with the Naqada III ruler Narmer [2] [3] [4] [9] (most likely) or First Dynasty pharaoh Hor-Aha. [10] Both pharaohs are credited with the unification of Egypt to different degrees by various authorities.

Naqada III Last phase of the Naqada culture of ancient Egyptian prehistory

Naqada III is the last phase of the Naqada culture of ancient Egyptian prehistory, dating approximately from 3200 to 3000 BC. It is the period during which the process of state formation, which had begun to take place in Naqada II, became highly visible, with named kings heading powerful polities. Naqada III is often referred to as Dynasty 0 or the Protodynastic Period to reflect the presence of kings at the head of influential states, although, in fact, the kings involved would not have been a part of a dynasty. They would more probably have been completely unrelated and very possibly in competition with each other. In this period, those kings' names were inscribed in the form of serekhs on a variety of surfaces including pottery and tombs.

Narmer Ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the Early Dynastic Period

Narmer was an ancient Egyptian king of the Early Dynastic Period, circa 3150-3100 BC. He probably was the successor to the Protodynastic king Ka, or possibly Scorpion. Some consider him the unifier of Egypt and founder of the First Dynasty, and in turn the first king of a unified 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.

Name and identity

in hieroglyphs

The Egyptian form, mnj, is taken from the Turin and Abydos King Lists, which are dated to the Nineteenth Dynasty, whose pronunciation has been reconstructed as */maˈnij/. By the early New Kingdom, changes in the Egyptian language meant his name was already pronounced */maˈneʔ/. [11] The name mnj means "He who endures", which, I.E.S. Edwards (1971) suggests, may have been coined as "a mere descriptive epithet denoting a semi-legendary hero [...] whose name had been lost". [5] Rather than a particular person, the name may conceal collectively the Naqada III rulers: Ka, Scorpion II and Narmer. [5]

Turin King List ancient Egyptian manuscript

The Turin King List, also known as the Turin Royal Canon, is an ancient Egyptian hieratic papyrus thought to date from the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II, now in the Museo Egizio in Turin. The papyrus is the most extensive list available of kings compiled by the ancient Egyptians, and is the basis for most chronology before the reign of Ramesses II.

Abydos King List

The Abydos King List, also known as the Abydos Table, is a list of the names of seventy-six kings of Ancient Egypt, found on a wall of the Temple of Seti I at Abydos, Egypt. It consists of three rows of thirty-eight cartouches in each row. The upper two rows contain names of the kings, while the third row merely repeats Seti I's throne name and nomen.

Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt Egyptian dynasty from -1295 to -1186

The Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt is classified as the second Dynasty of the Ancient Egyptian New Kingdom period, lasting from 1292 BC to 1189 BC. The 19th Dynasty and the 20th Dynasty furthermore together constitute an era known as the Ramesside period. This Dynasty was founded by Vizier Ramesses I, whom Pharaoh Horemheb chose as his successor to the throne.

The commonly-used name Menes derives from Manetho, an Egyptian historian and priest who lived during the pre-Coptic period of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. Manetho noted the name in Greek as Μήνης ( transliterated:Mênês). [5] [12] An alternative Greek form, Μιν (transliterated:Min), was cited by the fifth-century-BC historian Herodotus, [13] but is a variant no longer accepted; it appears to have been the result of contamination from the name of the god Min. [14]

Manetho Egyptian historian and priest from Ancient Egypt

Manetho is believed to have been an Egyptian priest from Sebennytos who lived in the Ptolemaic Kingdom in the early third century BC, during the Hellenistic period. He authored the Aegyptiaca in Greek, a major chronological source for the reigns of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. It is unclear if he wrote his work during the reign of Ptolemy I Soter or Ptolemy II Philadelphos, but no later than that of Ptolemy III Euergetes.

Ptolemaic Kingdom Hellenistic kingdom in ancient Egypt from 305 to 30 BC

The Ptolemaic Kingdom was a Hellenistic kingdom based in ancient Egypt. It was ruled by the Ptolemaic dynasty, which started with Ptolemy I Soter's accession after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and which ended with the death of Cleopatra and the Roman conquest in 30 BC.

Romanization transliteration of characters in a writing system to Latin character system

Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics, is the conversion of writing from a different writing system to the Roman (Latin) script, or a system for doing so. Methods of romanization include transliteration, for representing written text, and transcription, for representing the spoken word, and combinations of both. Transcription methods can be subdivided into phonemic transcription, which records the phonemes or units of semantic meaning in speech, and more strict phonetic transcription, which records speech sounds with precision.

Narmer and Menes

Two Horus names of Hor-Aha (left) and a name of Menes (right) in hieroglyphs. Hieroglyph names of Menes.jpg
Two Horus names of Hor-Aha (left) and a name of Menes (right) in hieroglyphs.
Ivory tablet of Menes
The ivory label mentioning Hor-Aha along with the mn sign.
Naqad Label.jpg
Reconstucted tablet.

The almost complete absence of any mention of Menes in the archaeological record [5] and the comparative wealth of evidence of Narmer, a protodynastic figure credited by posterity and in the archaeological record with a firm claim [3] to the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, has given rise to a theory identifying Menes with Narmer.

The chief archaeological reference to Menes is an ivory label from Nagada which shows the royal Horus-name Aha (the pharaoh Hor-Aha) next to a building, within which is the royal nebty-name mn, [15] generally taken to be Menes. [5] [lower-alpha 1] From this, various theories on the nature of the building (a funerary booth or a shrine), the meaning of the word mn (a name or the verb endures) and the relationship between Hor-Aha and Menes (as one person or as successive pharaohs) have arisen. [2]

Ivory material derived from the tusks and teeth of animals

Ivory is a hard, white material from the tusks and teeth of animals, that consists mainly of dentine, one of the physical structures of teeth and tusks. The chemical structure of the teeth and tusks of mammals is the same, regardless of the species of origin. The trade in certain teeth and tusks other than elephant is well established and widespread; therefore, "ivory" can correctly be used to describe any mammalian teeth or tusks of commercial interest which are large enough to be carved or scrimshawed.

Nagada town in Egypt

Nagada, also known as Naqada, is the type site of the prehistoric Egyptian Amratian culture, Gerzeh culture and Naqada III predynastic cultures.

The Turin and Abydos king lists, generally accepted to be correct, [2] list the nesu-bit-names of the pharaohs, not their Horus-names, [3] and are vital to the potential reconciliation of the various records: the nesu-bit-names of the king lists, the Horus-names of the archaeological record and the number of pharaohs in Dynasty I according to Manetho and other historical sources. [3]

Flinders Petrie first attempted this task, [3] associating Iti with Djer as the third pharaoh of Dynasty I, Teti (Turin) (or another Iti (Abydos)) with Hor-Aha as second pharaoh, and Menes (a nebty-name) with Narmer (a Horus-name) as first pharaoh of Dynasty I. [2] [3] Lloyd (1994) finds this succession "extremely probable", [3] and Cervelló-Autuori (2003) categorically states that "Menes is Narmer and the First Dynasty begins with him". [4] However, Seidlmayer (2004) states that it is "a fairly safe inference" that Menes was Hor-Aha. [10]


Egyptologists, archaeologists, and scholars from the 19th century have proposed different dates for the era of Menes, or the date of the first dynasty: [16] [lower-alpha 2]

Modern consensus dates the era of Menes or the start of the first dynasty between c. 3200–3030 BC; some academic literature uses c. 3000 BC. [17]


Ebony plaque of Menes in his tomb of Abydos
Ebony plaque of Menes in his tomb of Abydos (photograph).jpg
Ebony plaque of Menes in his tomb of Abydos (drawing).jpg

By 500 BC, mythical and exaggerated claims had made Menes a culture hero, and most of what is known of him comes from a much later time. [18]

Ancient tradition ascribed to Menes the honour of having united Upper and Lower Egypt into a single kingdom [19] and becoming the first pharaoh of the First Dynasty. [20] However, his name does not appear on extant pieces of the Royal Annals (Cairo Stone and Palermo Stone), which is a now-fragmentary king's list that was carved onto a stela during the Fifth Dynasty. He typically appears in later sources as the first human ruler of Egypt, directly inheriting the throne from the god Horus. [21] He also appears in other, much later, king's lists, always as the first human pharaoh of Egypt. Menes also appears in demotic novels of the Hellenistic period, demonstrating that, even that late, he was regarded as an important figure. [22]

Menes was seen as a founding figure for much of the history of ancient Egypt, similar to Romulus in ancient Rome. [23] Manetho records that Menes "led the army across the frontier and won great glory". [12] [20]


Manetho associates the city of Thinis with the Early Dynastic Period and, in particular, Menes, a "Thinite" or native of Thinis. [12] [20] Herodotus contradicts Manetho in stating that Menes founded the city of Memphis as his capital [24] after diverting the course of the Nile through the construction of a levee. [25] Manetho ascribes the building of Memphis to Menes' son, Athothis, [20] and calls no pharaohs earlier than Third Dynasty "Memphite". [26]

Herodotus and Manetho's stories of the foundation of Memphis are probably later inventions: in 2012 a relief mentioning the visit to Memphis by Iry-Hor—a predynastic ruler of Upper Egypt reigning before Narmer—was discovered in the Sinai Peninsula, indicating that the city was already in existence in the early 32nd century BC. [27]

Cultural influence

Labels from the tomb of Menes Labels from the tomb of Menes.jpg
Labels from the tomb of Menes

Diodorus Siculus stated that Menes had introduced the worship of the gods and the practice of sacrifice [28] as well as a more elegant and luxurious style of living. [28] For this latter invention, Menes' memory was dishonoured by the Twenty-fourth Dynasty pharaoh Tefnakht and Plutarch mentions a pillar at Thebes on which was inscribed an imprecation against Menes as the introducer of luxury. [28]

In Pliny's[ clarification needed ] account, Menes was credited with being the inventor of writing in Egypt.

Crocodile episode

Diodorus Siculus recorded a story of Menes related by the priests of the crocodile god Sobek at Crocodilopolis, in which the pharaoh Menes, attacked by his own dogs while out hunting, [29] fled across Lake Moeris on the back of a crocodile and, in thanks, founded the city of Crocodilopolis. [29] [30] [31]

George Stanley Faber (1816), taking the word campsa to mean either crocodile or ark and preferring the latter, identifies Menes with Noah and the entire story as a flood myth. [32]

Gaston Maspero (1910), while acknowledging the possibility that traditions relating to other kings may have become mixed up with this story, dismisses the suggestions of some commentators [33] that the story should be transferred to the Twelfth Dynasty pharaoh Amenemhat III and sees no reason to doubt that Diodorus did not correctly record a tradition of Menes. [29] Later, Edwards (1974) states that "the legend, which is obviously filled with anachronisms, is patently devoid of historical value". [30]


According to Manetho, Menes reigned for 62 years and was killed by a hippopotamus. [12] [20]

Alexander Dow (1735/6–79), a Scottish orientalist and playwright, wrote the tragedy Sethona, set in ancient Egypt. The lead part of Menes is described in the dramatis personæ as "next male-heir to the crown" now worn by Seraphis, and was played by Samuel Reddish in a 1774 production by David Garrick at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. [34]

See also


  1. Originally, the full royal title of a pharaoh was Horus name xnebty name yGolden-Horus name znesu-bit name aSon-of-Ra name b. For brevity's sake, only one element might be used, but the choice varied between circumstances and period. Starting with Dynasty V, the nesu-bit name was the one regularly used in all official documents. In Dynasty I, the Horus-name was used for a living pharaoh, the nebty-name for the dead. [3]
  2. Other dates typical of the era are found cited in Capart, Jean, Primitive Art in Egypt, pp. 17–18.

Related Research Articles

The First Dynasty of ancient Egypt covers the first series of Egyptian kings to rule over a unified Egypt. It immediately follows the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, possibly by Narmer, and marks the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period, a time at which power was centered at Thinis.

Second Dynasty of Egypt dynasty of ancient Egypt

The Second Dynasty of ancient Egypt is the latter of the two dynasties of the Egyptian Archaic Period, when the seat of government was centred at Thinis. It is most known for its last ruler, Khasekhemwy, but is otherwise one of the most obscure periods in Egyptian history.

Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt

The Twelfth Dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with the Eleventh, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dynasties under the group title Middle Kingdom.

Sanakht Egyptian pharaoh

Sanakht was an ancient Egyptian king (pharaoh) of the Third Dynasty during the Old Kingdom. His chronological position is highly uncertain, and it is also unclear under which Hellenized name the ancient historian Manetho could have listed him. Many Egyptologists connect Sanakht with the Ramesside cartouche name Nebka. However, this remains disputed because no further royal title of that king has ever been found; either in contemporary source or later ones. There are two relief fragments depicting Sanakht originally from the Wadi Maghareh on the Sinai Peninsula.

Djer ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the 5th Dynasty of the Middle Empire

Djer is considered the third pharaoh of the First Dynasty of ancient Egypt in current Egyptology. He lived around the mid-thirty-first century BC and reigned for c. 40 years. A mummified forearm of Djer or his wife was discovered by Flinders Petrie, but was discarded by Émile Brugsch.

Iry-Hor Egyptian pharaoh

Iry-Hor or Ro was a predynastic pharaoh of Upper Egypt during the 32nd century BC. Iry-Hor's existence was debated, with the Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson contesting the reading and signification of his name. However, continuing excavations at Abydos in the 1980s and 1990s and the discovery in 2012 of an inscription of Iry-Hor in the Sinai confirmed his existence.

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.

Thinis Lost city in Nome VIII of Upper Egypt, Ancient Egypt

Thinis or This was the capital city of the first dynasties of ancient Egypt. Thinis is, as yet, undiscovered but well attested by ancient writers, including the classical historian Manetho, who cites it as the centre of the Thinite Confederacy, a tribal confederation whose leader, Menes, united Egypt and was its first pharaoh. Thinis began a steep decline in importance from Dynasty III, when the capital was relocated to Memphis, which was thought to be the first true and stable capital after unification of old Egypt by Menes. Thinis's location on the border of the competing Heracleopolitan and Theban dynasties of the First Intermediate Period and its proximity to certain oases of possible military importance ensured Thinis some continued significance in the Old and New Kingdoms. This was a brief respite and Thinis eventually lost its position as a regional administrative centre by the Roman period.

The Thinite Confederacy is an Egyptological term for a hypothesized tribal confederation in Ancient Egypt. It is thought to have preceded the full unification of Upper Egypt c. 3100BC. The leaders of the Thinite Confederacy were most likely tribal nobles. Based at the city of Thinis, the Thinite Confederacy would later be incorporated into the combined state known as "Upper and Lower Egypt".

Horus name

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 serekh.

Neithhotep Ancient Egyptian queen consort

Neithhotep or Neith-hotep was an ancient Egyptian queen consort living and ruling during the early First Dynasty. She was once thought to be a male ruler: her outstandingly large mastaba and the royal serekh surrounding her name on several seal impressions previously led Egyptologists and historians to the erroneous belief that she may have been an unknown king.

Third Dynasty of Egypt dynasty of ancient Egypt

The Third Dynasty of ancient Egypt is the first dynasty of the Old Kingdom. Other dynasties of the Old Kingdom include the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth. The capital during the period of the Old Kingdom was at Memphis.

Den seal impressions

In 1985, the German Archaeological Institute discovered seal impressions of a cylinder seal in the tomb of First Dynasty king Den. They were published by Günter Dreyer the following year. The impressions are the earliest confirmed king list for ancient Egypt.

Nebty name

The Nebty name was one of the "great five names" used by Egyptian pharaohs. It was also one of the oldest royal titles. The modern term "Two-Ladies-name" is a simple derivation from the translation of the Egyptian word nebty.


  1. Kitchen, KA (1991). "The Chronology of Ancient Egypt". World Archaeology. 23 (2): 201–8. doi:10.1080/00438243.1991.9980172.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Edwards 1971, p. 13.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Lloyd 1994, p. 7.
  4. 1 2 3 Cervelló-Autuori 2003, p. 174.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Edwards 1971, p. 11.
  6. Kitchen, KA (1991). "The Chronology of Ancient Egypt". World Archaeology. 23 (2): 201–8. doi:10.1080/00438243.1991.9980172.
  7. Loprieno, Antonio (1995). Ancient Egyptian: A linguistic introduction. Cambridge University press. ISBN   0-521-44384-9.
  8. Beck et al. 1999.
  9. Heagy 2014.
  10. 1 2 Seidlmayer 2010.
  11. Loprieno 1995, p. 38.
  12. 1 2 3 4 Manetho, Fr. 6, 7a, 7b. Text and translation in Manetho, translated by W.G. Waddell (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1940), pp.26-35
  13. Herodotus: 2.4.1, 2.99.1ff.
  14. Lloyd 1994, p. 6.
  15. Gardiner 1961, p. 405.
  16. Budge, EA Wallis (1885), The Dwellers on the Nile: Chapters on the Life, Literature, History and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, p. 54, Many dates have been fixed by scholars for the reign of this king: Champollion-Figeac thought about BC 5867, Bunsen 3623, Lepsius 3892, Brugsch 4455, and Wilkinson 2320.
  17. Kitchen, KA (1991). "The Chronology of Ancient Egypt". World Archaeology. 23 (2): 201–8. doi:10.1080/00438243.1991.9980172.
  18. Frank Northen Magill; Alison Aves (1998). Dictionary of World Biography. Taylor & Francis. pp. 726–. ISBN   978-1-57958-040-7.
  19. Maspero 1903, p. 331.
  20. 1 2 3 4 5 Verbrugghe & Wickersham 2001, p. 131.
  21. Shaw & Nicholson 1995, p. 218.
  22. Ryholt 2009.
  23. Manley 1997, p. 22.
  24. Herodotus: 2.99.4.
  25. Herodotus: 2.109
  26. Verbrugghe & Wickersham 2001, p. 133.
  27. P. Tallet, D. Laisnay: Iry-Hor et Narmer au Sud-Sinaï (Ouadi 'Ameyra), un complément à la chronologie des expéditios minière égyptiene, in: BIFAO 112 (2012), 381-395, available online
  28. 1 2 3 Elder 1849, p. 1040.
  29. 1 2 3 Maspero 1910, p. 235.
  30. 1 2 Edwards 1974, p. 22.
  31. Diodorus: 45
  32. Faber 1816, p. 195.
  33. Elder 1849, p. 1040, ‘in defiance of chronology’.
  34. Dow 1774.