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Nebka (meaning "Lord of the ka ") is the throne name of an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the Third Dynasty during the Old Kingdom period, in the 27th century BCE. He is thought to be identical with the Hellenized name Νεχέρωχις (Necherôchis or Necherôphes) recorded by the Egyptian priest Manetho of the much later Ptolemaic period.

Prenomen (Ancient Egypt)

The prenomen, cartouche name or throne name of ancient Egypt was one of the five royal names of pharaohs. The first pharaoh to have a Sedge and Bee name was Den during the First Dynasty.

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.

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.


Nebka's name is otherwise recorded from the near contemporeanous tomb of a priest of his cult as well as in a possible cartouche from Beit Khallaf, later New Kingdom king lists and in a story of the Papyrus Westcar. If the Beit Khallaf seal impression is indeed a cartouche of Nebka then he is the earliest king to have thus recorded his throne name, otherwise this innovation can be ascribed to Huni.

Beit Khallaf Place in Sohag, Egypt

Beit Khallaf is a village located 10 kilometers west of Girga in Upper Egypt. The village has been ruled by the Sibaq family, a wealthy and traditionally powerful tribe of Houara descent. Beit Khallaf is part of the area known as the Hajer line, which is composed of three other villages: Beit Allam, Beit Khuraybi, and Beit Dawud Sahl. As of 2006, the total population of the village is 10,895 people.

New Kingdom of Egypt period 1550 to 1070 BC in ancient Egypt

The New Kingdom, also referred to as the Egyptian Empire, is the period in ancient Egyptian history between the 16th century BC and the 11th century BC, covering the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties of Egypt. Radiocarbon dating places the exact beginning of the New Kingdom between 1570 BC and 1544 BC. The New Kingdom followed the Second Intermediate Period and was succeeded by the Third Intermediate Period. It was Egypt's most prosperous time and marked the peak of its power.

Huni ancient Egyptian king

Huni was an ancient Egyptian king and the last pharaoh of the 3rd dynasty during the Old Kingdom period. Following the Turin king list, he is commonly credited with a reign of 24 years, ending c. 2600 BC.

Nebka is thought by most Egyptologists to be the throne name of Sanakht, the third or fourth ruler of the Third Dynasty, who is sparsely attested by archaeological evidence and must have had only a short reign. Older hypotheses followed two New Kingdom sources which credit Nebka with founding the Third Dynasty, a view that is now believed to contradict the archaeological evidence. The tomb of Nebka has not been located with any certainty and three locations have been proposed: a mastaba in Beit Khallaf attributed to Sanakht by John Garstang, a mudbrick structure in Abu Rawash seen as the tomb of Nebka by Swelim and Dodson, and the Unfinished Northern Pyramid of Zawyet El Aryan.

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.

Mastaba type of ancient Egyptian tomb

A mastaba or pr-djt is a type of ancient Egyptian tomb in the form of a flat-roofed, rectangular structure with inward sloping sides, constructed out of mud-bricks. These edifices marked the burial sites of many eminent Egyptians during Egypt's Early Dynastic Period and Old Kingdom. In the Old Kingdom epoch, local kings began to be buried in pyramids instead of in mastabas, although non-royal use of mastabas continued for over a thousand years. Egyptologists call these tombs mastaba, from the Arabic word مصطبة "stone bench".

John Garstang British archaeologist

John Garstang was a British archaeologist of the ancient Near East, especially Anatolia and the southern Levant. He was the younger brother of Professor Walter Garstang, FRS, a marine biologist and zoologist. Garstang is considered a pioneer in the development of scientific practices in archaeology as he kept detailed records of his excavations with extensive photographic records, which was a comparatively rare practice in early 20th-century archaeology

Name sources

The earliest source for Nebka's name is the mastaba tomb of the late Third Dynasty high official Akhetaa who, among other positions, held that of "priest of Nebka". [4] [5] [6] The exact location of Akhetaa's mastaba is now lost, hindering further research. It may be near Abusir, where some relief-bearing blocks from the tomb were found re-used as construction material. [7]

Akhetaa was an Ancient Egyptian high official during the mid to late 3rd dynasty. He is mostly known for his tomb inscriptions, which refer to various seldom used titles as well as to the shadowy king Nebka, in whose cult Akhetaa served.

Abusir Village in Giza Governorate, Egypt

Abusir is the name given to an Egyptian archaeological locality – specifically, an extensive necropolis of the Old Kingdom period, together with later additions – in the vicinity of the modern capital Cairo. The name is also that of a neighbouring village in the Nile Valley, whence the site takes its name. Abusir is located several kilometres north of Saqqara and, like it, served as one of the main elite cemeteries for the ancient Egyptian capital city of Memphis. Several other villages in northern and southern Egypt are named Abusir or Busiri. Abusir is one relatively small segment of the extensive "pyramid field" that extends from north of Giza to below Saqqara. The locality of Abusir took its turn as the focus of the prestigious western burial rites operating out of the then-capital of Memphis during the Old Kingdom 5th Dynasty. As an elite cemetery, neighbouring Giza had by then "filled up" with the massive pyramids and other monuments of the 4th Dynasty, leading the 5th Dynasty pharaohs to seek sites elsewhere for their own funerary monuments.

The next oldest source is found in a story recorded on the Westcar Papyrus which dates to the Seventeenth Dynasty, but which was likely first written during the late Middle Kingdom period, [8] possibly at the end of the Twelfth Dynasty. [9] There, a king Nebka is cited in the story known as “Nebka and the crocodile”, which pertains to adultery and the typical sort of punishment for that during the Old Kingdom. The story throws a positive light on the personality of king Nebka, who is depicted as a strict but lawful judge. He punishes mischief and unethical behavior, in this case punishing the betrayal of an unfaithful wife with the death penalty. [10] [11] The passage involving Nebka starts after a magician, Ubaoner, throws a commoner who had an affair with Ubaoner's wife to a crocodile, who swallows him for seven days:

Westcar Papyrus Ancient Egyptian text

The Westcar Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian text containing five stories about miracles performed by priests and magicians. In the papyrus text, each of these tales are told at the royal court of king Khufu (Cheops) by his sons. The story in the papyrus usually is rendered in English as, "King Cheops and the Magicians" and "The Tale of King Cheops' Court". In German, into which the text of the Westcar Papyrus was first translated, it is rendered as Die Märchen des Papyrus Westcar.

The Seventeenth Dynasty of Egypt is classified as the third dynasty of the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt. The 17th Dynasty dates approximately from 1580 to 1550 BC. Its mainly Theban rulers are contemporary with the Hyksos of the Fifteenth Dynasty and succeed the Sixteenth Dynasty, which was also based in Thebes.

Middle Kingdom of Egypt period in the history of ancient Egypt between about 2000 BC and 1700 BC

The Middle Kingdom of Egypt is the period in the history of ancient Egypt following a period of political division known as the First Intermediate Period. The Middle Kingdom lasted from around 2050 BC to around 1710 BC, stretching from the reunification of Egypt under the reign of Mentuhotep II of the Eleventh Dynasty to the end of the Twelfth Dynasty. The Eleventh Dynasty ruled from Thebes and the Twelfth Dynasty ruled from el-Lisht. Some scholars also include the Thirteenth Dynasty of Egypt wholly into this period as well, in which case the Middle Kingdom would finish around 1650, while others only include it until Merneferre Ay around 1700 BC, last king of this dynasty to be attested in both Upper and Lower Egypt. During the Middle Kingdom period, Osiris became the most important deity in popular religion. The Middle Kingdom was followed by the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt, another period of division that involved foreign invasions of the country by the Hyksos of West Asia.

The subsequent historical sources date to the Nineteenth Dynasty: the Royal Table of Saqqara mentions a Nebkara close to the end of the Third Dynasty as the direct successor of Sekhemket and predecessor of Huni. This Nebkara is likely a variant of the name Nebka. [13] [14] [15] The near contemporaneous Abydos King list and Turin canon record a king Nebka, this time as the founder of the Third Dynasty. [16]

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 Saqqara Tablet, now in the Egyptian Museum, is an ancient stone engraving surviving from the Ramesside Period of Egypt which features a list of pharaohs. It was found in 1861 in Saqqara, in the tomb of Tjenry, an official of the pharaoh 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.

Finally, a king Necherôchis is listed as the founder of the Third Dynasty in the Aegyptiaca , a history of Egypt written in the 3rd century BCE during the reign of Ptolemy II (283–246 BCE) by an Egyptian priest, Manetho. No copies of the Aegyptiaca have survived to this day and it is now known only through later writings by Sextus Julius Africanus and Eusebius, themselves quoted by the Byzantine scholar George Syncellus. According to these sources, the Aegyptiaca gave Necherôchis as the predecessor of Sesorthos or Tosorthros, both names being widely held to refer to Djoser as the Aegyptiaca credits Sesorthos with the invention of stone architecture. Necherôchis (Eusebius) or Necherôphes (Africanus), both likely Hellenized forms of Nebka, is said to have faced a rebellion of Libyans during his reign, but "when the moon waxed beyond reckoning, they surrendered in terror". [17] Africanus further credits Necherôphes with 28 years of reign. [18]


Seal impression from Beit Khallaf showing Sanakht's serekh together with what could be a cartouche of Nebka. Nebka Sanakht.png
Seal impression from Beit Khallaf showing Sanakht's serekh together with what could be a cartouche of Nebka.

Nebka's identity with respect to other Third Dynasty rulers is now partially settled. Most scholars including Thomas Schneider, [2] Darell Baker, [20] Peter Clayton, [21] Michel Baud, [22] Jaromír Málek, [23] Toby Wilkinson, [24] Kenneth Anderson Kitchen, [15] Stephan Seidlmayer, [25] Michael Rice, [26] Donald Leprohon [3] and Rainer Stadelmann are convinced that Nebka was identical with Hor-Sanakht. This opinion is based on a single fragmentary clay seal discovered by Garstand in 1902 in Beit Khallaf, [27] [28] a locality north of Abydos. [22] Kurt Sethe proposed that the damaged sealing shows the serekh of Sanakht next to a fragmentary cartouche housing an archaic form of the sign for "ka". [29] The cartouche is believed to be just large enough to have enclosed the further sign "Neb". [28] In addition, a further two dozen sealings of Sanakht were uncovered in Beit Khallaf's nearby tomb K2, [28] [30] [1] which John Garstang believed to be this king's tomb. [27] [28] If the identification of Nebka with Sanakht is correct, then Nebka is the earliest king to write his throne name in a cartouche and otherwise this innovation would pass to Huni. [31]

Egyptologists John D. Degreef, Nabil Swelim and Wolfgang Helck resisted the equation of Nebka with Sanakht in earlier research. They underline the heavily damaged nature of the Beit Khallaf seal fragment and hence that the alleged cartouche can be hardly identified with certainty. Instead, they propose that the cartouche could actually be the oval-shaped crest of a royal fortress with one or several boats in it, a city that may have already been mentioned under the name “Elder´s boats” in sources dating to the Second Dynasty king Peribsen. [2] [14] [32]


Relief fragment of Sanakht from Sinai ReliefFragmentOfPharaohSanakht-BritishMuseum-August21-08.jpg
Relief fragment of Sanakht from Sinai

Nebka's relative chronological position has been the subject of debate in earlier Egyptology, as he is listed as the first pharaoh of the Third Dynasty in both the Turin (third column, seventh line) and Abydos (15th entry) king lists. [20] Some Egyptologists including Málek tried to reconcile this position in the list with the evidence from Beit Khallaf by proposing that Nebka Sanakht reigned for a short time between the last Second Dynasty ruler Khasekhemwy and Djoser, whom Málek sees as a younger brother to Sanakht. [33]

This is now understood to "flatly contradict" (quoting Wilkinson) much archeological evidences, [34] [35] which rather point to Djoser as the first ruler of the dynasty and Sekhemket as his immediate successor. For example, numerous seal fragments of Djoser uncovered in the tomb of Khasekhemwy strongly suggest that he buried this king who might have been his father. Khasekhemwy's wife and likely Djoser's mother, queen Nimaethap, was herself buried in tomb K1 of Beit Khallaf which yielded much sealings of Djoser but none of Sanakht. [28] Nimaethap was furthermore given the title of “Mother of a king”, that is with a singular, implying that she had only one son who ascended the throne, precluding the reign of Sanakht between those of Khasekhemwy and Djoser. Kitchen also observes that the Turin Canon gives exactly the same reign length of 19 years to both Nebka and Djoser, hinting at an error in the placement of Nebka's name on the canon and the attribution of Djoser's regnal years to Nebka. [2] [14] [32] [36] In addition, the Saqqara king list places Nebka after Sekhemket rather than before Djoser. [20]

Further indirect evidence for Nebka's placement in the late Third Dynasty comes from the Papyrus Westcar, which records the story of "Nebka and the crocodile" between two tales set in the reigns of Djoser and Huni and Sneferu, respectively. [37] Evidence from the tomb of Akhetaa regarding the chronological position of Nebka is inconclusive: on the one hand, Akhetaa's title could indicate that he was priest of the cult of the reigning king and thus that Nebka was alive at the end of the Third Dynasty. On the other hand, it could equally be that Akhetaa was priest of a funerary cult, in which case Nebka's placement could be somewhat earlier. [34]

Given the likely identification of Nebka with Sanakht and the placement of the later in the late Third Dynasty, perhaps as the penultimate king of this line, it is possible that Nebka Sanakht reigned for six years. This is the duration credited by the Turin canon to the immediate predecessor of Huni, whose name is lost, [1] and in any case a short reign better fits the scant archeological evidences for both Nebka and Sanakht. [1] [3] [16]


Skull uncovered in Beit Khallaf tomb K2, attributed to Sanakht by Garstang. Hen Nekht.png
Skull uncovered in Beit Khallaf tomb K2, attributed to Sanakht by Garstang.

The tomb of Nebka has not been located with any certainty, nor has that of Sanakht. Garstang, who excavated mastaba K2 at Beit Khallaf, believed that it belonged to Sanakht as seals bearing this pharaoh's name were uncovered there, beside a burial. [27] [38] Dieter Arnold and other Egyptologists now think mastaba K2 was the tomb of a private individual rather than a royal one. [39]

Swelim and Aidan Dodson have instead proposed that a mudbrick structure located in Abu Rawash could be the tomb of Nebka. Dodson states that it is a "mudbrick enclosure 330 m × 170 m (1,080 ft × 560 ft) with a 20 m (66 ft) central square massif of the same material, located north of the modern village of Abu Roash, known as El Dair. It has been badly damaged by drainage work since first being discovered in 1902, and now may be beyond saving. However, the plan seems to closely resemble royal funerary monuments of the late Second early Third Dynasties, while pottery from the site has been dated to the latter period". [40]

Stone sarcophagus from the unfinished Northern Pyramid of Zawyet El Aryan. Photo-cuve-grande-excavation.jpg
Stone sarcophagus from the unfinished Northern Pyramid of Zawyet El Aryan.

At the opposite, some Egyptologists have noticed that Nebka's name seems to be inscribed in the Unfinished Northern Pyramid of Zawyet El Aryan under the form Nebkara, so that this structure could have been started by this king. More precisely, they point to several graffiti made of black and red ink which were found in the chamber and in the descending stairway of the pyramid. Alessandro Barsanti recorded at least 67 inscriptions with the names of different workmen crews as well as the name of the planned pyramid complex: Seba ?-Ka, meaning "The Star of ?-Ka". The workmen crew whose name appears most often — thus being the leading crew during the building works — was Wer-ef-seba ?-Ka, meaning "Great Like the Star of (King) ?-Ka". Inscription No.35 gives the name Neferka-Nefer (meaning "His Beautiful Ka is Flawless"), but otherwise lacks any reference to known people from the Third of Fourth Dynasty, to which this pyramid is usually ascribed. Graffiti No.15 and No.52 mention the royal name Nebkarâ, meaning "Lord of the Ka of " and a further inscription, No.55, mentions a possible Horus of Gold name: Neb hedjet-nwb, meaning "Lord of the Golden Crown". Some egyptologists propose that this is either the Horus name of king Huni or the Horus of Gold name of Nebka. [41] [42] [43]

References and sources

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  1. 1 2 3 4 Wilkinson 1999, p. 102.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Schneider 2002, pp. 167 & 243.
  3. 1 2 3 Leprohon 2013, p. 33.
  4. Wilkinson 1999, pp. 102–103.
  5. Weill 1908, pp. 262–273, pls. VI–VII.
  6. Porter, Moss & Burney 1974, p. 500.
  7. Ziegler 1999, pp. 189–190.
  8. Parkinson 2001, p. 24.
  9. Burkard, Thissen & Quack 2003, p. 178.
  10. 1 2 Lepper 2008, pp. 35–41 & 308–310.
  11. 1 2 Lichtheim 2000, pp. 215–220.
  12. Erman 1890, pp. 7–10.
  13. von Beckerath 1999, pp. 49, 283 & 293.
  14. 1 2 3 Helck 1987.
  15. 1 2 Kitchen 1998, pp. 534–538.
  16. 1 2 Baker 2008, pp. 347–348.
  17. Waddell 1971, pp. 42–43.
  18. Waddell 1971, p. 41.
  19. Garstang 1903, pl. XIX.
  20. 1 2 3 Baker 2008, p. 347.
  21. Clayton 1994, p. 32.
  22. 1 2 Baud 2007, pp. 19–20 & 41.
  23. Málek 2000, p. 96.
  24. Wilkinson 1999, pp. 101–104.
  25. Seidlmayer 1996, p. 121, pl. 23.
  26. Rice 1999, p. 174.
  27. 1 2 3 Garstang 1903, pp. 3, 11–14, 24–25 & pls. XVII, XIX & XXIII.
  28. 1 2 3 4 5 Baker 2008, p. 348.
  29. Pätznik 2005, pp. 69–72 & 78–80.
  30. Kahl 2001, p. 592.
  31. Verner 2001, p. 586.
  32. 1 2 Wildung 1969, pp. 54–58.
  33. Málek 2000, pp. 85 & 87.
  34. 1 2 Wilkinson 1999, p. 103.
  35. Kahl 2001, p. 591.
  36. Swelim 1983, pp. 196–198.
  37. Parkinson 2001, p. 25.
  38. 1 2 Myers 1901, pp. 152–153.
  39. Arnold et al. 2003, pp. 28–29.
  40. Dodson 1998, p. 30.
  41. Verner 1999, pp. 270–272.
  42. Stadelmann 1985, pp. 77 & 140–145.
  43. Gundacker 2009, pp. 26–30.


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