Nebra (Pharaoh)

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Nebra or Raneb is the Horus name of the second early Egyptian king of the 2nd dynasty. The exact length of his reign is unknown since the Turin canon is damaged and the year accounts are lost. [1] The ancient Greek historian Manetho suggests that Nebra's reign lasted 39 years, [2] but Egyptologists question Manetho's view as a misinterpretation or exaggeration of information that was available to him. They credit Nebra with either a 10- or 14-year rule. [3] According to different authors, Nebra ruled Egypt c. 2850 BC, [4] from 2820 BC to 2790 BC (Donald B. Redford), 2800 BC to 2785 BC (Jürgen von Beckerath) or 2765 BC to 2750 BC (J. Málek). [5]

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.

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.

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.



Nebra's name appears on several stone vessels, mostly made of schist, alabaster and marble. Most of the bowls were found at Abydos, Giza and Saqqara. The inscriptions contain depictions of cultic buildings such as the Ka-house, depictions of deities such as Bastet, Neith and Seth and also the mentionings of cultic feasts. All found objects present Nebra's name either together with that of his predecessor Hotepsekhemwy or with his successor Nynetjer. Nebra's name never appears alone. [6]

Schist Medium grade metamorphic rock with lamellar grain

Schist is a medium-grade metamorphic rock. Schist has medium to large, flat, sheet-like grains in a preferred orientation. It is defined by having more than 50% platy and elongated minerals, often finely interleaved with quartz and feldspar. These lamellar minerals include micas, chlorite, talc, hornblende, graphite, and others. Quartz often occurs in drawn-out grains to such an extent that a particular form called quartz schist is produced. Schist is often garnetiferous. Schist forms at a higher temperature and has larger grains than phyllite. Geological foliation with medium to large grained flakes in a preferred sheetlike orientation is called schistosity.

Alabaster Lightly colored, translucent, and soft calcium minerals, typically gypsum

Alabaster is a mineral or rock that is soft, often used for carving, and is processed for plaster powder. Archaeologists and the stone processing industry use the word differently from geologists. The former use is in a wider sense that includes varieties of two different minerals: the fine-grained massive type of gypsum and the fine-grained banded type of calcite. Geologists define alabaster only as the gypsum type. Chemically, gypsum is a hydrous sulfate of calcium, while calcite is a carbonate of calcium.

Marble non-foliated metamorphic rock commonly used for sculpture and as a building material

Marble is a metamorphic rock composed of recrystallized carbonate minerals, most commonly calcite or dolomite. Marble is typically not foliated, although there are exceptions. In geology, the term "marble" refers to metamorphosed limestone, but its use in stonemasonry more broadly encompasses unmetamorphosed limestone. Marble is commonly used for sculpture and as a building material.

Clay seal impressions with Nebra's name were found beneath the causeway of the Pyramid of Unas at Saqqara and inside a large gallery tomb, also at Saqqara. This tomb also yielded several seal impressions with Hotepsekhemwy's name and for this reason it is debated whether the tomb belongs to Nebra or his predecessor Hotepsekhemwy. [7]

Pyramid of Unas Pyramid complex of the last pharaoh of the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt built at Saqqara

The Pyramid of Unas is a smooth-sided pyramid built in the 24th century BC for the Egyptian pharaoh Unas, the ninth and final king of the Fifth Dynasty. It is the smallest Old Kingdom pyramid, but significant due to the discovery of Pyramid Texts, spells for the king's afterlife incised into the walls of its subterranean chambers. Inscribed for the first time in Unas's pyramid, the tradition of funerary texts carried on in the pyramids of subsequent rulers, through to the end of the Old Kingdom, and into the Middle Kingdom through the Coffin Texts that form the basis of the Book of the Dead.

In 2012, Pierre Tallet and Damien Leisnay reported three rock inscriptions with Nebra's horus name found in the south of the Sinai Peninsula. Each rock inscription can be found in a different wadi: Wadi Abu Madawi, Wadi Abu Koua and Wadi Ameyra. The places where Nebra's name is displayed lie along a very old route used for expeditions from the western shore of the Sinai to its inland, where copper and turquoise mines existed. Along the wadis the names of predynastic kings up to pharaohs of the 4th Dynasty are located at the same places. [8]

Sinai Peninsula peninsula in the Red Sea

The Sinai Peninsula or simply Sinai is a peninsula in Egypt, and the only part of the country located in Asia. It is situated between the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Red Sea to the south, and is a land bridge between Asia and Africa. Sinai has a land area of about 60,000 km2 (23,000 sq mi) and a population of approximately 1,400,000 people. Administratively, the Sinai Peninsula is divided into two governorates: the South Sinai Governorate and the North Sinai Governorate. Three other governorates span the Suez Canal, crossing into African Egypt: Suez Governorate on the southern end of the Suez Canal, Ismailia Governorate in the center, and Port Said Governorate in the north.

Fourth Dynasty of Egypt dynasty of ancient Egypt

The Fourth Dynasty of ancient Egypt is characterized as a "golden age" of the Old Kingdom of Egypt. Dynasty IV lasted from c. 2613 to 2494 BC. It was a time of peace and prosperity as well as one during which trade with other countries is documented.

Name sources

Tomb stela of Nebra, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Raneb-Stela MetropolitanMuseum.png
Tomb stela of Nebra, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Nebra's serekh name is of great interest to Egyptologists, since it is written with the hieroglyphic sign of the sun, which had not yet become the object of divine adoration during his lifetime. At the time of king Nebra, the most important religious cults were concentrated on the preservation of the dualistic equal status of the state patrons Horus and Seth. Nothing was more important than keeping that divine balance. The kings themselves were seen as the living representation of that godlike pair. The sun was seen as a celestial object controlled either by Horus or, as in the case of king Seth-Peribsen, by Seth. Therefore, the sun was no independent deity yet. The first definite proof of the existence of the sun-deity Ra occurs at the beginning of the 3rd dynasty during the reign of king Djoser in the names of high officials such as Hesyre. And the first definitive detectable proof for a fully established royal sun cult occurs under king Radjedef, the third ruler of the 4th dynasty. He was the first king who connected his birth name with the name of Ra, starting the great religious belief that Egyptian kings were the living representation of the sun alongside Horus and Seth. [9] [10]


A serekh was a specific important type of heraldic crest used in ancient Egypt. Like the later cartouche, it contained a royal name.

Hieroglyph Pictographic sign

A hieroglyph was a character of the ancient Egyptian writing system. Logographic scripts that are pictographic in form in a way reminiscent of ancient Egyptian are also sometimes called "hieroglyphs". In Neoplatonism, especially during the Renaissance, a "hieroglyph" was an artistic representation of an esoteric idea, which Neoplatonists believed actual Egyptian hieroglyphs to be. The word hieroglyphics refer to a hieroglyphic script.

Sun Star at the centre of the Solar System

The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is a nearly perfect sphere of hot plasma, with internal convective motion that generates a magnetic field via a dynamo process. It is by far the most important source of energy for life on Earth. Its diameter is about 1.39 million kilometers, or 109 times that of Earth, and its mass is about 330,000 times that of Earth. It accounts for about 99.86% of the total mass of the Solar System. Roughly three quarters of the Sun's mass consists of hydrogen (~73%); the rest is mostly helium (~25%), with much smaller quantities of heavier elements, including oxygen, carbon, neon, and iron.

Therefore, Nebra's Horus name is problematic regarding its translation and meaning. The typical translation of Nebra's name as "Ra is my lord", which would be read "Raneb", is questionable, as this would assume that the Sun was already being worshiped as an independent deity. Consequently, Egyptologists have proposed the translation "Lord of the sun (of Horus)" which is read "Nebra" and implies the pharaoh's rule over the Sun (as a celestial body), which was indeed also under Horus' or Seth's control. Any solar religion or solar symbolism were not yet established in any useful form and it is now thought that king Nebra might actually have been the first king who adopted extended religious thought about the sun and the sky. [9] [10]


The wife of Nebra is unknown. A “son of the king” and “priest of Sopdu” named Perneb might have been his son, but since the clay seals providing his name and titles were found in a gallery tomb which is attributed to two kings equally (Nebra and his predecessor, Hotepsekhemwy), it is unclear whose son Perneb really was. [11] [12]


Statue of Hotepdief, priest of the mortuary cults of the first 3 rulers of the dynasty, Hotepsekhemwy, Nebra and Nynetjer. The serekh of Nebra is the middle one on the shoulder of the priest. 2nd Dynasty.jpg
Statue of Hotepdief, priest of the mortuary cults of the first 3 rulers of the dynasty, Hotepsekhemwy, Nebra and Nynetjer. The serekh of Nebra is the middle one on the shoulder of the priest.

King Nebra is commonly identified with the Ramesside-era cartouche-name Kakau, which can be translated as "The bull of Apis". This links to the anecdote written by Manetho, who said that under king Kêchoós (the Greek version of the name Kakau) the deities Apies, the goat of Mendes and Menevus were "introduced and worshipped as gods". This view is questioned by modern Egyptologists, as there was already a cult of Apis established during the 1st dynasty, if not earlier. The name "Kakau" itself is problematic for this early pharaoh, as there was no name source from Nebra's time that could have been used to form the word. [13]

The birth name of Nebra also remains unclear. A theory by Egyptologist Jochem Kahl says that Nebra was the same person as the mysterious king Weneg-Nebti. He points to a vessel fragment made of volcanic ash, which was found in the tomb of king Peribsen (a later ruler during the 2nd dynasty) at Abydos. On the pot sherd he believes there are traces of the weneg-flower beneath the incised name of king Ninetjer. To the right of Ninetjer's name the depiction of the Ka-house of king Nebra is partially preserved. This arrangement led Kahl to conclude that the weneg-flower and Nebra's name were connected to each other and king Ninetjer replaced the inscription. Kahl also points out that king Ninetjer wrote his name mirrored, so that his name deliberately runs in the opposite direction to Nebra's name. [14] Kahl's theory is the subject of continuing discussion since the vessel inscription is damaged, thus leaving plenty of room for varying interpretations.

Egyptologists such as Jürgen von Beckerath and Battiscombe Gunn identify Nebra with another mysterious early pharaoh: Nubnefer. This link is questioned by other scholars, since the rulers of 2nd Dynasty often wrote their birth and Horus names in the same way (for example: Hor-Nebra → Nisut-Bity-Nebty-Nebra). Thus the name "Nubnefer" may be the birth name of a different king. [15] [16]


Little is known about Nebra's reign. The discovery of sealings bearing Nebra's name together with sealings of Hotepsekhemwy at Saqqara suggests that Nebra conducted the burial of Hotepsekhemwy and was his direct successor. [17] Additional confirmation of this succession is provided by a statue and a stone bowl both bearing Hotepsekhemwy and Nebra's serekhs in juxtaposition.[ citation needed ] Other pot inscriptions and seal impressions surviving from his time only name cult-related and administrative events, such as the "Erecting of the pillars of Horus". Under Nebra, the first depiction of the goddess Bastet occurs. The exact duration of Nebra's reign is the subject of investigations. Reconstructions of the well known Palermo Stone, a black basalt table presenting the yearly events of the kings from the beginning of the 1st dynasty up to king Neferirkare in the shape of clearly divided charts, leads to the conclusion that Nebra and his predecessor, king Hotepsekhemwy, ruled altogether for 39 years. Since Nebra has fewer records of his rule than Hotepsekhemwy, Nebra is thought to have ruled for a shorter time. The calculations differ from 29 and 10 years to 25 and 14 years. [18] [19] [20]


The location of Nebra's necropolis is unknown. Egyptologists such as Wolfgang Helck and Peter Munro believe that Nebra was buried in the gallery tomb B beneath the causeway of the Pyramid of Unas at Saqqara. Indeed, most of the artifacts bearing Raneb's name were found there. [21] [22]

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  7. Eva-Maria Engel: Die Siegelabrollungen von Hetepsechemui und Raneb aus Saqqara. In: Ernst Czerny, Irmgard Hein: Timelines - Studies in Honour of Manfred Bietak (= Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta. (OLA), vol. 149). Leuven, Paris/Dudley 2006, p. 28-29, Fig. 6-9.
  8. Pierre Tallet, Damien Laisnay: Iry-Hor et Narmer au Sud-Sinaï (Ouadi 'Ameyra), un complément à la chronologie des expéditios minière égyptiene. In: Bulletin de l'Institut Français D'Archéologie Orientale (BIFAO), vol. 112, 2012, p. 389-398.
  9. 1 2 Jochem Kahl: Ra is my Lord. Searching for the Rise of the Sun God at the Dawn of Egyptian History. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2007, ISBN   3-447-05540-5. page 4–14.
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  15. Battiscombe Gunn in: Annales du service des antiquités de l'Égypte - Suppléments, Volume 28. Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale, Kairo 1938, page 152.
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  19. Werner Kaiser in: Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertum 86. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1961, ISSN 0044-216X, page 39.
  20. Winfried Barta in: Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertum 108. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1981, ISSN 0044-216X, page 11.
  21. Wolfgang Helck: Wirtschaftsgeschichte des alten Ägypten im 3. und 2. Jahrtausend vor Chr. Brill, Leiden 1975, ISBN   90-04-04269-5, page 21–32.
  22. Peter Munro: Der Unas-Friedhof Nordwest I. Von Zabern, Mainz 1993, page 95.
  23. Pierre Lacau & Jan-Phillip Lauer: La Pyramide a Degrees IV. Abb.58.
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Pharaoh of Egypt Succeeded by