Last updated

Sanakht (also read as Hor-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.

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.

Old Kingdom of Egypt period of Ancient Egypt in the 3rd millennium BC

In ancient Egyptian history, the Old Kingdom is the period spanning c. 2686–2181 BC. It is also known as the "Age of the Pyramids" or the "Age of the Pyramid Builders", as it encompasses the reigns of the great pyramid builders of the Fourth Dynasty— among them King Sneferu, who perfected the art of pyramid-building, and the kings Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, who constructed the pyramids at Giza. Egypt attained its first sustained peak of civilization during the Old Kingdom—the first of three so-called "Kingdom" periods which mark the high points of civilization in the lower Nile Valley.



Sanakht's identity and position in the Third Dynasty is not entirely clear and remains the subject of debate. While Sanakht's existence is attested by seal fragments from mastaba K2 at Beit Khallaf and a graffito, his position as the founder of the Third Dynasty, as recorded by Manetho and the Turin Canon, has been seriously undermined by recent archaeological discoveries at Abydos. These discoveries establish that it was likely Djoser who helped bury—and thus succeed—Khasekhemwy, rather than Sanakht. This is determined from seals bearing Djoser's name found at the entrance to the latter's tomb. [1]

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".

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.

A graffito, in an archaeological context, is a deliberate mark made by scratching or engraving on a large surface such as a wall. The marks may form an image or writing. The term is not usually used of the engraved decoration on small objects such as bones, which make up a large part of the Art of the Upper Paleolithic, but might be used of the engraved images, usually of animals, that are commonly found in caves, though much less well known than the cave paintings of the same period; often the two are found in the same caves. In archaeology, the term may or may not include the more common modern sense of an "unauthorized" addition to a building or monument. Sgraffito, a decorative technique of partially scratching off a top layer of plaster or some other material to reveal a differently colored material beneath, is also sometimes known as "graffito".

Relief of Sanakht from the Wadi Maghareh. Sanakht Relief.png
Relief of Sanakht from the Wadi Maghareh.

Proponents of the theory that Sanakht was nonetheless the founder of the dynasty object that the presence of Djoser's seals in Khasekhemwy's tomb only shows that Djoser conducted cultural rituals in honor of this king, and does not necessarily imply that Djoser was Khasekhemwy's immediate successor. [2] Sanakht could then have married Queen Nimaethap, with Nimaethap being the daughter of Khasekhemwy rather than his wife. Together with Sanakht, they could be the parents of Djoser. Alternatively, some have considered Sanakht to be Djoser's elder brother.

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.

Presently, the dominant theory is that Sanakht's reign dates to the later Third Dynasty, after Djoser. Egyptologists Toby Wilkinson, Stephan Seidlmayer, Kenneth Kitchen and Rainer Stadelmann equate Sanakht with "Nebka", a name appearing in Ramesside king lists. In support of this theory is a clay seal fragment on which the lower part of a cartouche appears. In this cartouche Wilkinson, Seidlmayer and Stadelmann see traces of a Ka-sign, the end of the name "Nebka". [3] [4] Likewise, Dietrich Wildung favors equating Nebka with Sanakht, although he questions the validity of the seal as evidence given that it is too badly damaged to read the inscription within the cartouche as "Nebka" with any certainty. [5]

Toby Wilkinson English egyptologist

Toby A. H. Wilkinson is an English Egyptologist and academic. He is the Head of the International Strategy Office at the University of Cambridge, a fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, and was previously a research fellow at Christ's College, Cambridge and Durham University. He was awarded the 2011 Hessell-Tiltman Prize.

Kenneth Anderson Kitchen is a British biblical scholar, Ancient Near Eastern historian, and Personal and Brunner Professor Emeritus of Egyptology and Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool, England. He is one of the leading experts on the ancient Egyptian Ramesside Period, and the Third Intermediate Period of Egypt, as well as ancient Egyptian chronology, having written over 250 books and journal articles on these and other subjects since the mid-1950s. He has been described by The Times as "the very architect of Egyptian chronology".

Dr. Rainer Stadelmann was a German Egyptologist. He was considered an expert on the archaeology of the Giza Plateau.

John D. Degreef, Nabil Swelim and Wolfgang Helck are against equating Nebka with Sanakht. They refer to the fact that the name "Nebka" is not attested on any monument nor in any document dating to before Djoser. [5] Instead, Nabil Swelim identifies Nebka with the Horus name Khaba. [6] He further identifies Sanakht with a king Mesochris mentioned by Manetho, regarding this as a Hellenized form of the throne name of Sanakht. He dated Sanakht's reign to between the seventh and eighth king of the Third Dynasty. [6]

Hans Wolfgang Helck was a German Egyptologist, considered one of the most important Egyptologists of the 20th century. From 1956 until his retirement in 1979 he was a Professor at the University of Hamburg. He remained active after his retirement and together with Wolfhart Westendorf published the German Lexikon der Ägyptologie, completed in 1992. He published many books and articles on the history of Egyptian and Near Eastern culture. He was a member of the German Archaeological Institute and a corresponding member of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences.

Khaba pharaoh of Ancient Egypt

Khaba was a pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, active during the 3rd dynasty of the Old Kingdom period. The exact time during which Khaba ruled is unknown but may have been around 2670 BC.

Hellenization historical spread of ancient Greek culture

Hellenization or Hellenisation is the historical spread of ancient Greek culture, religion and, to a lesser extent, language, over foreign peoples conquered by Greeks or brought into their sphere of influence, particularly during the Hellenistic period following the campaigns of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC. The result of Hellenization was that elements of Greek origin combined in various forms and degrees with local elements; these Greek influences spread from the Mediterranean basin as far east as modern-day Pakistan. In modern times, Hellenization has been associated with the adoption of modern Greek culture and the ethnic and cultural homogenization of Greece.

Jürgen von Beckerath, Wolfgang Helck, Dietrich Wildung and Peter Kaplony proposed that Sanakht's Horus name is that of the shadowy Horus Sa , seeing the name "Sa" as a short form of "Sanakht". [7] From this, Wolfgang Helck holds that Sanakht's Nisut-Biti name was Weneg. King Weneg however, is widely held to have ruled during the Second Dynasty and Helck's theory has been greeted with skepticism. [8]

Jürgen von Beckerath was a German Egyptologist. He was a prolific writer who published countless articles in journals such as Orientalia, Göttinger Miszellen (GM), Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt (JARCE), Archiv für Orientforschung (AfO), and Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur (SAK) among others. Together with Kenneth Kitchen, he is viewed as one of the foremost scholars on the New Kingdom and the Third Intermediate Period of Egypt.

Peter Árpád Kaplony was a Hungarian-born Swiss egyptologist.

Horus Sa

Horus Sa was a possible early Egyptian pharaoh who may have reigned during the 2nd or 3rd dynasty of Egypt. His existence is disputed, as is the meaning of the artifacts that have been interpreted as confirming his existence.

Sanakht's name was once read "Hen Nekht" by Egyptologists such as Ernest Wallis Budge. Today, this reading is not in use anymore; the up-to-date reading is "Sanakht" or (seldomly) "Nakht-Sa". [9] [10]


Clay seal fragment bearing Sanakht's serekh from mastaba K2 at Beit Khallaf. Seal Sanakht.png
Clay seal fragment bearing Sanakht's serekh from mastaba K2 at Beit Khallaf.

The exact duration of Sanakht's time on the throne is unknown. Unlike Djoser, few relics survive from his reign, which casts serious doubts on the traditional figure of 18 years of reign for this king, as given by both Manetho and the Turin Canon. It must be stressed that the Turin Canon and Manetho were more than one and two thousand years removed from the time of Egypt's Third Dynasty, and would be expected to contain some inaccurate or unreliable data. The Turin Canon, for instance, was transcribed on papyri that dates to the reign of the New Kingdom king, Ramesses II, who ruled Egypt from 1279-1213 BC.

Very little is known of Sanakht's activities during his reign. The presence of reliefs depicting him in the Sinai at Wadi Maghareh together with those of Djoser and Sekhemkhet suggest an important Egyptian presence there at the time of the Third Dynasty. [11] Expeditions were launched to that location for the procurement of mineral resources, in particular turquoise.


Possible skull of Pharaoh Sanakht from mastaba K2 at Beit Khallaf. Hen Nekht.png
Possible skull of Pharaoh Sanakht from mastaba K2 at Beit Khallaf.

The location of Sanakht's tomb is not known with certainty. It was long thought that Sanakht's tomb was the large mastaba K2 at Beit Khallaf, as excavations there yielded relief fragments bearing his name. However, some Egyptologists now regard this mastaba as the burial of a high official, prince or queen rather than that of a pharaoh, [12] while others continue to support the first hypothesis. [13]

In the mastaba were found the skeletal remains of a man over 1.87 m (6 ft 2 in) tall. According to Charles S. Myers, this stature was considerably taller than the 1.67 m (5 ft 6 in) average of prehistoric and later Egyptians. The specimen's skull was very large and capacious. Although his cranial index was unusually broad and almost brachycephalic, the proportions of his long bones were tropically adapted like those of most other ancient Egyptians; especially those from the predynastic period. His overall cranial features, however, were closer to those of dynastic period Egyptian skulls. [9]

Consequently, the mastaba has been associated with an anecdote related by Manetho in which he tells of a late Second Dynasty king, called Sesochris, who he describes as being particularly tall. The Egyptologist Wolfgang Helck proposed another hypothesis; namely, that Sanakht's tomb is an unfinished structure west of the pyramid of Djoser. [8]

While the case of Sanakht has often appeared in the medical literature as a potential case of pituitary disease, no definitive consensus has existed for many years on whether it was acromegaly or gigantism. In 2017 palaeopathologist Francesco M. Galassi and Egyptologist Michael E. Habicht from Zurich University's Institute of Evolutionary Medicine coordinated an international team of researchers to reassess this case. Their conclusion was that the alleged remains of Sanakht are clearly the oldest known case of gigantism in the world. [14] [15]

See also

Related Research Articles

Djoser ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the 3rd dynasty

Djoser was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the 3rd dynasty during the Old Kingdom and the founder of this epoch. He is also known by his Hellenized names Tosorthros and Sesorthos. He was the son of king Khasekhemwy and queen Nimaathap, but whether he also was the direct throne successor is still unclear. Most Ramesside Kinglists name a king Nebka before him, but since there are still difficulties in connecting that name with contemporary Horus names, some Egyptologists question the received throne sequence.

Khafra ancient Egyptian pharaoh of 4th dynasty

Khafra was an ancient Egyptian king (pharaoh) of the 4th Dynasty during the Old Kingdom. He was the son of Khufu and the throne successor of Djedefre. According to the ancient historian Manetho, Khafra was followed by king Bikheris, but according to archaeological evidence he was instead followed by king Menkaure. Khafra was the builder of the second largest pyramid of Giza. The view held by modern Egyptology at large continues to be that the Great Sphinx was built in approximately 2500 BC for Khafra. Not much known is known about Khafra, except from the historical reports of Herodotus, writing 2,000 years after his life, who describes him as a cruel and heretical ruler who kept the Egyptian temples closed after Khufu had sealed them.

Hotepsekhemwy Egyptian pharaoh

Hotepsekhemwy is the Horus name of an early Egyptian king who was the founder of the 2nd dynasty. The exact length of his reign is not known; the Turin canon suggests an improbable 95 years while the Ancient Egyptian historian Manetho reports that the reign of "Boëthôs" lasted for 38 years. Egyptologists consider both statements to be misinterpretations or exaggerations. They credit Hotepsekhemwy with either a 25- or a 29-year rule.

Qaa Egyptian ruler

Qa'a was the last king of the First Dynasty of Egypt. He reigned for 33 years at the end of the 30th century BC.

Nynetjer Egyptian pharaoh

Nynetjer is the Horus name of the third pharaoh of the Second Dynasty of Egypt. The length of his reign is unknown. The Turin Canon suggests an improbable reign of 96 years and Egyptian historian Manetho suggested that Nynetjer's reign lasted 47 years. Egyptologists question both statements as misinterpretations or exaggerations. They generally credit Nynetjer with a reign of either 43 years or 45 years. Their estimation is based on the reconstructions of the well known Palermo Stone inscription reporting the years 7–21, the Cairo Stone inscription reporting the years 36–44. According to different authors, Nynetjer ruled Egypt from c. 2850 BC to 2760 BC or later from c. 2760 BC to 2715 BC.

Sekhemkhet Egyptian pharaoh

Sekhemkhet was an ancient Egyptian king (pharaoh) of the 3rd dynasty during the Old Kingdom. His reign is thought to have been from about 2648 BC until 2640 BC. He is also known under his later traditioned birth name Djoser-tety and under his Hellenized name Tyreis. He was probably the brother or eldest son of king Djoser. Little is known about this king, since he ruled for only a few years. However, he erected a step pyramid at Saqqara and left behind a well known rock inscription at Wadi Maghareh.

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.

Nebra (pharaoh) the Horus name of the second early Egyptian king of the 2nd dynasty

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. The ancient Greek historian Manetho suggests that Nebra's reign lasted 39 years, 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. According to different authors, Nebra ruled Egypt c. 2850 BC, from 2820 BC to 2790 BC, 2800 BC to 2785 BC or 2765 BC to 2750 BC.

Weneg (pharaoh) Egyptian statesman

Weneg, also known as Weneg-Nebty, is the throne name of an early Egyptian king, who ruled during the second dynasty. Although his chronological position is clear to Egyptologists, it is unclear for how long King Weneg ruled. It is also unclear as to which of the archaeologically identified Horus-kings corresponds to Weneg.


Senedj was an early Egyptian king (pharaoh), who may have ruled during the 2nd dynasty. His historical standing remains uncertain. His name is included in the kinglists of the ramesside era, although it is written in different ways: While the kinglist of Abydos imitates the archaic form, the Royal Canon of Turin and the kinglist of Sakkara form the name with the hieroglyphic sign of a plucked goose.

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.

Sekhemib-Perenmaat Egyptian pharaoh

Sekhemib-Perenma'at, is the horus name of an early Egyptian king who ruled during the 2nd dynasty. Similar to his predecessor, successor or co-ruler Seth-Peribsen, Sekhemib is contemporarily well attested in archaeological records, but he does not appear in any posthumous document. The exact length of his reign is unknown and his burial site has yet to be found.

Nebka Ancient Egyptian king

Nebka 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 recorded by the Egyptian priest Manetho of the much later Ptolemaic period.

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.

Hudjefa is the pseudonym for a 2nd dynasty pharaoh as reported on the Turin canon, a list of kings written during the reign of Ramses II. Hudjefa is now understood to mean that the name of the king was already missing from the document from which the Turin canon was copied. The length of the reign associated to Hudjefa on the canon is 11 years. Because of the position of Hudjefa on the Turin list, he is sometimes identified with a king Sesochris reported in the Aegyptiaca, a history of Egypt written by the Egyptian priest Manetho in the 3rd century BC. Manetho credits this pharaoh with 48 years of reign. Egyptologists have attempted to relate Hudjefa with archaeologically attested kings of the period, in particular Seth Peribsen.

Sneferka Egyptian pharaoh

Sneferka is the serekh-name of an early Egyptian king who may have ruled at the end of the 1st dynasty. The exact length of his reign is unknown, but thought to have been very short and his chronological position is unclear.

Ba, also known as Horus Ba, is the serekh-name of an early Egyptian or ancient Egyptian king who may have ruled at the end of the 1st dynasty, the latter part of 2nd dynasty or during the 3rd dynasty. Neither the exact length of his reign nor his chronological position is known.

Horus Bird (pharaoh)

Horus Bird, also known as Horus-Ba, is the serekh-name of a pharaoh who may have had a very short reign between the 1st dynasty and 2nd dynasty of Egypt.


  1. Toby A. H. Wilkinson: Early Dynastic Egypt. Strategies, Society and Security. Routledge, London u. a. 1999, ISBN   0-415-18633-1, p. 83 & 95.
  2. Illaria Incordino: The third dynasty: A historical hypothesis., in: Jean Claude Goyon, Christine Cardin: Proceedings of the Ninth International Congress of Egyptologists. p. 965,
  3. Toby A. H. Wilkinson: Early Dynastic Egypt. Strategies, Society and Security. Routledge, London 1999, ISBN   0-415-18633-1, p. 101 – 104.
  4. Kenneth Anderson Kitchen: Ramesside Inscriptions, Translated and Annotated Notes and Comments, vol. 2. Blackwell, Oxford 1999, ISBN   063118435X, p. 534 – 538.
  5. 1 2 Dietrich Wildung: Die Rolle ägyptischer Könige im Bewusstsein ihrer Nachwelt. Band 1: Posthume Quellen über die Könige der ersten vier Dynastien (= Münchner ägyptologische Studien, vol. 17.). Hessling, Berlin 1969, p. 54 – 58.
  6. 1 2 Nabil Swelim: Some Problems on the History of the Third Dynasty., in: Archaeological and Historical Studies, The Archaeological Society of Alexandria, Alexandria 1983, pp. 95, 217–220 and 224.
  7. Jürgen von Beckerath: Handbuch der Ägyptischen Königsnamen (= Münchner ägyptologische Studien. vol. 49). von Zabern, Mainz 1999, ISBN   3-8053-2591-6, p. 49, 283 & 293.
  8. 1 2 Wolfgang Helck: Untersuchungen zur Thinitenzeit (= Ägyptologische Abhandlungen, vol. 45). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1987, ISBN   3-447-02677-4, p. 20 & 21.
  9. 1 2 Myers, Charles S. (1901). "The Bones of Hen Nekht, an Egyptian King of the Third Dynasty". Man. 131: 152–153.
  10. Dietrich Wildung: Die Rolle ägyptischer Könige im Bewusstsein ihrer Nachwelt. Band 1: Posthume Quellen über die Könige der ersten vier Dynastien (= Münchner ägyptologische Studien, vol. 17.). Hessling, Berlin 1969, p. 54-58.
  11. Illaria Incordino: The third dynasty: A historical hypothesis., in: Jean Claude Goyon, Christine Cardin: Proceedings of the Ninth International Congress of Egyptologists. p. 966
  12. Nicolas Grimal: A History of Ancient Egypt. Blackwell-Publishing, Oxford 1992, ISBN   0-631-19396-0, p. 64.
  13. Ilaria Incordino: Reign of Horus Sanakht: possible founder of the Third Dynasty. In: Francesco Raffaele, Massimiliano Nuzzolo and Ilaria Incordino: Recent Discoveries and Latest Researches in Egyptology. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2010, ISBN   978-3-447-06251-0, p. 145-155.
  14. Francesco M. Galassi, Maciej Henneberg, Wouter de Herder, Frank Rühli, Michael E. Habicht, "Oldest case of gigantism? Assessment of the alleged remains of Sa-Nakht, king of ancient Egypt." Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. 2017 Vol 5 (8) p. 580-581. DOI:
  15. Newsweek: Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Is World’s Oldest Case of Gigantism