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Sekhemkhet (also read as Sechemchet) 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 (by Manetho; derived from Teti in the Abydos king list). 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 (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.



Cartouche name Teti from the Abydos king list. Abydos KL 03-03 n17.jpg
Cartouche name Teti from the Abydos king list.

The duration of Sekhemkhet's reign is believed to have been 6 to 7 years. The royal Turin Canon attributes 6 years of reign to Sekhemkhet, [2] a figure also proposed by Myriam Wissa based on the unfinished state of Sekhemkhet's pyramid. [3] Using his reconstruction of the Palermo Stone (5th dynasty), Toby Wilkinson assigns 7 years to this king. This figure is based on the number of year registers preserved in Cairo Fragment I, register V. [4] Wilkinson states that "this figure is fairly certain, since the [king's] titulary begins immediately after the dividing line marking the change of reign.". [5] Similarly, the Greek historian Manetho lists Sekhemkhet under the name of Tyreis and indicates that he reigned for 7 years. Nabil Swelim, by contrast, proposed a reign of 19 years, because he believed that Sekhemkhet might be the Tosertasis mentioned by Manetho. [6] However, such a long reign is at odds with the unfinished state of the buried pyramid and this view is generally rejected by Egyptologists.

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.

Palermo Stone Fragment of a stele known as the Royal Annals of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt

The Palermo Stone is one of seven surviving fragments of a stele known as the Royal Annals of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. The stele contained a list of the kings of Egypt from the First Dynasty through to the early part of the Fifth Dynasty and noted significant events in each year of their reigns. It was probably made during the Fifth Dynasty. The Palermo Stone is held in the Regional Archeological Museum Antonio Salinas in the city of Palermo, Italy, from which it derives its name.

The Fifth Dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with Dynasties III, IV and VI under the group title the Old Kingdom. The Fifth Dynasty pharaohs reigned for approximately 150 years, from the early 25th century BC until the mid 24th century BC.

Clay seal from the island of Elephantine showing Sekhemkhet horus and nebty names. Sekhemkhet Seal.png
Clay seal from the island of Elephantine showing Sekhemkhet horus and nebty names.

Little is known about activities conducted during Sekhemkhet's reign. The only preserved documents showing Sekhemkhet are two rock inscriptions at Wadi Maghareh in the Sinai peninsula. The first one shows Sekhemkhet twice: once wearing the Hedjet crown, another wearing the Deshret crown. The second inscription depicts a scene known as "smiting the enemy": Sekhemkhet has grabbed a foe by its hair and raises his arm in an attempt to club the enemy to death with a ceremonial sceptre. The presence of these reliefs at Wadi Maghareh suggests that local mines of copper and turquoise were exploited during Sekhemkhet's reign. [7] [8] These mines were apparently active throughout the early 3rd Dynasty since reliefs of Djoser and Sanakht were also discovered in the Wadi Maghareh.

Wadi Maghareh, is an archaeological site located in the southwestern Sinai Peninsula, Egypt. It contains pharaonic monuments and turquoise mines dating from the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms of Ancient Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians knew the site as "the Terraces of Turquoise."

Hedjet White Crown of Higher Egypt

Hedjet is the formal name for the white crown of pharaonic Upper Egypt. After the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, it was combined with the deshret, the red crown of Lower Egypt, to form the pschent, the double crown of Egypt. The symbol sometimes used for the white crown was the vulture goddess Nekhbet shown next to the head of the cobra goddess Wadjet, the uraeus on the pschent.

Deshret Red crown of Lower Egypt

Deshret, from Ancient Egyptian, was the formal name for the Red Crown of Lower Egypt and for the desert Red Land on either side of Kemet, the fertile Nile river basin. When combined with the Hedjet of Upper Egypt, it forms the Pschent, in Ancient Egyptian called the sekhemti.

Several clay seals presenting an unusual nebty name together with Sekhemkhet's Horus name were found at the eastern excavation site on the island of Elephantine. The Egyptologist Jean Pierre Pätznik reads the nebty name as Ren nebty meaning The two ladies are pleased with his name. It is not entirely clear whether this is indeed Sekhemkhet's nebty name or that of a yet unknown queen. [8]

Elephantine Island in the Nile

Elephantine is an island on the Nile, forming part of the city of Aswan in Upper Egypt. There are archaeological sites on the island.


Sekhemkhet's wife may have been Djeseretnebti, but this name appears without any queen's title, and Egyptologists dispute the true meaning and reading of this name. [9] The name has alternatively been read as Djeser-Ti and identified with the cartouche-name Djeser-Teti presented in the Saqqara King List as the direct successor of Djoser. [10] Sekhemkhet surely had sons and daughters, but up to this date no personal name was found.

Djeseretnebti is possibly the name of an Ancient Egyptian queen. Since this name appears without any queen‘s title, Egyptologists dispute the true meaning and reading of this name.


Schematical depiction of Sekhemkhet's step pyramid Sekhemkhet pyramid - Substructure.png
Schematical depiction of Sekhemkhet's step pyramid

Sekhemkhet's pyramid is sometimes referred to as the Buried pyramid and was first excavated in 1952 by Egyptian archaeologist Zakaria Goneim. A sealed sarcophagus was discovered beneath the pyramid, but when opened was found to be empty.

Muhammed Zakaria Goneim was an Egyptian archaeologist, known for his discoveries in and around Saqqara. He is best known for discovering the Step Pyramid of Sekhemkhet.

The pyramid

Sekhemkhet's pyramid was planned as a step pyramid from the first. Its base was a square measuring 378  ft x 378 ft (220 x 220 cubits). If the pyramid had been completed, it would have had six or seven steps and a final height of 240.5 ft (140 cubits). These proportions would have given the pyramid an angle of elevation of 51˚50', identical to the pyramid at Meidum and the Great Pyramid at Giza. Like Djoser's pyramid, Sekhemkhet's was built of limestone blocks. The monument was not finished, possibly because of the pharaoh's sudden death. Only the first step of the pyramid was completed, leaving a monument in the shape of a large square mastaba.

Subterranean structure

The entrance to Sekhemkhet's burial lies on the northern side of the pyramid. An open passage leads down for 200 ft. Halfway down the track a vertical shaft meets the passage from above. It opens on the surface and its entrance would lie at the second step of the pyramid, if the monument had been completed.

At the meeting spot of the passage and shaft another passageway leads down to a subterranean, u-shaped gallery containing at least 120 magazines. The whole gallery complex has the appearance of a giant comb. Shortly before the burial chamber is reached the main passage splits into two further magazine galleries, surrounding the burial chamber like a "u" (similar to the big northern gallery), but they were never finished.

The burial chamber has a base measurement of 29 ft x 17 ft and a height of 15 ft. It was also left unfinished, but surprisingly a nearly completely arranged burial was found. The sarcophagus in the midst of the chamber is made of polished alabaster and shows an unusual feature: its opening lies on the front side and is sealed by a sliding door, which was still plastered with mortar when the sarcophagus was found. The sarcophagus was empty, however and it remains unclear whether the site was ransacked after burial or whether King Sekhemkhet was buried elsewhere.

A shell shaped container made of gold was found by an Egyptian Antiquities Service excavation team in 1950. [11] The object has a length of 1.4  in and is currently on display in Room 4 of the Cairo Museum. [12]

An ivory plaque bearing the form of Sekhemkhet's Saqqara Kinglist name of "Djoserti" found in the remains of his step pyramid tomb. Djeserty.jpg
An ivory plaque bearing the form of Sekhemkhet's Saqqara Kinglist name of "Djoserti" found in the remains of his step pyramid tomb.

Necropolis complex

Because the necropolis of Sekhemkhet was never finished, it is hard to say which planned cultic building had already existed. The pyramid courtyard was surrounded by a niched enclosure wall facing north-west. It was 1.850 ft long, 607 ft wide and 33 ft high. The only archaeologically preserved cultic building is the Southern Tomb, its base measurement is estimated to be 105 ft x 52 ft. The subterranean structure included a tight corridor, beginning on the western side of the tomb and ending in a double chamber. In this chamber in 1963 Jean-Philippe Lauer excavated the burial of a two-year-old toddler. The identity of this child remains a mystery. The only fact known for certain about it is that it cannot be king Sekhemkhet himself, since the king was always depicted as a young man.

No further cultic buildings were detected, but Egyptologists and archaeologists are convinced that once upon a time a mortuary temple and a serdab existed but were destroyed due to the looting of stone from his cult buildings in antiquity.

See also

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  1. Alan H. Gardiner: The Royal Canon of Turin, Griffith Institute, Oxford 1997, ISBN   0-900416-48-3.
  2. Alan H. Gardiner: The Royal Canon of Turin, Griffith Institute, Oxford 1997, ISBN   0-900416-48-3, Vol. 2.
  3. Myriam Wissa: À propos du sarcophage de Sékhemkhet, in: Catherine Berger: Études sur l'Ancien empire et la nécropole de Saqqâra dédiées à Jean-Philippe Lauer, Orientalia Monspeliensia. Vol. 9, 2, Université Paul Valéry – Montpellier III, Montpellier 1997, ISBN   2-8426-9046-X, p. 445–448.
  4. Toby A. H. Wilkinson: Royal Annals of Ancient Egypt: The Palermo Stone and Its Associated Fragments. Kegan Paul International, London 2000, page 115.
  5. Toby A. H. Wilkinson: Royal Annals of Ancient Egypt: The Palermo Stone and Its Associated Fragments. Kegan Paul International, London 2000, page 79-80.
  6. Nabil Swelim: Some Problems on the History of the Third Dynasty, Archaeological and historical Studies, Vol. 7, ZDB-ID 800015-3, Archaeological Society of Alexandria, Alexandria 1983, p. 221
  7. Morsi Saad El-Din u. a.: Sinai. The site & the history. Essays. Photographs by Ayman Taher. New York University Press, New York NY 1998, ISBN   0-8147-2203-2, page 30.
  8. 1 2 Jean-Pierre Pätznick: Die Abfolge der Horusnamen der 3. Dynastie. In: Jean-Pierre Pätznick: Die Siegelabrollungen und Rollsiegel der Stadt Elephantine im 3. Jahrtausend v.Chr. Spurensicherung eines archäologischen Artefaktes (= BAR. International Series. Vol. 1339). Archaeopress, Oxford 2005, ISBN   1-84171-685-5, page 76–79.
  9. Wolfgang Helck: Untersuchungen zur Thinitenzeit. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1987, ISBN   3-447-02677-4, pp 108, 117.
  10. Toby A. H. Wilkinson: Early Dynastic Egypt. Routledge, London/New York 1999, ISBN   0-415-18633-1, page 98.
  11. Alessandro Bongioanni & Maria Croce (ed.), The Treasures of Ancient Egypt: From the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Universe Publishing, a division of Ruzzoli Publications Inc., 2003. p.344
  12. Bongioanni & Croce, p.344