“The King is Ka. His utterance is abundance. The one whom he brought up is one who will be somebody. He is Khnum for all limbs, the begetter of the begotten. He is Bastet, who protects the Two Lands. The one who praises him will be protected by his arm. He is Sekhmet against those who disobey his orders, and the one with whom he disagrees will be laden with sorrow.”
– The Loyalist Instruction of Sehetepibre
The word ‘pharaoh’ is derived from the Egyptian per-a’a, meaning “great house”, a reference to the royal court of Egypt. In the modern conception of ancient Egypt, the pharaoh is synonymous with our understanding of the governing forces behind the Egyptian state during this period. The monuments of the pharaohs are littered across the landscape, from the northernmost Nile Delta to conquered lands in the Sudan. Throughout history, cultures have been obsessed with Egypt and its god-kings – thanks to ancient peoples such as the Romans and modern events such as the Napoleonic expedition to Egypt during the French Revolutionary Wars, ancient Egyptian monuments can be found in France, Italy and throughout Europe. This lasting fascination with the world of the ancient Egyptians, and particularly with the pharaohs who ruled that world, has persisted into modernity. The history of the pharaohs is colourful, and the lasting monuments and objects left behind for archaeologists to discover allows us to reveal hidden truths regarding these ancient kings.
The Five Part Titles of the King
Egyptian pharaohs were known by more than one name – by the Middle Kingdom, each pharaoh had a full titulary consisting of five different names.
The Horus name is the oldest form of the pharaoh’s name and is evident from the Predynastic Period onwards. This name was usually written in a serekh, a special hieroglyphic symbol that has been argued to represent the façade of the royal palace. The falcon god Horus would be depicted perching upon the serekh, representing the close ties of the pharaoh to the divine world, and the protection that this afforded them.
The serekh has been argued to originate during the Naqada III period of the Predynastic at the latest. The oldest known tombs including the ‘palace façade’ decoration were found at Saqqara and Naqada, dating to the reign of King Hor-Aha, although the serekh’s appearance before these tombs were built indicates structures of a similar nature must have existed earlier. The earliest examples of serekhs do not include the Horus falcon perched above the serekh structure, and others show some variance (such as the inclusion of two falcons instead of one); the serekh decoration was only formalised at the beginning of the Pharaonic Period.
The Nebty (or Two Ladies) name was associated with two goddesses thought to personify Upper and Lower Egypt – the vulture goddess, Nekhbet, patron of Upper Egypt, and the cobra goddess Wadjet, patron of Lower Egypt. This name represented not only the duality of the king, and his rulership over Egypt in its entirety, but also illustrates once again the divine protection afforded to the royal name. This design may originate from the royal tombs of early kings Hor-Aha and Djer from Abydos, where ivory tags show the Two Ladies (although they are mounted upon the red crown of Egypt, rather than the typical basket hieroglyph).
The Golden Horus name is preceded by the image of the god Horus, perched above the hieroglyphic sign for gold. This is thought to either provide a link between the pharaoh and the prosperity of Egypt but may potentially illustrate the triumph and success of Horus and relate it to the success of the king. Alternatively, it has been suggested that it might represent the triumphs of Horus, with the hieroglyphic symbol for ‘gold’ being taken to show the superiority of Horus over his foes.
The following two names are traditionally written inside a cartouche, the first instance of which is found on a clay sealing showing the name of Nebka from Beit Khallaf. The ancient Egyptians believed that names held magical power, and so the cartouche was a form of protection that encircled the final two names of the pharaoh.
The Throne Name (prenomen) is accompanied by the title nesu-bity, which translates roughly to “Dual King”. The sedge and bee hieroglyphs used to write this title have traditionally been associated with the two lands of Upper and Lower Egypt and translated as “king of Upper and Lower Egypt”. Recent research, however, indicates that they may instead refer to two specific roles of the king – the king acting as both a nesu-king and a bity-king, fulfilling different functions in each role.
The Personal Name (nomen) was the name of the pharaoh given at birth. The name is preceded with the epithet sa Ra, meaning “son of Ra”. This name was first introduced in the 4th Dynasty, and ties the king closely with Ra, the Egyptian sun god. This is the name most commonly used to refer to pharaohs in popular culture and is where their anglicized names tend to derive from (for example, Ramesses).
Royal Names at the Garstang: Queen Neith-hotep and the Naqada Royal Tomb
One of the most curious objects at the Garstang Museum is a clay seal impression from the Naqada Royal Tomb. This object is unique in that it contains the name of a woman named Neith-hotep within in the form of a serekh. Traditionally, the serekh would not be used for the name of anyone who was not themselves a king (i.e. ruler in their own right, not a consort), which raises interesting questions about Neith-hotep and her role and responsibilities.
One possibility is that the formal use of the serekh had not been codified entirely by this early point in Egyptian history, and there was some variability and experimentation that allowed the name of Neith-hotep to be presented in the same way as the name of a pharaoh. However, this does not discount the possibility that Neith-hotep was herself a queen or ruler in her own right.
This poses an important question to the modern archaeologist – do we assume that Neith-hotep was not a ruler in her own right because of historically entrenched views on masculine kingship in Egypt, where female kings are curious exceptions in a predominantly male lineage? Or are we being overly optimistic, applying a more modern, egalitarian ideology into the ancient past when we suppose that she may have held similar power to her son, King Hor-Aha, or her husband, King Narmer? These important questions will be explored in greater depth in the museum’s upcoming exhibit in May 2019, Before Egypt.