Egyptian predynastic period began to disclose its secrets more than
70 years after the deciphering of the hieroglyphic writing which marks
the birth of modern Egyptology. Pioneer excavations were in fact undertaken
late in the XIXth century and early in the XXth; the related published
reports are still fundamental for the knowledge of the Egyptian Late
Predynastic and Early Dynastic period. From 1949 to 1971 various important
syntheses were published (by E. Massoulard, J. Vandier, E. Baumgartel,
W.B. Emery, I.E.S. Edwards) resuming few more than half a century of
researches and discoveries with regards to the early civilization of
After the last Nubian salvage campaign and a difficult political situation,
a new era of Egyptology started in the 1970s. It is not an exaggeration
to assert that the bulk of data emerged from Lower Nubia, Upper Egypt
-Elephantine, Hierakonpolis, Abydos-, Lower Egypt, Delta and Southern
Levant, has heavily increased and modified our knowledge of Ancient
Egypt. As a consequence, a large amount of specialistic publications
have seen the light in the last 25 years and new syntheses have appeared
(by T.A.H. Wilkinson, K.M. Cialowicz).
The importance of the recent achievements lies not only in the fresh
material finds and in the answers which we have been able to offer to
some problems, but also in the new questions we have arisen and in the
more modern way in which they have been faced.
Alejandro Jiménez Serrano's MPh degree thesis, from which this
book derives, is a perfect witness to the currently pursued avenues
of research on various aspects of the early Egyptian state. Furthermore
this is the first study fully devoted to such a topic for such a historical
period. It is to be hoped that more works of this kind will appear in
the next years: there is a multitude of traits of this amazing age which
are still to be searched out with modern criterions.
The book under review is focussed on the Royal Festivals
as emerging from the study of archaeological and epigraphical data related
to the formative period of the Ancient Egyptian civilization (from late
Naqada II to late Naqada III).
In the introduction the author efficaciously summarises the key subjects
and the main objectives of his work.
The monograph is composed of four chapters:
1) Historical Outline: The Unification Process and the First
2) Festivals, Kings and Temples;
3) Royal Festivals in the Late Predynastic period and the First
4) General Conclusions.
Although the heart of Dr. Jimenez-Serrano's work lies in the last two
chapters, it can be plainly stated that the first two are by no means
mere introductory appendices: they can be considered as much important
as the "core" parts are.
At the end of the introduction there is a chronological table (p. 3,
tab. 1) in which years BC, Hendrickx's Naqada-phases subdivisions and
rulers' names are arranged; there are three points of this table which
call for attention:
- The absolute datation is certainly the highest of those proposed in
the last decades (it is related to an unpublished paper by Hassan and
Jimenez-Serrano, "The Chronology of the Late Predynastic Period
and the First Dynasty").
The (beginning of the) reign of king Scorpion I is dated to 3380(?)-3350
BC, Aha's to 3175, Den to 3075 and the end of the First
Dynasty (Qaa) to 2940(?)-2910 BC. It is from 50 to more than
150 years higher than the corresponding average dates recently proposed
for Late Predynastic and Early Dynastic period. This topic cannot be
analyzed here, but I think that in the next years this problem will
find less provisional a solution.
- In the column of Naqada phases there are two mistakes: Scorpion I
(as well as his tomb U-j at Abydos) cannot be dated to (Hendrickx's)
Naqada IIIA2 but is (late) Naqada IIIA1 (or Naqada IIIa2 in Kaiser's
The indication of "Naqada IIIC1" beside "Iry-Hor"
must be an error in the table editing; it should be shifted down 2 or
3 lines, to be aligned with "Horus Ka and Narmer".
- There would be also much to discuss about the "two (or three)
unknown rulers" postulated by the author between the reigns
of Scorpion I and Iry-Hor. This hypothesis is diametrically opposite
to that of G. Dreyer  which reports
circa 5 rulers between Scorpion I and Double Falcon and an undetermined
number of further rulers between this latter sovereign and Iry-Hor,
later in Naqada IIIb.
Even in this instance I believe that we may soon find the answers; this
matter is tightly linked with that of the political situation and unification
in Naqada III, for it is not yet certain when did Egypt become a single
ruling line's reign.
Political unification  is the principal
argument of Chapter One. As I have anticipated, it is not a cursory
review aiming to simply introduce the background of the present study:
on the contrary it resumes all the old and new theories about the process
of Unification and gives the reader a clear picture of the evolution
of thought about this keystone of Egyptological studies. The paragraph
is concluded (p. 10) by the author's opinions which address us to his
own unpublished PhD thesis (2000) and an article in GM 183, 71ff. (2001).
Both these works have stimulated two interesting responses resulting
in the articles of E.C.M. van den Brink (in: GM 183, 99ff.) and S. Hendrickx
(in: GM 184, 85ff.). Certain hypotheses advanced by Dr. Jimenez-Serrano
in some of his earlier studies could sound daring; yet they are never
devoid of solid bases, relevant intuition and they tend to produce new
fruitful ideas and debates, be them in behalf or in contrast. That's
quite a merit.
The author (p.10) mentions Scorpion II and Ka as the former kings who
"constructed what we know as 'classical' serekhs" associating
the palace façade motif with the Horus falcon; but there is actually
no occurrence of the name of Scorpion II within a serekh and the single
evidence which Jimenez-Serrano refers to (surely the serekh incised
on the jar from Minshat Abu Omar tomb 160.1) has been otherwise explained
by other authors, indeed with equally unconvincing proposals.
The second half of this chapter provides the king by king sequence of
the First Dynasty rulers with the most important up to date notices
about their reigns. I have three remarks on this historical summary:
- The author uses the annalistic informations provided by the Palermo
Stone, but he fails to include in the discussion both the Cairo 1 fragment
and the minor pieces. He seems to support O'Mara's theories about the
probable forgery character of the Cairo 1 (cf. p. 23 and n. 230) and
of the minor fragments; this theory is almost univocally rejected by
- I don't agree with the interpretation (p. 15) of the 'usurpation'
of stone vessels' inscriptions as a clue to a form of "damnatio
memoriae" against Semerkhet; however the same author reports
a pair of counterproofs to this outdated theory.
- About the titulary of Horus Qaa (p. 16): according to my opinion,
it cannot be stated that SN and SHTP were "Nebty
titles": I think that during the First and Second Dynasty the Nebty
is a kind of epithet or recurrent compound of the Nswt-Bity name, which
has in many cases a complete sense only if 'Nebty' is considered part
of the statement within the name (as the author also clarifies in the
translations of these royal names). Indeed it must also be noted that
not one of the known labels of Qaa does report
the Nswt-bity, but only display Sen-Nebty or Shotep-Nebty; on the other
hand his stone vessels are often inscribed
with a different Nswt-Bity name: Nswt-Bity Qa'a-Nebty.
Secondarily I don't understand why does Dr. Jimenez-Serrano interpret
a recently found label inscription as
providing "the true nebty name sHtp(-nbtj) 'the One who Pacifies
(the Two Ladies)'." In my opinion we have rather to do with
a change in the throne-name.
Chapter Two (p. 17-37) is extremely useful and a good point of departure
for discussions about the arguments it introduces:
paragraph A defines the festival in social sciences' and particularly
in anthropological terms. The following paragraphs move the discussion
towards the more strictly Egyptian sphere with the basic notions on
royal festivals and kingship in the AE culture; the latter one is a
key-point and the author clearly presents the main theoretical lines
of study on the origin and role of kingship in Egypt (with a particular
regard to those scholars who have compared it with other African peoples'
In paragraph D the author discusses the categories of (contemporary
and later) sources which are of some relevancy for the study of Late
Predynastic/Early Dynastic Egyptian festivals: labels and their chronological/structural
evolution, "Varia proto-dynastica" (palettes, mace-heads,
seal-impressions, stone vessels, architectural elements) and Annals.
Finally the 'historicity' and purpose of these sources as well as the
modern methodological approaches to their comprehension are clarified.
With regards to the latter topic, Dr. Jiménez Serrano expresses
his position (p. 24) stating that "The method of interpretation
used here is based on the argument expressed by W. Davis [in: Masking
the Blow, 1992], who considers that prehistoric palettes have narrative
or symbolic ends". The cognitive and explicative patterns of
W. Davis' (and O. Goldwasser's) models and the concept of decorum
introduced by J. Baines are the basic formulas underlying the analysis
of sources attempted in this book.
The conclusive part of the second chapter is a keen synthesis of the
theoretical ground-lines and the structural characters of the Egyptian
temples (p. 26-37).
Temple is analysed from many perspectives: its definition (Egyptian
words for 'temple'), mythical origin and artistic evidence for temples'
foundation, symbolic structures of temples and of parts thereof. Even
in this paragraphs the author avails of various works and documents,
both recent and older, as Patricia Spencer's lexicographical monograph
on Egyptian temples, the study of R.B. Finnestad, P. Montet's article
on later temples' foundation rituals, the ceremonies attested on the
Annals and J. Baines' innovative ideas on the role of temples, enclosures,
The debate between B.J. Kemp and D. O'Connor about the character of
Egyptian temples is also summarised, explaining the pro and contra to
their theories; Jiménez-Serrano is inclined to share Kemp's theories.
The following discussion (p. 31-33) presents the royal enclosures of
Abydos, Saqqara and Hierakonpolis, with all the main hypotheses on their
definition, function, and development. A short paragraph on the Per-Nw
of Buto ends this nice chapter.
Concerning Hierakonpolis, not only Khasekhemwy's fort (and the important
conclusions on the royal cult celebrative and commemorative functions
which N. Alexanian's study has produced) but also the mound revetment
in the Horus temple and the palace façade entrance are considered.
It's very important the thesis which Jiménez-Serrano follows
about the enclosure+shrine represented on Narmer macehead (R. Friedman)
and on a label of Hor Aha (2nd reg.,
right): the complex in object would be the temple of Hierakonpolis (in
the town precinct) rather than that of Buto (Per Djebawty) as generally
hypothesised. [Typo on p. 35, left column: Locality
Chapter Three (p. 38-98) is the one in which the royal festivals
are recognised on the sources. It is divided into four parts:
A) The Coronation and the Ceremony of the "Appearance of the King";
B) Sed Festival;
C) Festivals of Victory;
D) The Festival of Sokar.
In Part A, Jiménez presents the cosmic/symbolic
and earthly/political aspects of the enthronement, the development of
the dualism and the "Appearance of the King". The part ends
up with some interesting (although perhaps partly speculative) conclusions:
the economic and power features of the "Uniting the Two Lands"
are compared with those of the "Circuit of the Wall", [...]
more related to the symbol and definition of the sacred space [...].
Part B (p. 42-78) is devoted to the Heb-Sed. The first
six paragraph are a careful survey of the possible origin and genesis
of this ceremony and of the word by which it is defined; the localization
of the rituals ; the single ceremonies
which composed the Sed Feast in later times; relevant structures and
other elements which recur in the Step Pyramid complex and in the bidimensional
representations of the Sed Festival.
In the following twenty-two pages 16 items 
are discussed which the author considers to be connected with the Heb-Sed
ritual or part thereof.
The discussion is preceded by a short paragraph on
the so called 'Royal Cycle' identified by Williams and Logan
(JNES 46, 1987, 245-285) in some Naqada I-III
representations. I agree with Jiménez who states that the connection
with the Sed Festival of the elements detected by Williams and Logan
is not satisfactorily developed and that hippopotamus hunt and bark
processions towards a niched building are common to various festivals.
Yet I would have liked the author had dealt with these Predynastic antecedents
in deeper details (although this is partly out of the scope prefixed
in the book) because the historical Heb-Sed seems to have incorporated
parts of Predynastic traditions as it occurred for other institutions.
The large description of the Narmer Macehead (item nr. 2, cf. list in
note 9) is enriched by the interpretations attempted by other Egyptologists
in the past, by the parallel with later representations of Sed feasts
and the hypotheses about the role of the ceremonial center at Hierakonpolis
loc. HK 29A, possibly the Per-Wr. However Jiménez thinks
that the celebration of the festival occurred in the city temple of
Hierakonpolis, not in the HK 29a; even more intriguing is the conclusion
(p. 57 and fig. 21) that the two "national" shrines in
the Sed festivals owe their presence to the disposition of the sacred
spaces at Hierakonpolis. Probably, both temples played a liturgical
role during the whole festival.
At p. 54 (and n. 511) Jiménez compares the bird on top of the
shrine in items nr. 2 and 3 with the bird found on the Hathor bowl (JEA
44, 1958, 5ff.) and on some of the carved ivories from Hierakonpolis.
But the former one is an Heron (Gardiner sign G31, G32; Kahl, Das System,
1994, 537, 946), whereas the latter is a Saddle Bill (Jabiru Stork,
On p. 60 (item nr. 3) the author states that the name
of the fortress in the center of the label
would be composed by the glyphs of the two religious capitals, Pe (Buto)
and Nekheb (El Kab). But the second sign is not the elongated form of
O48 (which would be Nekhen, Hierakonpolis, not Nekheb -cf. Kahl, op.
cit., 1994, 647); it would be hard to find two different place-names
in the same crenellated oval: thus it must be the N39 sign, as Jimenéz
himself alternatively proposes in n. 543 quoting Gauthier's reading.
[Typo in n. 541: Huni's autobiography must be
corrected with Uni's (or Weni's) autobiography].
On p. 65 (item nr. 8, fig. 30) the reading of the Djet
label upper right sign as sah
cannot be accepted; it is clearly khent (cf. on the two labels
in fig. 5 = Djet and Den)
a verb or the substantive 'cellar' related to the crenellated
building(s); the two sign on the right of the serekh cannot be 'sacred
items for the cult of Thot': they should represent the personal
name of the king (as found in the same position on later labels) which
has an uncertain reading; it has been proposed Iterty, similar
to NK lists Nebty Ita.
On p. 66-67 different interpretations of the Hemaka/Den
label (item n. 9) are offered, both the older and the more recent ones.
Jiménez is certainly right in interpreting the building represented
on the upper left as the oil press.
On p. 73: The fragment of crystal bowl from Semerkhet
tomb U at Abydos (fig. 40) is one of the two I have mentioned in n.
5; the other one was a fragment of Hb-Sd throne of the series
only known for Adjib: therefore both the inscribed fragments (Petrie,
RT I, pl. VII,5-6) must have been reused by Semerkhet but they must
be related to Adjib's reign. We are thus left with no convincing clue
that Semerkhet ever celebrated his own Sed festival.
At p. 74 there is a table in which the author evidences
all the common elements found on the 16 items and also those depicted
on the six panels from the subterranean rooms of Netjerykhet's complex.
In the following page, two appendices comment the Sed-festivals in the
Second Dynasty and a possible occurrence on the Siali
seal. As evidence for the celebration of the festival during the Second
Dynasty, Ninetjer's and Khasekhemwy's reigns are cited; it must be pointed
out that Ninetjer statuette (Simpson, in:
JEA 42, 1956, 44-49) with the sitting king wearing Heb-Sed robe has
been recently suspected as a possible forgery (cf. G. Dreyer, in: Elephantine
VIII, 1986, 65, n. 164; J. Kahl, Das System, 1994, 12, n. 9).
Furthermore the massive evidence of Heb Sed ink inscription from
the Step Pyramid of Netjerykhet (P. Lacau- J.P. Lauer, Pyr Deg V, 3ff.,
9ff., pl. 10-13) would have deserved at least a mention.
A paragraph of conclusions summarises the most important
characters of the Heb-Sed as emerging from the discussed items.
It is properly stated that early celebrations of this festival knew
no fixed periodicity: some of the reasons which might have been determining
in deciding the celebration would include catastrophic events (destructive
floods, plagues) apart from the primary need to magically enhance the
king's energy; the festival would also be an occasion for the census
of the country goods, for surplus redistribution and to strengthen
the links between the monarchy and the provincial élite.
In the Late Predynastic and Early Dynastic period the sites of the celebration
were the enclosures of Hierakonpolis, Abydos and Saqqara. Hierakonpolis
was where Narmer and Aha (and probably also earlier rulers) would celebrate
their Heb-Sed at both the HK29A (Pr-Wr) and the city temple
at Nekhen. The latter one is identified by the author on some
of the earliest items he has discussed and the link is demonstrated
by some of the finds as the red pottery lion, ivory statuettes of the
king wearing the typical robe and captives statues.
Following O'Connor's theory, Jiménez indicates the Nekhen temple
as a model for the later ED enclosures, including the Abydos ones. It
has been also stressed the similarity between some of the elements of
the Nekhen temple and the complex of Netjerykhet at Saqqara. Both these
suggestions are as much interesting as very hard to demonstrate; in
the case of the origin of the enclosures the discussion would encompass
the origin of the palace façade as well as the genesis of the
Abydos structures and the cultural/political relationship between Abydos
and Hierakonpolis in late Naqada II/ early III.
Finally the author underlines some features of the Sed which
acquired different form or meaning in later times and others which lost
their original value when filtered through the redefinition of conceptions
and symbols at the time of the Unification.
[About note 665: what D. O'Connor himself thought to
represent Aha's enclosure (with a distinctive bastioned corner
-cf. id., in: JARCE 26, 1989) revealed instead to be the prow of one
of the funerary boats later excavated near the
Shunet ez-Zebib (id., Expedition 33/3, 1991)].
Part C discusses evidence for the Festivals of Victory.
In the first paragraph the author describes the early attestations of
the king harpooning hippopotami, in particular a seal impression of
Den. Strangely, after quoting the oldest epigraphic interpretative attempts,
the author does not mention Kaplony's own (IAF I, 1142, IAF III, fig.
364) which is the only right one.
Jiménez cites various examples of representations
of military victories. After a military victory, religious ceremonies
undoubtedly took place. He first shortly describes the "minor"
relief at Gebel Sheikh Suleiman (W. Needler, in: JARCE 6, 1967, 87-91)
for which no personal interpretation is offered; rather than following
Needler's possible attribution of the relief to the reign of king Scorpion
(II) I would prefer to date it earlier (on stylistical basis) in late
Naqada II or early Naqada III, perhaps during the reign of Scorpion
Pages 82-86 concern the renowned Narmer palette (and the related year-label
more recently found at Abydos).
In the figure and in the description the verso and recto are inverted
(recto is always the side with the space for grinding). Several
interpretations of this palette are summarized, falling within one of
three broader categories: a victory of Narmer over the Delta, over foreign
peoples (Libyans, Nubians) or a ritual affirmation.
About Jiménez's interpretation (p. 85), instead of reading the
rosette as a symbol of Seshat (for which cf. Schneider, in: SÄK
24, 1997, 241-67 not quoted) one should prefer H.S. Smith's reading
(in: Friedman-Adams eds., Followers of Horus, 1992, 244) as "servant
of the king".
The sign in a rectangle on the left end of the recto (second register)
must be Gardiner T25 (Djeba), and the whole would represent a
building where the king dresses him up.
The Tjat(y) is surely, not possibly, a man rather than a woman:
notwithstanding the long hairdress, the skin he wears (with hanging
pendants to fasten it on the shoulder) and the muscles of his legs qualify
him as an high priest (and official).
[Note 739: it was A. Schulman (BES 11, quoted by the
author at p. 83) to first hypothesise that Sahura might have copied
the Narmer palette in the representations of his victory over the Libyans
and the Libyan chiefs' names].
The captive on Aha's label (fig.
50) has distinctive features of the Nubian Ta-Setyw: short squarish
beard and shaved hair.
[P. 87: Imiut must be corrected with Khentyamentyw (or Sed or
P. 89: the Gebel Sheikh Suleiman relief;
Jiménez describes the graffito and the evolution of its interpretations,
particularly with regards to the name in the serekh. However there is
an error here: Murnane (JNES 46, 1987, 283) never allowed the presence
of the hieroglyph "Djer" in the serekh: the part of
the latter which is above the palace façade motif is punctured
and the alleged djer sign, on the lower part of the falcon, is
indeed the body and legs of a more deeply incised antelope (looking
leftward) whose horns are clearly visible few centimetres behind the
back of the falcon. Therefore there was no addition to the graffito,
except for the much later MK hieratic and hieroglyphic inscriptions
(cf. Arkell, in: JEA 36, 1950).
Part D, the last of the third chapter, begins with
an introduction on the god Sokar and the general notions on his festival.
The first item on which the Festival of Sokar is detected is the Naqada
There are various disputable points about the author's interpretations
of this document and of the following ones, especially from the epigraphic
point of view.
- In the dispute about the meaning of the glyph "mn"
to the quoted articles, it should have been added Grdseloff (ASAE 44);
- Jiménez interprets the name written in the tripartite tent
as Aha's Men-Nebty name.
- P. 95: the reading of the two falcons of Hor Aha's name as "Nebwy"
seems incorrect: the first one should be the subject and the second
one the verb (mrj).
- P. 96: the two blocks of signs in the middle of the label, above the
"pounding" men, are not those Jiménez supposes,but
rather Djef[a] Shema (Upper Egyptian revenue) and jnw Mehw
(Lower Egyptian tribute) which have many parallels in the early Naqada
IIIB ink inscribed vessels (cf. Hor-Aha cylinder vessel,
Kaplony, IAF III, fig. 849; but also ED labels: Djer label in: Emery,
Hemaka, fig. 8 and the one of item
nr. 5 in Chapter 3 of the present book).
The central object is not for metal smelting, but a press, probably
for oil. The person with staff standing in front of the building surmounted
by khekerw frieze, is not a statue (there is no indication of
a base as is usual in the representations of statues).
After a brief mention of another object on which the Sokar Henw bark
is depicted, the comb of Djet, a label
of Semerkhet is analyzed.
As I have said above, for most of the objects various interpretative
attempts are mentioned, but in some cases the author quotes unimportant
theories and outdated, wrong readings overlooking more recent or more
I agree with Jiménez's translation of the events
in the right part of the label
of Semerkhet (Petrie, RT I, pl. 17.26).
Yet there are two inaccuracies in the left part: the best quality oil
fragrance is tepy haty idet (not tepy idet; Jiménez's
reading of the glyph blocks as Medjeh Per-Nesw Hat merw Henwka
is wrong) and the upper left inscription must be divided: khet Hor,
which is the oil name; Medjeh (or Medjeh Medjehw-) Neswt;
thus the partially erased sign above the Nswt is not pr as
the reading of another equal label
clarifies (Petrie, Abydos I, pl. 11.9; cf. Kaplony, in: IAF I, 299).
Chapter Four (p. 99-101) summarises the conclusions of this study.
Some common elements to the investigated festivals are evidenced ("Circuit
of the walls", offerings, redistribution) and, although they are
discussed in the texts, I would have liked the author had dealt with
them more largely in the short chapter of conclusions. For example the
question of the "prizes for officials" and "the offerings
to the king" could have been dealt with more in detail.
The chapter closes with a paragraph entitled "Symbolic topography
and royal festivals". Even in this case a larger discussion wouldn't
have been out of place, in order to show how do the theoretical premises
of the second chapters fit with the study of the sources of the third
Summarising, I must say that my opinion on this study
is largely a satisfactory one. I have been caught by the reading and
I have read it step by step, statement by statement.
Several images constellate the book, which make the reading very comfortable:
one is not compelled to search elsewhere for referenced objects and
There are some imprecisions, as I have evidenced, mostly concerning
the sphere of epigraphy; indeed they are no key points in the discussion
and, to tell the truth, the author could have avoided full discussions
of items (especially those parts thereof like the product names which
have no relevancy in the study).
In my opinion, some of the hypotheses of other Egyptologists about the
reading of certain inscriptions (especially most of those of early XXth
century) should have been omitted; on the contrary a wider use of Kaplony's
and Kahl's works would have been of undoubted aid and would have also
avoided the epigraphic mistakes.
I'd liked the author had more widely dealt with the formative stages
of these festivals (i.e. Naqada II and early Naqada III attestations)
as well as those of the Second Dynasty (especially Jienkhnemw/Khnemwenii
Sed-festival ink inscriptions on stone vessels from the Step
Pyramid complex), but these are out of the chronological boundaries
of the book.
It would have been interesting to group up in a table (like Table 2,
p. 74) the elements of the other festivals too.
Finally, as I have already said, the last chapter is too scanty to summarize
all the correspondences which have been found between archaeological
and epigraphical data.
Yet this book should be looked at as a milestone: it
delineates a procedure that Egyptologists should adopt when investigating
these early phases of Egyptian history. Anthropological theories about
festivals and monumental architecture archaeology are confronted with
the analysis of contemporary (and later) inscriptions.
With all the weak points which it might turn out to have, a synthesis
between evidence from different fields of research is indispensable;
this kind of approach may and should be followed in the study of other
aspects of Early Egypt.
It is a necessary step towards a better comprehension of the culture
of the period in object.
review by Francesco Raffaele, March/April 2003