Horus Den is one of the most important figures
of the whole Fruhzeit, including the Third Dynasty. There are
infact few kings of the First half of the Third Millenium whom
have left similar amount of data and evidence of ongoing transformations
in the administrative, economic, religious, architectural and
iconographic sphere. I would just mention Narmer, Khasekhemwy
and Netjerykhet alongside with Den as the most profound innovators
of the period. For each one of these whole books might be dedicated:
although 5000 years old their reigns have left a relatively
large amount of evidence to deal with.
The reign of Den marked an important step forward, not only
in funerary architecture development, but also in the progress
of the State and of its subsystems (administration, economy,
crafts, religion, kingship) as witnessed by the proliferation
of titles of nobles, officials and lesser aristocracy (stelae
of Abydos and Abu Rawash), the increment in the use of seals
, the arts masterpieces (stone
vessels fashioned in daring shapes: see the one in figure below),
new attributes of the king(ship) (the new 'Nswt-bity' royal
title, canonization of king's role, attire and attitude; cf.
H. Sourouzian, in: Kunst des Alten Reich = SDAIK 28, 1995, 133-154;
id., in: Grimal ed., Les Critères de datation..., = BdE
120, 1998, 305-352). By far most of the known First Dynasty
private tombs date to Den's reign (especially at Saqqara
and Abu Rawash).
Den reigned after a short 'interregnum' of his mother Merneith
probably queen of Djet (to her period date S 3503 and her own
tomb at Abydos, Y).
He is the First Dynasty ruler for whom the largest amount of different
year-labels are attested (more than
fifty). These were almost all found a century ago by Petrie in
the king'stomb (T) at Umm el Qaab
Abydos. Some more are from (intrusive finds?) nearby tombs
and from the elite mastabas of Saqqara (S3035, S3036, SX, S3506);
these tags are of immense value to comprehend the function of
the 'state-mechanism during that period. The private tombs of
Saqqara are a clear evidence of the apex in richness achieved
in this reign, surely linked to the successful administrative
and organizative reforms Den must have promoted. No Ist Dynasty
ruler is as much attested at North Saqqara in the highest elite
tombs : S3035, S3036, S3041, S3506 and some minor ones more, not
to count the Abu Rawash niched mastabas I, II, VI, VII, VIII,
XII (Montet, Kemi 7, 8, 1938-9), a niched tomb at Helwan and a
possible area of royal cult excavated by Macramallah near the
Serapeum (1940; also see Kaiser in MDAIK 41, 1985) where some
minor officials inscriptions (i.e. Ipka
in tomb 59) were discovered.
The line-up of the tombs may suggest that in that area a royal
enclosure (like Gisr el Mudir, Djoser's one or those at Abydos)
in perishable material could have once been there. The private
and his own tomb underwent an important change during this reign:
the first apparition of a stairway leading to the burial chamber.
Another important feature recently observed during the German
re-excavations at Umm el Qaab, is the presence of a side chamber
at the SE corner of the tomb probably meant to guest a royal statue,
like a proto-serdab. The main chamber was paved with an aboundant
quantity of (Assuan) pink granite.
- A round topped stela of Den is at Brussels MRAH (E562) (H.G.
Fischer in J.A.R.C.E. 2, 1963, 17-51) and this certainly comes
from the Abydos tomb T. Ankhka, Medjedka and especially Hemaka
are the most important chancellors (Khetemw-Bity a quasi-'visir'
position) of the period whose tombs (3036, 3035, 3506) reveal
great innovations in the building techniques and availability
of outstanding amounts of resources. The long debated appartenence
of the Saqqara tombs to princes and high officials not to the
kings has been finally resolved in the last decades with the German
excavations at Abydos. The latter are not cenotaphs but the real
burials of Thinite kings. Thus Egyptologists have returned to
the Petrie's statements before Emery 's excavations at SAQQARA.
The innovative character of this king's reign is also evident
in the first attestation of the third royal name of the titulary:
the NswtBity, whose incertain reading for Den is Khasety (or rather
Zemty); the first reading of the double glyph of hills would allude
to the foreign lands some of which might have been conquered or
raided by this king as shown on the MacGregor label (link above
n. Den 31), thus NswtBity the Foreigner; the other possible reading,
NswtBity Zemty, could refer to the king's power over the whole
territory: the two (western and eastern) deserts beside the Nile
valley as well as the Noerth and South of Egypt (Nswt-Bity) (cfr.
Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt 1999 p. 206). Also the information
and the mini-scenes ("events") on the labels become
more developed since his reign. More inscriptions are found on
Stone vessels from Saqqara (Step Pyr
complex) and Abydos.
- The reign of Den is partly present on the Palermo Stone recto
line 3 (few more than 13 year-cases in the second half of the
reign); there are three mention of ceremonies pertaining to the
inauguration of the Hwt St-Ntrw, possibly his cult place at Memphis.
The apparition (Kha) of the Neswtbity in the same year of the
Hebsed; some erections of gods' sattues; a defeat of 'Iwntyw'
possibly related to the same event depicted on the cited MacGregor
ivory label (referred to 'Iabtjw', Easterners). The Annals fragment
published by J.L. de Cenival ('Un nouveau Fragment de la Pierre
de Palerme' in B.S.F.E. 44. Dec. 1965, p. 13-17) surely refers
to the same reign because it has the beginning of Den's titulary
(Horus name) above the last of the 4+ readable year-cases; there
is the recording of a victory of Setjetyw (Palestine or Nubian
-Elephantine- nomads) and one over the Tjesemw (Dogs); a ceremony
is attested at the Hwt Smr-Ntrw; the fashioning of a Imy-wt fetish
is recorded at the Senty cult place, while on the first partly
preserved case there is a Hedj-Wr baboon. This figure also appears
on a limestone slab relief from S3507 (and might be earlier) with
the representation of the king wearing the red crown. More corrispondences
between Annals and Labels evenemential inscriptions are in G.
Godron ("Etudes sur l' Horus Den..." Geneve 1990).
- The recently found private tomb at Minshat el Ezzat has provided
a little treasure of objects with some inscriptions of Den (on
a flint blade); one of the most remarkable objects is a decorated
slate palette which has been
interpreted by the SCA excavators (cfr. Boghdady in Archeo Nil
9, 1999) as possibly contemporary to Den; this must be wrong because
there s yet no evidence of such objects after the very early Ist
dyn, so the palette could have been already some centuries old
at the time of the burial during the reign of Den. But this is
the 3rd decorated palette found in archaeological excavations
(with the two from the Main Deposit of Hierakonpolis, Narmer and
- The artistic vein is full of marvellous examples datable to
this king: the hard stone vessels are fashioned in exotic shapes,
as the Ankh-ka vessel in Metropolitan
Museum of Arts which is built as a Ka-hands 'embracing'
an Ankh hieroglyph, in a real 3d rebus of the person's name. Another
vessel in MM is shaped as a lotus feather, while one in Cairo
has an original circular shape with a tripartite feature within
(Cairo JdE 71295, from S3111 of Sabu, period of Den-Adjib, Emery
G.T. I, 1949). Some 'roundels' of Hemaka bear sharp zoomorphic
motifs in relief (Emery, The tomb of Hemaka, 1938). No statue
is known from this reign but I would suggest that the ivory portrait
of a king with white crown and Heb
Sed robe found by Petrie at Abydos might represent him, rather
than the generally more referenced Narmer; but the range of dates
remains at least late Dynasty 0 to IInd Dynasty.
- The huge quantity of material for this reign, witnesses therefore
a number of innovations in the administrative, architectural,
artistic, religious and other fields; many administrative titles,
iconographic motifs or stylistic and architectural features were
introduced just during this reign. The reign length has been reconstructed
on the basis of the Annals fragments hypothesized collocation
(Kaiser, Helck, Barta) as c. 45 years long. Apart from the Palermo
stone case there is also the recently found evidence of a 2nd
HebSed of the king (Dreyer et al. MDAIK 46, 1990 p. 80 fig.9 pl
There are also the NK mentions of his nswtbity name on the Abydos
King list, Turin Canon (col. II, I,16) and in several other papyri
(Ebers 103, 1-2; Berlin Medical Pap. 15,1, in the Book of the
Dead ch. 64 and 130) of NK, 3rd IP and LP: the total of later
period sources is comparable and even superior to that of "Menes"
(cfr Wildung, Die Rolle...,1969 p. 21-31).
The year-labels provide administrative as iconographic and historical
(?) informations; I ve already anticipated that many components
of the "royal regalia" apparatus have been found for
the first time on Den's labels (cfr. Wilkinson op.cit. 1999 p.
Many more observations and data could be added to this summary
of Den's reign. Probably the cultural peak under many aspects
of the Ist Dynasty and at least as innovative and dense of manifold
transformations as those of Narmer and Aha.
G. Godron 1990 Etudes sur l' Horus Den ...
Wilkinson 1999 Early Dynastic Egypt
Whitehouse 1987 Horus Den in Oxford O.J.A. 6, 257-267
Helck 1987 Untersuchungen zur Thinitenzeit
Cialowicz 2001 La naissance d'un royaume...
Emery 1961 Archaic Egypt
Petrie 1900 Royal Tombs I
Emery 1938 The tomb of Hemaka
Emery 1949 Great Tombs I
Emery 1954 Great Tombs II
Emery 1958 Great Tombs III
Kaplony 1963 Die Inschriften der agyptischen Fruhzeit I-III
Kahl 1994 Das System der agyptischen Hieroglyphenschrift dyn 0.-3.
Vercoutter 1992 L' Egypte et la vallée du Nil, I
- Francesco Raffaele 1-23-2002
(Thanks to Miss Christine Van Heertum for the images of Den's
stela and seal impression in Brussels)