Nwbnefer , Neferkara and Neferkaseker


Hwt Mnt-'Ankh Nswt-bity Nwbnefer
(Lacau-Lauer Pyr. Deg. IV,1 n.100 pl. VI,4)
Neferka (?) and Neferkaseker in the Royal Canon of Turin (II,25 and III,1)
(Gardiner's translit. 1959)
Saqqara King-list n.8 and 9 :
Neferkara and Neferkaseker
Cartouches on an unprovenanced seal of Nswt-bity Neferkaseker
These three names are the most obscure sovereigns of the Second Dynasty . As for their predecessors(?) Wng and Snd, these sovereigns are only known from inscriptions from the memphite necropolis.
They could thence be contemporary of the Upper Egyptians Sekhemib,Peribsen and Khasekhem but more probably their brief reigns extended in the circa 5-10 years before the 'Lacuna' (hudjefa) documented by the Saqqara list and the Turin Canon, and after this lacuna reigned Sekhemib or Peribsen.
An important particularity to note is that the sources mention the ephemeral reigns of these kings before the lacuna : therefore the following period must have been even darker than that covered by these kings' reigns. An alternative conclusion could be that the 'hudjefa' lacuna on the two texts is only a way not to mention the names of Peribsen who could have been object of a kind of damnatio memoriae in the New Kingdom for his religious reforms .

Nwbnefer is known from two inscriptions from the Djoser's complex at Saqqara (Pyr. Deg. IV n. 99,100), the first one from the eastern galleries under the pyramid, the second one from the pit in the southern 'treasure house'.
Both the inscriptions are incised on stone vessels fragments and name the Hwt Mnt-'Ankh Nswt-bity Nwbnefer (Kaplony reads this king-name 'Nfr-nb') : on the inscription Pyr.Deg. IV n. 98 the same building Mnt-'Ankh is related to the golden name Rn of Ninetjer (?). W. Helck, in his study dedicated to the chronology of the Djoser's Complex stone vessels inscriptions, hypothesized that Nwbnefer had to be very close in time to Ninetjer, being perhaps his third successor after Wng and Snd.
P. Kaplony (in M.D.A.I.K. 20, 1965 p.1-46) placed Nfr-nb between Wng and Snd .
Nwbnefer never appears on later sources but he can hardly be the same as Neferkara and Neferkaseker (which are nswt-bity names too) ; this king must have reigned few years if not months. No monument, royal or private, has preserved his name .
B. Gunn (A.S.A.E.28) advanced the hypothesis that this name could be the neswt-bity of Nebra : this could also be true for no inscription on stone vessels bears the name of Nebra, apart from a couple of examples ; the nswt-bity of Horus Nebra remains unknown and Nwbnefer could also be that. Furthermore this theory would the same way respect Helck's supposition that king Nwbnefer must have reigned few years from Ninetjer : in this case the latter would be a follower of Nwbnefer (Nebra) and there wouldn't be any reign between the two kings as instead in the other hypothesis (Wng and Sened).
The name Khaires of Manetho (cfr. Dautzenberg in G.M. 94) has been paralleled with Nwbnefer only because this is the best way to fit the following Nepherkheres and Sesokhris with Neferkara and Neferkaseker respectively ; Khaires might indeed be related to a mysterious Kara known for a sealing from El Qab (Petrie 'Scarabs and Cylinders' pl. VIII; id. 'History' 7.ed p.26) but , unless an error or a misinterpretration, it can't be reconstructed in any way as originated from Nwbnefer.

Neferkara is known only on later lists : in the Turin Canon II,25 there is a name which Gardiner translitterated 'Aaka; in a note in his publication of the papyrus he wrote that the sign was certainly O29, written vertically as for a later king, neither nefer nor 'ankh . But a reading 'Nfrka' would equate this name with the Neferkara which occurs on the Saqqara list after Sened; in 1981 W.Barta attempted one of the last reconstructions of the Annals (ZAS 108) ; in this article he makes Neferkara one with the Turin Canon's Neferka, thus disregarding Gardiner's translitteration 'Aaka. But only an error of the scribe of the Turin pap. might account for this writing to be Nfrka: the cursive of vertical O29('aa) and F35 (nfr), yet not entirely different, are hard to be mistaken, because there's always the lower part of the lungs sign 'nefer' clearly evidenced as a circle (Möller's palaeography).
The second occurrance, this time Neferkara, is the cited Saqqara king-list n.8, after Sened and before Neferkaseker.
In the Abydos KL, a Neferkara is placed late in the IIIed Dynasty, as direct predecessor of Snofru.
Other mentions of this king-name are unknown until the end of the Old Kingdom with Pepi II and some of his followers.
Worth to remember that, apart from the possible readings of another cursive inscription, that on the blocks from the Zawiyet el Aryan Unfinished Pyramid (the northern one), this building must be of half fourth dynasty date and can't be related to any Aaka, Neferka,Nebka of Second or Third dynasty.
The compound X+Y+Ra has always been mantained as a late Old Kingdom fashion; but we must here return to the similarly constructed name Nefer-senedj-ra, found on a brick around the Ninetjer tomb at Saqqara (Orientalia 57, 1988 p. 330): also this latter can't be considered out of any doubt of Second the possibility that we have to do in the case of Neferkara with a New Kingdom invention or misinterpretation mustn't be carelessly ruled out .
Manetho's Nepherkheres is surely linkable with this ruler.
[Update May 2008] In a recent paper, Kim Ryholt (JEH 1, 2008, 159-73) has proposed to identify the mysterious king Sneferka (hitherto considered an ephemeral ruler of the period between Qa'a and Hotepsekhemwy) with the Neferka(ra) of the NK King Lists. Later scribes are often known to have added the RA compound to earlier royal names. Ryholt has proposed that this king, who "usurped" a couple of late 1st Dynasty inscribed stone vessels found in Qaa-reign Mastabas at Saqqara, had a short reign in the middle of the Second Dynasty. In this period some of Ninetjer's followers built their small royal tombs south of Hotepsekhemwy-Ninetjer's ones at Saqqara, in the area where later NK private tombs were built (Cf. Leiden's excavations in the tombs of Meryra-Meryneith, Maya and other late XVIIIth Dyn. dignitaries and priests who reused IInd Dyn Royal tombs for their own burials).

Neferkaseker appears to be the neswt-bity of the follower of Neferkara in the Saqqara King list and (of 'Aaka) in the Turin Canon. But an important piece of evidence comes from an unprovenanced seal (see fig.) : as for the very similar seal of king Peribsen in Milan which also displays a cartouche and the 'mry ntrw' epithet, we can't be sure of its early Old Kingdom date.
But, given the probable sequence Send, Nwbnfr, Neferkara, Nfrkaseker, Sekhemib, Peribsen, the cartouche would be the second earliest preserved to us (the Nefersenedjra brick also displays a cartouche cfr. Orientalia 57 p.300).
The latest mention of Neferkaseker is on a demotic Papyrus of the second century A.D. Pap. Vindobonensis (Wien) D6319, from the Fayyum is a treatise on temple planning and building; it's in a very fragmentary state but a line (8 of X+III) which had been first interpreted by Reymond as n3.w-nfr k3t n snte, has been reinterpreted by M. Smith (J.E.A. 66, 1980 p.173-4) as instead the name of this king, written N3.w-nfr-k3-skr. The role of this king in the text cannot be precised owing to the fragmentarily state of the text, but the author hypothesized that it could have been very similar to the description of Thutmosis III who had begun a construction project at Dendera inspired by the plans of the reigns of Khwfw and Pepi I (H.G. Fischer 'Dendera' p. 44 ff): in the papyrus in object the king undertaking building programme is one of the two known 'Ahmes' (XVIII or XXVI dyn.) who would begin some construction guided by the plans of a building of Neferkaseker.

Demotic pap. Vindob. D.6319, X+III,8 : N3.w-Nfr-ka-skr

Cf. also J.F. Quack, Die Rolle des heiligen Tieres im Buch vom Tempel, IBAES IV, 2003, p. 112 and [Update May 2010 >] J.F. Quack, in: Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 119, 1997, p. 299 for more references to Neferkaseker's reign in what is now called "The Book of the Temple": during Neferkaseker's reign a 7 years famine would occur (similarly to the renowned Famine Stela passage which mentions one during the reign of Djoser: might this Book have influenced the Famine Stela "fake"?). This IInd Dynasty drought and famine, resulted in the emanation of a Temples Restoration Edict which would be copied also later by prince Djedefhor in the reign of Khufu. This would be handed down in the Late Period Text known as "The Book of the Temple", most fragments of which have been recently studied by prof. Quack; it constitutes a real ancient "handbook for the construction of the ideal temple", in Graeco Roman age. Although this kind of "backward" informations have to be taken with care, these late references might bear some further echo of the IInd Dynasty "crisis" which has been often connected to the extremely low Nile Levels recorded on the Annals for this period (e.g. the single cubit of height in one of Njnetjer's regnal years; contra D. Gould 2003, pointing out a general prosperity of the IInd Dyn. - Thanks to John Degreef for redrawing my attention on Quack's quotes which I had failed to develop on here, and for underlining the possible relationship between the Famine Stela and the Book of the Temple and the latter one's with the Second Dynasty troublesome ages).

No private or royal building has ever been found with the name of Nfrkaskr inscribed within it.
But the writing Neferka Nefer appears among the (Third Dynasty) inscriptions found by Barsanti at the site of Zawiyet el Aryan north in the early '900. (See the page of Neferka, Nebkara bottom left fig. n.35)
It is not the first time (and it won't be the last one) that innovations, be them in religion as well as in artistic or architectural styles, do emerge from critical phases of the ancient Egyptian history : the middle of the second dynasty, with its poorly known kings , seems to have been the cradle of new religious beliefs as the cartouches and the Seth names show.
This is also the first mention of the falcon god Sokar although his bark is perhaps already shown on first dynasty labels and on a rock inscription from the Wadi Fawakhir (T. Wilkinson 'Early Dynastic Egypt 1999 p. 170) c. 20 km. east of the site 5 graffito attributable to Nebra (Wadi Hammamat).
Manetho's Sesokhris is certainly an error or is related to a different king.

Second dynasty ephemeral Kings - Hypothesis 1
Horus name-----Nswt-bity------------------Saqqara list-----------Turin Canon--------Manetho----
....................................................................Neferkara..................Aaka or Neferka.....Nepherkheres
lacuna ('Sethian' period)
Second Dynasty - Hypothesis 2
(Za ?) - Wneg
Nwbnefer: A.S.A.E. 28 p.156 n.2; A.S.A.E. 44 p.292; Firth-Quibell 'The Step Pyramid' pl. 89 n.10,11; Z.A.S. 106 p.120ff.
Lacau-Lauer op.cit.; Helck 'Thinitenzeit' 1987 p.103, 117.
Neferkara: Gauthier, Le Livre des Rois I, 1910 p. 25-6; Weill, Ire Dynastie 2, 163-7; von Beckerath, Handbuch, 1984 p. 48
Neferkaseker: Gauthier, Le Livre des Rois I, 1910 p. 27; J. von Beckerath, Handbuch, 1984 p. 49
Second Dynasty