The Horus Sekhemib Perenmaat is another mysterious sovereign
of the Second dynasty.
There is no monument which can be assigned to him in Abydos, Saqqara
or in any other place of Egypt.
Indeed all the inscriptions with his serekh have been found in Abydos
(Umm el Qaab P, the tomb of Peribsen, or in this latter king's funerary
enclosure, the 'Middle Fort'), and at Saqqara (8 fragments of stone
vessels from the Step Pyramid complex, in the debris out of the eastern
galleries VI- VII); a seal impression has also been found in the Old
Kingdom town debris of Elephantine (see Leclant - Clerc, Orientalia
62, 1993 p. 250; T. A. H. Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, 1999 p. 90-91;
W. Kaiser, J.P. Pätznick et al., in: MDAIK 55, 1999, 166-172).
The later king list univoquely hand down a lacuna (hwdjefa)
before Khasekhemwy (Bebty, Djadjatepy) only citing the Memphite kings
of this period and always omitting Peribsen and Sekhemib (see pictures
Various hypotheses have been advanced about Horus Sekhemib in relation
with Seth Peribsen.
Petrie initially confused the two kings thinking they were the same
person/names ('Royal Tombs...' II, 1901 p. 31); Griffith expressed his
doubts about Pertie's view in the same publication (R.T. II p. 53 n.49).
Effectively, the seal which Petrie cited (loc.cit.) as showing the name
Sekhemab Perabsen, was instead inscribed as king Sekhemib Perenmaat.
It was then proposed that Sekhemib was the name of Peribsen in the earlier
part of his reign, before the change of the tutelary god atop the serekh
from Horus to Seth.
R. Weill ('IIe et IIIe Dynastie' 1908 p. 119-26) was the first to advance
the hypothesis of two different kings.
J. Saint Fare Garnot reproposed the identity of the two names for the
same individual (B.I.E. 37 p. 317ff; for other articles on the 'Seth
rebellion': Newberry A.E. 7, 40ff; Cerny in Grdseloff, ASAE 44, 279ff).
Lacau and Lauer (Pyr. Deg. IV,2 p.43) stressed the similarity of the
late 2nd dynasty names based on the verb 'Prj' (Peribsen, Perenmaat,
Perenka) and that of Sekhemib's inscriptions Inj Khaswt with Peribsen's
Inj Stjet (also cfr. G. Godron, B.I.F.A.O. 57 p. 150ff and B. Gunn A.S.A.E.
28 p. 156 n.4 for the names of Peribsen, Sekhemib).
Wildung and later Barta (respect. in 'Die Rolle...' 1969 and in Z.A.S.
108, 1981) have embraced the theory of the respective equivalence of
Sekhemib with Uneg and Peribsen with Sened.
We have discussed, in Sened 's page, that this
theory is untenable for various motives:
Shery's inscriptions from Saqqara B3 (Kaiser in G.M. 122, 1991) do not
couple Peribsen and Sened as they were one king; furthermore Peribsen's
nswt bity can't be Sened, because 'Peribsen' is attested as nswt-bity
More recently there seems to be a tendency to favour the succession
Peribsen - Sekhemib - Khasekhem; the inscriptions on clay seals of Sekhemib
have all been found in Peribsen's structures at Abydos, and so, like
the cases of Qa'a and Hotepsekhemwy, Khasekhemwy and Netjerykhet, egyptologists
think that Sekhemib celebrated his predecessor's burial; certainly Sekhemib
didn't reign more than few years, and strangely enough, his tomb at
Abydos hasn't been located yet (assuming there was one) after more than
a century of excavations in the area.
Another possibility could be that Peribsen changed his name (contrarily
to what was proposed almost a century ago) from Seth Peribsen to Horus
Sekhemib. There's no proof, neither in favour nor contra, this theory.
Some inscriptions on stone vessels of Sekhemib have been
found at Saqqara, in the Step Pyramid complex of Netjerykhet (Djoser):
the 8 fragments (see picture above) were all found in the debris of
Djoser's substructures, outside the galleries VI and VII where most
of the earlier kings' inscribed vessels came from.
No Second Dynasty object/text with Peribsen's name has ever been found
in all Saqqara.
Together with the evidence of the Abydos seal impressions, this is another
indication which must be taken into great account for resolving the
problem of the succession Peribsen - Sekhemib.
Peribsen's material might have been voluntarily excluded from Djoser's
giant mass of stone vessels, because this king was already considered
a kind of herethic for the choice of Seth as his tutelary god; but the
later cult attested in the first half of the Fourth Dynasty (performed
by Shery who directed the wab priests of Peribsen in the funerary chapel
of Sened at Saqqara) seems to contradict the possibility of an early
damnatio memoriae for Peribsen (and seal impressions of Khasekhemwy
in the eastern galleries could signify that the later vessels found
in the Step Pyramid had been taken from the funerary provisions for
Khasekhemwy: the 2 clay seals were infact from the ropes which closed
the sacks containing these vessels; so Djoser was reusing vessels previously
gathered for Ninetjer's and for Khasekhemwy's funerary estabilishments
(and possibly from Horus Za 's; cfr. W. Helck in Z.A.S. 106, 1979).
One vessel of Khasekhem was found in the gallery 7 ! So this could mean
that the lack of stone vessels was due to the lack of private tombs
at Saqqara in the reign of Peribsen.
This is not astonishing, because we know that the royal court, which
was moved from This (Abydos) to Memphis (Saqqara cemetery) at the beginning
of the Second Dynasty, must have suffered some troubles probably causing
the contemporary reigns of local ephemeral king in Memphis (Wneg, Sened,
Nwbnefer, Neferkasokar ...) and others in This and Hierakonpolis (the
last two or three kings of the Second Dynasty).
Khasekhem, who's credited as the reunificator of the country, initially
resided in Nekhen (Hierakonpolis) from where he moved towards Memphis
in the second half (or later part ?) of his reign (changing name into
The similarity of Khasekhemwy's
horizontal inscription (n.95) from the South tomb of Djoser complex
with those of Sekhemib (who anyway still
retains in other inscriptions the vertical grouping recalling Peribsen's
vessels' inscriptions from Abydos), as well as the use of the falcon
topped serekh, united with the other elements discussed above and below,
lead us to propend for the supposition of Sekhemib shortly reigning
between Peribsen and Khasekhem(wy).
We are unable to trace the history of the events of the later part of
the Second Dynasty; from Sethe, Newberry and, to some degree, up to
Weill (Ire dyn. 1961), the myth of Horus and Seth had been interpreted
as originating from the historical events of the crisis and 'heresy'
which had brought Seth Peribsen to the throne.
We have no proof of antagonism between Khasekhemwy and Peribsen; their
burials are both in the same necropolis of Umm el Qaab, although on
the opposite northern and southern limits; Khasekhemwy built the Shunet
ez Zebib few meters south of (the southern wall of) Peribsen's 'Middle
Tomb P and V have a roughly similar NW orientation; Dreyer and co. have
shown that the earliest stage of tomb V, before the northwards and southwards
expansions, must have closely resembled Peribsen's tomb P original layout.
Peribsen is not attested by contemporary inscriptions out of Abydos,
Bet Khallaf, Elephantine.
He would have been a southern ruler, perhaps contemporary to the cited
Memphite ones; Khasekhem, who had resided in Hierakonpolis, was buried
in Abydos, but he might have had other larger tombs at Hierakonpolis
(as king Khasekhem) and West Saqqara (as Khasekhemwy, in the second
part of his reign): Gisr el Mudir, Western massif of Djoser's complex
(?), tomb (Mariette) A4 (Lions tomb) = Djoser's north court storerooms;
the unpublished mastaba S3034 in North Saqqara also produced a seal
impression of this king similar to IAF 291 (Helck, op. cit).
Therefore Khasekhemwy certainly returned to Saqqara necropolis,
and to the Memphite royal court, maybe after defeating (?) local weak
sovereigns: there are the archaeological proofs of his presence in the
necropolis; the scarcity of these proofs must be attributed to the fact
that only in the last years of Khasekhemwy 's reign the court was re-moved
to Memphis and also to the unappropriate excavation of the Northern
Necropolis of Saqqara, the galleries under the Western Massif and, above
all, the Western Saqqara giant stone-enclosure 'Gisr el Mudir'.
But how do we explain Sekhemib's attestations at Saqqara
Lacking further evidence we must conclude that Sekhemib might have already
attempted (perhaps succeeding in) a returning to Memphis; the vessels
found beneath the Step Pyramid unlikely come from the south; it's possible
that they were taken by Djoser or by Khasekhemwy from one or more yet
unnkown elite tombs of North Saqqara, where they had been the royal
gift of Sekhemib to a dead official of his; the 'anarchy' period of
split reigns in the north and south of Egypt would have lasted only
for the reign of Peribsen (which overlapped those of Ninetjer's Memphite
ephemeral successors). No vessels' fragment with Sekhemib inscription
has ever been found at Abydos.
J. van Wetering has recently tentatively proposed the attribution to
Peribsen of the L-shaped/ Ptahhotep enclosure, west of Djoser Step Pyramid
complex; as for the Gisr el Mudir (or even less than for this), there
are very few clues to substantiate this statement (on archaeological
grounds), but other considerations -which point to exclude for these
monuments a later (e.g. Third Dynasty) origin- make this hypothesis
an attractive one. Alternatively it could be speculatively proposed
the same Sekhemib as the owner of this monument (from which the inscribed
stone vessels found in Djoser complex would be possibly originated);
the Ptahhotep enclosure seems both smaller and more disturbed (by later
tombs and modern activity -it was also the set of a movie-) than Gisr
el-Mudir: it is hoped that the Polish excavations in that area can shed
light on this structure, its rough datation and eventually its ownership.
The similarity of the names Peribsen and Sekhemib Perenmaat
(both with prj and jb) might be a propaganda device of the latter king
to asses his reconciliation with Maat (who had not been respected by
the predecessor) and the return of Horus as king protecting god.
Or, as already said, it could point towards the hypothesis of a succession
of the names Peribsen > Sekhemib, thus being a clue of Peribsen's
failure and his consequent change of name and titulary during the latest
part of his reign.
Up to now the most important suggestion for the succession
of Peribsen and Sekhemib have been done by Jean Pierre Pätznick
in relation to the seal impressions from Elephantine (cf. MDAIK reports
espec.: MDAIK 55, 1999, 166-173 and MDAIK 51, 1995, 179-184). The epigraphic
and palaeographic studies seems to indicate that Seth (or Ash) Peribsen
preceded Horus Sekhemib (probably a completely different ruler);
these criterions may be also applied to the study of the inscriptions
incised on Stone Vessels, which also appear
to favour the succession Peribsen - Sekhemib - Khasekhem, especially
when the horizontal inscriptions of Sekhemib are confronted with Khasekhem(wy)'s
About the patron deity, Pätznick favours Ash rather than Seth as
commonly reported; I think that there was a strict relationship between
these two gods and their functions in the Early Dynastic; perhaps the
Second Dynasty name of Seth (spelled "Suthesh") might have
been originated from the syncretistic fusion of the two deities Seth
and Ash (Sethesh) but it's actually impossible to demonstrate this speculative
statement of mine (even in linguistical terms).
For the causes of these religious-titulary anomalies
(but also consider the Nebwy of Merbiape Adjib, a falconless serekh
of Sneferka, and the later Horus Seth Khasekhemwy) and chronological
discussions see under Peribsen.
For discussions on the Seal impressions of Sekhemib see Peter Kaplony
I.A.F. I, II, III (figures) 1963.
Abydos Seal impressions in I.A.F. III are from Petrie R.T. II pl. 21
n. 164- 172 (with some slight divergencies in the drawing), and from
E. Naville- E. Peet - H. Hall, 'The Cemeteries of Abydos' pt. I, 1914
No stone vessel of Sekhemib has been found at Abydos; Spencer's (Early
Dynastic Objects in the British Museum) n. 277 is unprovenanced and
said to be probably from Abydos.
All the 8 inscribed stone vessels from the Step Pyramid complex in Lacau-Lauer
Pyr.Deg. IV n. 87-94 (pl. 18) had been already published by B. Gunn,
A.S.A.E. 28 pl. 2 and by Firth - Quibell, Step Pyramid II pl. 88- 89.
The inscriptions of Sekhemib up to 1993 are listed in the Quellenlist
of Jochem Kahl (Das System der Agyptische Hieroglyphenschrift Dyn. 0-3,
1994 p. 355-6 n. 2864- 2886) where this king is placed before Peribsen
The seal impressions of Sekhemib in Peribsen's tomb and enclosure (Middle
Fort) of Abydos indicates that the former was buried in another yet
unexplored area of the Thinite necropolis or perhaps in another quite
A fragmentary seal impression with Sekhem(ib)-Perjen(-Maat) Horus name
has been found in the Umm el-Qaab tomb of Khasekhemwy (V, on sack-sealings
from rooms 31-33, directly north of the burial chamber), a fact that
further reinforces the direct succession Sekhemib > Khasekhem(ui)
at the end of the dynasaty (cf. Dreyer, in: MDAIK 59, 2003, 115, pl.