Who Was the First Egyptian Pharaoh?

Who Was the First Egyptian Pharaoh?

There is considerable confusion amongst scholars as to who the first Egyptian Pharaoh was, who ruled over all of Egypt from his capital at Memphis. According to the kings list made a thousand years after his time, his name was Men, Meni or Mena. The reason for using different vowels is because in Egyptian writing vowels are not written (as at times in Arabic) and these have to be guessed. The Greek historian Mantheo of 200 BC who was known for developing meticulous historical records, called him Menes in Greek. That is the most popular way Mene is mentioned in modern literature. This pharaoh is the legendary king that came from the town of Tinis in Upper Egypt and took over Lower Egypt (the North) by force. He then became the first king over the whole country and founded a new capital for united Egypt – Memphis, just where the two states bordered on each other. According to archaeological dating this was around 3200 BC. For thousands of years, King Menes was thought to be the first king of Egypt. Ancient Egyptian records clearly identify him as the first king of the first dynasty.

However since then much else has been discovered by archeological findings that has led to some confusion. In the last decade of the 1900s the old royal tombs in Abydos were re-excavated. Two seal impressions were found from the tombs of Den and Qaa, the fifth and eighth ruler of the first dynasty. The motif was a line of kings in a successive order, and both had Narmer as the founder of the first dynasty. This record should be an authentic one since it comes from a time much before Menthos or even the Kings list. Most of all, it was prepared by the descendents of Narmer himself. Some scholars postulated that Menes and Narmer may be the same person. Was it really so? The matter requires further enquiry. The seal impressions of Den and Qaa describe the kings of the first dynasty as:






Thus it is clear that Aha was the son and successor of Narmer. King Aha, on the other hand, was the first pharaoh who built monuments of substance over the whole country, and his large tomb constructions (with buried retainers for the first time) were in dimensions that far overshadowed his predecessors including Narmer his father. He has also left a written sign interpreted as the name “Mene” written beside his ordinary name on one occasion. This at once indicates that he is the same as king Mene (or its Greek form Menes). Thus available evidence indicates that it was Aha and Menes who were one and the same person and not Narmer and Menes.

Confusion may have arisen in interpreting historic records because both Narmer (Also known popularly as the scorpion King) and Menes together united Upper and Lower Egypt. The credit of unification would go to Narmer as the father and this is indeed supported by a later archeological find the -Narmer Palette. Menes or Aha on the other hand was the first king to build substantial monuments in Egypt and may have been regarded by many as the first real Pharaoh of Egypt, thus leading to the confusion.

Narmer’s Palette found at the temple of Hierakonpolis shows that behind the king is his sandal-bearer, a high dignitary, possibly his son, who is identified by a rosette (seven petalled) the divine or royal emblem. This son is likely to be the legendary Menes who accompanied Narmer in the conquests. Both may have ruled different parts of Egypt together for a period after the conquest with the younger Menes focusing more on the building of a new Capital at Memphis. Thus it may be concluded that Narmer was the first king of united Egypt and his son Menes the first king that ruled over all of Egypt from Memphis. After the establishment of dynastic rule in Egypt, the villages of Egypt were transformed from members of a loosely organized society in which autonomous chieftains and merchants played the most significant roles, to one under the centralized control of an imperial king.

The kings list of later dynasties appears to have focused on listing the kings of Memphis and thus correctly listed Menes as the first king to rule from that capital, ignoring the father who affected the unification. The second dynasty of Egypt had different roots from the first one. When they came to power they replaced the falcon symbol of the first dynasty by the symbol of a dog. The descendents of Narmer himself would not however ignore their ancestor in developing their own list of kings and listed Narmer as the first king.