Coronation of the pharaoh
|Coronation in hieroglyphs|
The king appears
The term coronation describes an extremely important feast in early and ancient Egyptian history. It concerns the change of power and rulership between two succeeding pharaohs. The accession to the throne was celebrated in several ceremonies, rites and feasts.
The coronation feast didn't exist as one event but rather as a long lasting process including several feasts, rites and ceremonies lasting in total up to a full year. For this reason, Egyptologists today describe the year that a new pharaoh accessed to power as the "year of the coronation".
The earliest depictions of rites and ceremonies concerning an accession to the throne may be found on objects from the reign of the predynastic king Scorpion II, circa 3100 BC. At this time, the change between rulers may have been marked by wars and invasions from neighboring Egyptian proto-kingdoms. This is similar to the military action taken by enemies of Egypt in later history: for example, upon hearing the news of Hatshepsut's death, the king of Kadesh advanced his army to Megiddo in the hope that Thutmose III would not be in position to respond. From king Narmer (founder of 1st dynasty) onwards, wars between Egyptian proto-kingdoms may have been replaced by symbolic ceremonies and feasts.
The most important sources of information about accessions to the throne and coronation feasts are the inscriptions of the Palermo stone, a black basalt stone slab listing the kings from the 1st dynasty down to king Neferirkare Kakai, third pharaoh of the 5th dynasty. The stone also records various events occurring during a king's rule, such as the creation of statues, city and domain foundations, cattle counts and religious feasts such as the Sed festival. The stone also gives the exact date of a ruler's accession to the throne. The first year of a ruler on the throne, the "year of coronation", was not counted in a king's regnal year count, and the stone mentions only the most important ceremonies that took place in this year.
As already mentioned, the coronation feast included several, long lasting feasts, rites and ceremonies the king had to celebrate first, before he was allowed to wear the crown(s) of Egypt. The following describes the most important ceremonies:
- Unification of Upper- and Lower Egypt
The "unification of Upper- and Lower Egypt" may have been connected with the traditional "smiting of the enemy" in predynastic times, a ritual in which the leader of the defeated realm was striked dead with a ceremonial mace by the victorious king. The most famous depiction of this ritual may be seen on the ceremonial palette of king Narmer. On the obverse of the palette, mythological and symbolic elements have been added to this picture: the two serpopards (leopards with unusually elongated necks) with entwined necks may symbolize a more peaceful unification of Upper- and Lower Egypt. Another symbolic depiction of the unification feast appears on a throne relief dating to the reign of king Senusret I, second pharaoh of the 12th dynasty. It shows the deities Horus and Seth wrapping a papyrus haulm and a lotus haulm around a trachea ending in a djed pillar, an act representing the enduring unification of the two lands under Senusret I.
- Circumambulation of the White Walls
The ceremony of the "circumambulation of the White Walls" is known from the inscriptions on the Palermo stone. According to legends, the "White Walls", in Egyptian Inebu Hedj, today's Memphis, were erected by the mythical king Menes as the central seat of government of Egypt. The circumambulation of the walls of Memphis, celebrated with a ritual procession around the city, was performed to strengthen the king's right to the throne and his claim to the city as his new seat of power.
- Appearance of the king
The feast "appearance of the king" is likewise known from inscriptions on the Palermo stone. This feast was held immediately after the coronation, as a confirmation of the king's right to rule. After the end of the year of the coronation, the feast was celebrated every second year. Much later Egyptian sources reveal that this feast comprised three steps: first was the "appearance of the King of Upper Egypt", in Egyptian khaj-nisut, then came the "appearance of the king of Lower Egypt", in Egyptian khaj-bitj, and finally the "appearance of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt", khaj-nisut-bitj. The earliest known mention of this feast dates back to king Djoser, first pharaoh of 3rd dynasty.
- Sed feast
One of the most important feasts of Ancient Egypt linked with a king's time on the throne was the Sed festival, the heb-sed. It included many complex rituals, which are not fully understood up to this day and which are seldom depicted. The first celebration of the feast was held during the year of the coronation. After that, the next celebration was held in the 30th year of the pharaoh on the throne, and the Sed festival was thus named by the ancient Greeks as the Triakontaeteris, meaning "30-year-jubilee". After this jubilee, the Sed feast was normally celebrated every third year, although this rule was broken by various pharaohs, in particular Ramses II who celebrated a total of 14 Sed festivals in 64 years on the throne. Early dynastic rulers, for which at least one Sed feast is archaeologically attested, include Narmer, Den, Qa'a, Nynetjer and possibly Wadjenes. Rare depictions of rites associated to the Sed festival come from Old Kingdom reliefs found in galleries beneath Djoser's step pyramid at Saqqara, as well as from Dashur, dating to the reign of Snefru (the founder of the 4th dynasty).
Some kings simply claimed to have celebrated a Sed festival, despite archaeological evidences proof that they did not rule for 30 years. Such kings include Anedjib (in the 1st dynasty) and Akhenaten, in the 18th dynasty.
- Sokar feast
The "Sokar festival" is – alongside the Sed festival – one of the oldest festivals. It is already mentioned on predynastic artefacts and often mentioned on ivory labels belonging to the kings Scorpion II, Narmer, Aha and Djer. The early forms of this feast included the creation of a ceremonial rowing boat with a cult image of the god Sokar. The boat was then pulled by the king to a sacred lake or to the Nile. Another ritual was the erecting of a richly loaded djed-pillar. In early times, the feast was celebrated during the coronation in attempt to mark the (physical or symbolic) death of the predecessor, from 2nd dynasty onwards, the Sokar feast was repeated every sixth year, the fifth celebration coincided with the Sed festival. As far as is known, the ceremony of the Sokar feast was connected as well to the coronation of a new king as to the foundation of his future tomb. Sokar was the god of the underworld and one of the holy guardians of royal cemeteries.
- Suckling of the young king
This ceremony was introduced during the 6th dynasty under king Pepy II who accessed to the throne aged 6. The "suckling of the young king" was never performed practically but rather represented through small figurines depicting the king as a naked toddler, sitting on the laps of the goddess Isis, being breastfed by her. This representation may have been created to ostentate the divine nature of the pharaoh. The king breastfed by Isis may have inspirated later Christian artists to create the Madonna and child portraits. Later pharaonic pictures show the king as a young man being breastfed by the holy Imat-tree.
The right to the throne of Egypt was normally inherited by direct filiation, the eldest son being the heir of his father. Occasionally the throne was inherited between brothers, for example from Djedefre to Khafra and from Sahure to Neferirkare Kakai, although this later example may have been an usurpation at the expense of Sahure's son. This may have created a dynastic feud as the succession from Neferefre to his brother Nyuserre Ini seemed to have been disrupted for a short while by Shepseskare Isi, possibly a son of Sahure. The throne could also be obtained by marriage in case the only living heir was a woman as may have been the case from Sneferu to Khufu and from Shepseskaf to Userkaf. Sometimes the throne was usurped by a claimants from a minor branch of the royal family, as was possibly the case for Userkare during the 6th dynasty. Finally, it is worth mentioning a possible case of peaceful throne succession via interfamiliar negotiation which may have happened at the end of Nynetjer's rule. Because he possibly decided to separate Upper and Lower Egypt, he may have chosen two of his sons at the same time to rule over the two lands.
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