Stone vase of Seth-Peribsen with the inscription "tribute of the people of Sethroë", National Archaeological Museum (France).
|Pharaoh of Egypt|
|Reign||length of reign unknown, 2nd Dynasty; around 2740 B.C.|
|Predecessor||uncertain; Wadjenes, Senedj or Sekhemib|
|Successor||uncertain; Senedj, Sekhemib or Khasekhemwy|
|Burial||Tomb 'P' at Abydos|
Peribsen (also known as Seth-Peribsen and Ash-Peribsen) is the serekh name of an early Egyptian king who ruled during the 2nd dynasty. Unlike many other pharaohs of this dynasty, Peribsen is well-attested in the archaeological records. Peribsen's royal name is a subject of interest for Egyptologists and historians alike as it differs from the traditional practice with its connection to the deity Seth instead of Horus. This is still the subject of debate and investigations as to why Peribsen chose this name. The details of Peribsen's life remain obscure and the duration of his reign is unknown.
Peribsen´s serekh name was found pressed on earthen jar seals made of clay and mud and in inscriptions on vessels made of alabaster, sandstone, porphyry and black schist. The seals and vessels were found in Peribsen´s tomb and at Elephantine. One clay seal with Peribsen's name was found inside the mastaba tomb K1 at Beit Khallaf. Also two large tomb stelae made of dark grey granite were found at his burial site. Their shape is unusual, because it makes them look unfinished and rough. Egyptologists suspect that this was done deliberately, but the meaning behind this is unknown. A cylinder seal of unknown provenance shows Peribsen´s name inside a cartouche and gives the epithet Merj-netjeru (“beloved of the gods”). This arrangement leads Egyptologists and archaeologists to the conclusion that the seal must be of a much later date, because the royal cartouche was not yet in use during Peribsen´s lifetime. Another seal of the same material shows Peribsen´s name without a cartouche and with the royal title Nisut-Bity (“king of Lower- and Upper Egypt”).
Peribsen's name is unusual because it was an Egyptian tradition that a king had to choose the falcon-shaped deity Horus as his royal patron. This is clearly expressed in one of the king's names, the Horus name. The falcon of the god Horus was placed at the top of the image of the royal palace facade (serekh) to show the king's religious allegiance. The actual name of the king was written within the upper part of the palace facade. However, Peribsen did not choose the traditional royal protector Horus, but instead chose the deity Seth, who was also popular in early dynasties, but became unpopular during the First Intermediate Period. Many later rulers, especially during the New Kingdom and Late Period, condemned Seth and any royal ancestor who had connected his name with that deity. Instead, some pharaohs did the same as Peribsen and connected their birth names to Seth. Examples include the 13th dynasty pharaoh Seth Merybre, the 19th dynasty rulers Seti I and Seti II and the 20th dynasty king Setnakhte.
Since Peribsen is known for his unusual name, Egyptologists and historians have sought to understand the possible motivations that made Peribsen change his name. The following sections discuss some of these theories.
A theory of earlier times, supported by Egyptologists such as Percy Newberry, Jaroslav Černý, Cecil Mallaby Firth and Jean-Philippe Lauer held that Peribsen was a heretic who sought to introduce a new form of state religion to Egypt, similar to the actions of the much later 18th dynasty pharaoh, Akhenaten, who had required Egyptians to serve only one god (in his case the sun-god Aten). Newberry claims that the priests of Horus and Seth fought each other “in the Manner of a war of the roses” during the second half of the 2nd dynasty. The theory of a "heretic Peribsen" was based on the observations that the name “Peribsen” was excluded from later king lists and that the king's tomb had been destroyed and plundered in antiquity. Furthermore the tomb stelae of Peribsen, which once clearly showed the Seth animal, were badly scratched with the clear intend of removing any trace of the animal. Egyptologists thus preceived this as the actions of religious opponents to the sethian priest-caste. Lauer and Firth relied on this theory to explain the enormous quantity of stone vessels inscribed with the name of 1st and 2nd dynasty kings found beneath Djoser's pyramid in bags bearing seals of Khasekhemwy and Djoser. They proposed that Peribsen had plundered the tombs of his predecessors who were followers of Horus and scattered their funerary equipement. These vessels would then have been gathered in the royal treasury during Khasekhemwy's reign following his reunification of Egypt, and finally put beneath the step pyramid by Djoser, in an act of pious devotion.
Today this theory is widely questioned. Archaeological evidence of Peribsen has only been found in Upper Egypt. Furthermore, his name does not appear in Lower Egyptian records surviving from that time. Therefore, it is argued that Peribsen cannot have ruled over all of Egypt and therefore that he was not in a position to require all Egyptians to support a new form of state religion. Another piece of evidence that argues against the theory of heresy is the false door of the priest Shery at Sakkara, who held office during the early 4th dynasty. The inscription on the false door connects the name of Peribsen in one sentence with another king, Senedj. According to the addendum, Shery was "overseer of all wab-priests of king Peribsen in the necropolis of king Senedj, in his mortuary temple and at all other places". This implies that the funerary cult of Peribsen continued at least until the 4th dynasty, which is inconsistent with the theory that Peribsen was considered to be heretic. Additionally, Egyptologists such as Herman te Velde point out that Shery was not the only 4th dynasty priest participating in the funerary cult of Peribsen. Shery's possible brother or cousin Inkef also held the title of a 'supervisor of Ka-priests of Peribsen'. Moreover, seal impressions found in Peribsen's tomb at Abydos show several deities such as Ash, Min and Bastet, which must have been venerated during Peribsen´s time on the throne. This is further evidence against the theory that Peribsen tried to introduce a completely new state religion. The heretic theory of Newberry, Černý, Grdseloff and others was devised from the very limited archaeological information available during their lifetimes, which made the problem of understanding Peribsen's name widely open to speculations.
According to the Egyptologists Jean Sainte Fare Garnot and Herman te Velde the name of Peribsen includes an evidence concerning Peribsen's religious beliefs. Indeed, the name "Peribsen" alone (i.e. without any connection to a deity) literally means "He who comes forth by their will" or "His heart and will comes forth for them" and clearly reveals a plural writing. The Egyptian syllable sn means "them, their, those" and makes the Egyptologists wonder to whom Peribsen's name was addressed to. To use a plural makes no sense as long as only one deity (namely Seth) was addressed. Therefore te Velde and Garnot are convinced that Peribsen used the heraldic Seth animal as a serekh patron, but also linked his name to Horus. In sum it would prove that Peribsen worshipped Horus and Seth on an equal footing during his lifetime. Additionally, they point out that the pictographic ostentation of such religious ambiguity was not unusual in early dynasties. The use of the plural in Peribsen's name promotes the aspect that Peribsen was perceived as a living incarnation of both Horus and Seth in equal measure, just like his predecessors on the throne. Therefore Peribsen's name shows no break in this sacred tradition. To strengthen their line of arguments, the Egyptologists point to the titles of early dynastic queens, which were called "she who is allowed to see Horus and Seth" and "she who carries Horus and Seth". Similarly, the unusual serekh of king Khasekhemwy, the last ruler of 2nd dynasty, shows the deities Horus and Seth together atop the serekh. Horus wears the White Crown of Upper Egypt and Seth wears the Red crown of Lower Egypt. Both gods are depicted facing each other in a kissing gesture. This was clearly intended since this special name was meant to illustrate the dual reincarnation of a king as the representative of Horus and Seth and illustrate the power of the king over the whole of Egypt. Thus, Khasekhemwy's name can be interpreted as an advanced form of Peribsen's serekh name.
Finally, Egyptologists such as Ludwig David Morenz and Wolfgang Helck remark that the targeted gouging of Seth-animals did not occur until the New Kingdom. In particular, this means that the erasure of the Seth-animal on the tomb stelae of Peribsen did not happen shortly after Peribsen's death, as was thought earlier. In addition Dietrich Wildung points out that the necropolis of Abydos was not the only one plundered in antiquity: those of Saqqara and Giza were also ransacked. Thus, he concludes that any targeted action against one particular pharaoh can be excluded.
The earlier theories of Newberry, Černý and Grdseloff also held that the Egyptian state under Peribsen was suffering from several civil wars, which broke out when the king changed his name or were caused by economic problems. These civil wars could have been a reason why later king lists excluded Peribsen´s name since they made him responsible for the putative misery in the past.
In contrast, more modern theories now hold that the Egyptian kingdom was divided peacefully. Egyptologists such as Michael Rice, Francesco Tiradritti and Wolfgang Helck point to the once palatial and well preserved mastaba tombs at Sakkara and Abydos belonging to high officials such as Ruaben, Nefer-Setech and many others. These are all dated to the reigns of Nynetjer up to Khasekhemwy, the last ruler of 2nd dynasty. Egyptologists consider that the archaeological record of the mastabas' condition and the original architecture as proof that the statewide mortuary cults for kings and noblemen successfully took place during the whole dynasty. This circumstance is also inconsistent with the theory of civil wars and/or economic problems. Rice, Tiradritti and Helck think it rather possible, that Nynetjer decided to leave a divided realm because of private or political reasons and that the split up was of mere formal nature.
It is unclear when exactly the division of the Egyptian state occurred. It might have happened at the beginning of Peribsen´s rule or shortly before. Because Peribsen chose the deity Seth as his new throne patron, Egyptologists are of the view that Peribsen was a chieftain from Thinis or a prince of the Thinite royal house. This theory is based on Seth being a deity of Thinite origin, which would explain Peribsen´s choice: his name changing may have been nothing more than smart political (and religious) propaganda. Peribsen is thought to have gained the Thinite throne and ruled only Upper Egypt, whilst other rulers held the Memphite throne and ruled Lower Egypt.
Peribsen's identity is also the subject of debate by Egyptologists and historians. Egyptologists such as Walter Bryan Emery, Kathryn A. Bard and Flinders Petrie believe that Peribsen was identical to the king Sekhemib-Perenmaat, a ruler that had connected his name with the falcon-god Horus and who definitely ruled during 2nd dynasty. Emery, Bard and Petrie point to several clay seals that were found in the tomb entrance of Peribsen's necropolis. Sekhemib's tomb has not yet been found.
Egyptologists such as Hermann Alexander Schlögl, Wolfgang Helck, Peter Kaplony and Jochem Kahl instead believe that Peribsen was a different ruler to Sekhemib. They point out that the clay seals were only found at the entrance area of Peribsen's tomb and that none of them ever shows Peribsen and Sekhemib's names together in one inscription. They compare the findings with the ivory tablets of king Hotepsekhemwy found at the entrance of king Qaa's tomb. Therefore Schlögl, Helck, Kaplony and Kahl are convinced that Sekhemib's seals support the view that Sekhemib buried Peribsen.
Egyptologists such as Toby Wilkinson and Helck believe that Peribsen and Sekhemib could have been related. Their theory is based on the stone vessel inscriptions and seal impressions that show strong similarities in their typographical and grammatical writing styles. The vessels of Peribsen for example show the notation "ini-setjet" ("tribute of the people of Sethroë"), whilst Sekhemib's inscriptions have the notation "ini-chasut" ("tribute of the desert nomads"). A further indication that Peribsen and Sekhemib were related is the serekh-name of both, as they both use the syllables "Per" and "ib" in their names.
It is not clear if the Ramesside king lists truly omit Peribsen. The false door inscription of Shery might indicate that Peribsen is identical with king Senedj ("Senedj" means "the frightening"″) and that this name was used in the king lists, for the seth name was not allowed to be mentioned. In contrast, Dietrich Wildung and Wolfgang Helck identify Peribsen with the ramesside cartouche name Wadjenes. They think it's possible that the name Per-ib-sen was misread because of sloppy hand writing due hieratic inscription into Wadj-sen.
Since archaeological records seem to support the view that the Egyptian state was divided during the reign of king Peribsen, it is the subject of debate by Egyptologists and historians as to why his predecessor Nynetjer decided to split the state.
Egyptologists such as Wolfgang Helck, Nicolas Grimal, Hermann Alexander Schlögl and Francesco Tiradritti believe that king Nynetjer, the third ruler of 2nd dynasty and a predecessor of Peribsen, left a realm that was suffering from an overly complex state administration and that Nynetjer decided to split Egypt to leave it to his two sons (or, at least, two chosen successors) who would rule two separate kingdoms, in the hope that the two rulers could better administer the states. Russian egyptologist Dimitri B. Proussakov points to the notations at the famous Palermo stone concerning the year events of king Nynetjer. From the 12th year event onward, the regular event "The king of Upper- and Lower Egypt appears" is now suddenly called "The king of Lower Egypt appears". Proussakov sees this as a strong indication that Nynetjer's power over egypt had started to shrink. Egyptologists compare the situation to that of king Qa'a, one of the last rulers of the 1st dynasty. When Qa'a died, some obscure rulers appeared and struggled for the throne of Egypt. The struggles peaked in the plundering of the royal cemetery of Abydos, whereupon the cemetery was abandoned and Saqqara became the new burial site for kings. The throne fightings were ended by king Hotepsekhemwy, the founder of the 2nd dynasty.
In contrast, Egyptologists such as Barbara Bell believe that a economic catastrophe such as a famine or a long lasting drought affected Egypt. Therefore, to better address the problem of feeding the Egyptian population, Nynetjer split the realm into two and his successors founded two independent realms, until the famine came to an end. Bell points to the inscriptions of the Palermo stone, where, in her opinion, the records of the annual Nile floods show constantly low levels during this period. Bell´s theory is refuted today by Egyptologists such as Stephan Seidlmayer, who corrected Bell´s calculations. Seidlmayer has shown that the annual Nile floods were at usual levels at Nynetjer´s time up to the period of the Old Kingdom. Bell had overlooked that the heights of the Nile floods in the Palermo stone inscription only takes into account the measurements of the nilometers around Memphis, but not elsewhere along the river. Any long-lasting drought can therefore be excluded.
Whatever the exact reason for the division of Egypt may have been, there is strong archaeological evidence that Peribsen ruled only in Upper Egypt. His realm extended to the Isle of Elephantine, where he founded a new administrative centre called "The white house of treasury". His new royal residence, called the "protection of Nubty", was founded near Kom Ombo ("nubty" was the Ancient Egyptian name of Naqada). Because Peribsen only ruled Upper Egypt, the administrative titles of scribes, seal-bearers and overseers had to be adjusted to the new political situation. For example, titles like "sealer of the king" were changed into "sealer of the king of Upper Egypt". The administration system from Peribsen and Sekhemib shows a clear and well identified hierarchy; an example: Treasury house → pension office → property → vineyards → private vineyard. King Khasekhemwy, the last ruler of 2nd dynasty, was able to re-unify the state administration of Egypt and therefore unite the whole of Ancient Egypt. He brought the two treasury houses of Egypt under the control of the "House of the King", bringing them into a new, single administration centre.
Beside the new administrative center, Peribsen founded several cities of economic importance. Their names are mentioned on numerous clay seals alongside Peribsen's serekh, often preceded by the mention "visit of the king at...". Those cities were Afnut ("city of the headdress-makers"), Nebj ("protector's city"), Abet-desheret ("city of the red granite jars") and Huj-setjet ("city of the Asians"). Inscriptions on stone vessels also mention a "ini-setjet" ("tribute of the people of Sethroë"), which might indicate that Peribsen founded a cult centre for the deity Seth in the Delta. This would however assume that Peribsen ruled over the whole of Egypt, or, at least, that he was accepted as king across all of Egypt during his lifetime.
One official from Peribsen´s reign is known to Egyptologists by his stela: Nefer-Setekh ("Seth is beautiful"). The inscription on his stele is evaluated as an important witness of the popularity of the deity Seth and the king during the 2nd dynasty. Nefer-Setekh was "wab-priest of the king".
In the tomb of Peribsen at Abydos clay seals were found which show the first complete sentence in Egyptian history. The inscription says: "The golden one/He of Ombos hath unified/handed over the two realms for/to his son, the king of Lower and Upper Egypt, Peribsen". The title "The golden one", also read as ″He of Ombos″, is considered by Egyptologists to be a religious form of address to the deity Seth.
Rulers of Lower and Upper Egypt
Egyptologists and historians such as Helck, Tiradritti, Schlögl, Emery and Grimal are convinced that Peribsen had to share his throne with other kings. Since the artefacts surviving from his lifetime show that he and his successor Sekhemib-Perenmaat ruled only in Upper Egypt, it is subject of investigation as to who ruled in Lower Egypt as the corresponding kings. The Rammesside king lists differ in their order of royal names from king Senedj onward. A reason may be that the royal table of Sakkara and the royal canon of Turin reflect Memphite traditions, which only allowed Memphite rulers to be mentioned. The Abydos king list instead reflects Thinite traditions and therefore only Thinite rulers appear on that list. Until king Senedj, all the king lists accord with each other. After him, the Sakkara list and the Turin list mention three kings as successors: Neferkara I, Neferkasokar and Hudjefa I. The Abydos king list skips these kings and jumps forward to Khasekhemwy, calling him “Djadjay”. The discrepancies are considered by Egyptologists to be the result of the division of Egypt during the 2nd dynasty.
A further problem are the Horus names and nebty names of kings used in inscriptions found in the Great Southern Gallery in the necropolis of the (3rd dynasty) king Djoser at Sakkara. Stone vessel inscriptions mention kings such as Nubnefer, Weneg-Nebty, Horus Ba, Horus “Bird” and Za, but each of these kings is mentioned only a few times, which makes Egyptologists think that they did not reign for very long. King Sneferka might be identical with king Qa´a or an ephemeral successor of his. King Weneg-Nebty might be identical with the Ramesside cartouche name Wadjenes. But kings such as “Nubnefer”, “Bird” and “Za” remain a mystery. They never appear anywhere else but at Sakkara and the number of objects surviving from their lifetimes is very limited. Schlögl, Helck and Peter Kaplony postulate, that Nubnefer, Za and Bird were the corresponding rulers of Peribsen and Sekhemib and ruled in Lower Egypt, whilst the latter two ruled Upper Egypt.
Peribsen was buried in the tomb P of the royal cemetery at Umm el-Qa'ab near Abydos. The first excavations of the tomb started in 1898 under the supervision of French archaeologist and egyptologist Émile Amélineau. They were followed by excavations in 1901 and 1902 under the supervision of British archaeologist and egyptologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie. The last excavations of the tomb were undertaken in 1928 by the Swiss egyptologist Edouard Naville.
The tomb is of ordinary construction and, compared to the size of other royal tombs in the same area, surprisingly small. Its design model was the tomb of king Djer (third pharaoh of the 1st dynasty), which was thought to be the 'Tomb of Osiris' since Middle Kingdom. The architectural outlines of Peribsen's mastaba tomb are similar to that of the residential palace of the king. The tomb measures 16 metres (52 ft) x 13 metres (43 ft) and comprises three independent structures nested into one another: in the center is the main burial chamber, measuring 7.3 metres (24 ft) x 2.9 metres (9.5 ft), and which is made of mud bricks, reed and wood. On the North, East and West sides the burial chamber is surrounded by 9 small storage rooms leading into one another, while on the South side is a long antechamber. Between this ensemble and the outer wall is a passageway.
Excavations under the supervision of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Kairo (DAIK) in 2001 and 2004 revealed that the tomb had been erected and completed in a great hurry. The building works took place in a single phase, the walls were plastered roughly and the monument had collapsed several times over the decades. Then, during the Middle Kingdom, Peribsen's tomb was restored at least twice together with the tomb of Djer, which was thought to be that of Osiris, and the many other royal burials at Abydos. These cognitions were promoted by artifacts of the New Kingdom found in the tomb entrance.
The tomb was already plundered by tomb robbers during antiquity, but numerous stone vessels and earthen jars from Peribsen´s reign were found, some of the stone vessels had copper-coated rims. Vessels from preceding rulers such as Nynetjer and Raneb were also found. Furthermore several beads and bracelets made of fayence and carnelian and tools made of copper were excavated. Special findings are a silver needle with the name of king Hor Aha and clay seal fragments with the name of king Sekhemib. Outside the entrance two large tomb stelae were placed (they are now on display in different museums).
Royal funerary enclosure
Close to Peribsen´s tomb a royal funerary enclosure made of mud bricks was found. Clay seals with Peribsen´s serekh name on them were found near the eastern entrance and inside a destroyed offering shrine. The findings support the view that the building was part of Peribsen´s burial site. The funerary enclosure is today commonly known as “Middle Fort”. First excavations started in 1904 under the supervision of Canadian archaeologist Charles Trick Currelly and British egyptologist Edward Russell Ayrton. The enclosure wall was located at the north-west site of Khasekhemwy´s funerary enclosure “Shunet ez Zebib” (“raisin barn”). The one of Peribsen measures 108 metres (354 ft) x 55 metres (180 ft) and housed only a few cult buildings. The enclosure has three entrances: one to the east, one to the south and one to the north. A small shrine, measuring 12.3 metres (40 ft) x 9.75 metres (32.0 ft) was located at the south-east-corner of the funerary enclosure. It once comprised three small chapels. No subsidiary tombs were found.
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- Susanne Bickel: Die Verknüpfung von Weltbild und Staatsbild: Die Verknüpfung von Weltbild und Staatsbild Aspekte von Politik und Religion in Ägypten, In: Hermann Spieckermann: Götterbilder, Gottesbilder, Weltbilder. Mohr Siebeck, Ulmen 2006, ISBN 3-16-148673-0, page 89.
- Jochem Kahl, Nicole Kloth, Ursula Zimmermann: Die Inschriften der ägyptischen Frühzeit: Eine Bestandsaufnahme, Vol. III. Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden 1963, ISBN 3-447-00052-X, page 368.
- I.E.S. Edwards: The Cambridge ancient history, Volume 1-3. Cambridge University Press, 1970, ISBN 0-521-07791-5, page 31 & 32.
- see: P. Lacau, J.P. Lauer: La Pyramide a Degeres IV. Inscriptions Gravees sur les Vases. Cairo 1959; obj.104
- Peter Kaplony: A building named “Menti-Ankh”. In: Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts Kairo (MDAIK), volume 20. de Gruyter, Berlin 1965, page 1–46.
- Émile Amélineau: Mission Amélineau. Tome 4: Les nouvelles fouilles d’Abydos 1897–1898. Compte rendu in extenso des fouilles, description des monuments et objets découverts. Partie 2. Leroux, Paris 1905, page 676–679.
- W. M. Flinders Petrie: The Royal Tombs of the Earliest Dynasties (= Memoir of the Egypt Exploration Fund. vol. 21, ZDB-ID 988141-4). Part 2. Trübner, London u. a. 1901, Tafel XXII, page 178–179.
- Laurel Bestock: The Early Dynastic Funerary Enclosures of Abydos. In: Archéo-Nil. Bd. 18, 2008, ISSN 1161-0492, page 42–59, especially page 56–57.
- Laurel Bestock: The development of royal funerary cult at Abydos. Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2009, ISBN 3-447-05838-2, page 47 & 48.
- Èdouard Naville: The cemeteries of Abydos. Part 1: 1909–1910. The mixed cemetery and Umm El-Ga'ab (= Memoir of the Egypt Exploration Fund. vol. 33, ISSN 0307-5109). Egypt Exploration Fund u. a., London 1914, page 21–25 & 35–39.
- Günter Dreyer and others.: Umm el-Qaab – Nachuntersuchungen im frühzeitlichen Königsfriedhof (16. / 17. / 18. Vorbericht). In: Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Abteilung Kairo. (MDAIK). vol. 62, 2006, ISSN 0342-1279, page 75–77 & 106–110.
- Toby A. Wilkinson: Early Dynastic Egypt. Routledge, London 2001, ISBN 0-415-26011-6, page 281.
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