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Iry-Hor (or Ro[2]) was a predynastic pharaoh of Upper Egypt during the 32nd century BC.[1] Excavations at Abydos in the 1980s and 1990s[3][4][5] and the discovery in 2012 of an inscription of Iry-Hor in the Sinai confirmed his existence.[1] Iry-Hor is the earliest ruler of Egypt known by name and is sometimes cited as the earliest-living historical person known by name.[6]


Iry-Hor's name is written with the Horus falcon hieroglyph (Gardiner sign G5) above a mouth hieroglyph (Gardiner D21). While the modern reading of the name is "Iry-Hor", Flinders Petrie, who discovered and excavated Iry-Hor's tomb at the end of the 19th century, read it "Ro", which was the usual reading of the mouth hieroglyph at the time.[7][8]

Given the archaic nature of the name, the translation proved difficult and, in the absence of a better alternative, Ludwig D. Morenz proposed that the literal translation be retained, giving "Horus mouth".[9]

In the 1990s, Werner Kaiser and Günter Dreyer translated Iry-Hor's name as "Companion of Horus".[3]

Toby Wilkinson translated the signs as "Property of the king".[10]

The Egyptologists Jürgen von Beckerath and Peter Kaplony proposed that the known inscriptions referred to a private person whose name is to be read Wer-Ra, wr-r3 (lit. "great mouth"), i.e. reading the bird above the mouth-sign as the swallow hieroglyph G36 rather than the Horus falcon. They translated the name as "Spokesman" or "Chief".[11]


Clay seal with the signs r-Ḥr.


Until 2012, the name of Iry-Hor had not been found in or next to a serekh, so the identification of Iry-Hor as a king was controversial. Toby Wilkinson contended that Iry-Hor was not a king, but a slave of a king.[10] Egyptologists Jürgen von Beckerath and Peter Kaplony also initially rejected the identification of Iry-Hor as a king and proposed instead that the known inscriptions refer to a private person whose name is to be read Wer-Ra, wr-r3 (lit. "great mouth"), i.e. reading the bird above the mouth-sign as the swallow hieroglyph G36 rather than the Horus falcon. They translated the name as "Spokesman" or "Chief".[12]

Following the excavations at Abydos and the discovery of an inscription of Iry-Hor in the Sinai in 2012, Wilkinson's hypothesis is now rejected by most Egyptologists and Iry-Hor is widely accepted as a predynastic king of Egypt.[1][13][14]

Egyptologists Flinders Petrie,[2] Laurel Bestock[8] and Jochem Kahl[15] nonetheless believed that he was indeed a real ruler. They pointed to the distinctive spelling of Iry-Hor's name: the Horus falcon holds the mouth hieroglyph in its claws. On several clay seals, this group of characters is found accompanied by a second, free-standing mouth hieroglyph. This notation is reminiscent of numerous anonymous serekhs held by a Horus falcon with individual hieroglyphs placed close to it rather than within the serekh, as would be expected. Finally, the serekh could have been a convention that started with Ka, whose name has been found both with and without a serekh.[8] Therefore, they concluded that the argument that Iry-Hor was not a king because his name was never found in a serekh was insufficient.

Supporters of the identification of Iry-Hor as a king, such as Egyptologist Darell Baker, also pointed to the size and location of his tomb. It is a double tomb, as big as those of Ka and Narmer, located within a sequential order linking the older predynastic "U" cemetery with the First Dynasty tombs.[16] Furthermore, Iry-Hor's name is inscribed on a large jar exhibiting the royal Horus falcon and is similar to those found in the tombs of other kings of this period.

In contrast, some Egyptologists doubted Iry-Hor even existed, precisely because his name never appeared in a serekh, the Horus falcon being simply placed above the mouth sign. Ludwig D. Morenz and Kurt Heinrich Sethe doubted the reading of Iry-Hor's name and thus that he was a king. Morenz, for example, suspected that the mouth sign may simply have been a phonetic complement to the Horus falcon.[9] Sethe understood the group of characters forming Iry-Hor's name as an indication of origin (of the content of a jar and other goods to which clay seals were usually attached). Toby Wilkinson dismissed the tomb attributed to Iry-Hor as a storage pit and the name as a treasury mark. Indeed, r-Ḥr may simply mean property of the king.[10][17] Supporting his hypothesis, Wilkinson also noted that Iry-Hor was poorly attested and, until 2012, the only inscription of Iry-Hor outside of Abydos was located in Lower Egypt at Zawyet el'Aryan, while Ka and Narmer have many inscriptions located as far north as Canaan.


Günter Dreyer's excavations of the necropolis of Abydos revealed that Iry-Hor was in fact well attested there with over 27 objects bearing his name and that his tomb was of royal proportions.[18] Furthermore, in 2012 an inscription mentioning Iry-Hor was discovered in the Sinai, the inscription comprising furthermore an archaic empty serekh on the right of Iry-Hor's name.[1] The inscription mentions the city of Memphis, pushing back its foundation to before Narmer and establishing that Iry-Hor was already reigning over it. Following this discovery, most Egyptologists, including G. Dreyer and the discoverers of the inscription, Pierre Tallet and Damien Laisney, now believe that Iry-Hor was indeed a king.[1] Continuing excavations of Iry-Hor's tomb at Abydos by Günter Dreyer established that the tomb was of similar dimensions and layout as those of Ka and Narmer and must, therefore, have belonged to a king. This was consequently accepted by von Beckerath and Iry-Hor is now the first entry in the latest edition of von Beckerath's Handbook of Egyptian Pharaohs.[19]

Reign and attestations[edit]

Name of Iry-Hor as found in Abydos.[3]

Iry-Hor was most likely Ka's immediate predecessor[20] and thus would have reigned during the early 32nd century BC. He probably ruled from Hierakonpolis over Abydos and the wider Thinite region and controlled Egypt at least as far north as Memphis, since the Sinai rock inscription relates a visit of Iry-Hor to this city.[1][21] The Egyptologists Tallet and Laisney further propose that Iry-Hor also controlled parts of the Nile Delta.[1]

He was buried in the royal cemetery of Umm el-Qa'ab near Ka, Narmer and the First Dynasty kings. Iry-Hor's name appears on clay vessels from his tomb in Abydos and a clay seal with the hieroglyphs for r-Ḥr was found in Narmer's tomb and may refer to Iry-Hor. In total no less than 22 pottery jars incised with Iry-Hor's name have been in Abydos as well as at least 5 ink-inscribed fragments and a cylinder seal.[18] A similar seal was also found far to the north in the tomb Z 401 of Zawyet el'Aryan in Lower Egypt.[3][16] An incision on a spindle whorl found in Hierakonpolis during James E. Quibell and Petrie excavations there in 1900 may refer to him.[22] Finally, the discovery of a rock inscription of Iry-Hor in the Sinai constitutes his northernmost attestation. The inscription shows the name of Iry-Hor on a boat, next to the word Inebu-hedj meaning "white walls", the ancient name of Memphis.[1]


Iry-Hor's tomb at the Umm el-Qa'ab comprises two separate chambers B1 and B2, shown in inset. Iry-Hor's tomb is located close to Ka's (B7, B8, B9) and Narmer's tombs (B17, B18).

Iry-Hor's tomb is the oldest tomb of the Abydos necropolis B in the Umm el-Qa'ab.[23] It comprises two separate underground chambers B1 (6 m × 3.5 m) and B2 (4.3 m × 2.45 m) excavated by Petrie in 1899 and later by Werner Kaiser.[2][24] A further chamber, now known as "B0", was uncovered during re-excavations of Iry-Hor's tomb in the 1990s.[16] These chambers have a size similar to those found in the tombs of Ka and Narmer. No superstructure, if there ever was one, survives to this day. Chamber B1 yielded jar fragments incised with his name.[23] Chamber B2 produced another incised jar fragment, a seal impression, several ink inscriptions and vessel fragments bearing the names of Ka and Narmer. Parts of a bed were also found onsite.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i P. Tallet, D. Laisnay: Iry-Hor et Narmer au Sud-Sinaï (Ouadi 'Ameyra), un complément à la chronologie des expéditios minière égyptiene, in: BIFAO 112 (2012), 381-395, available online
  2. ^ a b c Flinders Petrie (1900). The Royal tombs of the earliest dynasties. pp. 29 & 30.
  3. ^ a b c d e Werner Kaiser, Günter Dreyer: Umm el-Qaab. Nachuntersuchungen im frühzeitlichen Königsfriedhof: 2. Vorbericht, in: Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts Kairo (MDAIK), 38th edition. Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Orient-Abteilung (Hrsg.). de Gruyter, Berlin 1982, pp. 211–246.
  4. ^ Werner Kaiser, Günter Dreyer (1993). "Umm el-Qaab. Nachuntersuchungen im frühzeitlichen Königsfriedhof 5./6. Vorbericht". Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts Kairo (MDAIK) (49): 56.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  5. ^ Werner Kaiser, Günter Dreyer (1996). "Umm el-Qaab. Nachuntersuchungen im frühzeitlichen Königsfriedhof 7./8. Vorbericht". Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts Kairo (MDAIK) (52): 48–57 and taf. 9.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  6. ^ Odenwald, Sten. "Who Was the First Named Human?". Huffpost. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  7. ^ W. M. F. Petrie: Abydos I, pp. 4–6.
  8. ^ a b c Laurel Bestock: The Development of Royal Funerary Cult at Abydos, pp. 16, 17, 21 & 28
  9. ^ a b Ludwig D. Morenz: Bildbuchstaben und symbolische Zeichen, p. 88
  10. ^ a b c Wilkinson, Toby (1993). "The identification of Tomb B1 at Abydos: refuting the existence of a king 'Ro/Iry-Hor'". Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. London: Egypt Exploration Society. 79: 91–93. ISSN 0307-5133.
  11. ^ Peter Kaplony: Inschriften der Ägyptischen Frühzeit, vol. 1, p. 468
  12. ^ Peter Kaplony: Inschriften der Ägyptischen Frühzeit, vol. 1, p. 468
  13. ^ Edwin C. M. van den Brink: The incised serekh signs of Dynasties 0–1. Part I: complete vessels, in: J. Spencer editions, Aspects of Early Egypt (1996), pp. 140–158, pl.s 24-32, London, British Museum Press, ISBN 978-0714109992.
  14. ^ E. C. M van den Brink: The incised serekh signs of Dynasties 0–1. Part II: Fragments and Additional Complete Vessels.
  15. ^ Jochem Kahl: Das System der ägyptischen Hieroglyphenschrift in der 0.-3. Dynastie, pp.96–101.
  16. ^ a b c Darrell D. Baker: The Encyclopedia of the Pharaohs: Volume I - Predynastic to the Twentieth Dynasty 3300–1069 BC, Stacey International, ISBN 978-1-905299-37-9, 2008, p. 156
  17. ^ Toby Wilkinson: Early Dynastic Egypt, pp. 19, 55 & 234.
  18. ^ a b Edwin C. M. van den Brink: Two Pottery Jars Incised with the Name of Iry-Hor from Tomb B1 at Umm El-Ga'ab, Abydos, available online, in : Zeichen aus dem Sand, Streiflichter aus Ägyptens Geschichte zu Ehren von Günter Dreyer, Eva-Maria Engel, Vera Müller and Ulrich Hartung editors, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2008, ISBN 978-3-447-05816-2
  19. ^ Jürgen von Beckerath: Handbuch der ägyptischen Königsnamen, Münchner ägyptologische Studien, Volume 49, Mainz: P. von Zabern, 1999, ISBN 3-8053-2591-6, Archived 2015-12-22 at the Wayback Machine pp. 9, 36–37
  20. ^ Winfried Barta: Zur Namensform und zeitlichen Einordnung des Königs Ro, in: GM 53, 1982, pp. 11–13.
  21. ^ Owen Jarus, Live Science, Early Egyptian Queen Revealed in 5,000-Year-Old Hieroglyphs, [1] [2]
  22. ^ James E. Quibell, Flinders Petrie: Hierakonpolis. Part I. Plates of discoveries in 1898 by J. E. Quibell, with notes by W. M. F. P[etrie], London 1900, available online
  23. ^ a b Raffaele, Francesco. "Dynasty 0" (PDF). Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  24. ^ Kaiser, Werner (1964). "Einige Bemerkungen zur ägyptischen Frühzeit". Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde. 91 (2): 86–124. doi:10.1524/zaes.1964.91.2.86. S2CID 201840428.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Scorpion I? Double Falcon?
King of Thinis
Succeeded by
Ka ?