Prenomen (Ancient Egypt)

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Prenomen in hieroglyphs
M23
X1

niswt
He of the sedge
L2
X1

bjty
He of the bee
Full form
M23
X1
L2
X1

niswt-bity
He of the sedge and the bee (King of Upper- and Lower Egypt)
Nubnefer.png
Early example of the nswt-bity crest (here: king Nubnefer from 2nd dynasty).

The prenomen (alternatively written praenomen[1]) of Ancient Egyptian pharaohs was one of the "great five names" of Egyptian rulers. Other terms for this "great name" are Nswt-bity name and throne name.[1]

It is thought by some Egyptologists and historians to be the birth name of the rulers,[2] although they are not known to have used it in public inscriptions. Other Egyptologists believe that the prenomen was an independent name exclusively invented for the nswt-bity crest.[1]

Heraldic appearance[edit]

The prenomen is composed of four hieroglyphic signs arranged into two fixed groups: the first sign group comprises the picture of a four-leafed sedge over a bread loaf. It was read in Egyptian as Niswt and symbolised Upper Egypt. The second group is written with the sign for a honey bee over a bread loaf. It was read as Bity and symbolised Lower Egypt. The etymology and origin of each crest reading is still unknown.[2][3]

During the first three dynasties, the prenomen was depicted either alone or in pair with the Nebty name, as the case of king Semerkhet shows. He was the first king who devoted his prenomen to the Two Ladies that clearly, although not every king after him followed that custom. From king Huni, the probably last king of third dynasty, onward, the prenomen was encircled by the so-called cartouche, the elongated form of the Shen ring ("ring of eternity").[2]

Symbology[edit]

The Niswt-Bity name is considered[by whom?] to be the least understood and most complex title of all five names that Egyptian pharaohs could adopt. Today it is commonly translated by "King of Upper and Lower Egypt" but in Ancient Egyptian times it was surely[citation needed] read as "he of the sedge and the bee" and understood as "the dual king". This is based on the traditional and religious beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians, in particular that a king, as the ruler of two realms, was likewise a ruler of all dualistic things. The king was therefore the ruler over things with contradicting yet complementary meanings, such as "good - evil", "light - darkness" and "harmony - chaos".[2]

Niswt[edit]

The reason for which the Ancient Egyptians chose the sedge as the symbol for Upper Egypt may lie in their view of the sedge as a symbol for fertility and harvest; thus naturally associated with the king who was thought to always be potent and fertile.[3] Niswt, the "seal of the sprouting reed", reveals a rather maternal and protecting function as shown by early titles such as Mery-nesw ("being loved by the king") and heraldic crests such as Per-nesw ("house of the king").[4]

Bity[edit]

The Bity crest was in many ways the complementing contrast to the Niswt crest. While Niswt expresses an executive symbology and function, the Bity crest expresses a legislative symbology and function. Bity, the "seal of the defensive bee" reveals instead a rather power and strength seeking character, which is thought to be some kind of pun to the real honey bee.[5] The earliest instances of the use of Bity date back to the time period corresponding to queen Merneith's possible rule, between the reigns of Djet and Den in the mid First Dynasty.[3]

The Ancient Egyptians' motivations for choosing the bee probably lies in the economic and social importance of beekeeping: honey was used in Ancient Egypt as food, medicine, table offering in temples and shrines and as an important trade ware.[6] But the perhaps most cogent reason to choose the bee as the determinative of Lower Egypt may lie in the behaviour of honey bees: beehive-building insects respecting a strict hierarchy and social structure. This might have inspired the Ancient Egyptian to compare beehives with their own social structures, hierarchies and their dependence on storages. The pharaoh was simply the head and leader of the state's hierarchy and economy. Additional, the bee sign might have had the meaning of "wealth/affluence", since bees are known for their collecting behaviour. This might explain as to why the Bity crest is used when describing offices that were responsible for economic duties such as the Khetemty-bity for "seal bearer of the Bity king".[7]

Another meaning for the bee can be found in its sting: the bee sign may carry a military message, the pharaoh being always able to defend his realm.[2] The strongest evidence supporting this conclusion comes from the pyramid texts of king Unas and Teti of the late Fifth and early Sixth Dynasty. In these texts, the godddess Nut is described as a "swarm of bees, encircling and devouring the king's enemy".[8]

In sum, the Niswt-Bity title does not just have a mere orthographic meaning, as was thought in the earlier times of Egyptology, but rather it had a cultic and religious meaning as well.[9]

Use[edit]

Nswt-bitiy crest combined with the nbty crest (top row; here: king Semerkhet of 1st dynasty).
Later example of the nswt-bity crest, here introducing a cartouche name (queen Hatshepsut)

Three different uses for the Niswt-Bity group of signs are known. First, they represented the highest level of command, for the king himself as well for his subjects. Thus, every title of an official containing the Niswt- or Bity signs gave the holder the highest executive authority. Examples of such titles are Sedjawty-bity and Sedjawty-niswt. Despite using the bity and niswt group of signs, both titles actually mean "sealbearer of the king". However, when used separately and in mere economic contexts, the titles could have a more specific meaning, for example Sedjawty-bity can be read as "sealbearer of the king of Lower Egypt" and Sedjawty-niswt as "seal bearer of the king of Upper Egypt". A unique case seems to be the birth name of the Third Dynasty king Huni: his name contains the Niswt crest beside the signs for Hw meaning "utterance" or "appointment" or Hwy for "smiting" or "beating".[2][3] The translation of the full name is uncertain.

Secondly, both sign groups could be used either alone or together to designate the personal property of the pharaoh or an order of him. The former usage is similar to that of the hieroglyph of the sitting falcon while an example of the latter is found in a rock inscription in Sinai dating to the Second Dynasty. The inscription, which names the "administrator of the desert and general Ankhenity", further reads wpw.t nsw.t meaning "[commissioned] by order of the Niswt king".[2] A similar factum is found in words describing royal actions. The word wdj nswt, for example, means "royal decree".[1]

A third symbolic and also practical meaning of Niswt lies in its use to express and accentuate relationships in the royal family. Originally the Niswt crest expressed a direct blood link with the pharaoh, for example in the titles Sa-niswt for "son of the king" and Mwt-niswt for "mother of the king". At some point during the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt however, the titles for son or daughter of the king became honorific and were given to high officials and courtiers alike. Indirect kinships and mere acquaintances with the king were expressed with titles such as Semer-niswt meaning "friend/courtier of the king" and Rekh-niswt for "favorite of the king".[2] This kind of expression dates back to the First Dynasty, with the titles Mery nesw, "beloved of the king", and Ankh-merer-nesw, "living for and beloved by the king", appearing during the reign of Djet. Both titles are rare and might point to elite positions held by the title bearers.[10]

Finally, similarly to the Niswt crest, the Bity crest also expressed royal authority. For example, an "seal-bearer of the Bity-king" was -alongside the direct relatives of the king- the only one allowed to touch, count and seal the personal possessions of the pharaoh.[11]

When used single or combined together with other symbols, Nswt and Bity received advanced meanings in Egyptian heraldry, especially when connected with administrative and/or economic institutios. The sign group Per-niswt, for example, meaning "house of the king", represented the royal household and/or the palace of the king.[2] This is similar to the much later title Per-a'a, literally the "great house", hellenized to form the word pharaoh.[12][13]

King Semerkhet, the seventh ruler of 1st dynasty, introduced the famous Nebty name as a complementary counterpart to the nswt-bity crest. Semerkhet's predecessor, king Anedjib, had introduced the Nbwy name as a heraldic emendation. But nbwy (meaning "the two lords") seemed to include "the wrong gender", Semerkhet seemed to seek for a "female" crest. Thus he changed the Nbwy name into the Nbty name, the crest of the "Two Ladies" (Nekhbet and Wadjet). From Semerkhet to king Nynetjer (third ruler of 2nd dynasty), the Nswt-bity crest appeared in pair with the nebty name, king Peribsen (possibly Nynetjer's direct successor) was the first to separate the crests and using the nswt-bity crest sole again. He used the nebty crest separate, too, but funnily enough, the name "Peribsen" was used in all crests.[14]

Introduction and history[edit]

The final form of the title Niswt-Bity was introduced during the reign of king Horus Den, fifth ruler of First Dynasty, and was then adopted by all subsequent kings. The single sign group Niswt was already in use under king Djer, the third king of the dynasty and maybe even under king Hor-Aha, his predecessor. The sign group Bity appears slightly later, during the reign of Den. At the time of the introduction of the Niswt-Bity crest both groups were already in use separately, each for its own. An interesting[citation needed] background is the symbolic implementation of Niswt with the White Crown of Upper Egypt and Bity with the Red Crown of Lower Egypt.[2][3]

King Radjedef, the third ruler of the 4th dynasty, combined the nswt-bity crest first time with the title Sa-Rê (meaning "son of Rê"). This title followed the cartouche as an emendation of the birth name.[2] King Neferirkare Kakai, the third ruler of 5th dynasty, was the first who separated the nswt-bity- and the sa-rê crest and turned them into two different, independent names: nomen and prenomen. Now the title sa-rê introduced the new name and it was also placed in a cartouche. During later times, pharaohs often used both names, prenomen and nomen, in cartouches, which sometimes led to confusion amongst Egyptologists in the past. The reason for the confusion is differences between the royal names presented by the ancient Historian Manetho and the ramesside king lists, such as the Abydos King List, the Saqqara Table and the Turin Canon. Whilst Manetho referred to the nomen, the ramesside kinglists use the prenomen. Another reason is that many ruler of later periods used the cartouche-versions of their nomen and prenomen in inscriptions separated. Only in inscriptions that depicted both names side by side, the belonging of both names to the possessing king became obvious.[15]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Ronald J. Leprohon: The Great Name: Ancient Egyptian Royal Titulary (= Writings from the ancient world, vol. 33). Society of Biblical Lit., 2013, ISBN 1589837363, p. 17.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Toby A. H. Wilkinson: Early Dynastic Egypt. Routledge, London/New York 1999, ISBN 0-415-18633-1, p. 63, 163, 171, 176 - 177.
  3. ^ a b c d e Jochem Kahl: Nsw und Bit - Die Anfänge. In: Eva-Maria Engel, Vera Müller and others: Zeichen aus dem Sand: Streiflichter aus Ägyptens Geschichte zu Ehren von Günter Dreyer (= Menes Series, vol. 5). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 3-447-05816-1, p. 324.
  4. ^ Jochem Kahl: Nsw und Bit - Die Anfänge. In: Eva-Maria Engel, Vera Müller and others: Zeichen aus dem Sand: Streiflichter aus Ägyptens Geschichte zu Ehren von Günter Dreyer (= Menes Series, vol. 5). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 3-447-05816-1, p. 315.
  5. ^ Jochem Kahl: Nsw und Bit - Die Anfänge. In: Eva-Maria Engel, Vera Müller and others: Zeichen aus dem Sand: Streiflichter aus Ägyptens Geschichte zu Ehren von Günter Dreyer (= Menes Series, vol. 5). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 3-447-05816-1, p. 327.
  6. ^ Gene Kritsky: The Quest for the Perfect Hive: A History of Innovation in Bee Culture. University Press, Oxford (UK) 2010, ISBN 0199798958, p.13
  7. ^ Jochem Kahl: Nsw und Bit - Die Anfänge. In: Eva-Maria Engel, Vera Müller and others: Zeichen aus dem Sand: Streiflichter aus Ägyptens Geschichte zu Ehren von Günter Dreyer (= Menes Series, vol. 5). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 3-447-05816-1, p. 325-327.
  8. ^ Jochem Kahl: Nsw und Bit - Die Anfänge. In: Eva-Maria Engel, Vera Müller and others: Zeichen aus dem Sand: Streiflichter aus Ägyptens Geschichte zu Ehren von Günter Dreyer (= Menes Series, vol. 5). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 3-447-05816-1, p. 338-340.
  9. ^ Jochem Kahl: Nsw und Bit - Die Anfänge. In: Eva-Maria Engel, Vera Müller and others: Zeichen aus dem Sand: Streiflichter aus Ägyptens Geschichte zu Ehren von Günter Dreyer (= Menes Series, vol. 5). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 3-447-05816-1, p. 340.
  10. ^ Jochem Kahl: Nsw und Bit - Die Anfänge. In: Eva-Maria Engel, Vera Müller and others: Zeichen aus dem Sand: Streiflichter aus Ägyptens Geschichte zu Ehren von Günter Dreyer (= Menes Series, vol. 5). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 3-447-05816-1, p. 314.
  11. ^ Jochem Kahl: Nsw und Bit - Die Anfänge. In: Eva-Maria Engel, Vera Müller and others: Zeichen aus dem Sand: Streiflichter aus Ägyptens Geschichte zu Ehren von Günter Dreyer (= Menes Series, vol. 5). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 3-447-05816-1, p. 325.
  12. ^ Jochem Kahl: Nsw und Bit. In: Eva-Maria Engel, Vera Müller and others: Zeichen aus dem Sand: Streiflichter aus Ägyptens Geschichte zu Ehren von Günter Dreyer (= Menes Series, vol. 5). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 3447058161, p. 307 - 327ff..
  13. ^ Alan Henderson Gardiner: Egypt of the Pharaohs: An Introduction (= Galaxy books, vol. 165). Clarendon Press, Oxford (UK) 1961, ISBN 0195002679, p. 52.
  14. ^ Toby A. H. Wilkinson: Early Dynastic Egypt. Routledge, London/New York 1999, ISBN 0-415-18633-1, p. 112, 174, 176.
  15. ^ Alan Henderson Gardiner: Egypt of the Pharaohs: An Introduction (= Galaxy books, vol. 165). Clarendon Press, Oxford (UK) 1961, ISBN 0195002679, p. 50–51.