Great Rulers of the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt
The Early Dynastic Period of ancient Egypt was a very crucial period in the history of not just ancient Egypt but the history of humanity as whole. Spanning from around the 32nd century BCE to the 27th century BCE, the rulers and kings from that period were responsible for putting up the very pillars that subsequent ancient Egyptian culture and civilization was founded upon. It is very common for historians and scholars to heap enormous praise on the contributions and achievements of later dynastic pharaohs like Hatshepsut, Ramesses II, Seti I and Cleopatra VII.
With the exception of Djoser, many Early Dynastic kings* like Den, Raneb, and Peribsen do not often get as much mention as their later descendants and successors. A large part of the reason for this is the fact that there exists very little source material covering Egypt’s Early Dynastic Period and the influential pharaohs of that era. Historians are left to rely on documents, many of which were written centuries after the period, in order to make sense of the contributions made by pharaohs from the Early Dynastic Period.
* The early rulers of ancient Egypt did not have the title of ‘pharaoh’. The title ‘pharaoh’, which means ‘great house’, was first used by 18th Dynasty rulers of the New Kingdom era (c. 1520 BCE – c. 1075 BCE).
Ancient Egypt’s Early Dynastic Kings
Worldhistoryedu.com presents 7 greatest pharaohs of Egypt’s Early Dynastic period, a period that contributed immensely to the development of Egypt’s culture and civilization.
NARMER – the founder of the First Dynasty of ancient Egypt
King Narmer was the legendary king of Egypt believed to have founded the first ancient Egyptian dynasty. According to ancient records and texts taken from stone monuments of that era, Narmer tied the knot with princess Neithhotep of the powerful Naqada tribe in order to consolidate his power in the region. As a result of the marriage, Narmer’s city, which was probably Thinis, and the people of Naqada developed a strong bond.
With this alliance, Narmer was able to march his army and secure vital military conquests across Lower Egypt. The story goes on to say that he was such brave and astute leader on the battle that he was able to stretch his dominion into places like Nubia and Canaan.
Narmer is credited with putting up a number of large monuments and buildings. He was also very keen in making the livelihoods of people better through sustainable urbanization. As the founder of the First Dynasty, Narmer placed Egypt in a very good position to expand economically and militarily.
With respect to religion, Narmer is believed to have made huge progress in the development of ancient Egyptian religion. It was during his reign that Egyptians started burying their dead in mastabas, a flat-like pyramid. Narmer and his people believed that dead were ferried off into the afterlife by Egyptian gods. Hence a great amount of attention was paid to where the deceased was buried so as to facilitate a smooth journey into the afterlife.
Depending on which account one chooses to side with Narmer is believed to have passed the throne to his son Hor-Aha around the year 3100 BCE. Other accounts state that King Narmer and Hor-Aha referred to the same king.
Also, there have been some scholars and historians who state that Narmer was probably a title given to the kings of the era. They go on to say that the name ‘Narmer’ means “He Who Endures”. According to famous Egyptologist Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), Narmer and Menes were the same person.
King Djoser, the first monarch of the Third Dynasty, was perhaps the most influential ruler of his Dynasty. His reign was one of relatively peace and stability. As a result, King Djoser could embark on the construction large and mind-shuttering structures, including the Step Pyramid at Saqqara.
Also known as Djoser’s Pyramid, the Step Pyramid holds the title of been Egypt’s first known pyramid. The structure, which is shaped like a stack of mastaba tombs placed on top of each other with increasingly smaller base, was built by Djoser’s vizier Imhotep. The Step Pyramid marked Egypt’s use of stone blocks in building their pyramids. Prior to that clay bricks were used to build the mastaba tombs.
After King Djoser’s death, Early Dynastic kings – such as Khaba, Sekhemket, and Huni – tried as much as possible to emulate the amazing works done by Djoser.
Peribsen, the sixth king to hail from the Second Dynasty, was significant to Egypt in terms art, language and culture. Prior to Peribsen, Egyptian kings associated themselves with Horus, the falcon god of the sky. For reasons not clearly known to this day, Peribsen chose to take name of Set, the god of chaos and storm. Set was the arch enemy of Horus, the son of Osiris.
According to the Osiris Myth, Set murdered his older brother Osiris and then took over Egypt. Horus would later defeat his uncle and restore order to the land. Therefore, it comes as a huge surprise that King Peribsen opted to take Set’s name. Peribsen most likely did this in order to distant himself from his predecessors so as to leave his own mark on the nation.
After King Peribsen’s death, Khasekhemwy took the throne. Famously known as the father of Djoser, Khasekhemwy is generally seen as the last king of Dynasty II.
King Raneb was one of the first few kings of Egypt to be highly revered as the gods’ representative on earth. Also known as Nebra, King Raneb 15-year reign began after he succeeded Hotepsekhmenwy, the founder of the Second Dynasty. Historians have long held the view that Raneb and Hotepsekhmenwy were in fact siblings, and that the former most likely came to the throne by overthrowing the latter.
Such was the reverence given to King Raneb that the people considered him the embodiment of the sun god Ra. As a matter of fact, his name when broken down contains the name Ra, making him the first Egyptian king to do that. By elevating himself to the status of a living god on earth, Raneb was able to whip his people into line, leading them to heights accomplished by the great kings of the First Dynasty.
Compared to other ancient civilizations, ancient Egypt did relatively well in terms of promoting women’s rights. As far back as the 3rd millennium BCE, ancient Egypt had witnessed its first female ruler in the person of Queen Merneith (c. 2950 BCE). Perhaps Merneith would not have come to throne had it not been for the fact that her son Den had not come of age to be crowned king.
Regardless, Merneith showed real nerves of steel following the death of her husband King Djet. She would go on to rule the nation for about a decade or so before handing power over to her son Den. Often associated with the ancient Egyptian goddess Neith – the creator goddess and goddess of wisdom – Queen Merneith’s reign (c. 2950 BCE) ranks as one of the most influential periods of the First Dynasty. There are tombs of her her in Saqqara (in Lower Egypt) and in Abydos (in Upper Egypt).
Did you know: Merneith’s husband King Djet was Narmer’s great-grandson?
Recognized as the son of the powerful Queen Merneith, Den was one of the most influential kings of the Early Dynastic era. Den is believed to have inherited the throne at very young age from either his father, King Djet, or his mother Queen Merneith. His reign of 50 years witnessed remarkable economic and military growth, setting Egypt on a path of regional dominance.
Den is also credited with constructing some very large religious buildings. Many Egyptologists state that Den was the first king of Egypt to be depicted donning the dual crown of the land of Egypt. The crown symbolized the king’s dominion over Upper and Lower Egypt.
Following his death, his successors struggled to properly fill the big boots left behind. For example, kings Semerkhet, Anedjib and Qa’a (Qa) had a torrid time steering the affairs of the nation.
Although not much detail exist about the reign of King Qa’a, archaeologists reason that he reigned for at least 30 years. The end of his reign brought about the end of the First Dynasty of Egypt.
Throughout his almost nine-year reign (c. 2920 BCE), the First Dynasty king, Semerkhet, was revered as the “companion of the divine community”. In some cases, he was described as the “thoughtful friend”. As a result of the lack of any historical records about Semerkhet’s family, determining how Semerkhet came to the throne of Egypt is a bit challenging. Some accounts state that he might have been the son King Den and Queen Betrest. It must be noted that there is a lack of definite evidence backing up such claims.