Biography of Horus-Seth Khasekhemwi

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Khasekhemwi is the last king of the 2nd Dynasty. He probably came to power as Horus Khasekhem, which means “Horus, the powerful one appears” and may initially only have ruled part of the country. Somewhere during his reign, he changed his titulary to Horus Seth Khasekhemwi, meaning “Horus and Set, the two powerful ones appear”, most likely hinting at a reunification of the country after it had been divided following the reign of Horus Ninetjer earlier in the 2nd Dynasty. The addition of the phrase “the two lords are at peace in him” to his titulary, only confirms this reunification.

Having come to power using a Horus Name, it has often been assumed that his opponent, the king he had to defeat in order to reunite the country, was Seth Peribsen, whose titulary indeed does distinguish him for the Horus-kings, perhaps even of the Horus-king who ruled the other part of Egypt. This, however, is contradicted by the find of seal impressions of Horus Sekhemib at the entrance of Peribsen’s tomb, pointing to Sekhemib as Peribsen’s successor. If Khasekhem and Peribsen were contemporary kings, it is more likely that Khasekhem would have had to defeat Sekhemib in his reconquest of the country. But even this seems unlikely, as both Peribsen and Khasekhemwi were buried at the royal necropolis of Umm el-Qa’ab, a possible indication that both kings had their initial power base in the south of the country.

Khasekhemwi led several military campaigns, among others against “the Northerners”. Although it is very tempting to identify these “Northerners” as the king or kings who ruled the north of Egypt, it is equally possible that the inscription refers to a campaign outside of the country, or perhaps to an attempted invasion of the country by a people coming from the north. If the “Northerners” can indeed be identified with a dynasty ruling in the north of Egypt, this would confirm that Khasekhem’s initial realm was located in the south of the country, making him a successor and not an enemy of Seth Peribsen.

A total of 8 cattle counts, which, during his reign were held every two years, have been found. The 18 year cells recorded on the fragments of the Annals Stone confirm that Khasekhemwi’s reign lasted for 17 to 18 years. During this time, he undertook several building projects, mainly in the south of Egypt. Among his principal buildings were a fortress at Nekhen and an enclosure near Umm el-Qa’ab known today as Shunet ez-Zebib. The so-called Great Enclosure, a large structure reminiscent of Shunet ez-Zebib, may probably also be credited to him and would be one of the rare buildings dated to his reign found in the north of Egypt. It is the oldest known building to have been built, at least partially, in natural stone and may have served as inspiration for Netjerikhet’s nearby funerary complex.

Likely as it is that Khasekhemwi was a successor of Peribsen and Sekhemib, relationship with his two predecessors, nor that with his contemporary kings, can as yet be established.
Seal impressions bearing the name of queen Nimaathap were found in Khasekhemwi’s tomb, making it likely that she was his wife. During the reign of Netjerikhet, she also bears the title “King’s Mother”, thus establishing that she was Netjerikhet’s mother.  She may also have been the mother of queen Hetephernebti, in which case Netjerikhet would have been married to his full sister.

Khasekhemwi is the last king to have been buried in a tomb at the royal necropolis of Umm el-Qa’ab, be it slightly off to the south-west of the tombs of the 1st Dynasty. Several finds in and near this tomb dated to the reign of Netjerikhet confirm the identity of Khasekhemwi’s successor.
A large funerary enclosure now known as Shunet ez-Zebib, was built at some distance near Khasekhemwi’s tomb. Built in brick stones, it is believed to have been intended for the king’s funerary cult.


© Jacques Kinnaer 1997 - 2017