Egypt: Semerkhet, the 6th King of Egypt's 1st Dynasty

Semerkhet, the 6th King of Egypt's 1st Dynasty

by Jimmy Dunn

According to the limited information we have on Semerkhet, the traditional 6th king of Egypt's 1st Dynasty, he ruled Egypt for about nine years. This is from the Palermo Stone, but Manetho records his reign as 18 years, and notes that there were numerous disaster during his reign. This is probably due to the problems with his succession and predecessor, as it has been suggested that Semerkhet usurped the throne. He destroyed the name of his predecessor, Anedjib, on a number of stone vessels, and it would seem in return, was himself omitted from the Saqqara King list.

Semerkhet was the king's Horus name, and means "Thoughtful Friend" (though Nicolas Grimal in A History of Ancient Egypt disagrees, stating that the Horus name means "companion of the gods". Grimal also tells us that his nebty name meant "he whom the two mistresses guard", a reference to Nekhbet, the vulture goddess of Nekheb (el-Kab), and Wadjet, the serpent-goddess of Pe and Dep (Buto). Grimal therefore suggests that he may have had a priestly role prior to his ascending the throne of Egypt.

His tomb is located at Abydos (Tomb U). It measures 29 x 31 meters (95 x 101 3/4 feet), which makes it considerably larger than that of his predecessor. It is also of superior quality to Anedjib's tomb. Semerkhet's tomb has a brick lined burial chamber and is surrounded by well built servants' graves. Petrie investigated Semerkhet's tomb at Abydos, and found the entrance ramp saturated up to "three feet" deep with aromatic oil, which, after some 5,000 years, still permeated the entire tomb with scent.Archaeologists have not discovered a mastaba tomb from his reign at North Saqqara, though his predecessors seem to have mostly built tombs there as well.

Above: The names of Semerkhet and Qa'a

The only object of substance to have survived from Semerkhet's reign is a black granite funeral stela found by his tomb in 1898. It had originally belonged to a pair erected outside his monument, a tradition from the very beginning of the dynasty.

Semerkhet probably conducted trade with people who lived in the Palestinian territories, judging from seal impressions found at a building bearing his, along with other 1st Dynasty kings.However, very little else is known about this king.


Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Chronicle of the Pharaohs (The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt) Clayton, Peter A. 1994 Thames and Hudson Ltd ISBN 0-500-05074-0
History of Ancient Egypt, A Grimal, Nicolas 1988 Blackwell None Stated
Monarchs of the Nile Dodson, Aidan 1995 Rubicon Press ISBN 0-948695-20-x
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2