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First Dynasty Pharaoh, c. 2950 BCE


Mid First Dynasty ruler, c. 2950, whose Horus name 'Den' means 'Horus Who Strikes'.

Den likely succeeded his mother, Merneith, as an adolescent -- united Upper and Lower Egypt at this time was politically and militarily secure and prosperous. He ruled long enough to celebrate his jubilee (equivalent to the Sed festival of later dynasties).

Den was the first pharaoh to use the 'nesw-bit' name ('He of the Sedge and Bee') which was given to him at the time of his coronation.

Den's tomb at Abydos was excavated by Émile Amélineau in 1897 (he worked through most of the Umm el-Qa'ab tombs). Flinders Petrie, who re-excavated the site in 1899, was unimpressed by Amélineau -- recording that Amélineau had destroyed most of the archaeological evidence in the rush to get easily portable, and easily auctioned, artifacts such as jewelry. Petrie sifted the spoil heaps left behind by Amélineau and discovered a number of important finds, including 18 ivory and ebony labels. One of the labels found at Abydos shows Den wearing the double crown, and is considered a record of his jubilee celebration (as king of Upper and Lower Egypt). Another label shows Den 'smiting and Asiatic' bearing the inscription 'first time of striking the easterners' and shows Den with a mace held above his head about to club an Asiatic chieftain. (This event is also recorded on the Palermo stone as the 'Smiting of the Troglodytes', part of Den's military expedition to the east.)

Den's tomb at Abydos, Tomb T, has 174 satellite burials. The tomb itself is the earliest example of stone-built architecture found in ancient Egypt -- the central chamber is paved with slabs of granite. There is also evidence of stone supports for wooden roof beams. (Amélineau is said to have used all wooden remains at Umm el-Qa'ab as fuel for his cooking fire.) The chamber is accessed by a single staircase from ground level.

Tomb 3035 at Saqqara, also associated with Den, was excavated by WB Emery in 1935. Emery discovered jars with seals inscribed to a person called Hamaka. Emery initially thought this to be evidence of King Den's chancellor for Lower Egypt, but later claimed the tomb to be that of King Den himself. Egyptologists have since returned to Emery's first interpretation.

In later Dynasties Den had the repute of being a physician (Manetho claims that he had written medical texts which were still in use in his day) and a magician (he was similarly linked to several spells in the Book of the Dead).

Also known as Dewen, Udimu, Semti, Hesepti (Abydos King List), Usaphaidos (Manetho King List).

Principal Sources:
The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson, The British Museum Press, © 1995.
Who's Who in ancient Egypt by Michael Rice, Routledge, © 1999.
Chronicle of the Pharaohs by Peter A Clayton, Thames and Hudson, © 1994.
Ancient Egypt: the Great Discoveries by Nicholas Reeves, Thames and Hudson, © 2000.

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