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First Dynasty Pharaoh, c. 3150 BCE


Hor-Aha is a first dynasty ancient Egyptian ruler whose name means 'the fighter' or 'fighting hawk'. This is an allusion to Horus, and suggests that Hor-Aha originally came from Upper Egypt.

Evidence for the reign of Hor-Aha comes from funerary remains at Abydos, Saqqara and Naqada. In particular tomb B19/15 contained ostraka (potsherds) and ivory 'labels' inscribed or painted with the name Aha. The 'labels' were discovered by Flinders Petrie in 1899.

It was originally thought that the Abydos tomb was only a cenotaph and the real tomb for Hor-Aha was at Saqqara (no. 3357). However, modern archaeologists have reversed this interpretation: the Abydos tomb B19/15 is his Hor-Aha's resting place, and that at Saqqara is for a high official from the time of Hor-aha's reign.

The Abydos tomb is built from mud brick, had 27 storerooms at ground level and five under-ground chambers. It was constructed with what became the traditional 'Palace' façade. It is the oldest monumental funerary complex so far discovered in Egypt. A number of people were buried with Hor-Aha, none of them much older than their mid twenties, to attend him in his afterlife.

A seal discovered at Umm el-Qa'ah puts Aha second of six rulers of the first dynasty, following on from Narmer, and followed in turn by Djer, Djet, Den, and Merneith (a female ruler or regent) the implication is that Narmer was Aha's father. Narmer has been consigned to the pre-dynastic, Naqada III, period, which makes Hor-Aha the first ruler of the Archaic First Dynasty.

Hor-Aha was the first Egyptian king to use the nebty (nebti) name, the honorific for 'The Two Ladies' (goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt). The nebty name he adopted was 'Men', which means 'established'. It is because of this that he is identified by some archaeoligists as Menes, the legendary founder of the unified Egyptian state which combined Upper and Lower Egypt. His nebty name was discovered on a ivory 'label' in the nearby tomb of Neithotep at Abydos. It is believed that Neithotep was either Hor-Aha's mother or wife. (However, another nearby tomb to B19/15 at Abdyos contained similar labels with the name Berner-Ib, meaning 'Sweet-heart', who may also may have been a contender for Aha's wife.)

According to Manetho, Hor-Aha reigned for 62 (or 64) years. During his rule he campaigned in both Upper and Lower Egypt to cement the union of the Two Lands. He is said to have established many temples to the gods, in particular one to the goddess Neith, at Sais in the Delta. Hor-Aha is also accredited with the founding of the capital Memphis just south of the Delta's apex. A site apparently chosen for its potential importance to both Upper and Lower Egypt.

The historical record, probably more myth than truth, has Hor-Aha dying from injuries during a hippopotamus hunt.

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.

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