The Royal Tradition in Upper Egypt from Menes to Sety I

by Thomas F. Mudloff, Egyptologist

Making a boon-which-the-king-gives-for-Ptah-Soker-Osiris and so begins  the Table of Abydos, arguably one of the most important inscriptions of its kind that has  come down to us from ancient times.Sir Alan Gardiner called it the most important  king list after the Palermo Stone.1 While there have been articles and books which  relate to this list, along with others, it is often difficult for the general reader to access  the material due to its scattered nature. This article hopes, at least in a introductory way,  to remedy this situation by giving a point of departure for the interested reader and by  providing a translation of the offering formula and the kings contained therein2. This  list is the first of two such lists found at the cult center of Abydos, with the second  having been located in the temple of Ramesses II, the son of Sety I. The list under our  consideration is that of Sety I as it is the better preserved. Egyptologists refer to it as the  Table of Abydos.

The Table itself gives a list of seventy six kings in chronological sequence  starting with Menes of Dynasty I and continuing through to Sety I of Dynasty XIX.  This list, however, should not be seen as a complete list of all kings encompassed within  that time period. Upon inspection it is revealed that no kings of the Second Intermediate  Period are included. Additionally, Queen Hatshepsut and the four kings of the Amarna  Period (Akhenaten, Smenkhkara, Tutankhamun and Ay) are omitted. The obvious  conclusion drawn from this omission is not that Sety I was unaware of these kings, but  rather that he was not willing to legitimize them historically. This, of course, points to a  problem with all such lists in that the history of the country can be rewritten as  monarchs see fit.

Leaving for a moment the purely historical aspects of the Abydos Table we  should consider it in a broader framework.When viewed from the perspective of its  being within a temple environment this list and possibly all others in similar situations,  appear not as an historical document, but rather assumes cultic significance. The main  purpose was to represent the Royal Ancestors in a ritual which was performed on their  behalf What better place for  this  to be done than in a mortuary temple of a king? Sety I  would have been keenly aware that he was not of royal lineage, his father Ramesses I  being of humble origin from the Delta, was hand picked by king Horemheb to succeed him and begin a new dynasty at the end of the XVIIIth following the problems of the Amarna Heresy. Sety I would have wanted to quickly reaffirm his belief in the orthodoxy of the ancient gods and to legitimize his line. At Abydos he constructed a temple which would be worthy of a national shrine, a site long favored for its association with the god Osiris, and the equal of any of Egypt's temples.

Mythologically speaking, Sety I's temple, like all others, represented the original mound of creation and included most of the architectural features found at other temples—forecourts, hypostyle halls, sanctuary area, and storerooms. The rituals performed at Abydos were similar in nature to those carried out at all other temples in Egypt with the exception of the Osiris Rituals. When one regards the overall plan of the temple and it's attendant structure, the Osireion, it seems to form a unit architecturally and mythologically and was designed that way. The Osireion deserves consideration in its own right as some think that it may represent an effort to reconstruct the mythical tomb of Osiris3. At Abydos, however, we are dealing with what may be a unique structure in ancient Egypt, that of a temple dedicated to two major triads; Amun, Re-Harakhte and Ptah, the imperial Ramesside gods, and Isis, Horus and Osiris: the Osirian unit. Additionally the deified Sety I would also have had a shrine here. This may be explained as yet another attempt at reconciliation in Egypt after the Amarna period4. This temple gives a clear picture of the ritualistic nature of all Egyptian temples in that the layout and decoration were never random but followed a specific purpose. The inner rooms of the temple show a definite order by which the rites were performed in any given room and it is with this in mind that we must now return our attention to the Table of Abydos and its essentially ritual purpose.

This collection of names is found in Sety I's temple on the west wall of the passage coming from the 2nd Hypostyle Hall and entering the so called "Butcher's Hall." This passage is usually referred to as "the Gallery of Lists."As one views the list, Sety I is on the left wearing the shndyt kilt and the blue crown, holding a censor in one hand and gesturing towards the right with the other.Immediately in front of him Prince Ramesses is shown wearing the princely side-lock, a pleated skirt and the cloth of a lector priest over his shoulder. In his hands he holds a papyrus to read from with an accompanying text before him, telling the viewer of the action. This text reads as follows: Reciting praises by the hereditary prince; the eldest, of his body, his beloved (son), Ramesses, justified, true of voice. The text, which runs in six vertical columns above the scene, is the speech given by Sety I. Reading, from right to left and top to bottom, the king's utterance reads: Words spoken by King Menmaetre (Sety I). Bringing the god to his food offering, the making of offerings for the kings of Upper and Lower Egypt. Greetings to thee, Ptah Sokar (Osiris), who is South-of-His Wall! Come, that I may make for thee these (things) which Horus made for his father Osiris.

At this point we can discern aspects of what Harold H. Nelson identified as a form of ritual which is observable in many Egyptian temples5. He refers to this as Episodes 34-40 of the Ritual of Amenophis I and they correspond to the Reversion of Offerings as identified by Gardiner6. He maintains that the rites spoken of here were performed in the temples of Thebes and adds that these ceremonies were connected with a number of different kings and were to be performed over their altars at the temple of Karnak or in their sanctuaries on the West bank. The possibility exists that when Thutmose III built this Festival Hall in the Amun temple at Karnak, an altar of this type stood in the room of that building which housed the Karnak King List7. The idea is that all those whose names were listed on the walls around the altar could be considered as present when the priest named the honored dead. He may actually have read from the wall itself!Since in Egyptian religious thought the essence (Ka) of something or someone was contained in its name (ren), the idea of the former kings being present in actuality is not an obscure notion. This list shows a figure of the king, in this case Thutmose III, standing before it and is headed: A boon which the king gives for the Kings of Upper Egypt and the Kings of Lower Egypt. The ceremonies here may well have been the ones mentioned in the reversion rites of Episodes 34-40, and would have included the "boon" recitation.

The same likely holds true for the Abydos Table where the king, now Sety I, is shown in a similar attitude as Thutmose III was at Karnak. The inscriptions above the kings and the list itself are associated with the presentation of offerings as seen at Karnak8. The difference at Abydos, however, would seem to lie with just who or which gods were making the offerings. At Karnak it is from the table of Amun that the offerings come and will revert back after the necessary ceremonies for the Royal Ancestors. At Abydos it is from the largess of Ptah Sokar Osiris, as he is regarded as the one who heads the new group of recipients (the listed kings of the Abydos Table), and by comparison it is probable that it was from his altar that the offerings had originally reverted. Apparently the ritual of the Royal Ancestors progressed from the Nefertem Path Sokar hall immediately adjacent to the Gallery of the Lists and an inspection of the episodes in the ritual of Amenophis I would seem to indicate this.9

This ceremony being conducted in the Gallery of the Lists, the "laudatory invocation" (nis hknw meaning literally "to call, summon") is quite common when summoning the spirit in the form of the "ba" to the offering. That the order of this service was in written form is surely indicated by the papyrus roll from which Prince Ramesses is reading, as the glyphs before him would indicate (see translation above).The text of this offering formula which the prince is reading is presumably that which is above the list. The formula is read with a new king's name substituted upon each reading; i.e. the king list itself. This invocation was in fact intended to "bring the god to his food." This is clearly the case as is shown by the existence of several texts of this nature. 10

This offering formula reads as follows: Performing the boon-which-the-king-gives (hotep di nisw) for Ptah Sokar Osris, Lord of the Sanctuary of Sokar, who resides in the Mansion of Menmaetre (i.e. the Abydos Temple). Making offerings for the Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt, by the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands, Menmaetre, son of Re, SetyMLferenptah: A thousand of bread, a thousand of beer, a thousand of cattle, a thousand of fowl, a thousand of incense, a thousand of unguent, a thousand of linen, a thousand of cloth, a thousand of wine, a thousand of god's offering, by the gift of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt Menmaetre.

The king list itself is divided into 3 registers with 38 names in vertical cartouches. The top and middle registers contain the names of 76 kings starting with Menes and ending with Menmaetre. The entire lower register contains the "Son of Re" name or nomen (Sety Merenptah) and the Throne name or prenomen (Menmaetre) preceded by the words "by the gift of' and followed by either "King of Lower Egypt" or "King of Upper Egypt".All the cartouches of the various kings are preceded by the words n nisw, "to King…….." This is, of course, syntactically the correct continuation of the above formula "a thousand of bread", and so forth. It is an interesting and little commented on point that in the cartouche of Sety I at Abydos the Seth animal is not to be seen in the name Sety (He of Seth). In place of this is the tiet knot, a symbol of Isis the wife of Osiris and a glyph that carries a sound value of tit or set. This may be due to the wish not to mention the name of Seth in a temple which was in part at least, dedicated to the Osirian family and mythologically, of course, Osiris was the victim of Seth. Another possibility might be that Sety I wished to do reverence to the goddess in this manner.

On the subject of the cartouches themselves, their organization is in a quite uncomplicated style and accurate historically. As previously stated, it begins with Menes on the top register, left hand side, and ends with Menmaetre at the far right of the middle register. Those who are accustomed to identifying the kings by their nomen or "son of Re" names, a problem is posed by the fact that what is listed are the prenomens or throne names (almost always compounded with the name of "Re") which were taken upon the installation of the king along with three other names of kingship (i.e. Horns name, He of the Two Ladies or Nebty name and the Horns of Gold name). When the future king was born he was given a name the same as any other person and from the Fourth Dynasty on the title "son of Re", designating the royal birth name, was incorporated into the full titulary of the king. This name claims direct solar origin for the king as offspring of the sun god and speaks directly to the Egyptian conception of kingship.l1 In the beginning of the Twelfth Dynasty, in the Middle Kingdom, the five titled names come to their final, classic order although in existence since the Sixth Dynasty.

Jurgen von Beckerath states in his listing of the kings that the reading is "especially in the earlier period, often problematical.12 Further, omissions of whole blocks of names which are found in other documents such as the Turin Canon, one of the more reliable documents to have survived to our time, and conversely, additions of names not found in this papyrus are present at Abydos. Following the name of Pepy II, a sequence of eighteen names appears that are not in the Turin Canon.  Additionally the entire Second Intermediate Period seems to be absent from Abydos beginning with Sobeknefrure and following to Kamose. Other omissions are also apparent, but perhaps more understandable in light of political considerations of the time.These, of course, are Queen Hatshepsut and the Pharaohs of the Amarna Period as previously mentioned.

In most cases the kings who are not included are those whose rule over the entire land is questioned or who had some measure of political bias towards them. Redford suggests that some form of cultic connection may also lay at the heart of this issue.He states that the first fifty six names reflect an orderly progression since they were considered to be in the legitimate Memphite line.13 Von Beckerath in fact lists the kings of the 7th and 8th Dynasties as a single unit on his list ending his 8th Dynasty with the fifty-sixth name on the Abydos Table.l4 It is the political divisions of the 9th and 10th Dynasties (First Intermediate Period) and the general state of disruption throughout the land that perhaps caused the names of these kings to be excluded. The same could be said for the 13th through the 17th Dynasties whose kings are for the most part ephemeral, although one would hardly expect the Hyksos 15th and 16th dynasties tobe included in any case!

The King List tradition had already been well established by Ramesside times and would continue on long afterwards. Kings like Sety I were building on an established tradition when they had their royal ancestors inscribed on the walls of their temples. It is indeed fortunate for us that they did, for even with the problems that often ensue from the decipherment of these lists, they provide an invaluable legacy regarding the history of ancient Egypt.

Click the arrow for the conclusion, at the right of The Kings List



1. A. Gardiner,, Egypt of the Pharaohs (New York, 1961)

2. The main source of the dynastic affiliation and identification of the kings named in the table follows Jurgen von Beckerath, `Konigsnamen' in Wolfgang Helck and Wolfhart Westendorf (eds.) Lexikon Der Agyptology, vol. III, (Wiesbaden, 1980)

3. Frankfort, H., de Buck, A., & Gunn, B. The Cenotaph of Seti I at Abydos. 2vols. (E.E.S., London, 1933)

4. David, R. A Guide to Religious Ritual at Abydos. (Warminster, England 1981) p. 7 ff

5. Nelson, H.H., "Certain reliefs at Karnakand Medinet Habu and the Ritual ofAmenophis I" in J.N.E.S. 8 (1949) pp. 201-32, 310-4

6. Gardiner, A.H., "The Mansion of Life and the Master of the King's Largess." J.E.A., 24, pp. 87- 88

7. Porter, B. & Moss, R. Topographical

Bibliography Vol. II (Oxford 1929) pp. 40-2

8. Nelson, H.H., "Certain Reliefs" J.N.E.S. 8 (1949) pp. 310 34

9. David, R., A Guide to Religious Ritual at Abydos. (Warminster, England 1981) p 106 ff

10. Gardiner, A.H., Hieratic Papyri I, p. 97; cf. G.R. Hughs, MDIAC 16 (1958) p.

159. also W Pleyte, R. Rossi, Papyrus de Turin (Leiden, 1869) pl. 12

11.  For a fuller account of the royal titulary see Stephen Quirke, Who Were the Pharaohs? (New York, 1996)

12. Jurgen von Beckerath, `Konigsnamen' in Wolfgang He1ck and  Wolfart Westendorf (eds.), Lexikon Der Agyptology, vol. III, (Wiesbaden, 1980)

13. Redford, D.B., Pharaonic King Lists, Annals and Day Books, (Mississauga,1986)

14. Jurgen von Beckerath, `Konigsnamen' in Wolfgang Helck and Wolfhart Westendorf (eds.), Lexikon Der Agyptology, vol. III, (Wiesbaden, 1980)

15. Sources for names were as follows: Jurgen von Beckerath, `Konigsnamen' in    WolfgangHelck and Wolfhart Westendorf    (eds.), Lexikon DerAgyptology, vol .III, (Weisbaden, 1980),

Budge, A.E. Wallis, The Mummy, (Causeway Books, New York, 1974 reprint of 1894 edition). Kitchen, K.A., Ramesside Inscriptions. (Oxford, 1975), Quirke,Stephen. Who Were the Pharaohs? (Mineola, 1996).

The Kings ListList.html