Semerkhet (“companion of the divine community”, sometimes given as “thoughtful friend”) was the sixth pharaoh of the first dynasty. We know very little about his reign. The Palermo stone only records some religious ceremonies and mentions that his mother was named Batirytes. His name is recorded on an ivory label (pictured below) with that of one of his officials, Henuka (who also served his successor Qa’a).

According to Manetho, Semerkhet had a very difficult reign. Manetho claims that there were numerous disasters, but he alleges that these were due to the fact Semerkhet usurped the throne (which may also be why his name was omitted from the Saqqara kings list). He is also accused of removing Anedjib’s name from a number of artifacts, although this was not actually that uncommon and was not necessarily frowned upon.

Ivory label featuring the name of Semerkhet (copyright CaptMondo)

His birth name features the rather rare hieroglyph of a man wearing a cloak carrying a stick. It does not appear in this form before his rule and the translation is somewhat disputed. It resembles the hieroglyph of an old man with a walking stick (Semsu) and seems to have been confused with this sign by later scribes, but a more likely translation is that proposed by Wilkinson (and many others) of Iry-Netjer (“divine guardian”).

Manetho states that Semerkhet reigned for eighteen years, while the Palermo stone only records an eight year reign and the Turin list (on which he is named as Semsem) credits him with an unlikely seventy-two years.

Whatever the length of his reign truly was, Semerkhet had time to build a much bigger tomb than his predecessor Anedjib and his name appears in numerous inscriptions on vessels of schist, alabaster, breccia, and marble. His name is also preserved on ivory tags and earthen jar seals. Objects bearing Semerkhet’s name and titles come from Abydos and Sakkara.

Semerkhet was interred in Tomb U of the royal necropolis at Umm el-Qa’ab, near Abydos.

Pharaoh’s Names

Manetho; Semempses

Semerkhet's Nebti-name, iri (unconfirmed)

Semerkhet’s Nebti name, Iri (unconfirmed)

Semerkhet's Nebti name, Iri (speculative) 'Semsem' from the Turin list

Nomen; Semsem (from the Turin list)

Semerkhet's Nomen 'Semsu' from the Abydos list (speculative)

Nomen; Iry Netjer (from the Abydos kings list)

  • Bard, Kathryn (2008) An introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt
  • Dodson, A and Hilton, D. (2004) The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt
  • Kemp, Barry J (1991) Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilisation
  • Malek, J (2000) “The Old Kingdom”, in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt Ed I. Shaw
  • Rice, Michael (1999) Who’s Who in Ancient Egypt
  • Van De Mieroop, Marc (1999) A History of Ancient Egypt
  • Wilkinson, Toby A H (1999) Early Dynastic Egypt

Copyright J Hill 2016