Egypt’s Proto-Dynastic Period is believed to have lasted from 3100 to 3000 BC.
Sometimes called Dynasty 0, Egypt’s Proto-Dynastic Period marked the beginning of the transition from the Pre-Dynastic Period to the Early Dynastic Period and the rise of Pharaonic Egypt in the Old Kingdom.
During this time Egypt was geographically divided into Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt.
Upper Egypt extends from the Aswan Damn to the site of what is now Cairo, on both sides of the Nile, while Lower Egypt extends from Cairo to the Mediterranean Sea and encompasses the Nile Delta.
Proto-Dynastic Lower Egypt
Archaeological excavations have revealed the names of some of the kings of Lower Egypt. However, due to the Nile’s annual flood, virtually nothing is known about their reigns.
Little is known about the early Pharaohs of Upper Egypt, but archaeological excavations coupled with more, and better preserved, artefacts has allowed Egyptologists to construct a somewhat better picture of the process of state formation in Upper Egypt.
Proto-Dynastic Upper EgyptScorpion I
The earliest known ruler of Upper Egypt is referred to as Scorpion I by Egyptologists. Believed to be the first of two Pharaohs named Scorpion, the name may be a reference to Serket, the Egyptian god of bites and stings. Scorpion is thought to have lived in the semi-mythical city of Thinis. Egyptologists believe that Scorpion I may have ruled between one and two centuries before the better known King Scorpion.
Scorpion I is believed to have been buried in the royal cemetery at Abydos. Scorpion’s tomb is known to have been plundered in antiquity, but archaeological excavations have uncovered large quantities of small ivory plaques engraved with the names of Egyptian towns. It has been suggested that these are towns that gave tribute to Scorpion I. Of interest to Egyptologists is the fact that some of these plaques bear the names of towns in the Nile Delta. This suggests that at some point in his reign, Scorpion I attacked Lower Egypt. It has also been suggested that these carvings may indicate that the Ancient Egyptian writing system originated in Upper Egypt during Scorpion I’s reign.
At some point following the death of Scorpion I, Iry-Hor is believed to have become Pharaoh in Upper Egypt. Egyptologists debate whether or not Iry-Hor actually existed. The reason for this is because his name does not include the serekh, a scorpion symbol that has been found on artefacts associated with other early Pharaohs. Iry-Hor’s supporters argue for his inclusion on the list of Egypt’s Pharaohs on the basis of his tomb. They claim that Iry-Hor’s tomb is as large as Ka’s and Narmer’s. They also contend that inscriptions of his name and titles commonly include the hieroglyphic representation of Horus, the Egyptian god of the sky and the patron god of the Pharaohs.
As with Iry-Hor, some Egyptologists believe that the evidence for the existence of Ka, Iry-Hor’s ostensible successor is circumstantial at best. Beyond his name, no details of his rule have survived.
Believed to be the successor to Ka, King Scorpion is thought to have ruled toward the end of the Protodynastic period. Only pictorial evidence of King Scorpion exists, in the form of a ceremonial mace found in the ruins of a temple in Hierakonpolis, in 1898. Although badly damaged, the Scorpion Mace Head provides a glimpse into the early history of Upper Egypt. The exact identity of King Scorpion is unknown, and a number of theories to his exact identity have arisen as a result. It has been suggested that early pharaohs had multiple names. As a result some Egyptologists believe that King Scorpion and Narmer were the same person.
Narmer is believed to have ruled some time in the 32nd Century BC. Thought by some Egyptologists to be the successor of Ka, Narmer holds a significant place in the history of Pharaonic Egypt. Narmer is believed to have been the Pharaoh who united Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. However, the exact identity of Narmer is uncertain and there is growing consensus among Egyptologists that Narmer, King Scorpion and Menes, the founder of the First Dynasty, may have been the same person.
Discovered in 1899, the Narmer Pallet depicts Narmer wearing the combined crowns of both Upper and Lower Egypt. This has led to the theory that Narmer united Egypt sometime around 3100 BC. Some Egyptologists disagree, claiming that Narmer and Menes, the founder of the First Dynasty, are the same person. They also believe that he inherited an already partially, or fully, unified Egypt from Narmer. Arguments asserting that Narmer and Menes are the same person have been made on the basis of archaeological evidence which is connected to Narmer, but also seems to point to an as yet unknown connection between Narmer and Menes.
By the end of the Proto-Dynastic Period, Egypt had been unified and the first vestiges of Pharaonic Rule would take root in the Early Dynastic Period.
Channel 5 TV program Secrets of Egypt 2/8 Scorpion King, 8pm to 9pm Thu 20 November 2008
Toby A. H. Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, Routledge 1999.
Clayton, Peter A. Chronicle of the Pharaohs: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson. 2006
Gardiner, Alan. Egypt of the Pharaohs., Oxford University Press, 1961
Bard, Katherine, A. 2000. “The Emergence of the Egyptian State.” In The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, edited by Ian Shaw. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
Midant-Reynes, Béatrix. 2000. The Prehistory of Egypt: From the First Egyptians to the First Pharaohs. Translated by Ian Shaw. Oxford and Malden: Blackwell Publisher.
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