According to legend, Manetho, an Egyptian priest from Sebennytos in the Delta, wrote Aegyptiaca, “The History of Egypt,” in the third century BC of the recently formed Ptolemaic Kingdom.
It is estimated that Manetho wrote his history sometime between 300 and 250 BC. It is uncertain whether he wrote during the reign of Ptolemy I, Ptolemy II or Ptolemy III. The dynasties of Manetho tradition used in conjunction with the existing archaeological records, provide Egyptology with the basic chronology of ancient Egypt. However, relying on Manetho to reconstruct the Egyptian dynasties is problematic as the original was lost already in antiquity, and replaced by excerpted and altered epitomes (summaries) of the original. It is thanks to Syncellus, who in the ninth century CE, identified the parallels in the works of the ancient authors and assembled excerpts from their work. Scholars have attempted to link Manetho's work to archaeological evidence, but this is problematic as it is clear that what remains of his original account has been heavily manipulated.
Despite this, the importance of Manetho cannot be understated as it was—and to some extent still is—the primary source for the chronology of the pharaohs. The names of Ptolemy and Cleopatra played a central role in deciphering the hieroglyphs, and one of the first things Champollion did was to compare the now-readable names of the pharaohs with those of Manetho.
Sources of Manetho
The king-lists were inscribed on the walls of a sacred room, making offerings to celebrated ancestors. The purpose of these lists was not to make a necessarily accurate chronological list of historical kings but to celebrate revered ancestors for religious or political reasons. Seti I deliberately excluded Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, and Hatshepsut on his king-list at Abydos as their reigns were considered illegitimate and had to be erased from memory.
Manetho could not have based his history on the inscriptions of Abydos or Karnak canons alone, as they differ from one another, only contain the names of carefully selected kings, and therefore cannot be accurate chronological records. His source was most likely something similar to the Turin king list, with detailed accounts from the time of the Gods, all the way up to the third century BC. No matter how brief or long they reigned, nor how well-liked or despised they were, all kings who once held that position would be included. With such a large administration, it is very likely that even the most ephemeral kings left at least some records for a dedicated scholar to find, even long after their demise, and as a priest Manetho would probably have had access to virtually all written records in Egypt.
Manetho probably also had sources unknown to us, but the transcribed names were not chosen consistently from the same name type. It remains unknown why this occurred, but it is plausible that the original document contained more than one name for each king, leading to confusion for non-native epitomists who lacked comprehension of this fact. In some cases, a transcription is possible, in other, consonants switched places for unknown reasons, maybe due to transcription errors by the epitomists.
Many of the names of the pharaohs as transcribed by Manetho, are still in use to this day, and were preferred until original king lists were uncovered and corroborated. The use of the original names for the pharaohs is still in its infancy.
Transmission of Manetho
The surviving text of Manetho’s Aegyptiaca can only be traced back
to The Chronicle by Syncellus, written around 808-810. Multiple
copies of the original Chronicle have survived. It was not until Manuscript A was discovered around 1600 and published by Scaliger in 1606 that Syncellus’s
Chronicle became known. It is worth noting that Scaliger only included
selected passages. After almost five decades, Jacob Goar published the
first all-inclusive edition of Syncellus in 1652. While Manuscript B was discovered shortly afterwards, it remained undisclosed and unpublished
for many years. In 1829, Dindorf utilised this second manuscript to rectify
readings in Goar’s edition. Until the publication of the Mosshammer edition
in 1983, it was deemed the standard edition.
A and B are complete copies and share a common ancestor. Although few incomplete copies of Syncellus exist, A and B are the only ones containing the texts of Manetho (through Africanus and Eusebius).
It seems clear that following the introduction of Aegyptiaca, an Epitome was composed of extracts from the dynasties of kings, with additions and alterations to make it fit with Jewish chronology. It should also be noted that the epitome(s) were not produced by the author but rather by persons who indiscriminately altered, removed, and added things to them in order to advance their own interests. In all likelihood, numerous quite different copies of Aegyptiaca circulated in the centuries after Manetho.
Simplified, here’s how Aegyptiaca reached us:
The information provided for each dynasty will take into account all the different sources. Timekeeping in the ancient world was confounded by the fact that each city-state employed its own calendar for when a year begin. Since there was no single calendar in use, events were primarily dated by the regnal year of the locally reigning monarch.
Lists of kings and the number of years they reigned were certainly circulated, but kings did not always ascend to the throne on January 1st, and records might be emended or corrupted in numerous ways. As a result, any reckoning based on regnal years was likely to be inaccurate, perhaps significantly so, as errors accumulated.
- Manetho — 275 BCE +/- 30 years
Manetho flourished in the time of Ptolemy I (305–282 BC), Ptolemy II (285–246 BC), or Ptolemy III (246–222). The original Aegyptiaca papyrus was lost in antiquity, and in the subsequent centuries, it was
replaced by Epitomes (summaries) from rivalling advocates of Jewish,
Egyptian, and Greek history, that saw each side trying to establish
the truth—according to their point of view. The extent to which
the epitomes preserved Manetho’s original writing is unclear and
impossible to assess. Whether by intention or by accident, each subsequent
copy undoubtedly introduced some corruption of the original, whether
by scribal errors, outright alterations, or other mutilations made
in order to advance one of the many conflicting agendas. It is apparent
that none of the authors whose works have survived had access to
the genuine Aegyptiaca, only epitomes.
Furthermore, as only excerpts from the epitomes survive from the ancient historians, we have only indirect knowledge of Aegyptiaca, and chances are that errors multiplied with each successive copy, as seen by the discrepancies in the extracts referenced by later authors. This means that the names we know from Africanus and others are probably very different from Manetho’s original in many cases.
Vol. 1 Dynasties 1-11 : Reign of the gods and spirits to the historical kings.
Vol. 2 Dynasties 12–19 : From Middle Kingdom, Hyksos invasion and expulsion, to the New Kingdom.
Vol. 3 Dynasties 20-31 : From collapse of the New Kingdom, Persian invasions, to Macedonian rule.
The transcription of Egyptian names into Greek would be problematic for a non-native Egyptian copyist, who would also find Manetho’s headings and summaries exceedingly confusing because some of them included not only multiple kings with the same name but perhaps also coregencies and even the–at the time–unseemly mention of queens.
- Plutarch — three centuries after Manetho (c. 70-85? CE)
- Plutarch references Manetho multiple times in Isis and Osiris; however, it is unlikely that the source was Aegyptiaca, but rather another work by Manetho. Plutarch visited Alexandria and Egypt to complete his education, and although it is unknown when he wrote the essay, it is generally thought to have been after his visit to Egypt.
- Josephus — four centuries after Manetho (c. 95 CE)
- The oldest surviving mention of Manetho comes from Flavius Josephus writing in the last decade of the first century. In the Antiquities of the Jews, and Against Apion he quotes from “the Egyptian born Manetho who translated Egyptian history from the priestly writings.” He acknowledged that he used an epitome of Aegyptiaca, and his excerpt suggest that Aegyptiaca was, at least in part, composed as a narrative rather than just a list of dynastic kings with occasionally inserted anecdotes or events. Furthermore, Josephus makes no mention of any dynastic divisions. He identifies only 25 pharaohs, most of them from the New Kingdom, but notably, this encompasses two queens.
- Africanus — five centuries after Manetho (c. 220 CE)
- Sextus Julius Africanus (c. 160–240 CE) was an early Christian historian. He wrote Chronographiai, a history of the world in five volumes; from the birth of the Adam to his own time. The original has not survived, it is only known in fragments, primarily excerpts preserved by Eusebius and Syncellus.
- Eusebius — six centuries after Manetho (c. 325 CE)
- Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260–339 CE), was an early Christian historian. He wrote his
Chronicle c. 310 CE, which is a two-volume “Universal History”
from the birth of Abraham up his own time. The original volumes in
Greek are lost, but quotations preserved by later authors makes it
possible to reconstruct most of it.
The first volume, The Chronography, is only preserved as an Armenian translation of the original Greek text. It begins with an introduction, then briefly describes how various ancient Mediterranean civilisations kept time, and includes lists of their rulers. The information is excerpted, with occasional comment and criticism, from a variety of sources. There are chronological regnal lists of the Chaldeans, Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Lydians, Hebrews, Egyptians, Athenians, Argives, Sicyonians, Lacedaemonians, Corinthians, Thessalians, Macedonians, and Romans.
The second volume, the Chronological Canons, revolutionised the study of history. Using the relatively new codex medium, Eusebius divided up the two-page spread of the facing pages in vertical columns. He labeled the leftmost section ‘Kings of …’ (whichever empire was in power at the time), and the rightmost section ‘Kings of the Egyptians’. When new powers arose, he added an extra column to accommodate them; when they disappeared, the column vanished as well. When a king took the throne, his name was recorded on a separate line, and then listed each year of his reign on successive lines with enough space for additional information if needed.
An updated Latin translation of the Canons known as the Chronicle of Jerome was created by Saint Jerome around 382. The purpose of the work as a whole was partly to make clear the greater antiquity of Hebrew history relative to most others. Jerome's Latin translation proved popular and quickly became the widely accepted chronographic standard.
Eusebius does not begin the Chronological Canons with the first king of Egypt, but rather with the year Abraham was born, which he places exactly at the start of the Theban Sixteenth Dynasty. While his predecessors attempted to calculate the date of creation, Eusebius regarded Abraham to be the most ancient figure whose chronology could be established with reasonable certainty. To prove the greater antiquity of Hebrew history, he needed to link information from Jewish and Greek sources, to be able to synchronise chronological details about kings and events from different kingdoms. This new innovation of Eusebius, made it easy to compare who was in power where at any given time. We can never confirm the accuracy of chronological events so long ago, but at least we have a starting point and can try to fill in the gaps.
He collected information from a wide range of authors who did not use a common chronographic system. Among the sources used, we find Eratosthenes of Cyrene, Apollodorus of Alexandria, Castor of Rhodes, Porphyry of Tyre, Sextus Julius Africanus, Clement of Alexandria, Tatian, and an unidentified Olympiad chronicle, but also the Bible, the Canon of Kings, and of course, Manetho.
Chronicle of Jerome manuscripts
- O Oxford Bodleian Lat. Auct. T. II. 26
Fifth century — written in a late fifth-century Italian uncial; f. 1-32 supply the beginning of the work in a fifteenth-century hand.
- S Floriacensis
Fifth century — Three fragments of an Italian uncial manuscript which was still intact in the ninth century at the Fleury Abbey near Orleans in France.
(i) 6 pages in Leiden Vossius Lat. Q 110A.
(ii) 14 pages of Paris Bibliothèque Nationale Lat. 6400 B.
(iii) 2 pages of Vatican Reg. Lat. 1709 B (fol. 34-35).
- B Bern 219
Ninth century. Complete Chronicle and well preserved, possibly written at the famous Benedictine library at Fleury Abbey near Orléans.
- A Amandinus Valentianus 495
Seventh century. Uncial. Complete copy from the monastery of Saint-Amand Abbey near Valenciennes in northern France. Descendant of S.
- O and S were likely copied from the same manuscript. There are
currently more than a hundred manuscripts of the Chronicle of Jerome, many also include the chronicles of medieval
Berlin Staatsbibliothek Phillipps 1829 and 1872
London British Library MS Add. 16974
Leiden Scaliger 14
Leiden Vossius Lat. Q 110 (Petavianus)
Lucca Biblioteca Capitolare Feliniana 490
Oxford Merton College 315 - (transl. pt 1 pt 2)
Paris Bibliothèque Nationale Lat. 4858, 4859, 4860, and 4870
- O Oxford Bodleian Lat. Auct. T. II. 26
- Syncellus — over a millennium after Manetho (c. 810 CE)
- Selected Chronography, a chronicle written by Byzantine George Syncellus, is the primary source of our knowledge of the contents of
Aegyptiaca, thanks to Syncellus' preserved excerpts from
Africanus and Eusebius' chronicles. The original manuscript of
Syncellus has been lost, and only later copies remain.
The chronicle itself was unknown until Manuscript A was discovered around 1600, and published by Scaliger in 1606. Scaliger only included selected passages, but in 1652 the first complete edition of Syncellus was published by Jacob Goar. A few years later, the superior Manuscript B was discovered, but remained unknown and unpublished until 1829, when Dindorf used this second manuscript to correct readings in Goar’s edition.
- A - Codex Parisinus Bibl. Nat. Gr. 1711
- 11th century — Pages 1-230 — Contain the entire work of George Syncellus, with one leaf lost. The copyist wrote in very small letters, with many abridgements, so that the forty-one lines on each page contained as much text as two pages of another codex, or five pages of the original family of books containing the latter part. the scribe worked hastily, distinguishing little between the prescriptions and the text, paying little attention to orthographical matters, often omitting words and lines, but infrequently restoring them in the margin, frequently misreading the readings and seldom correcting them. The damage is so painful that, apart from this codex and its signature, no manuscript book of the entire work exists almost intact
- B - Codex Parisinus Bibl. Nat. Gr. 1764
- 11th century — Pages 1-143 — Written at about the same time, or perhaps a little before codex A, this book was drawn up in the same place, from the same copy, and this codex is far superior because of the reliability of the transcription, in orthographic matters, sometimes in the order of writing, but especially in the chronography. With twenty-nine lines, the page is not as congested as in codex A. The prescriptions, especially those that prescribe the years of the world, stand on their own line in capital characters, occasionally marked by red ink, and occasionally written in big calligraphic letters.
While there are a few other incomplete copies of Syncellus’ chronicle, only MSS A and MSS B contain the texts of Manetho. Syncellus also presented information about the Old Chronicle and the Book of Sothis.
Pseudo-Manetho is a term used to describe manuscripts that are claimed to be written by Manetho but are actually forgeries created by subsequent authors who used Manetho's name to attempt to give forgery credibility.
- Old Chronicle — eight (?) centuries after Manetho (c. 400 CE)
- Syncellus: “Now, among the Egyptians there is current an old chronography, by which indeed, I believe, Manetho has been led into error. In 30 dynasties with 113 generations, it comprises an immense period of time [not the same as Manetho gives] in 36,525 years, dealing first with the Aeritae, next with the Mestraei, and thirdly with the Egyptians.” [All three merely refers to Egypt at different times. The actual total is 36,347 years.]
- Book of Sothis — eight centuries after Manetho (c. 400 CE)
- Also called the Sothic Cycle, Syncellus attributed it to Manetho but it is most likely a forgery used/composed by Panodorus of Alexandria. The sequence of kings is clearly not presented in chronological order.
- Eratosthenes — c. 50 years after Manetho
- According to Syncellus, Apollodoros of Athens (second century BC) recorded a list of 38 Theban kings taken from Eratosthenes of Cyrene (third century BC), Chief Librarian at the Library of Alexandria from 240 BC. However, both authors are considered pseudonymous, i.e. written by someone else, using their names to lend authority to the list. Some names can also be found in Manetho and Herodotus, but some have no resemblance to other known lists indicating that the list was corrupted by an intermediary.
The pharaohs that ruled after the conquest by Alexander the Great, are not mentioned by Manetho. As Syncellus put it: Extending up to the time of Ochos and Nektanebo, Manetho's outline of the thirty-one dynasties of Egypt encompassed a period of 1050 years for his third book. But the sequence of years after this is taken from Greek historians. There are fifteen Macedonian kings.
- Adler, W. and Tuffin, P., 2002. The Chronography of George Synkellos. Oxford
- Barclay, John M. G., 2007. Against Apion (vol. 10 of Flavius Josephus: translantion and commentary. Leiden.
- Dindorf, W., 1829. Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae. Bonn.
- Goar, J., 1652. Georgii Monachi quondam Syncelli Chronographia. Paris.
- Mosshammer, A. A., 1984. Georgii Syncelli Ecloga Chronographica. Leipzig.
- Scaliger, J. J., 1606. Thesaurus Temporum. Leiden.
- Waddell, W. G., 1964. Manetho. Cambridge, Mass;London.
- Verbrugghe, G. P. & Wickersham, J. M., 1996. Berossos and Manetho, introduced and translated. Ann Arbor.