by Jürgen von Beckerath
Beckerath, Jürgen von. 1962. “The Date of the End of the Old Kingdom of Egypt”. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 21, No. 2: 140–147.
HERODOTUS tells us of the queen Nitocris who avenged her brother murdered by the Egyptians. This queen is mentioned by Manetho as the last ruler of the Sixth Dynasty. Her predecessor Menthesuphis, who reigned for one year only after the extraordinarily long rule of Phiops II, may indeed have been her brother and husband. There is no evidence, however, for the historical truth of Herodotus' story, as we have no contemporary monuments from either the reigns of Menthesuphis or of Nitocris. The Menthesuphis of Manetho corresponds to a king
But the name of the queen occurs, as recognized already by Mariette, on the little fragment No. 43 of the Royal Canon at Turin. It is written here like all other royal names within a cartouche and with the title of
The kings in Column IV, 11. 1-13 of the Canon form only one group, which reigned in all 187 years. In 11. 1-6 were written the kings of the Sixth Dynasty (see above, n. 5); the remaining lines must contain therefore the kings of the Eighth Dynasty.
After the grand total of the years of this dynasty and of Dynasties I-VIII then follow the eighteen kings of the Heracleopolitan Dynasties IX-X. The Heracleopolitans as well as the first rulers of the Eleventh Dynasty are omitted from the Royal Tables of Abydos and of Saqqara, which apparently give only the names of the pharaohs of all Egypt. In the list of Saqqara king Phiops II, the last important ruler of the Old Kingdom, is immediately followed by the Eleventh Dynasty king
In his reconstruction of the history of the First Intermediate Period Stock identified the kings Nos. 40-42 of Abydos with the three missing kings in Turin IV, 7-9 after Farina. He rightly considers these kings and their successors in Turin IV, 10-13 (
As convincingly shown by Hayes, these kings resided at Memphis and must have been rulers of all Egypt whose administration was still acknowledged as far south as Coptos. The fact that they were weak rulers with ephemeral reigns and that the nomarchs at their time were nearly independent does not contradict this statement. There is no doubt, I think, that the seventeen Abydos kings Nos. 40-56 exactly correspond to the twenty-seven Memphite kings of Manetho's Eighth Dynasty.
Hayes recognized the very probable identity of the (A No. 53) with the from the above-mentioned Saqqara pyramid and also with the king of the Turin List (IV. 13 after Farina). The three following rulers in the king-list of Abydos (Nos. 54-56:
Now Sir Alan Gardiner and J. Cerny suggest in their long-awaited new edition of the Royal Canon a shifting of the Fragment 43 to a position two lines above. In fact the fibers of the papyrus and also the position of the lines in Fragments 43 and 61 do not correspond very well in Farina's restoration. In the notes (p. 16) Gardiner remarks furthermore that “on historical grounds Nitocris ought... to come in the second place after Phiops II.” The position given to the fragment in his Plate II does not agree with this statement, since Nitocris comes there in the third place after Phiops II. We cannot find, however, any difficulty in placing Fragment 43 in Column IV, 11. 7-10 instead of 11. 8-11 as suggested by Gardiner and Cerny.
If this position is right, Nitocris becomes in the Canon an immediate successor of Menthesuphis and she would be the last ruler of the Sixth Dynasty in full agreement with Manetho. King :Ib(i) moves then from 1. 13 to 1. 10, and his three successors in the Abydos king-list (
While queen Nitocris is omitted from the List of Abydos the eleven kings A Nos. 40-50 seem to be absent from the Royal Canon. It is very probable that the scribe of the Canon omitted their names because of the extreme shortness of their reigns and that he entered the total of their years as if missing: “missing 6 years.”
The hieratic group for “missing,”
If we are right in the identification of the kings Turin IV, 8-13 with the kings Abydos Nos. 51-56 there is a remarkable concord of the two king-lists. Abydos ends the uninterrupted series of the Old Kingdom with king
The correctness of this tradition is confirmed in the case of the Eighth Dynasty by the Decrees from Coptos. On the other hand the struggles of the Theban kings with Heracleopolis are well attested, as is likewise the fact that only the fifth king of the Eleventh Dynasty was able to reunite the kingdom of Egypt. During the years 2134 to about 2040 B.C., therefore, neither the Heracleopolitan nor the Theban kings ruled over the whole country. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the kings of Dynasties IX-X ever dominated the Thebais south of Abydos. On the contrary, the report on the capture of Abydos by the father of King Merikare shows that in all probability the kings of Heracleopolis never reached a point farther to the south.
It must be pointed out here again that the length of the so-called First Intermediate Period is still overrated, and the date for the end of the Old Kingdom is much too high even in recent books on Egyptian history. The point is much debated, but at all events a date as early as 2280 B.C. for the end of the Sixth Dynasty is impossible in view of our present knowledge. It is still based on the idea of Meyer that the Canon gives the amount of years elapsed from the beginning of the Ninth to the end of the Eleventh Dynasty as 242 years. The publications of the Canon by Farina (1938) and by Gardiner (1959), however, show the correct reading of this figure as 143 years and as the total of Dynasty XI only. The total for Dynasties IX-X, which is unfortunately lost in the Canon, cannot have been 200 years as Meyer supposed. The seventeen kings of the Eighth Dynasty who left some monumental traces (including the pyramid of
The same conlusion has been drawn already by Helck, who suggested a nearly contemporary beginning of the kingdoms of the Ninth Dynasty in the north and the Eleventh Dynasty in the south. He was troubled, however, by the apparent lack of the three kings known by the Coptos Decrees (A Nos. 54-56) in Farina's publication of the Canon of Turin. This difficulty is now removed by the new position of Fragment 43. In fact the change from the Eighth to the Ninth Dynasty in the north seems to have caused the revolt of the south. The Heracleopolitan kings thus were never recognized in the whole country and they are omitted therefore from the kinglist of Abydos. The year of the beginning of the Ninth as well as of the Eleventh Dynasty was at once the year of the end of the united Egyptian kingdom as established by Menes. It was considered therefore by the historical tradition of the Egyptians as the date of the end of the Old Kingdom, as is shown by the grand total which the Canon gives here.
Since the date of the Twelfth Dynasty is well fixed to 1991-1785 B.C. and since the length of the Eleventh Dynasty is transmitted by the Royal Canon of Turin as being 143 years, we are able to fix the year of the beginning of the kingdoms of Heracleopolis (Dynasties IX-X) and Thebes (Dynasty XI) to 2134 B.c. This would be the minimal and definitive date for the end of the Old Kingdom and a fixed base for the chronology of the third millennium. The uncertainty of the length of the Eighth Dynasty is counterbalanced by the preserved total (187 years) for Dynasties VI-VIII in the Royal Canon; of the preceding dynasties III, IV, and V the approximative length for most of the reigns is known.
We cannot find any serious objections either historically or archeologically against this definitive shortening of the First Intermediate Period. The genealogy of the nomarchs of the XVth Upper Egyptian nome (Hermopolites) shows about 110 years as the minimal distance from the end of Dynasty VI to the end of the Heracleopolitan kingdom. This period may have been longer but certainly not very much. Prince cAnkhtyfy of Mucalla passed his early years when Abydos was the residence of an “Overseer of Upper Egypt” (
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