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unknown till unkown
6. Pharaoh of the 2. Dynasty
Pharaonic names:
Horus: Hor-Sekhemib
Nebty: Sekhemib-Perenma'at-Nebty
Golden Horus  

Name Sources and problems

The name of this king is mostly known from seals and from inscriptions on various vessels made from alabaster abd breccia (basically cemented material). The seals were found in the entrance of Peribsen's tomb at Abydos, the vessels mostly in the underground galleries under the step pyramid of Djoser (Saqqara, 3rd dynasty) and some on the Isle of Elephantine.
As usual with most of those early kings, his name, in this case the Serekh, is considered as unusual. Because his Serekh name is the first using an epithet in ancient Egyptian history. Now, what the hell is an epithet? Don't expect too much, an epithet is a byname, some addition to a name in a descriptive manner. We are used to it for example in European history when we talk about for example Karld the Bald or John Lackland. The Bald and Lackland are epithets, only for those kings one would rather use the word byname instead of the originally Greek word epithet. Same difference though.
Yeah, actually, it is the first case in ancient history. But then, on a behavioral level, it was only a question of time for this to pop up. People give nicknames to their rulers all the time. It's just human. The unusual aspect is only, if the ruler likes one of those nicknames and makes it really his own. In this case, Sekhem-Ib (his actual name) was called Perenema'at (actually pr-n-m3't in the Gardiner code). And now, we are deep in trouble! By all means, this site is for the interested non-archaelogists. So, what is the Gardiner code to begin with. Basically, since ancient Egypt, like a lot of other languages, included a number of sounds not found in English, there was no way to just trasliterate into our normal alphabet. So, Gardiner invented a code table to encode hieroglyphic writing into abstract codes. For example, that m3 sounds like a longer muffled maah. The next thing is, Egyptians didn't actually write vocals. Well, in some way they were of course included into syllabils. So what the Gardiner code reflects for most cases are rather syllabils than single letters.
Now, from there, the next step is to bring Gardiner to a form, people can actually pronounce. So the Gardiner code "pr" becomes "per" and because it has the n following, it gets combined to "peren". Same game with m3, the ' and the following t. Which are combined to ma'at or maat.And since we are so busy combining, we make that all together "Perenmaat". Which is kind of the trasnliteral equivalent to Spaghetti Bolgnese because we have now something with a lot of intransparent sauce over it.
Now, to make it not too easy, Egyptologists try to give their translations some style. Flowery language is what is connected in the minds with Egypt, isn't it? So, this becomes in some translations (fasten your seat belts): "He with a powerful source of will, he comes forth for the Ma'at" for the name as whole. How great is this? Well, actually, all we have really in syllables here is pr-n-m3't. The m3't is Maat, the goddess of justice. And pr or per means house, often also used in the sense of origin and the -n- is only a binding form since even Egyptions couldn't pronounce anything like pr-m3't. It has often the use of the English preposition "of". So, the byname or epithet means "House (or origin) of Justice". Nobody goes there for anything, and the bloomy transliteration forgot totally about that nasty per or pr.
Now, how great must it be for a king, to be nicknamed by his subjects the House of Justice or the Origin of Justice? So on the behavioral side, there is no real question, why Sekhemib liked that and added it occasionally to his real name Sekhemib in his serekh and nebty names. I mean, how likely is it, that the kings before had nicknames? Very likely. But how likely is it for a king to get such a flattering one? Unlikely. So, no wonder, this is the first one, we find the nickname in inscriptions prevailing some thousand years.
However, this is a first, as far as we know and firsts draw the attention of interpreters. Egyptologists like Herman te Velde or the already several times mentioned Wolfgang Heick interprete this double-naming as an attempt to stress the peacefull political situation between the two individual realms in which Egypt was split at the time of Sekhemib. For this purpose, they refer to Pharaoh Khasekhemwy, the probably successor of Sekhemib, who also used a double name. Well, in fact, he used two deities in it, Horus and Seth. Not a real epithet.
The problem here is, Khasekhemwy re-united Egypt and he did so with military force. He had to unite. And it is hardly imaginable that, after he did that, all of his subjects, including those just rolled over, would nickname him anything including Maat or Justice. So, dead end! And more, a name like Origin of Justice doesn't really point to the bigger politics, war or anything peaceful as the opposite of war. A nickname like that is more domestic in its nature. This comes from people seeing their king a just, seeing his judgments as just. So, while I agree, that royal titularies have a great deal of symbolism and political pretense ... sometimes, they also include bragging and a nickname like that is worth bragging.

Identity crisis

As mentioned already with Seth-Peribsen, there is an ongoing struggle who is who in circles of Egyptologists. Some say, he would be maybe the same person as Peribsen, others say, he would be maybe the same as Khasekhemwy and, to confuse things even more, some claim, they were all, beginning with Senedj, the same person. And most say recently, he existed as his very own pharaoh. I wrote already a lot of it in connection with Peribsen, so lets limit this now to the corner stones:
  • I doubt, Sekhemib and Peribsen were the same person. The Sekhemib seals in the entrance parts of Tomb P, Peribsen's tomb, indicate, Sekhemib buried Peribsen, which makes Peribsen the predecessor and Sekhemib the successor on the throne. Sealing the predecessor's tomb was kind of an affirmation and legitimation that the new man had taken over.
  • The use of Seth by Peribsen and the use of the peithet Prenmaat by Sekhemib not only indicate two different mindsets but also two different ways, those kings were seen by their contemporaries and subjects. Nobody would consider the driven Peribsen the Origin of Justice. As pointed out, Peribsen was good at what he did, but he was certainly not popular. Sekhemib on the other side was popular.
  • Sekhemib is also not identical with Khasekhemwy. The use of double deities to unify the country betrays a thinking in bigger categories, but it is a straight forward thinking. No offense, it is the thinking of a soldier. I defeated them, I conquered them, now how do I make them happier with that? By respecting their religion. There is nothing subtle in it. But justice demands subtlety. Khasekhemwy's focus was on two big chunks of land with people in a unification process, Sekhemib's focus was on justice, law, administration. It was much more multifaceted than Khasekhemwy's focus on straint forward effectivity. So, both were bright and educated, but they had different main achievements, they aimed for. Two different mindsets as well.
So, bottom line, we can see, on a behavioral level indicators for three different personalities (Peribsen, Sekhemib and Khasekhemwy) and to combine them in one head, this one has to be eiether a certified mandman or genius to a degree that lets look all known geniuses of mankind look like bloody beginners.


As with most early pharaohs, we can't be sure, how long he actually reigned. What we know is, he ruled only over Upper Egypt because Egypt was split then into Upper and Lower Egypt, probably already since Pharaoh Ninetjer. See for the possible reasons there.
The real point in dispute is, what did this splitting mean? Those two realms were competing. Still, there was no hot war for most of the time. We remember, Sekhemib's predecessor and maybe father, Peribsen founded the City of the Asians. For Asians to reach Peribsen's realm, they had to cross through Lower Egypt, which essentially would have been impossible in times of a hot war.
By all means, this doesn't mean, things were friendly. Peribsen, with his acceptance of not one but several originally Lower Egyptian deities had made a claim. He had, depsite the titles of his senior officials who were political correct all Overseer of this and that in Upper Egypt, positioned himself as kind of an over authority, even it can be doubted, he had really much influence in Lower Egypt. But the claim was there. I have doubts, the contemporary rullers of Lower Egypt saw that with joy.
No, during Sekhemib's times, it appears as if remarkably nothing happened. Not remarkably little but literally nothing. The technology, the architecture, the administration, almost nothing changed. The epithet is maybe a sign, that law and justice underwent some reforms making them more just in the eyes of the people. But that's it. The economy flourished and the White House of Tresures, already founded under Peribsen's rule, grew. So did his city foundations. All went nice and smooth.
Every time, things look that nice and smooth without any development forward, I have my suspicions. It is just so against the human nature. If there is peace and if there is a running economy, if people have money and time at their hands, they do one of two things: Either they find themselves some struggle or they sit down and develop a better mouse trap. The first we would find in inscriptions and maybe a number of burials, the latter we would find in the appearance of new technologies in the archaeological record. But we find neither for Sekhemib's time. So either Sekhemib ruled only for a very short time (but according to the king lists and by addition of the minimal times, it appears, he was at least 8-10 years on the throne) or something was going on that wouldn't find it's way into the records.
Egyptian military, as far as it deserves the name at the time we talk here, was basically pulling men with maces for a short period of time and thus, military campaigns were usually short. There were however some professional soldiers and because those had to deal in times of war not only with the enemy but often with bunches of untrained and undisciplined farmers (or fellachs), they had to be good. This was not the era of chariot armies thundering over the desert. This was much earlier. War used soldiers on foot with maces, as good as no armor and often, because almost everyone was familiar with it, bow and arrow. Which was enough to throw back raiding parties or go over the border to punish the Nubian Kings for the last raid by burning down some villages. The reason, previous Egyptian military confrontation had obviously no big impact on the population size is, that military technology, strategy and tradition was not developed enough for a long and really bloody war and neither was it for any of the neighbors. Which also explained, why the later military traditions of ancient Egypt are so much based on personal bravery by officers instead on firm ranks.
But now, for the first time, Upper Egypt had a competing power equal in resources, technology and traditions right at the border: Lower Egypt. A campaign to re-unite the country had all hallmarks to be a bloody mess. Compared to that, the last few centuries of occasional strife on the Nubian border had picnic character. This was another dimension because actually, for the first time, Upper Egypt faced an opponent equal in almost every aspect.
There is something funny in military preparations, for example in training more professional soldiers who could serve as officers. They are rarely mentioned in the inscriptions. You can read on walls all over history, all over the world, King x led war against King y and defeated him (probably with an additional narration how glorious it was). You never read King x prepared for ten years the backbone of an army to do so before he went to war. And for sure, you read never about the measures he used to make sure, he could rely on those soldiers. Nothing would be more embarrassing than being betrayed and suddenly be the one to be rickrolled. But that is all not glorious enough to be mentioned in inscriptions. And thus, when there is this supicious silence from a nation who has all the hallmarks to make the next technological and developmental leap, there is quite a big chance, someone is preparing to strike. Patiently and over years, given he faced an opponent so strong. It's not that you can fetch some people from the street, make them officers and expect them to be good at the job from the first moment on. And for sure, you don't write it at walls for tourists (tourists actually existed already back then, there was some degree of business traffic as well, we know polical and diplomatic ambassadors travelled and we can assume, the not so noble art of espionage was already invented as well).
So, taking all the details together, what is the picture? We know, he had a faible for justice. The nickname shows, he found a way to secure the loyalty of his people, which would be a valuable prerequisite to go to a bigger war. We know, he had resources, but those resources don't show any impact on a mere economical level or display themselves in technological leaps, prestige constructions. So somewhere those resources went. And when we look a step further, to the time of his successor Khasekhemwy, another king, we would like more about, we know at least, he led a number of militar campaigns, systematically unifying Egypt. Which means, he had the troops and the strategy and nothing in the facts, we know about his life indicate, he had even the time to build them up before he marched. So they had to be there altready. In the end, we find here one line of development: Peribsen's slightly vailed claims on all of Egypt, Sekhemib's suspicious silence and then loud and mighty Khasekhemwy getting the job done with men and materials, he can have only inherited from his successor. And since we talk kings here, chances are, we actually talk grandfather, father, son which would explain, why the respectively next in line entered the stage already trained for what was next needed in this development. The son of driven Peribsen was the just administrator Sekhemib, the son of this administrator and justice fan was the tough soldier Khasekhemwy. Who, but that is another story, was succeeded by another administrator and unifier, aided in his mission by one of the greatest minds, Egypt ever produced: Imuthes, also known as Imhotep.


There is not much to say about Sekhemib's burial. Probably because his tomb wasn't found yet. Of course, those, who think, he was maybe identical with Peribsen will point out, it would be then Tomb P in Abydos. Those who think, Sekhemib was a king of his own, suspect, it is somewhere in the Saqqara area because other burials from the time seem to concentrate there.

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