The Abydos King List
Date: New Kingdom, Dynasty 19, Reign of Seti I (ca. 1290- 1279 BCE)
Location: Mortuary Temple of Sety I, Abydos
The majority of king lists from ancient Egypt, including the Abydos king list, date to the New Kingdom (ca. 1570-1069 BC) and except for the Turin Canon, were carved in stone on temple walls in hieroglyphs. They served a cultic rather than historic function. They were not meant to be literal chronological lists and should not be treated as such. The Turin Canon, on the other hand, was written on papyrus in the cursive hieratic script, and is the most complete and historically accurate. It included ephemeral kings and queens that were normally excluded from other lists, as well as the lengths of their reigns. It is, therefore, an extremely valuable historical document.
The Abydos king list was carved in the mortuary temple of Seti I at Abydos, on the west wall of the passage leading from the second Hypostyle Hall to what is known as the “Butcher’s Hall.” Seti I is represented standing on the viewer’s left, wearing the blue crown and shendyt kilt. He holds a censor in his left hand while his right gestures towards the figure of his son, Prince Ramesses (later Ramesses II) who stands before him, wearing the sidelock of youth and a pleated kilt. Ramesses holds an open papyrus scroll in his hands from which he seems to be reciting a prayer. The accompanying column of text reads “the ‘Jubilant Summons’ by the hereditary prince and king’s eldest legitimate son, whom he loves, Ramesses, justified.” The six columns of text above his head read: “Words spoken by King Menmaatre (Seti I): ‘I bring the god to his food offering, (namely) the bestowal of offerings for the kings of Upper and Lower Egypt. Hail to thee, Ptah-Sokar, South-of-His-Wall! Come that I may perform for thee the choice things that Horus performed for his father Osiris.’” (All translations are based on Redford 1986, 18-20)
To the right of the king and his son are three registers of vertical cartouches. Running horizontally above the first register is an inscription reading: “the performance of the Htp-di-nsw (a formula meaning “an offering which the king gives”) to Ptah-Sokar-Osiris, Lord of the Secret Place, who resides in the Mansion of Menmaatre (i.e. the Abydos Temple). The bestowal of offerings on the kings of Upper and Lower Egypt, by the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands, Menmaatre, son of Re, Seti-Merenptah: a thousand of bread, a thousand of beer, etc.” The first and second registers contain the names of 38 kings each. Each vertical cartouche is preceded by the phrase “to King…” which is a continuation of the formula “a thousand of bread, etc.” The formula is completed in the third register, where each column ends with the words “through the bestowal of” Seti I. The prenomen (throne name), preceded by the word “king” and followed by a determinative of a seated king wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt, alternates with the nomen (birth name) of the king, preceded by the words “son of Re” and followed by a determinative of a seated king wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt. The prayer, which prince Ramesses is reciting from the papyrus roll, therefore reads: “a thousand of bread, a thousand of beer, etc. to king so-and-so, through the bestowal of King…(Seti I).”
The cartouches of the kings are organized chronologically. The top register starts with Menes on the viewer’s left and the middle register ends on the far right with the reigning king, Menmaatre (Seti I). As is typical of most ancient Egyptian king lists, some kings are omitted. Eighteen Herakleopolitan kings and the first four kings of the 11th Dynasty are not mentioned, as well as all kings of the Second Intermediate Period, from Sobeknofru until Kamose, so that Ahmose directly follows Amenemhet IV. Hatshepsut and the Amarna kings are also omitted, as is expected, since they were viewed unfavorably after their deaths, and their successors attempted to erase them from memory.
The Abydos king list was part of a ritual in which the spirits of the ancestors were invoked. The names of past kings and queens who were not deemed worthy were excluded. The ancient Egyptians regarded their kings as descendants of the gods, and the office of kingship as divine. Kingship was passed on from father to son (and in some cases, daughter), and it was important for the ruling king to emphasize that he (or she) was the legitimate descendant of a long line of rulers, and, therefore, the uncontestable legitimate king of Egypt.
Frankfort, H., de Buck, A., & Gunn, B.: The Cenotaph of Seti I at Abydos, 2 Volumes. (London 1933)
Kitchen, Kenneth A.: Ramesside Inscriptions, I, 176-179, §77 (Oxford 1975)
Redford, Donald B.: Pharaonic King Lists, Annals and Day Books (Mississauga 1986)
Model courtesy of David Anderson, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (www.sketchfab.com/danderson4 and www.uwlax.edu/archaeology).