From New World Encyclopedia

Menes (3100 B.C.E. – 3000 B.C.E.) also known as Aha and as Scorpion, was an Egyptian pharaoh of the first dynasty—to some historians the founder of this dynasty, to others the second. It is estimated that from the time of Menes until Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, there were 330 "successive kings on the throne of Horus," that is, of Egypt [1]. If, as commonly accepted, Menes founded the first dynasty, he established a lineage that ruled Egypt for approximately 200 years. Menes is reputed to have unified upper and lower Egypt, although it is uncertain whether he achieved this by force or through marriage and diplomacy. He died at the age of 62 or 63. It is said that his death was brought about by having been attacked by a wild animal. He was succeeded by his son, Djer, then an infant. His widow, Queen Neithotepe acted as regent until her son was old enough to rule. According to the Greek historian, Herodotus, Menes built the city of Memphis[2]. Although Menes' story is incomplete, either he or his son laid the foundation for the development of Egyptian civilization, a rich and significant culture that enriched other cultures and influenced those of Greece, Rome and Europe. Arguably, Egyptian culture has had a global impact[3].

Dating Menes

Ancient Egyptian legend credits a pharaoh by this name with uniting Upper and Lower Egypt into one kingdom. Manetho, a third century B.C.E. Egyptian historian, called him Menes; the fifth century B.C.E. Greek historian Herodotus referred to him as Min; and two native-king lists of the nineteenth dynasty (thirteenth century B.C.E.) call him Meni.

However, the discovery of the Narmer Palette in the late nineteenth century showing the pharaoh Narmer, possibly pre-dating Menes, wielding the unified symbols of both Upper and Lower Egypt, cast doubt on the traditional account. Some Egyptologists hold that Narmer and Menes are in fact the same person; others hold that Menes inherited an already-unified kingdom from Narmer; still others hold that Menes completed a process of unification started either unsuccessfully or only partially successfully by Narmer. In either case, Menes is credited with the foundation of Memphis, which he established as the Egyptian capital. It should be noted that while there is extensive archeological evidence of there being a pharaoh named Narmer—the only indisputable evidence for Menes is an ostracon which contains his name under the Nebty symbols.[4] There is a general suspicion that Menes either was a name of Narmer, his predecessor, or of his successor, Hor-Aha.

Also spelled Hor Aka or Hor-Aka, the name can be translated as "Horus of the Reeds," possibly an allusion to the legend in which Isis hid Horus in the Nile Delta among papyri and reeds. In Ancient Egyptian legend, there was a battle between Horus (a patron deity of Upper Egypt) and Set (patron deity of Lower Egypt). In this mythological unification of the two Egypts, Set was defeated and the kingdom was unified under the rule of Horus, the first king of all Egypt. It is possible that this was a real war transformed over time into myth. A later parallel can be found leading to the establishment of the reign of Pharaoh Khasekhemwy several hundred years later—he may have crushed a civil war between the followers of Set and Horus.

According to Manetho, Menes reigned 62 years and was killed by a hippopotamus. His tomb is at Saqqara, which serves as the necropolis for Memphis.

An image of Menes holding an ankh is depicted on the frieze on the south wall of the U.S. Supreme Court building.[5]

One or several people

There is archeological evidence of a King before Menes called Narmer, who is considered either as the last king of Dynasty O, or as the first king of Dynasty I, displacing Menes to second king of that lineage. It has also been suggested that these two men were actually one and the same. In 1899, J. E Quibell and Green discovered a Palette bearing the name of Narmer at Hierakonpolis in Horus' Temple. Or, references to Aha could be to a son of Menes named Aha, who fathered Narmer. It is not surprising that knowledge of this period of antiquity is sketchy, since it is so remote from the time when historical records began. What is clear, however, is that either Menes or Narmer or both can be credited with the unification of Egypt and also with consolidating the role of Pharaoh as the son of Horus, the God-king.


  1. Montet, Pierre. Lives of the Pharaohs of Egypt. Cleveland and NY: The World Publishing Co, 1968.
  2. "Herodotus on Menes," TourEgypt. Hewrodotus on Menes Retrieved September 28, 2007.
  3. "Global Influence of Egyptian Culture." Egypt State Information Service. February 04, 2006. Global Influence of Egyptian Culture Retrieved September 28, 2007.
  4. Gardiner, Alan. Egypt of the Pharaohs. p. 405. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961.
  5. Supreme Court of the United States. "Courtroom Friezes: North and South Walls: Information Sheet."

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • James, T. G. H. A Short History of Ancient Egypt: From From Predynastic to Roman Times. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0801859335
  • Kinnaer, Jacques. What is Really Known About the Narmer Palette? KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt, Spring 2004.
  • Payne, Elizabeth. The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. NY: Random House, 1981.
  • Silverman, David. Ancient Egypt. NY: Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0195212709
  • Toby A. H. Wilkinson. Early Dynastic Egypt. London/New York: Routledge, 1999. ISBN 9780415186339


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