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Dynasty Notes

Dynasty I is the "formal" start of the kings in Egypt. Traditionally, it begins with Menes and the unification of Egypt under a single king -- remember that prior to this, Egypt was ruled as a series of separate nomes, or districts, each ruled by a local chieftain-king in a collection of early kings from Dynasty 0.

There is some argument about who actually starts the first dynasty -- some sources include Narmer as the first king, others relegate him to the pre-dynastic period in Dynasty 0 and begin the king list with Horus Aha. The same argument rages over whether Narmer or Aha is the semi-mythical "Menes" who unified Egypt and was considered by the egyptians themselves as the First King. Unifying the north and south of egypt into a single entity was the major accomplishment of the early dynasties.

It is very difficult to accurately date these early dynasties, and depending on which book you look at, the dates may be decades (or even centuries) different. Oxford History of Egypt gives 3050 BCE -- 2890 BCE, while Clayton has 3050 BCE -- 2867 BCE. No one knows who is right, and the differences are often of interpretation of earlier dates from Manetho and other egyptologists of antiquity.

There is very little actually known about the kings here, but their monuments and tombs (found mostly in Abydos) are well known and much-studied. Written evidence is pretty scarce, especially considering that writing was a pretty new invention in Egypt and hieroglyphs were in a rudimentary form. Even though we are able to walk through the stone temples and mud brick mastabas of the first dynasty, the more delicate bits and pieces that help define history are not quite as durable. That anything exists at all is pretty amazing.

Most of what we know of the first dynasty is from a series of mastaba tombs in Abydos and Saqqara, and the writings of Manetho (who is a bit suspect, but more on that later.)6