The First Dynasty of ancient Egypt (Dynasty I) covers the first series of Egyptian kings to rule over a unified Egypt. It immediately follows the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, possibly by Narmer, and marks the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period, a time at which power was centred at Thinis.
The date of this period is subject to the scholarly debate about the Egyptian chronology. In a 2013 study based on radiocarbon dates, the beginning of the First Dynasty—the accession of Narmer (commonly known as Menes)—was placed at 3100 BC, give or take a century (3218–3035, with 95% confidence). It falls within the early Bronze Age and is estimated to have begun between the 34th and the 30th centuries BC.
Information about this First Dynasty of ancient Egypt is derived from a few monuments and other objects bearing royal names, the most important being the Narmer Palette and Narmer Macehead, as well as Den and Qa’a king lists. No detailed records of the first two dynasties have survived, except for the terse lists on the Palermo Stone. The account in Manetho’s Aegyptiaca contradicts the archaeological evidence and the other historical records: Manetho names nine rulers of the First Dynasty, only one of whose names matches the different sources and offers information for only four of them. Egyptian hieroglyphs were fully developed by then, and their shapes would be used with little change for more than three thousand years.
Large tombs of pharaohs at Abydos and Naqada and cemeteries at Saqqara and Helwan near Memphis reveal structures built mainly of wood and mud bricks, with some small use of stone for walls and floors. Stone was used to manufacturing ornaments, vessels, and occasionally, statues. Tamarix (“tamarisk” or “salt cedar”) was used to build boats such as the Abydos boats. One of the most important indigenous woodworking techniques was the fixed mortise and tenon joint. A fixed tenon was made by shaping the end of one timber to fit into a mortise (hole) cut into a second timber. A variation of this joint using a free tenon eventually became one of the most noteworthy features in the Mediterranean and Egyptian shipbuilding. It creates a union between two planks or other components by inserting a separate tenon into a cavity (mortise) of the corresponding size cut into each component.”
A 1992 study by Shomarka Keita on the 1st Dynasty crania from the royal tombs in Abydos noted the predominant pattern was “Southern” (though others were also observed), which had affinities with Kerma Kushites. The general results demonstrate a more significant association with Upper Nile Valley groups but suggest an apparent change from earlier craniometric trends. The gene flow and movement of northern officials to the important southern city may explain the findings.
Human sacrifice was practised as part of the funerary rituals associated with all of the pharaohs of the First Dynasty. It is demonstrated as existing during this Dynasty by retainers buried near each pharaoh’s tomb and animals sacrificed for the burial. The tomb of Djer is associated with the burials of 338 individuals. The people and animals sacrificed, such as donkeys, were expected to assist the pharaoh in the afterlife. For unknown reasons, this practice ended with the conclusion of the Dynasty.
Known rulers in the history of Egypt for the First Dynasty are as follows:
Narmer ( r. c. 3273 – 2987 BC) was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the Early Dynastic Period. He was the successor to the Protodynastic King Ka. Many scholars consider him the unifier of Egypt, founder of the First Dynasty, and, in turn, the first king of a unified Egypt. A majority of Egyptologists believe that Narmer was the same person as Menes.
Some Egyptologists consider hor-Aha (or Aha or Horus Aha) the second pharaoh of Egypt’s First Dynasty. In contrast, others consider him the first one and correspond to Menes. He lived around the 31st century BC and is thought to have had a long reign.
Djer (or Zer or Sekhty) was the third pharaoh of the First Dynasty of ancient Egypt in current Egyptology. He lived around the mid-thirty-first century BC and reigned for c. 40 years. A mummified forearm of the pharaoh or his wife was discovered by Flinders Petrie but was discarded by Émile Brugsch.
Djet, also known as Wadj, Zet, and Uadji (in Greek, possibly the pharaoh known as Uenephes or Atothis), was the fourth pharaoh of the First Dynasty of ancient Egypt. Djet’s Horus name means “Horus Cobra” or “Serpent of Horus”.
Merneith (also written Merit-Neith and Meryt-Neith) was a consort and a regent of Ancient Egypt during the First Dynasty. She may have been a ruler of Egypt in her own right, based on several official records. Suppose this was the case and the earlier royal wife Neithhotep never ruled as an independent regent. In that case, Merneith may have been the first female pharaoh and the earliest queen regnant in recorded humanity’s history. Her rule occurred around 2950 BC. for an undetermined period. Merneith’s name means “Beloved by Neith “, and her stele contains symbols of that ancient Egyptian deity. She may have been Djer’s daughter and was probably Djet’s senior royal wife. The former meant that she would have been the great-granddaughter of unified Egypt’s first pharaoh, Narmer. She was also the mother of Den, her successor.
Den, also known as Hor-Den, Dewen and Udimu, is the Horus name of a pharaoh of the Early Dynastic Period who ruled during the First Dynasty of Egypt. He is the best archaeologically-attested ruler of this period. Den is said to have brought prosperity to his realm, and numerous innovations are attributed to his reign. He was the first to use the title “King of Upper and Lower Egypt” and the first depicted as wearing the double crown (red and white). The floor of his tomb at Umm El Qa’ab near Abydos is made of red and black granite; for the first time in Egypt, this hard stone was used as a building material. During his long reign, he established many of the customs of court ritual and royalty used by later rulers, and he was held in high regard by his immediate successors.
Anedjib, more correctly Adjib and also known as Hor-Anedjib, Hor-Adjib and Enezib, is the Horus name of an early Egyptian king who ruled during the 1st Dynasty. The Egyptian historian Manetho named him “Miebîdós” and credited him with a reign of 26 years, whilst the Royal Canon of Turin credited him with an implausible power of 74 years. Egyptologists and historians now consider both records exaggerations and generally credit Adjib with a reign of 8–10 years.
Semerkhet is the Horus name of an early Egyptian king who ruled during the First Dynasty. This ruler became known through a tragic legend handed down by the historian Manetho, who reported that a calamity of some sort occurred during Semerkhet’s reign. The archaeological records seem to support the view that Semerkhet had a difficult time as king and some early archaeologists questioned the legitimacy of Semerkhet’s succession to the Egyptian throne.
Qa’a (also Qáa or Ka’a) (literal meaning: “his arm is raised”) was the last king of the First Dynasty of Egypt. He reigned for 33 years at the end of the 30th century BC.
Sneferka was an early Egyptian king who may have ruled at the end of the 1st Dynasty. The exact length of his reign is unknown but thought to have been very short, and his chronological position is unclear.
Horus Bird, also known as Horus-Ba, may have been a pharaoh who may have had a very short reign between Egypt’s First and Second Dynasty.