|Horus of Behedet, the winged sun disk. Image A. Sinclair 2017|
I am only nominally into the prehistoric of Egypt, as my real preference has always been that of Sumer, the Uruk period. As it happens it is only serendipity that I did not do my studies there, but the professor of Near Eastern studies was on leave and I knocked on another door entirely, so now I am in the Late Bronze Age.
So today I am going to walk you through the history of scholarship on the followers of Horus, the Shemsu Heru or Shemsu Hor, legendary proto-kings of ancient Egypt, beginning with the reliability of the Greek historian Manetho.
|Version of Manetho by Syncellus (9th century CE).|
|Manetho in the Excerpta Latina Barbari (8th century CE).|
To make this as brief as possible, for the period before human kings Manetho wrote of 3 earlier mythical eras; firstly Egypt was ruled by the gods (the number and gods vary) usually ending with Orus (Horus) – then came demigods (ημιθεοι) – and after these the manes or spirits of the dead, νεκυες οι ημιθεοι (‘half-divine dead’), who ruled for 5,813 years (Armenian Eusebius) or 2,100 years (Excerpta Latina Barbari).
Wilkinson 1879 Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians
He plonks for the invasion option, citing the shasu en har, or followers of Horus as the primitive peoples who lived in Egypt before the pharaonic Egyptians drove them from the country, however his writing is unclear and I cannot exclude that he actually meant that the followers were the invading ‘Egyptians’ … either way, ouch.
This sets the tone in Egyptology for the next 50 years.
Maspero 1894 – Dawn of Civilisation: Egypt and Chaldaea
Some names must be taken with a hefty spoon of salt, his transliterations are often obsolete, so for the list above from left to right: king of the red crown Mekhet, Wadjbu or Wenegbu, Neheb, Tjesh, Tiu, Khaiu, Seka.
Msnw, which is determined with a harpoon sign, not a crucible (for metalworkers), has been translated this way for about 100 years.
Sorry no blacksmiths, no ironworkers.
Pro tip: if someone claims the Shemsu Heru were blacksmiths you can assume they used an early text, regardless of whether they cite a later publishing date (an old trick). Hancock and Bauval (1997) for example used Maspero (above) and every Dover re-edition of EAW Budge they could track down. Budge died in 1934, he definitely was not publishing between 1969 and 1980.
|The same text by Budge and Fairman. What a difference 20 or so years can make in Egyptology.|
Sethe 1905 – Beiträge zur Ägyptische Geschichte
Therefore they were Manetho’s dead half-divine kings.
Shemsu/followers of king Niuserre from the Sun Temple of Niuserre near Giza.
5th Dynasty, Old Kingdom. Image from Borchardt 1907, pl 16
After this king-list, Helck introduced the evidence from the 18th Dynasty, which is around 1000 years later than the pyramids; on the Tombos stele of king Thutmose I (ca 1500 BCE), and later from the Turin king-list papyrus (19th Dynasty, ca 1250 BCE). Both texts briefly mention the Shemsu Heru as being early kings of Egypt.
So by the 18th Dynasty at least, they were an integral part of the mythological past, and were believed to have ruled in the time after the rule of the gods, however the term had also evolved to apply to any loyal follower of the king's retinue, who from his service to the living Horus could become a follower after death.
|Middle Kingdom, translation from VA. Tobin 2003.|
Gardiner 1961 – Egypt of the Pharaohs
This oversight is then fixed by citing an unspecified Roman period papyrus (only 3000 years away from reality) that states that the souls of Nekhen were followers of Horus as kings of Upper Egypt, and the souls of Pe were these as kings of Lower Egypt (‘as Griffith pointed out orally to the present writer’, cos in 1961 this was totally cool, nowadays peer reviewer no. 2 would hang you out to dry for it).
Edwards 1970 – Cambridge Ancient History
She names 9 akhu spirits who were associated with the governorates of Buto (Pe), Hierakonpolis (Nekhen) and Heliopolis (Iunu), whom the Egyptians believed ruled Egypt after the gods in the Predynastic period. These akhu also included lesser kings called the followers of Horus and together – are quasi myth – part of ancient Egyptian mythical time.
|Reconstruction of the Turin king-list in standard hieroglyphs. You want columns 1-3. Image from Wikipedia.|
However, the Turin list does not match any of the early kings on the Palermo Stone, nor the versions of Manetho, and it has errors for later kings.
40,000 years, I must have missed that ... oh and the gods of the first time,
the ‘moment of creation’ were Atum, Shu and Tefnut.
Therefore, if we ignore the later anecdotes, there is very little evidence of these Shemsu Heru kings from pharaonic Egypt. A brief reference in the Turin papyrus mentions akhu spirits who were kings of Egypt after the gods and before the dynastic kings and another names a god king called ‘follower’. The Palermo Stone simply names 7 kings of Lower Egypt.
… and so on.
EAW. Budge 1934. From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt.
IES. Edwards 1970. Cambridge Ancient History.
HW. Fairman 1935. ‘The Myth of Horus at Edfu.’ JEA 21.
VA. Tobin 2003. ‘The Maxims of Ptahhotep’. In The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, Stelae, Autobiographies, and Poetry.
RH. Wilkinson 2003. The Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt.