Abydos is one of the oldest ancient Egyptian cities (3,100 – 332 BC), and is one of the most important archaeological sites in all of Egypt. Many ancient temples and tombs can be found there, offering a glimpse into ancient Egyptian history, the people who lived during those times, and the historical events that occurred. Abydos developed into a very important cult site in ancient Egypt, as eventually it became very desirable to be buried there. One of the most important sites in Abydos is the Temple of Seti I. Within this temple is a list of seventy-six Egyptian kings. This list has served as an important tool in piecing together ancient Egyptian history, and in identifying the rulers from that time.
Drawing of the cartouches in the Abydos King List. Wikipedia, CC
The list (sometimes referred to as the King Table) contains three rows of 38 cartouches. A cartouche is a type of oval border which indicates that the name within is the name of a king. This list gives the names of ancient Egyptian Kings in chronological order, and is the sole naming source of many of the kings from the Seventh and Eighth Dynasties. While the list is highly valuable due to the names it provides, it is not comprehensive, and highly favors the Memphite kings. Of the three rival kingdoms, Memphis, Thebes, and Herakleopolis, Memphite kings are highly favored in the list, none of the Herakleopolitan kings are included, and Theban kings were only included at a point after Memphis ceased to exist. Several Egyptian kings were omitted from the list, including Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV), Tutankhamun, Ay, Hatshepsut, and Meryneith. It is supposed these kings were considered illegitimate, and certainly in Hatshepsut’s case, there was an ancient attempt to scrub the records bare of her name and existence.
The names contained on the Abydos King list are numerous – 76 in all – including more commonly known ones such as: Khufu, Sneferu, Amenhotep, and Seti.
Like many other lists detailing the history of a region as set by their leaders, the Abydos table is not a complete historical documentation, however, it does reflect the cultural situation at the time. Some scholars suggest the list, as set down by Seti I, was to represent the royal ancestors in a ritual, performed on their behalf. Seti I himself was not of royal lineage, and so to ensure his own legitimacy he may have constructed a grand temple worthy of the gods, and filled it with the names of legitimate ancestors. Despite his more common background, Seti was an important figure in Egyptian history. He strove to re-establish Egyptian sovereignty over Syria and the Levant in the aftermath of the disorder caused by Akhenaten’s religious reforms.The temple itself is cited by many as the most impressive religious structure still standing in Egypt. It did much to reassure the people of Egypt that the old gods were not forbidden, and it symbolized a return to tradition.
The façade of the temple of Seti I in Abydos, Egypt. Wikimedia, CC