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International Conference
Origin of the State. Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt

(Cracow, Poland: 28th August - 1st September 2002)
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The Heb-Sed and the Emergence of the Egyptian State

Alexei KROL

Center for Egyptological Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moskou (Russia)


The origins and meaning of the Sed-festival became from the very beginning the subject of the scholar's egyptology studies.

On the turn of the XXth century, under the influence of the ideas expressed by Frazer in his "Golden bough", the concept of Heb-Sed was understood as a survival of a custom from previous times. It would have implied the ritual killing of the tribe ruler, as it was already formulated a long time ago by W.M.F. Petrie. This scholar believed that during the pharaonic period this "fierce custom" was transformed into a ritual of rejuvenation, the renewal of the vital forces of the ruling king. At present this concept is in a way an axiom among Egyptologists.

However, our own research concerning the Sed-festival allow us to conclude that this "classical" scheme was not universal for all periods of ancient Egyptian history. The Heb-Sed underwent very substantial changes over the three thousand years of its existence. The meaning of its rituals were changing parallel to the evolution of the Egyptian society and state.

We believe that the Sed-festival appeared on the very outset of the Dynastic history of Egypt, during the period of the gradual penetration of the Naqada culture towards the North. Than the festival was celebrated every time after the suppression of the Northern petty realms in order to strengthen the king's victory over the enemies encroaching upon the unity of Upper and Lower Egypt.

The analysis of the co-called "monuments of Unification" and the monuments dated to the time of the kings Den and Khasekhem could confirm our interpretation.

The problem which is directly linked to the theme presented in the paper concerns the manner in which the unification of Egypt took place. There are two main schemes of this process in the present day Egyptology:
               "militaristic" (W. Kaiser, T. von der Way, W. Helck, etc.)
               "peaceful" (E.C. K÷hler, D. Wildung, etc.)

In our opinion the first scheme seems to be more confirmed by the evidence and could be proved by historical parallels. Before the advance of the Naqada culture, the Delta belonged to a cultural tradition which was very different from that of Southern Egypt. The populations of these regions which are very distant from each other and who most probably also differed by their anthropological types, presumably could not understand each other's languages. Under these conditions it seems very unlikely that the local Úlite freely abdicated from its power and the control over the trade routes coming from the Near East.


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