Michel Baud:
Djéser et la IIIe dynastie

Paris - Editions Pygmalion, October 2002
(24 x 15,5 cm - 302pp - 80 figs, 20 photos - 19,90E) ISBN 2 85704 779 7

(Summary/Review by Francesco Raffaele, January 2003)

Michel Baud - Djéser et la IIIe dynastie (2002)

The Egyptian Third Dynasty can be considered the link between the formative, early state of 'Dynasties' 0-2 and the mature civilization expressed, from the Fourth Dynasty on, by the huge pyramids, the classic arts masterpieces and the radical specialization which was behind all these achievements. The history, arts and monuments clearly show the ideological and formal evolution in progress during this fascinating and short period of transition; this latter peculiarity is also reflected by the fact than the Third Dynasty comes out to be considered either as part of the Early Dynastic period or as (early) Old kingdom. It is therefore culturally tied to both the "Thinite period" and the "Old Kingdom" without very evident breaks.
In fact, as M. Baud himself states (p. 10), the cultural evolution is far less marked than the dynastic subdivisions. Djoser and Imhotep undoubtedly owe an important tribute to their predecessors, especially Khasekhemwy; by the same way, the Third Dynasty kings' improvement constitutes the foundations of the political, economical and organizative apparatus which had to majestically follow.

Until recently, the Early Dynastic Egyptian period only knew very few works of synthesis. The only books devoted to the Third Dynasty were R. Weill's thesis (La IIe at la IIIe dynasties, BdE 25, 1908), and N. Swelim's one (Some Problems on the History of the Third Dynasty, 1983); the art and archaeology were summarized in the classic books of W.S. Smith (HESPOK, 1946) and J. Vandier (Manuel I, 1952) respectively; W.S. Smith also wrote a good synthesis (Dynasties 3-10, in: CAH I/2, 3rd ed., 1971, 145ff.) which improved the conclusions of Gardiner's and Drioton-Vandier's histories of Egypt (the latter work contained a good discussed bibliography updated to 1961; cf. J. Vercoutter, L' Egypte..., 1992, 245-263).
In these years, new fieldworks and studies have projected a vivid interest on the Early Dynastic: a corpus of inscriptions of the Third Dynasty has been published by Kahl, Kloth, Zimmermann (1995), Kahl has also published an important work on the inscriptions of dynasties 0-3 and he is actually completing a dictionary of the language of the Frühzeit.
T.A.H. Wilkinson has published a very interesting work which also synthesizes various aspects of 'Dynasties' 0-3 (Early Dynastic Egypt, 1999¹).

The book of Michel Baud is therefore the first (published) study to span uniquely the Third Dynasty and to deal with virtually all the cultural aspects of this age.
The author's tribute to the modern Egyptology, is per se a guarantee of his competence in the field of the IIIrd Millenium Egyptian history, archaeology, architecture, arts, administration, written material and chronology.
The synthesis is of divulgative character (i.e. no massive amounts of notes and complex discussions which can be found in the reports and in other basic publications provided in the bibliography), thus it can be easily read also by non-Egyptologists; but it can be really said that it will be particularly useful and precious for the specialists of this period: Baud definitively sets a number of problems of various character although in a way which results in an easy and pleasant reading.

After a short introduction follows the first chapter (Une dynastie patiemment mise au jour, pp. 13-47) which introduces us to the subject through a survey of the history of the discoveries pertaining to the Third Dynasty kings and monuments.
The author starts with the quotations of Manetho, and pursues with the first explorations of the Step Pyramid complex of Djoser (von Minutoli, Segato, Perring, Lepsius), Garstang's excavation of the Beit Khallaf mastabas (and the question of Nebka/Sanakht), Barsanti at the Zawiyet el Aryan (North) unfinished pyramid (which Lauer dated to the IVth dynasty -for similarity with Djedefra's pyramid at Abu Rawash-, a view which Baud agrees with) and the mystery of the uncertain reading of the royal name (in cartouche) on the graffiti from the site. The book goes on fluently with another uncertain royal name, that of Huni/ Nisut-Hw on the Elephantine granite cone inscription found by Gauthier in 1909; then the early and modern attributions of the Meidum pyramid, the Layer pyramid, the cemetery of Zawiyet el Aryan (South) and Khaba's stone bowls.
The subsequent paragraphs are devoted to the excavations of Firth, Quibell and Lauer in the Step Pyramid complex of Djoser at Saqqara and those of Goneim in the unfinished complex of Sekhemkhet; the last paragraphs deal with the stela of Qa-Hedjet bought by the Louvre Museum in 1967 and with the modern sondages and proposed datation of the West Saqqara enclosures, especially Gisr el Mudir.

The second chapter (Une dynastie, cinq rois, un ordre incertain, pp. 48-70) is devoted to the chronology, NK king-lists and kings succession.
Baud has published interesting papers on OK chronology (in: Archéo-Nil 9, 1999, 109-147 and in: BSFE 149, 2000, 32-46) which are echoed in the views expressed in this chapter about the Annals, the criterion on which basis the concept of Egyptian "Dynasties" might have arisen (calendaric reformations witnessed by the year-labels, annals and on the ink inscribed stone vessels), the length of the dynasty (he argues for half a century, rather than 75 or more years), the order of succession (also hinted by sparse allusions on MK and later papyri and NK lists), the reading of some royal names and titles (the possible equivalences between known Horus names and cartouche names and parallels of the latter ones with the graecized names handed down by the quoters of Manetho's Aegyptiaca).
The period of 50 years (two or three generations only) is the minimum proposed for the length of this 'dynasty'; yet, the unfinished state of the known funerary complexes and the ephemeral character of all Djoser successors' reigns (except perhaps Huni's one) plays in favour of Baud's opinion. The hypothesis that at the origin of the (later) subdivision into dynasties is based on the geographical criterion (site of the capital, administration or royal necropolis) only since the FIP, whereas, for the OK it could have been due to the changes in the calendaric system, is of great importance: the mentioned OK sources show that the system of evenemential dates of Dynasty 1 and 3 is alternated with the numbered cattle-counts system in vigour in Dynasty 2 and 4-on; the changes appear to have been accomplished precisely by the sovereigns who were later acknowledged as "Dynastic Foundators": Narmer, Hotepsekhemwy, Netjerykhet and Snofru.
The only criticism that I can advance to this section, is the scarce consideration for the yet unique attestation of a further shadowy royal name, Horus Ba (Swelim, op. cit., different from the misinterpreted king-name mentioned by Baud at p. 20): but this could perhaps have been the Horus name of one of the Second Dynasty kings Wneg, Sened, Nwbnefer or Neferkasokar known by their Nebty/Neswtbity names; yet the author should have expressed his opinion about this ruler.
Furthermore, despite the now generally accepted retrodatation of Sanakht/Nebka (after Sekhemkhet's or after Khaba's reign as Baud maintains) I would have left still a a scanty doubt on the matter of the identification of Sanakht with Nebka (based only on Sethe's reconstruction of the fragmentary seal impression from Beit Khallaf K2 now in Liverpool) [1].
On a general level, and considering both the textual and the monumental evidence, it seems to me that the assemblage of the dynasty and the proposed duration are much more probable than the long sequence (and longer duration) proposed by Swelim (op. cit., 1983 and in: Studia Aegyptiaca 14, 1992, 541-554 ; cf. also P. Kaplony, in: Rollsiegel des Alten Reichs, I, 1977, Mon. Aeg. 2, p. 146-155).

Chapter III (Djéser et Imhotep, pp. 71-135) opens with the identification of the (sur)name (?) 'Djoser' (earliest known attestation in the reign of Sesostri II) with the Horus name Netjerykhet; the author examines the portrait of the king and the general features of third dynasty statuary (to the Brooklyn Mus. granite head it should be added the Munchen Staatlische Mus. A7086, which perhaps also dates to the reign of Khufu rather than to Huni's one); the skeletal remains from the burial chamber under the Step pyramid are explained to be of much later period.
Further on the author writes on the royal titulary and the royal women (the probable mother Nimaathapy -Khasekhemwy's wife-, queen Hotephernebty and the daughters, princesses Intkaes and Njankh-Hathor). The following paragraph analyzes the year-cases of the Palermo stone annals and traces a possible identification of the enclosure Qebeh-Netjerw with the Saqqara funerary complex or a part thereof (the eastern one); similarly the Nerw-Tawy on a seal impression from Beit Khallaf K1 and on a fragment from the Heliopolis naiskos can be associated with Djoser's complex western massif and its galleries, probably the place were the king's body was embalmed; this interpretation is to be preferred to the one of the military function of the enclosures, two forts protecting the accesses to the capital. After having summarized some hypotheses (Stadelmann) on the state and purpose of the Western massif, Baud mentions some piece of evidence for the technological progress achieved during the period in object: ink sketch of a vault on a fragment from the Step pyramid complex; construction marks on the granite slabs over the burial chamber; evolution in the writing; more than twenty pages describe the formal and functional characters of the Step Pyramid complex and its constructional phases. The last part of this chapter introduces Imhotep and his titles; further interesting paragraphs describe the posthmous veneration of this individual, the oldest "saint", and that of his king Djoser as well as the OK, NK and Late period frequentation attestations at the Saqqara royal complex (bureau papyri found in a small archive near the T-temple; inscriptions of the visitors from the Houses of the North and South; excavation of the southern gallery; sparse archaeological finds; grids on some of the subterranean panels to copy the king's portrait). To the examples from Horbeit now in MMA it must be added the relief in Goyon (La découverte des trésors de Tanis, 1987, 34) and a British Museum statue (in Baines-Riggs, JEA 87, 2001) which is inspired to the serdab statue of Netjerykhet.
It would have been interesting if Baud had also added a paragraph reviewing the past and modern archaeological search for Imhotep's tomb: the initial hypothesis that he was buried in the Step pyramid complex, Lauer's theory, Emery's search in North Saqqara (Serapeum) and the recent Polish (Mysliwiec) discoveries in West Saqqara. However, in lack of concrete evidence, the location of Imhotep's tomb rests in a purely speculative ambit of discussion.

The fourth chapter (La dynastie des pyramides à degrés, pp. 136-167) is another brilliant essay on the symbolic and structural aspects of the pyramids and on the architectural developments which led from the flat mastabas with inner mound over the burial chamber (Abydos Umm el-Qaab Z, Saqqara S3507 and S3038) to the Third Dynasty step pyramids.
The second half of the chapter is reserved to the same order of discussion, but this time in relation to the underground apparatus of the funerary complex: burial chamber, subterranean model-palace, eleven eastern pits, access stairways, South Tomb, magazines.

The fifth chapter (Royauté et état, pp. 168-197) starts with the introduction of the ideology of kingship (its role and its expressions) as seen through the interpretation of the royal names, titles, representations and inscriptions.
Then the palace/court, the central and provincial administrations are discussed and, with regards to the latter, the archaeological data about the seven minor step piramids along the Nile valley and the textual evidence for the royal funerary foundations (domains).
The last paragraphs summarize the careers of six important functionaries: Ankh (Djoser reign, two statues in Leida Museum and one in the Louvre and seal impressions from Beit Khallaf K5), an anonymous prince who led the expeditions to the Sinai mines at Wadi Maghara under Sekhemkhet, then Metjen (Berlin statue and fragments of the earliest known 'biography' from his Saqqara tomb placed somewhere immediately North of Djoser's complex), Akhetaa (Aa-Akhty, tomb in Middle/North Saqqara or Abusir), Khabausokar (North Saqqara double tomb S3073) and finally the more famous Hezyre (Hesyra, S2405).

Chapter VI (Des villes aux nécropoles. Architecture, art et culture matérielle de la IIIe dynastie, pp. 198-250) is an up-to-date review of the (increasing) data about the ancient urban settlements (Heliopolis, Memphis, Buto, Tell Ibrahim Awad and Elephantine) which have yielded Third Dynasty royal and private material (until recently, mainly seal impressions - with the exclusion of the Heliopolis temple fragments now kept in Turin Museum -; but now also administrative or templar structures as the "labyrinth" of Buto, the shrine of Tell Ibrahim Awad and the various structures found at Elephantine).
To Kemp's theory (p. 212 and bibliogr. p. 292) about the status of pre-formal and formal temples, it could have been added the quotation of O'Connor's reply (in: Friedman - Adams eds., The Followers of Horus, 1992, 83-98).
The chapter continues with the description of the royal necropolis, the élite and lower classes cemeteries in the Memphite necropolis and in the provincial ones (Naga ed-Deir, Beit Khallaf, Reqaqna, El-Kab). Possibly the author's statement at the bottom of p. 214 (that at this time the élite cemetery didn't surround the royal tombs) could prove to be wrong: apart from the discussed artisans cemetery in Teti necropolis, there are more important (early ?-) Third Dynasty tombs west of the Step Pyramid complex (only recently excavated by Mysliwiec, some even within the western course of the 'Dry moat').
The second half of this chapter outlines the developments of the mastabas, of their niches, serdabs, stairways (and the first examples of the use of stone in these private tombs) and the parallel evolution in the gravegoods generes: from stone vessels to stone statuary (royal and private). The last two paragraphs concern the private and royal reliefs and the pottery.
About this chapter I would have liked to read a larger account on the evolution of royal relief in the penultimate paragraph: Baud could have eventually shown in a more detailed way (than the half a page reserved -although the royal reliefs are indeed discussed singularly in other chapters-) the transformations from Khasekhemwy's examples (found at Hierakonpolis and Gebelein)[2] to those found in the Step Pyramid complex, in Sinai, and on Qa-Hedjet and Snofru's stelae.

The seventh chapter (Aux marges du royaume, pp. 251-277) ends up the book with three substantial paragraphs on the regions of Nubia (Snofru annals, Nubian cultures, Khor el-Aqiba inscriptions, Buhen, Elephantine), Sinai (Wadi Maghara), Canaan/ Negev (Arad, Tell Halif) and a last one on the site of Byblos and the importance of the sea route.
As for the previous chapter, even in this case the lack of syntheses focused on this period and the relative aboundance of new excavations and finds (especially in Canaan, despite at a far lower level than during the Egyptian colonization of Late Predynastic and 1st Dynasty) makes the present reconsideration a very useful one.

Fifteen pages provide the thematic bibliography for the subjects discussed in the paragraphs; Dodson's article (On the Threshold of Glory: The Third Dynasty, in: KMT 9/2, 1998, 27-40) is the only relevant missing reference I've noticed. Finally there is a list of the 80 figures in the text; an index of personal and geographical names would have been certainly useful.

Some corrections:
p.16: Geronimo Segato (his name was Girolamo)
p. 58: "...le premières cases en question ne reviennent pas à Netjerykhet Djéser...": The right part of Palermo stone line 5 was, in the past, generally attributed to Nebka (as foundator of the Dynasty) rather than to Djoser, according and concording with TC and Abydos king list. Recently, with the retrodatation of Nebka's reign, it has been acknowledged as Khasekhemwy's own reign (an opinion which I do share) followed by the reign of Djoser (which continues on the Cairo fragment faint cases).
p. 174, fig. 46: (panel 3,4) sud-est cour instead of sud ouest (rsj-imntj) as correctly stated in the text of the following page.
p. 263, fig. 75d: caption of Zanakht's Cairo relief (not Khaba) from Maghara.
The overall redaction is very good: I have found only few unimportant typos.

My general impression on this book is a very positive one; it prefectly fulfills the scope that the author has prefixed, namely that of a solid introduction to every single cultural aspect of this half a century of Ancient Egyptian history we call "Third Dynasty".
The textual and archaeological material [3] are ponderly dealt with equal consideration, efficacy and competence.
Nowhere can be found pure notions or cold data: on the contrary the author exactly describes why and where any theory and statement springs from.
Except for the few points I have remarked above, it is hard to suggest further improvements to this book, because the author has made a very good work which is certainly destined to remain a basic reference on this age for a long time to come.
I regret that Baud didn't decide to treat more extensively at least some of the subjects, but as it is, the book already reaches the 300 pages and virtually each paragraph of this book could be (or has already been) the argument of a separate paper or even make up a whole book by itself.
I hope that the archaeological missions actually at work in the Nile Valley, Delta and "aux marges du royaume" may find more material to enlighten the history of this still obscure group of sovereigns so as to give M. Baud the opportunity to eleborate a new edition of this book, which would be equally welcome as the present one is.
It is also hoped that, after the recent syntheses of T. Wilkinson, K. Cialowicz and M. Baud's own one, further studies of this kind will appear, eventually devoted uniquely to the First Dynasty, to the Second Dynasty or even only to singular aspects of these. By now, my congratulations to Michel Baud for this publication which is both an important achievement and an exciting reading.


1- Liverpool seal impression [Neb?]-Ka / Sanakht
2 - And eventually also discuss the possible datation of the two reliefs in Turin and Cairo which perhaps both came from the Hathor temple of Gebelein.
- Even considering the material from the Step Pyramid complex and the relatively frequent seal impressions, it can be said that this dynasty lacks a substantial corpus of contemporary inscribed sources: the wooden and ivory year-labels disappeared already after the reign of Qa'a and the ink-inscribed stone vessels abundantly retrieved from Djoser's funerary complex date to the mid- Second Dynasty; only few "annalistic" inscriptions (in ink) on vessels have been found at Saqqara and Elephantine (of probable early and late Third Dyn. date respectively: cf. Lacau - Lauer Pyr. Deg. V, 88-91; Dreyer, Drei Archaisch-Hieratische Gefassaufschriften mit jahresnamen aus Elephantine, in: Fs Fecht, 1987, 98-109). These seem to pursue the tradition of Khasekhemwy's (incised) annalistic inscriptions on stone bowls from Hierakonpolis and Abydos which, in turn, are linkable to the year-labels of the First Dynasty.
The few early biographical texts from the Saqqara tombs are dated with some uncertainty to the years of transition between late Dynasty 3 and early Dynasty 4; similar doubts also afflict many of the decorated panels (Saad's ceiling stelae) with offering lists and table dating from Qa'a to the Third Dynasty.
On the other side the main funerary archaological data are provided by the five tombs of Beit Khallaf and, above all, by the royal and private cemetery of Saqqara (see above for the recent archaeological discoveries from non-mortuary contexts in the Delta and at Elephantine).

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© Francesco Raffaele 2003