Horus name (Serekh name) in hieroglyphs

facade (of the palace)
Serekh of king Djet with the Horus falcon above
Serekh of king Peribsen with the image of Set, the god of the desert, and a sun disc above

The Horus name is the oldest known and used crest of ancient Egyptian rulers. It belongs to the "great five names" of an Egyptian pharaoh. However, modern Egyptologists and linguists are starting to prefer the more neutral term: the "serekh name". This is because not every pharaoh placed the falcon, which symbolizes the deity Horus, atop his (or in some cases, her) serekh.[1]

Heraldic appearance

The picture of the Horus name is made of two basic elements: A sitting or walking figure of a certain deity holds a rectangular, ornamental vignette, imitating the floor plan of a palace facade and the royal courtyard. The rectangular vignette is called serekh, after the Egyptian word for "facade". There are countless variations of the facade decor in the serekh. The complexity and detail of the facade decor varied remarkably depending on the object on which it was present. It seems that no strict artistic rules for the design of the serekh itself existed. The name of the pharaoh was written inside the free space that represents the royal courtyard.[2][3][4]


A granite fragment with Khufu's horus name Medjedu on it.

The symbolic meaning of the Horus name is still disputed. It seems obvious, at least, that the name of a king was addressed straight to the deity on top of the serekh. In most cases it was the falcon of the god Horus. This is based on the Egyptian tradition and belief[citation needed] that a living king was commonly[vague] the herald and earthly representative of Horus.[3] A good example is the name of 2nd Dynasty king Raneb. His name was written with the sign of the sun () and the sign of a basket (néb). Altogether, the name reads "Lord of the sun of Horus", thus integrating Horus as the royal patron into the king's name.[5] Scholars point to the symbolic and expressive strength of the Horus falcon: hovering high in the sky, stretching out his wings widely and seemingly looking over all of Egypt, this heraldic animal represented omnipresence and an outstretching power. Additionally, the names of early dynasty kings show, when translated, an astonishing aggressiveness, which clearly expresses the wish of Egyptian kings to be untouchable and undefeatable, thanks to the god Horus. During the 2nd Dynasty, the serekh names of the kings reveal a rather peace-seeking nature, expressing the wish of the pharaohs to rule over an unwavering world full of order and harmony: the epitheton of the Horus name of King Sekhemib, Per-en-ma'at (meaning "he who achieves Ma'at"), is the clearest early expression of this. As already mentioned, most Egyptian kings favored Horus as their dynastic name patron.[4]

In a few cases, especially during the midst of the 2nd Dynasty, at least two serekh names seem to contradict the Horus tradition. The most prominent example is king Seth-Peribsen. He first replaced the falcon figure of his serekh by the walking animal of the god Seth. Then, his name was written in a plural form, thus being addressed to Seth as well as to Horus. The serekh names of his followers Sekhemib and Khasekhemwy were similarly built. Khasekhemwy went even further and placed both divine figures of Horus and Seth above his serekh, in an attempt to accentuate the dualism of a serekh name. The remarkable behaviours of the 2nd Dynasty kings can possibly be explained by the Egyptian belief that a king represented Horus and Seth in the same ways. Maybe said kings simply wished to express this dualism by willingly changing the appearance of the serekh and replacing divine figures on its top.[3][4]

Introduction and history

Horus name of Shoshenq V, Userpehty, incised above Nekhbet and Wadjet. Fragment of a plinth, black basalt. From Fayum, Egypt. 22nd Dynasty. The British Museum, London

As already mentioned, the Horus name is the oldest known and used royal title. Its introduction reaches back to the time of the Naqada II period at 3400 BC, and its development can be observed on objects from Naqada II to the 1st Dynasty. However, at the time of introduction, the serekhs of kings were yet anonymous. Later the name of the king was written beside the serekh or omitted completely. In many cases the serekh lacks the Horus falcon, and in other cases, such as the serekh of king Ka, the serekh seems to be held by Horus upside-down.[1] During the middle and late Naqada III period (3200–3030 BC.), kings started to write their name inside their serekhs. Some of the best-known early examples are the names of Scorpion II and Ka. Under these kings, the serekh was introduced in its final form.[3] During the 1st Dynasty, an odd fashion can be observed: On several clay seals from the Abydene tombs of king Hor-Aha, Qa'a and queen Meritneith, the Horus names of all archaeologically detected kings from Narmer to Qa'a are listed in one single and smooth row. All of these Horus names are missing a serekh. The exact reason for this is unknown, but it demonstrates complexity within the tradition of royal titulary, which is not fully understood even today.[1]

Special serekhs

During the introduction and development of the serekh names, three examples of special serekhs are of very special interest to Egyptologists and historians.

The first example is the serekh of a protodynastic king known as "Double Falcon". The serekh of this particular king has a top that is sharply bent inwards at the very middle. The inside of the serekh is filled with a great many little dots. This makes the upper part of the serekh look like the hieroglyphic sign of a two-topped mountain, the sign for "desert" or "foreign land". A further curiosity of Double Falcon's serekh are the two falcon figures, each one resting on one corner atop the bent serekh and facing each other. Egyptologists and historians are convinced that this unusual king's name has a deeper meaning. Most possibly it points to Lower Egypt and Sinai, since Double Falcon's name has been found only at these two sites.[6]

A second unusual serekh is that of King Hor-Aha. It shows the Horus falcon reaching into the serekh with his claws and holding a mace and a shield, forming the word Aha, meaning "fighter of Horus". The arrangement is intriguing, because normally the Horus falcon and the hieroglyphs inside the serekh were out of reach and independent of one another. The motive and deeper meaning of Aha's serekh are unknown.

The third examples of unusual serekhs are those of several queens, including the serekh of queen Meritneith. For a long time it was believed by scholars that the royal title of a serekh was reserved for male rulers only. For this reason, it was long thought that Meritneith was a man, until mud seal impressions revealed the female title mwt nesw ("mother of (the) king"). The tomb stela of Meritneith also proved the true gender of this queen. Thus, queen Meritneith was the first Egyptian female ruler who was allowed to use the serekh. However, her serekh is surmounted by the standard of the goddess Neith, not by a falcon figure. A similar case is that of the famous queen Hatshepsut of the 18th Dynasty. She also used a serekh, and like queen Meritneit, had long been thought by scholars to have been a man.[7][8] Another queen, Sobekneferu of 12th Dynasty, also used a serekh. She was the first female pharaoh to use the full royal titulary.[9] Another possible female pharaoh might have been queen Khentkaus I of 4th Dynasty. Nonetheless, these cases show that exceptions in the gender allocation of the serekh as a royal title were always possible. In fact, the Ancient Egyptians seemed to have no bigger problems with being ruled by a woman.[7][8]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Laurel Bestock: The Development of Royal Funerary Cult at Abydos: Two Funerary Enclosures from the Reign of Aha (= Menes: Studien zur Kultur und Sprache der ägyptischen Frühzeit und des Alten Reiches, vol.6). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2009, ISBN 3447058382, p. 6-10.
  2. ^ Jürgen von Beckerath: Handbuch der ägyptischen Königsnamen. Münchner Ägyptologische Studien. Bd. 49. Philipp von Zabern, Mainz 1999, ISBN 3-8053-2591-6, p. 7-9.
  3. ^ a b c d Rolf Gundlach: Horus in the Palace: The centre of State and Culture in pharaonic Egypt. In: Rolf Gundlach, John H. Taylor: Egyptian royal Residences: 4. Symposium zur Ägyptischen Königsideologie (4th edition, London 2004). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2009, ISBN 978-3-447-05888-9, p. 45–68.
  4. ^ a b c Toby A. H. Wilkinson: Early Dynastic Egypt: Strategy, Society and Security. Routledge, London 1999, ISBN 0-415-18633-1, p. 56-57, 201-202.
  5. ^ Jochem Kahl: Ra is my Lord. Searching for the Rise of the Sun God at the Dawn of Egyptian History. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2007, ISBN 3-447-05540-5. page 4–14.
  6. ^ Eva-Maria Engel: Ein weiterer Beleg für den Doppelfalken auf einem Serech. In: Bulletin of the Egyptian Museum, vol. 2, Cairo 2005, p. 65-69.
  7. ^ a b Silke Roth: Die Königsmütter des Alten Ägypten. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2001, ISBN 3-447-04368-7, p. 18-23.
  8. ^ a b Toby A. H. Wilkinson: Early Dynastic Egypt. Routledge, London/New York 1999, ISBN 0-415-18633-1, p. 74-75.
  9. ^ Michel Valloggia: Remarques sur les noms de la reine Sébek-Ka-Rê Néferou Sébek (= Revue d'Égyptologie, vol. 16, Paris 1964). p. 45–53.