Statue of Khasekhemwy

This statue of Khasekhemwy last king of the 2nd Dynasty of Egypt, enthroned with conquered foes incised around the base, the oldest surviving stone royal sculpture from ancient Egypt.

The king is wearing the White Hedjet Crown of Upper Egypt and is wrapped in a long robe with long sleeves associated with the heb-sed jubilee festival. His right fist is drilled to attach a separate object, perhaps a mace handle or scepter.

Seated statue of King Khasekhemwy
Seated statue of King Khasekhemwy

Khasekhemwy sometimes spelled Khasekhem is unique in Egyptian history as having both the symbols of Horus and Seth on his serekh.

Some Egyptologists believe that this was an attempt to unify the two factions; but after his death, Set was dropped from the serekh permanently. He was the earliest Egyptian king known to have built statues of himself.

Seated Statue of King Khasekhemwy

Little is known of Khasekhemwy other than that he led several significant military campaigns and built several monuments, still extant, mentioning war against the Northerners.

He apparently undertook considerable building projects upon the reunification of Egypt. He built in stone at el-Kab, Hierakonpolis, and Abydos. He apparently built a unique, as well as huge, tomb at Abydos, the last such royal tomb built in that necropolis (Tomb V).

The trapezoidal tomb measures some 70 meters (230 ft) in length and is 17 meters (56 ft) wide at its northern end, and 10 meters (33 ft) wide at its southern end.

Statue of King Khasekhemwy
Statue of King Khasekhemwy. Grey slate, from Edfu. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 32161

The area was divided into 58 rooms. Prior to some recent discoveries from the 1st dynasty, its central burial chamber was considered the oldest masonry structure in the world, being built of quarried limestone.

Part of the right side of the king’s head has been lost, but the remarkable beauty and quality of the carving is still evident.

The Funerary Temple of Khasekhemwy, Abydos
The Funerary Temple of Khasekhemwy, Abydos

His tomb was also constructed at the royal cemetery in Abydos at the site now called Umm El Qa’ab (“mother of pots”). He had an earlier, smaller enclosure built at Hierakonpolis, another important and sacred site that was dedicated to the god Horus.

At Abydos, other enclosures dedicated to kings of the 1st Dynasty (3100 BC) and to Peribsen of the 2nd Dynasty (ca. 2890-2686 BC) had also been built in the area surrounding Khasekhemwy’s enclosure. There, the excavators discovered the king’s scepter of gold and sard, as well as several beautifully made small stone pots with gold leaf lid coverings, apparently missed by earlier tomb robbers.

Carnelian vessel discovered in the tomb of Khasekhemwy no. 4 at Abydos west of chamber 24. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 34941

In fact, the British archaeologist Flinders Petrie Petrie detailed a number of items removed during the excavations of Émile Amélineau.

Other items included flint tools, as well as a variety of copper tools and vessels, stone vessels and pottery vessels filled with grain and fruit. There were also small, glazed objects, carnelian beads, model tools, basketwork and a large quantity of seals.

Dolomite vessel discovered in the tomb of Khasekhemwy no. 4 at Abydos west of chamber 24. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 34942

Early Dynastic Period, 2nd Dynasty, around 2700 BC. Limestone, height: 62 cm, from Hierakonpolis, Upper Egypt. Now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. 47.209