History and archaeology often rely on some type of chronological framework for presenting data. In Egypt, the first chronology of Egyptian history was put together by Manetho sometime in the third century BCE. Manetho took a political approach to his chronology dividing Egyptian history into a series of dynasties, each having a sequence of rulers who were usually united by kinship or by the location of their royal residence. In more recent times, this political chronology has divided Egyptian history into three major political periods—Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, and New Kingdom—which are separated by intermediate periods and which are preceded by the Pre-dynastic Period.
We don’t know Manetho’s Egyptian name as he wrote in Greek at a time when Egypt was ruled by the Greeks. In Greek his name was written as Μανεθων Manethōn. His work, History of Egypt, is generally associated with the reigns of Ptolomy I Soter (323 to 283 BCE) and Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285 to 283 BCE).
Manetho’s history has, unfortunately, survived only in the form of fragments which were compiled by later authors.
Egyptians had been recording their political histories using king lists long before Manetho. Our earliest histories of Egypt for the Early Dynastic Period (3000 to 2686 BCE) and the Old Kingdom (2686 to 2160 BCE) are found in the Palermo Stone. This carved monument contains inscriptions of royal rulers stretching back to mythical prehistoric rulers.
The main fragment of the Palermo Stone was discovered in 1866 and is presently in the Palermo Archaeological Museum (hence, it is called the Palermo Stone). Other fragments of the stone are found in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and in the Petrie Museum in London. It is estimated that the original slab was about 2.1 meters (a bit more than six feet) in length and about .6 meters in width. There is no information on the actual provenance of the stone.
Shown above is the stone on display in Palermo.
Shown above is the fragment of the stone which is on display in the Petrie Museum. The carvings have been enhanced to make them more visible.
The stone is carved on both sides and enumerates the annals of the kings of Lower Egypt. Ian Shaw, a lecturer in Egyptian Archaeology at the University of Liverpool, writing in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, reports:
“The text is divided into a series of horizontal registers divided by vertical lines that curve in at the top, apparently in imitation of the hieroglyph for the regnal year (renpet), thus indicting the memorable events of individuals years in each king’s reign.”The list starts with the mythical or semi-mythical rulers of the Pre-Dynastic Period. After the god Horus gives the throne to human rulers, beginning with Menes, the kings are listed through the 5th Dynasty.
The Palermo Stone lists the memorable events for each “year” of each king’s reign. Egyptologist Ian Shaw cautions:
“The situation is slightly confused by the fact that the dates cited in the Palermo Stone appear to refer to the number of biennial cattle censuses (hesbet) rather than to the number of years that the king had reigned: therefore the number of ‘years’ in the date may well have to be doubled to find out the actual number of years.”The events recorded included taxation, warfare, building, and religious ceremonies. In all of the king lists, by the way, only victories in battle are recorded and thus it is easy to conclude that the ancient Egyptians never lost a battle.