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According to ancient Egyptian tradition, Menes (sometimes written Meni or Min) was the first king of the first dynasty of Egypt. He lived around 3000 B.C. and came from Thinis, a town in southern, or Upper, Egypt. (The Nile flows north as it runs down to the sea, so ancient Egyptian maps had south on top.) Before Menes, Upper and Lower Egypt were seperate kingdoms, and Lower Egypt was probably the more culturally advanced of the two. However, Menes, as ruler of Upper Egypt, was able to conquer Lower Egypt, creating a unified kingdom with borders similar to those of modern-day Egypt. He then assumed the title "King of Upper and Lower Egypt," which continued to be used by pharaohs for thousands of years.

This story is somewhat questionable, however, as documents from this time period do not mention Menes by that name. There is historical evidence for kings with other names around this time, including Narmer and Aha, and some historians think that Menes, Narmer, and Aha all refer to the same person. It is difficult to connect a name in ancient Egyptian records with a specific king because the records use multiple names to describe the kings relations to different gods and goddesses. In addition, many records give birth names of kings, but birth names were never used in official documents. The Narmer Palette is interpreted as stating that Narmer united Egypt, which makes it likely that he was Menes. Aha may have been his son.

One of the oldest sources of information that uses the name Menes is the questionably accurate Herodotus, who, in book two of his Histories, wrote that Egyptian priests told him that "it was Min, the first king of Egypt, who raised the dam which created Memphis… On the land which had been drained by the diversion of the river, King Min built the city which is now called Memphis—it lies in the narrow part of Egypt—and afterwards on the north and west sides of the town excavated a lake, communicating with the river, which itself protects it on the east." This city of Memphis, on of the largest in Egypt in its time, was near the former border of the kingdoms of Egypt, and its ruins are near present-day Cairo.

According to various sources, Menes was killed by either wild dogs, crocodiles, or a hippopotamus. The tombs of Aha and possibly Narmer have been found at Abydos, the burial place for many of Egypt's early pharaohs.

Works Cited

  • Herodotus. The Histories. Published circa 415 B.C., translated by Audrey De Sélincourt 1954.
  • Hart, Michael H.. The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History. Published 1978, revised and updated 1992.
  • <http://ancient-egypt.org/>, Early Dynastic History pages especially.
  • <http://touregypt.net/01dyn01.htm> and other linked pages.
  • <http://thepharaohs.net/pharaohs/Menes.cfm>

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