Manetho, also known as Manethon of Sebennytos, was an Egyptian historian and priest from Sebennytos (ancient Egyptian: Tjebnutjer) who lived during the Ptolemaic era, circa 3rd century BC. Manetho recorded Aegyptiaca (History of Egypt). His work is of great interest to Egyptologists, and is often used as evidence for the chronology of the reigns of pharaohs.
The original Egyptian version of Manetho's name is now lost to us, but it is speculated to have meant "Gift of Thoth," "Beloved of Thoth," "Truth of Thoth," "Beloved of Neith," or "Lover of Neith." Less accepted proposals are Myinyu-heter ("Horseherd" or "Groom") and Ma'ani-Djehuti ("I have seen Thoth"). In Greek, the earliest fragments (the Carthage inscription and Flavius Josephus) write his name as Μανεθων Manethōn, so the rendering of his name here is given as Manetho (the same way that Platōn is rendered "Plato"). Other renderings in Greek include Manethōs, Manethō, Manethos, Manēthōs, Manēthōn, and even Manethōth. In Latin we find Manethon, Manethos, Manethonus, and Manetos.
Life and work
Although no sources for the dates of his life and death remain, his work is usually associated with the reigns of Ptolemy I Soter (323-283 BCE) and Ptolemy II Philadelphos (285-246 BCE). If the mention of Manetho in the Hibeh Papyri, dated to 240/1 BCE, is in fact Manetho the author of Aegyptiaca, then he may well have been working during the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-222 BCE) as well. Although he was Egyptian and his topics dealt with Egyptian matters, he wrote solely in Greek. Other works he wrote include Against Herodotus, The Sacred Book, On Antiquity and Religion, On Festivals, On the Preparation of Kyphi, the Digest of Physics. The astrological treatise Book of Sothis has also been attributed to Manetho. In Aegyptiaca, he coined the term "dynasty" (Greek: dynasteia, abstractly meaning "governmental power") to represent groups of rulers with a common origin.
He was probably a priest of the sun god Ra at Heliopolis (according to Syncellus, he was the chief priest), and was also considered an authority on the cult of Sarapis (a derivation of Osiris-Apis). Sarapis itself was a Greco-Macedonian annexation of the Egyptian cult, probably started after Alexander the Great's establishment of Alexandria in Egypt. A statue of the god was imported between 286-278 BCE by Ptolemy (either Soter or Philadelphos), where Timotheus of Athens (an authority on Demeter at Eleusis) and Manetho oversaw the project.
Aegyptiaca (also called Aigyptiaka), the "History of Egypt," was Manetho's largest work, and certainly the most important. It was organised chronologically and divided into three volumes, and his division of rulers into dynasties was a new innovation. However, he did not use the term the way we do, by bloodlines, but rather, introduced new dynasties whenever he detected some sort of discontinuity whether geographical (Dynasty IV from Memphis, V from Elephantine), or genealogical (especially in Dynasty I, he refers to each successive Pharaoh as the "son" of the previous to define what he means by "continuity"). Within the superstructure of a genealogical table of rulers, he fills in the gaps with substantial narratives of the Pharaonic rulers.
Some have suggested that Aegyptiaca was written as a competing account to Herodotus' Histories of Herodotus, to provide a national history for Egypt that did not exist before. From this perspective, Against Herodotus may have been an abridged version or just a part of Aegyptiaca that circulated independently. Unfortunately, neither survive in their original form today.
Transmission and reception
The problems with a close study of Manetho, despite the reliance of Egyptologists on him for their reconstructions of the Egyptian dynasties, is that not only was Aegyptiaca not preserved as a whole, but that it became involved in a bitter battle between advocates of Egyptian, Jewish, and Greek histories in the form of supporting polemics. During this period, disputes raged over the "oldest" civilizations, and so Manetho's account was probably excerpted during this time for use in this argument with significant alterations. Material similar to Manetho's has been found in Lysimakhos of Alexandria, and it has been suggested that this was inserted into Manetho. We do not know when this occurred, but scholars place a terminus ante quem at the first century CE, when Josephus began writing.
The earliest surviving attestation to Manetho is that of Josephus' Contra Apionem, "Against Apion." Even here, it is clear that Josephus did not have the originals, and constructing a polemics Manetho without them. Avaris and Osarsephos are both mentioned twice (1.78, 86-87; 238, 250). Apion 1.95-97 is merely a list of kings with no narratives until 1.98, while running across two of Manetho's dynasties without mention (Dynasties XVIII and XIX). Many scholars have attempted to recreate which portions were written by the anti-Jewish, pro-Jewish, anti-Egyptian, pro-Egyptian, anti-Greek and pro-Greek writers, but the conclusions have been disputed.
Contemporaneously or perhaps after Josephus wrote, an Epitome, or summary, of Manetho's work. This would have involved preserving the outlines of his dynasties and a few details deemed significant. For the first ruler of the first Dynasty, Menes, we learn that "He was snatched and killed by a hippopotamus." The extent to which the epitome preserved Manetho's original writing is unclear, so caution must be exercised. Nevertheless, the epitome was preserved by Sextus Julius Africanus and Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea (Chronicon). Because Africanus predates Eusebius, his version is usually considered more reliable, but there is no assurance that this is the case. Eusebius in turn was preserved by Jerome in his Latin translation, an Armenian translation, and by Syncellus. Syncellus recognised the similarities between Eusebius and Africanus, so he placed them side by side in his work, Ecloga Chronographica.
These last four copies are what remains of the epitome of Manetho. Other significant fragments include Malalas' Chronographia and Excerpta Latina Barbari, "Excerpts in Bad Latin." The route of transmission for the bulk of Manetho's work is given in the table below (adapted from Verbrugghe and Wickersham 2000:118).
Sources and methods
Manetho's methods involved the use of king-lists to provide a structure for his history. There were probably precedents to his writing available in Egypt (plenty of which has survived to this day), and his Hellenistic and Egyptian background would have been influential in his writing. Josephus records him admitting to using "nameless oral tradition" (1.105) and "myths and legends" (1.229) into his account, and there is no reason to doubt this, as admissions of this type were common among historians (including Josephus). His familiarity with Egyptian legends is undisputable, but how he came to know Greek is more open to debate. He must have been familiar with Herodotus, and in some cases, he even attempted to synchronise Egyptian history with Greek (for example, equating Memnon with Amenhotep III, and Armesis with Danaos). This suggests he was also familiar with the Greek Epic Cycle (where the Ethiopian Memnon is slain by Achilles during the Trojan War) and the history of Argos (in Aeschylus' Suppliants). However, it has also been suggested that these were later interpolations particularly when the epitome was being written, so these guesses are at best tentative. At the very least, he wrote in fluent Koinê.
The king-list that Manetho had access to is unknown to us, but of the surviving king-lists, the one most similar to his is the Turin Royal Canon (or Turin Papyrus). The oldest source with which we can compare to Manetho are the Old Kingdom Annals (ca. 2500-2200 BCE). From the New Kingdom are the list at Karnak (erected by Thutmose), two at Abydos (by Seti I and Ramesses II—the latter a duplicate but updated version of the former), and the Saqqara list by the priest Tenry.
The provenance of the Old Kingdom Annals is unknown, surviving as the Palermo Stone. The differences between the Annals and Manetho are vast. The Annals only reach to the fifth dynasty, but its pre-dynastic rulers are listed as the kings of Lower Egypt and kings of Upper Egypt. By contrast, Manetho lists several Greek and Egyptian gods beginning with Hephaistos and Helios. Secondly, the Annals give annual reports of the activities of the kings, while there is little probability that Manetho would have been able to go into such detail.
The New Kingdom lists are each selective in their listings: that of Seti I, for instance, lists 76 kings from Dynasties I to XIX omitting the Hyksos rulers and those associated with the heretic Akhenaten. The Saqqara list, contemporaneous with Ramesses II, has 58 names, with similar omissions. If Manetho used these lists at all, he would have been unable to get all of his information from them alone, due to the selective nature of their records. Verbrugghe and Wickersham argue:
- Furthermore, the purpose of these lists was to cover the walls of a sacred room in which the reigning Pharaoh (or other worshiper, as in the case of Tenry and his Saqqara list) made offerings or prayers to his or her predecessors, imagined as ancestors. Each royal house had a particular traditional list of these "ancestors," different from that of the other houses. The purpose of these lists is not historical but religious. It is not that they are trying and failing to give a complete list. They are not trying at all. Seti and Ramesses did not wish to make offerings to Akhenaten, Tutankhamen, or Hatshepsut, and that is why they are omitted, not because their existence was unknown or deliberately ignored in a broader historical sense. For this reason, the Pharaonic king-lists were generally wrong for Manetho's purposes, and we should commend Manetho for not basing his account on them (2000:105).
These large stelae stand in contrast to the Turin Royal Canon (like Saqqara, contemporaneous with Ramesses II), written in hieratic script. Like Manetho, it begins with the gods, and like Manetho, appears to be an epitome very similar in spirit and style to Manetho. Interestingly, the opposite side of the papyrus includes government records. Verbrugghe and Wickersham suggest that a comprehensive list like this would be necessary for a government office "to date contracts, leases, debts, titles, and other instruments (2000:106)" and so could not have been selective the way the king-lists in temples were. Despite numerous differences between the Turin Canon and Manetho, the format must have been available to him. As a priest (or chief priest), he would have had access to practically all written materials in the temple.
While the precise origins for Manetho's Kinglist are unknown, it was certainly a Northern Lower Egyptian one. This can be deduced most noticeably from his selection of the kings for the Third Intermediate Period. Manetho consistently includes the Tanite 21st Dynasty and 22nd Dynasty line in his Epitome such as Psusennes I, Amenemope and even such short-lived rulers here like Amenemnisu(5 years) and Osochor(6 years). In contrast, he ignores the existence of Theban kings such as Osorkon III, Takelot III, Harsiese A and Pinedjem I and rulers from Middle Egypt like Peftjaubast of Herakleopolis. This implies that Manetho derived the primary sources for his Epitome from a local city's temple library in the Delta Region which was under the control of the Tanite based Dynasty 21 and Dynasty 22 kings. The Middle and Upper Egyptian Pharaohs had no impact upon this specific region of the Delta; hence their exclusion from Manetho's kinglist.
Transcriptions of Pharaonic names
By the Middle Kingdom, Egyptian kings bore five different names, the "Horus" name; the "Two Ladies" name; the "Gold Horus" name; the praenomen or "throne name"; and a nomen, the personal name given at birth (also called a "Son of Ra" name as it was preceded by Sa Re'). Some Pharaohs also had multiple examples within these names, such as Ramesses II who used six Horus names at various times. Because Manetho's transcriptions agree with many king-lists, it is generally accepted that he was reliant on one or more such lists, and it is not clear to what extent he was aware of the different pharaonic names of rulers long past (and he had alternate names for some). Not all the different names for each ruler have been uncovered.
As such, Manetho did not pick consistently from the five different types of names, but in some cases, a straightforward transcription is possible. Egyptian Men or Meni (Son of Ra and king-list names) becomes Menes (officially, this is Pharaoh I.1 Aha—"I" represents Dynasty I, and "1" means the first king of that dynasty), while Menkauhor/Menkahor (Throne and king-list names, the Horus names is Menkhau and the Son of Ra name is "Kaiu Horkaiu[...]") is transcribed as Menkheres (V.7 Menkauhor). Others involve a slight shortening, such as A'akheperen-Re' (Throne and king-list names) becoming Khebron (XVIII.4 Thutmose II). A few more have consonants switched for unknown reasons, as in Tausret becoming Thouoris (XIX.6 Twosre/Tausret). One puzzle is in the conflicting names of some early dynastic rulers—though they did not have all five titles, they still had multiple names. I.3/4 Djer, whose Son of Ra name is Itti is seen as the basis for Manetho's I.2 Athothis. I.4 Oenephes then is a puzzle unless it is compared with Djer's Gold Horus name, Ennebu. It may be that Manetho duplicated the name or he had a source for a name unknown to us. Finally, there are some names where the connection is a complete mystery to us. V.6 Rhathoures/Niuserre's full name was Set-ib-tawi Set-ib-Nebty Netjeri-bik-nebu Ni-user-Re' Ini Ni-user-Re', but Manetho writes it as Rhathoures. It may be that some pharaohs were known by names other than even just the five official ones.
Thus, how Manetho transcribed these names varies, and as such we cannot reconstruct the original Egyptian forms of the names. However, because of the simplicity with which Manetho transcribed long names (see above), they were preferred until original king-lists began to be uncovered, translated, and corroborated in ancient Egyptian sites. Manetho's division of dynasties, however, is still used as a basis for all Egyptian discussions.
Volume 1 begins from the earliest times, listing gods and demigods as rulers of Egypt. We do not know what the stories inside contained, but some of the associated legends of Isis, Osiris, Seth, or Horus might have been found in here. Manetho does not transliterate either, but gives the Greek equivalents in a convention that predates him: Ptah = Hephaistos; Isis = Demeter; Thoth = Hermes; Horus = Apollo; Seth = Typhon; etc. This is one of the clues as to how syncretism developed between seemingly disparate religions. He then proceeds to Dynastic Egypt, from Dynasty I to XI. This would have included the Old Kingdom (pyramid-builders), the First Intermediate Period, and the early Middle Kingdom.
Volume 2 covers Dynasties XII - XIX, which includes the end of the Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period (XV-XVII—the Hyksos invasion), and then their expulsion and the establishment of the New Kingdom (XVIII onward). The Second Intermediate Period was of particular interest to Josephus, where he equated the Hyksos or "shepherd-kings" as the ancient Israelites who eventually made their way out of Egypt (Apion 1.82-92). He even includes a brief etymological discussion of the term "Hyksos".
Volume 3 continues with Dynasty XX and brings it to a conclusion in Dynasty XXX (or XXXI, see below). The Sais Renaissance comes in Dynasty XXVI, while XXVII involves the Achaemenid interruption to Egyptian rule. Three more local dynasties are mentioned, though they must have overlapped with Persian rule. XXXI consisted of three Persian rulers, and some have suggested that this was added by a continuator. Both Moses of Chorene and Jerome end at Nectanebo ("last king of the Egyptians" and "destruction of the Egyptian monarchy" respectively), but XXXI fits within Manetho's schemata of demonstrating power through the dynasteia well. The Thirty-second dynasty would have been the Ptolemies.
Similarities with Berossos
Most of the ancient witnesses group him together with Berossos, and treat the pair as similar in spirit, and it is no coincidence that those who preserved the bulk of their writing are largely the same (Josephus, Africanus, Eusebius, and Syncellus). Certainly, both wrote about the same time, and both adopted the historiographical approach of the Greek historians, Herodotus and Hesiod, who preceded them. While the subjects of their history are different, the form is similar, using chronological royal genealogies as the structure from which the narratives came. Both extend their histories far into the mythic past, to give the Gods rule over the earliest ancestral histories.
Syncellus goes so far as to insinuate that the two copied each other:
- If one carefully examines the underlying chronological lists of events, one will have full confidence that the design of both is false, as both Berossos and Manetho, as I have said before, want to glorify each his own nation, Berossos the Chaldean, Manetho the Egyptian. One can only stand in amazement that they were not ashamed to place the beginning of their incredible story in each in one and the same year.
- Ecloga Chronographica, 30
While this does seem an incredible coincidence, the reliability of the report is unclear. The reasoning for assuming they started their histories in the same year involved some considerable contortions. Berossos dated the period before the Flood to 120 saroi (3,600 year periods), giving an estimate of 432,000 years before the flood. This was unacceptable to later Christian commentators, so it was assumed he meant solar days. 432,000 divided by 365 days gives a rough figure of 1,183½ years before the flood. For Manetho, even more numeric contortions ensued. With no flood mentioned, they assumed that Manetho's first era describing the gods represented the ante-diluvian age. Secondly, they took the spurious Book of Sothis for a chronological count. Six dynasties of gods totalled 11,985 years, while the nine dynasties with demigods came to 858 years. Again, this was too long for the Biblical account, so two different units of conversion were used. The 11,985 years were considered to be months of 29½ days each (a conversion used in antiquity, for example Diodorus Siculus), which comes out to 969 years. The latter period, however, was divided into "seasons", or quarters of a year, and reduces to 214½ years (another conversion attested to by Diodorus). The sum of these comes out to 1,183½ years, equal to that of Berossos. Syncellus rejected both Manetho's and Berossos' incredible time-spans, as well as the efforts of other commentators to harmonise their numbers with scripture. Ironically as we see, he also blamed them for the synchronicity concocted by later writers.
Impact of Aegyptiaca
It is speculated that Manetho wrote at the request of Ptolemy I or II to give an account of the history of Egypt to the Greeks from a native's perspective. However, there is no evidence to support this hypothesis. If such were the case, Aegyptiaca was a failure, since Herodotus' Histories continued to provide the standard account in the Hellenistic world. It may also have been that some nationalistic sentiments in Manetho provided the impetus for his writing, but that again is conjecture. It is clear, however, that when it was written, it would have proven to be the authoritative account of the history of Egypt, superior to Herodotus in every way. The completeness and systematic nature in which he marshalled his sources was unprecedented. Furthermore, its influence could be seen in the way the Hellenistic Jews and their opponents considered it of prime importance in the struggle over their histories.
Syncellus similarly recognised its importance when recording Eusebius and Africanus, and even provided a separate witness from the Book of Sothis. Unfortunately, this material is likely to have been a forgery or hoax of unknown date. Every king in Sothis after Menes is irreconcilable with the versions of Africanus and Eusebius. Manetho should not be judged on the factuality of his account, but on the approach he took to recording history, and in this, he was as successful as Herodotus and Hesiod.
Finally, in modern times, the impact is still visible in the way Egyptologists divide the dynasties of the pharaohs. The French explorer and Egyptologist, Jean-François Champollion reportedly carried a copy of Manetho's lists in one hand as he attempted to decipher the Hieroglyphics he encountered (though it probably gave him more frustration than joy, considering the way Manetho transcribed the names). Most modern scholarship that mentions the names of the pharaohs will render both the modern transcription and Manetho's version, and Manetho's names are even preferred to more authentic ones in some cases. Today, his division of dynasties is universally used, and this has permeated into the study of nearly all royal genealogies through the understanding of succession in terms of dynasties or houses.
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