one of the main burial fields of Memphis, the history of Saqqara
is very closely related to the history of Memphis itself.
oldest known funerary monument at Saqqara was built during
the reign of the Horus-Aha, one of the first kings of the
1st Dynasty, at around 3.000 BC. It is located at the ridge
of the northern plateau of Saqqara. This monument was a large
but relatively low rectangular structure, known as a mastaba,
built above the actual, subterranean tomb. There has been
a lot of debate whether or not this tomb actually belonged
to the Horus-Aha, or to one of the high officials who lived
during his reign. The fact that a tomb dated to the reign
of Aha is the oldest in Saqqara has also been an argument
in another debate: the identification of the founder of the
1st Dynasty, whom legend has also credited with the founding
of Memphis. Because there are apparently no tombs of importance
prior to Ahas reign, Aha is sometimes thought to have
founded Memphis and thus also to have been the founder of
Northern plateau of Saqqara continued to be used throughout
the 1st Dynasty, with the building of several large mastabas
along the ridge of the plateau. As is the case with the mastaba
from Ahas reign, these mastabas too are believed
by some to have been royal tombs. In most of these tombs,
however, including the oldest one, the names of non-royal
persons are prominently featured, often one name per tomb.
This, along with the fact that the kings of the 1st Dynasty
all had tombs at Umm el-Qaab in Middle Egypt, has led
the present author to think that the Saqqara tombs were, indeed,
the West of these large mastabas smaller tombs, belonging
perhaps to some less important officials, were built. The
oldest of these tombs are relatively small and simple, some
not much more than a hole in the ground with a small funerary
chapel. This cemetery continued to extend to the West throughout
the first dynasties, until the end of the Old Kingdom.
definitely became a royal necropolis with the beginning of
the 2nd Dynasty, around 2.800 BC. At least the first and third
king of this dynasty built their tombs there, and there are
reasons to believe that the second king did the same.
is not known why these kings chose to move the royal necropolis
from Umm el-Qa'ab to Saqqara, and it has often been suggested
that their motivation might have been political or religious.
Even though they moved to Saqqara, the first kings of the
2nd Dynasty also moved away from the older cemetery along
the Northern plateau discussed above, choosing an area slightly
more to the South, to the location where some 150 years later,
Djoser would also build his famous Step Pyramid. The structure
of their tombs too was very different from their predecessors:
in stead of pits dug into the ground with side chambers, the
tombs of the first kings of the 2nd Dynasty consisted of a
very long, descending corridor, with a maze of long, narrow
galleries. The burial chamber was located at the end of the
descending corridor. It is not known if the tombs, at this
stage, also had a superstructure. Later examples of this type
of tomb were covered by a long, narrow building, the center
part slightly higher than its sides and with a rounded roof.
These tombs were probably also connected with the large, rectangular
enclosures, built in mud-brick, found more to the West. The
function and purpose of these enclosures, which often had
a raised platform slightly off-center, are not known.