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Egyptian historian and priest from Ancient Egypt
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Egyptian historian and priest from Ancient Egypt
A.K.A. Manethon
Is Priest Cleric Historian
From Egypt
Type Religion Social science
Gender male
The details (from wikipedia)


Manetho (/ˈmænɪθ/; Koinē Greek: Μανέθων Manethōn, gen.: Μανέθωνος) is believed to have been an Egyptian priest from Sebennytos (Coptic: ϫⲉⲙⲛⲟⲩϯ, džemnouti) who lived in the Ptolemaic Kingdom in the early third century BC, during the Hellenistic period. He authored the Aegyptiaca (History of Egypt) in Greek, a major chronological source for the reigns of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. It is unclear if he wrote his work during the reign of Ptolemy I Soter or Ptolemy II Philadelphos, but no later than that of Ptolemy III Euergetes.

Only two full English translations of Manetho's Aegyptiaca have been published, by William Gillian Waddell in 1940 and by Gerald P. Verbrugghe and John Moore Wickersham in 2001.


The original Egyptian version of Manetho's name is lost, but some speculate it means "Truth of Thoth", "Gift of Thoth", "Beloved 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 the Greek language, the earliest fragments (the inscription of uncertain date on the base of a marble bust from the temple of Serapis at Carthage and the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus of the 1st century AD) writes his name as Μανέθων Manethōn, so the Latinised rendering of his name here is given as Manetho. Other Greek renderings include Manethōs, Manethō, Manethos, Manēthōs, Manēthōn, and Manethōth. In Latin it is written as Manethon, Manethos, Manethonus, and Manetos.

Life and work

Although no sources for the dates of his life and death remain, Manetho is associated with the reigns of Ptolemy I Soter (323–283 BC) by Plutarch (c. 46–120 AD) and according to George Syncellus Manetho links himself directly with Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285–246 BC).

If the mention of someone named Manetho in the Hibeh Papyri, dated to 241/240 BC, is in fact the celebrated author of the Aegyptiaca, then Manetho may well have been working during the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes (246–222 BC) as well but at a very advanced age. Though the historicity of Manetho of Sebennytus was taken for granted by Josephus and later authors the question as to whether he actually existed remains problematic. The Manetho of the Hibeh Papyri has no title and this letter deals with affairs in Upper Egypt not Lower Egypt where our Manetho is thought to have functioned as a chief priest. The name Manetho is rare but there is no reason a priori to assume that the Manetho of the Hibeh Papyri is the historian from Sebennytus who is thought to have authored the Aegyptiaca for Ptolemy Philadelphus.

Manetho is described as a native Egyptian and Egyptian would have been his mother tongue. Though the topics he supposedly wrote about dealt with Egyptian matters, he is said to have written exclusively in the Greek language for a Greek-speaking audience. Other literary works attributed to him include Against Herodotus, The Sacred Book, On Antiquity and Religion, On Festivals, On the Preparation of Kyphi, and the Digest of Physics. The treatise Book of Sothis has also been attributed to Manetho. It is important to note that not one of these works are actually attested during the Ptolemaic period when Manetho of Sebennytus is said to have lived. In fact, they are not mentioned in any source prior to the 1st century AD. This would be a gap of three centuries between the time the Aegyptiaca was supposedly composed and its first attestation. The gap is even larger for the other works attributed to Manetho such as The Sacred Book which is mentioned for the very first time by Eusebius in the 4th century AD.

If Manetho of Sebennytus was an historical figure he was probably a priest of the sun-god Ra at Heliopolis (according to George Syncellus, he was the chief priest). He was considered by Plutarch to be an authority on the cult of Serapis (a derivation of Osiris and Apis). Serapis itself was a Greco-Macedonian version of the Egyptian cult, probably started after Alexander the Great's establishment of Alexandria in Egypt. A statue of the god was imported in 286 BC by Ptolemy I Soter (or in 278 BC by Ptolemy II Philadelphus) as Tacitus and Plutarch attest. There was also a tradition in antiquity that Timotheus of Athens (an authority on Demeter at Eleusis) directed the project together with Manetho, but the source of this information is not clear and it may originate from one of the literary works attributed to Manetho, in which case it has no independent value and does not corroborate the historicity of Manetho the priest-historian of the early 3rd century BC.


The Aegyptiaca (Αἰγυπτιακά, Aigyptiaka), the "History of Egypt", may have been 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 an innovation. However, he did not use the term in the modern sense, by bloodlines, but rather, introduced new dynasties whenever he detected some sort of discontinuity whether geographical (Dynasty IV from Memphis, Dynasty 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, he fills in the gaps with substantial narratives of the Pharaonic kings.

Some have suggested that Aegyptiaca was written as a competing account to Herodotus' Histories, 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 survives in its original form today.

Transmission and reception

The problem 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 it also became involved in a rivalry between advocates of Egyptian, Jewish, and Greek histories in the form of supporting polemics. During this period, disputes raged concerning 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, a brother of Philo, and it has been suggested that this was inserted into Manetho. We do not know when this might have occurred, but scholars specify a terminus ante quem at the 1st century AD, when Josephus began writing.

The earliest surviving attestation to Manetho is that of Josephus' Contra Apionem ("Against Apion") nearly four centuries after Aegyptiaca was composed. Even here, it is clear that Josephus did not have the originals, and constructed a polemic against Manetho without them. Avaris and Osarseph 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).

Contemporaneously or perhaps after Josephus wrote, an Epitome of Manetho's work must have been circulated. 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 of Caesarea. 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 George Syncellus. Syncellus recognized 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's Chronographia and Excerpta Latina Barbari ("Excerpts in Bad Latin").

Sources and methods

Manetho's methods involved the use of king-lists to provide a structure for his history. There were precedents to his writing available in Egypt (plenty of which have 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) for his account, and there is no reason to doubt this, as admissions of this type were common among historians of that era. His familiarity with Egyptian legends is indisputable, 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 synchronize Egyptian history with Greek (for example, equating King Memnon with Amenophis, and Armesis with Danaos). This suggests he was also familiar with the Greek Epic Cycle (for which the Ethiopian Memnon is slain by Achilles during the Trojan War) and the history of Argos (in Aeschylus's 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 Greek.

King lists

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 (c. 2500-2200 BC). From the New Kingdom are the list at Karnak (constructed by order of 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 great. 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 seventy-six 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 fifty-eight 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:

[...] 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 seems 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 king-list 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 Dynasty 21 and Dynasty 22 lineage in his Epitome such as Psusennes I, Amenemope and even such short-lived kings 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 kings 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 region of the River Nile Delta which was controlled by the Tanite-based Dynasty 21 and Dynasty 22 kings. The Middle and Upper Egyptian Pharaohs did not have any effect upon this specific region of the Delta; hence their exclusion from Manetho's king-list.

Transcriptions of Pharaonic names

By the Middle Kingdom, Egyptian kings each had 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 king have been uncovered.

Manetho did not choose 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 Narmer—"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 abbreviation, 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 for example Tausret becoming Thouoris (XIX.6 Twosre/Tausret). One puzzle is in the conflicting names of some early dynastic kings— 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 considered 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 association is a complete mystery to us. V.6 Rhathoures/Niuserre's complete 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 in Egyptian sites, translated, and corroborated. 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 kings of Egypt. Stories of Isis, Osiris, Set, or Horus might have been found here. Manetho does not transliterate either, but gives the Greek equivalents by a convention that predates him: (Egyptian) Ptah = (Greek) 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, 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 concludes with Dynasty XXX (or XXXI, see below). The Saite Renaissance occurs in Dynasty XXVI, while Dynasty XXVII involves the Achaemenid interruption of Egyptian rule. Three more local dynasties are mentioned, though they must have overlapped with Persian rule. Dynasty 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 II ("last king of the Egyptians" and "destruction of the Egyptian monarchy" respectively), but Dynasty 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 intent, and it is not a 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 for the narratives. 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.

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 by 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 the Bible. Ironically as we see, he also blamed them for the synchronicity concocted by later writers.

Effect 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 for 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 collected his sources was unprecedented. 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 method he used to record history, and in this, he was as successful as Herodotus and Hesiod.

Finally, in modern times, the effect is still visible in the way Egyptologists divide the dynasties of the pharaohs. The French explorer and Egyptologist, Jean-François Champollion, reportedly held a copy of Manetho's lists in one hand as he attempted to decipher the hieroglyphs 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 used universally, and this has permeated the study of nearly all royal genealogies by the conceptualization of succession in terms of dynasties or houses.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 15 Mar 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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