Egyptian priest of Sebennytos in the Nile Delta and general savant. Manetho was reputed to have written widely on such subjects as the history, religion, cult, medicine, and natural history of the Nile Valley. Some works credited to him, such as the “Sothis-book,” may be pseudepigraphical, yet there can be little doubt that he was the author of a three-volume history of Egypt, the Aegyptiaca, in Greek, for the edification and instruction of non-Egyptians. Although contemporary attestations are lacking, Manetho was historical, and he lived during the early period of the new Ptolemaic regime in Egypt; this makes it tempting to construe his work as a response to Ptolemy II's initiative to create a databank, a research library at Alexandria, which ideally would store the history, literature, religious lore, and science of the known world.
Although no longer extant, the Aegyptiaca may be reconstructed as the latest stage in the evolution of the Egyptian king-list tradition. As such, it became the successor to the New Kingdom king list (now represented by the Turin Canon) and the culmination of the tendencies that were part of that fluid tradition. Little under the rubric “Manetho” was actually original with him; he just translated into Greek and transmitted his contemporary Egyptian tradition. Curiously, it was not the extant monuments and stelae (which Manetho above anyone would have been able to read) but the contents of temple archives in Demotic that he used as sources. Thus his material came from legends, romances, mythological tales, and Midrashic interpretations—not, apart from the king list itself, from sober historical texts. Beginning with the deity Ptah (Hephaestos) as world-creator, Manetho divided the king list into groupings of gods, demigods, heroes, and thirty human dynasties. The last continued an earlier Egyptian concept of (royal) “houses,” which constituted one of the organizing principles of the Turin Canon. Manetho used the king list as a skeletal framework into which he inserted material (often folkloristic) at the appropriate points, for example, after the mention of a king. The entry for each king was accompanied by the length of his reign in years. In some cases, narrative material that spanned the reigns of several kings was added at the end of the dynasty to which it belonged.
The king-list tradition, as reflected in Manetho's work, showed an extension of some trends already begun in the Turin Canon:
- 1. The division into dynasties was derived partly from the association of groups of kings with a particular site (Diospolis, Herakleopolis, or Memphis) and partly from accurate memory of family units;
- 2. A sectioning of the list into groupings of nine kings owes much to the mythological concept of the Ennead as the ideal ancestor dynasty;
- 3. Since the throne of Egypt, hypothetically, could be occupied by only one king at a time, dynasties that had been collateral had to be represented as consecutive.
While the original Aegyptiaca did not long survive—it may still have been available in the early years of the Christian era, although that remains moot—an abridgement, the Epitome, was made early in the second century BCE, by culling kings' names, lengths of reigns, and salient historical information. The latter comprised misinterpreted annalistic material, folklore, and biblical and classical cross-references, entered after the fashion of glosses. During the Judeo-pagan polemic that had originated in Alexandria, the Epitome was much used as a reference work to bolster the cases of either side; such use continued into the period that included both the Jewish revolt against the Romans and the rise of the fathers of the Christian church. The Jewish historian Josephus (of the late first century CE), who knew both the Epitome and the original Aegyptiaca, used extensive quotations from the sections that treated the Hyksos and the eighteenth dynasty. During that acrimonious polemic in Alexandria and because of a prior chronological agenda, the lengths of pharaonic reigns and other numerical summations suffered considerable distortion. That the Epitome survived at all was due to its use by the Christian philosopher Julius Africanus (of the early third century CE), who employed it for the Egyptian section of his synchronistic chronicle of world history to 221 CE; this was then quoted by Eusebius (260–340 CE), who encorporated his own version (which also survives in a distorted Armenian version).
Manetho's other works (on religion, on culture, and his citicisms of Herodotus) have not survived. There is no reason to think that Manetho's name was used on any pseudepigraphical literature that was masqueraded as the genuine Aegyptiaca.
See also KING LISTS.
- Helck, W. Untersuchungen zu Manetho und den Aegyptischen Koenigslisten. Berlin, 1956.
- Krauss, R. Das Ende der Amamazeit. Hildesheim, 1978.
- O'Mara, P. “Manetho and the Turin Canon: A Comparison of Regnal Years.” Göttinger Miszellen 158 (1997), 49–62.
- Redford, Donald B. Pharaonic King-lists, Annals and Daybooks. Mississauga, 1986.
- Redford, Donald B. “The Name Manetho.” In Egyptological Studies in Honor of Richard A. Parker, edited by L. Lesko. Hanover and London, 1986.
- Thissen, H.-J. “Manetho.” In Lexikon der Agyptologie, 3: 1180–1181. Wiesbaden, 1980.
- Waddell, W. G. Manetho. Loeb Classical Library, 1940.
Donald B. Redford