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In Egyptian hieroglyphs, a serekh is a rectangular enclosure representing the niched or gated façade of a palace surmounted by (usually) the Horus falcon, indicating that the text enclosed is a royal name. The serekh was the earliest convention used to set apart the royal name in ancient Egyptian iconography, predating the later and better known cartouche by four dynasties and five to seven hundred years.
One of the most important elements of royal display and identity in ancient Egypt was the king’s name, important as pharaohs were concerned that future generations remain aware of their reigns. These were first seen from rulers as early as those of Dynasty 0 and continued to be used by kings throughout the history of ancient Egypt. The serekh represented the king’s palace shown in a combination of plan and elevation. The rectangular enclosure represented the plan while the patterned area represented the elevation of the façade. A serekh incised or painted in ink on a vessel denoted that the contents were the produce and/or property of the royal court. The serekh containing the king’s name was used on a variety of objects and made a fundamental statement of royal ideology
The king’s name was written in hieroglyphs and the Horus falcon, in reference to the god Horus, usually surmounted it. As a result, the king’s name in the serekh came to be known as his ‘Horus name.’ The writing of the king’s name within the serekh symbolized the king in his palace as the center of royal administration and power. The serekh as a whole was therefore a symbol of kingship. The presence of the Horus falcon showed that the living king was a manifestation of the god. Additionally, the Horus names of several First Dynasty kings expressed the aggressive authority of Horus, perhaps reflecting the coercive power of kingship at this early stage of Egyptian statehood. Examples of such names are ‘Horus the fighter’ (Hor-Aha), ‘Horus the strong’ (Djer), and ‘arm-raising Horus’ (Qa'a). All of these names reveal the warlike iconography of the earliest royal monuments from the period of state formation. They emphasize an authority based upon military strength and the power of life and death.
The earliest serekhs were empty because the symbol alone relayed the necessary message of royal power. Over time, the king began to write an epithet within the serekh.These serekhs were dominated by the symbol of Horus. During the Second Dynasty only, changes in the formulation of the Horus name to a Seth-name and then a Horus-and-Seth name were seen. These changes occurred merely during the Second Dynasty and are viewed as an exception to the typical use of the Horus name as is evidenced by the continued use of Horus in the serekhs of the Egyptian kings before and after Peribsen and Khasekhemwy. Many propositions have been made as to why this change occurred, though the exact reason is still disputed.