Wednesday, May 23, 2007


The age of the Pyramid. The pyramids of Giza and Dahshur are built during this period.
4th Dynasty

Snefru, 1st King of Egypt's 4th Dynasty:

Snefru is credited as being the first pharaoh of Egypt's 4th Dynasty. Snefru (Sneferu, Snofru) was the king's birth name. His Horus name was Nebmaat, but his royal titulary was the first to have his other name, Snefru, enclosed within a cartouche (his name in an upright oval - see Cartouche at right). It was by this "cartouche name" that he and subsequent kings were best known. He enjoyed a very good reputation by later generations of ancient Egyptians. Considered a benign ruler (highly unusual), the Egyptian term, snefer can be translated as "to make beautiful". While the Turin Cannon records the length of his reign as 24 years, graffiti in his northern (Red, and later) pyramid at Dahshur may suggest a longer reign.

Snefru was most likely the son of Huni, his predecessor, though there seems some controversy to this, considering the break in Dynasties. However, his mother may have been Meresankh I, who was probably a lessor wife or concubine and therefore not of royal blood. Hence, this may explain what prompted the ancient historian, Manetho (here, Snefru is known by his Greek name, Soris), to begin a new dynasty with Snefru. However, it should be noted that both the royal canon of Turin and the later Saqqara List both end the previous dynasty with Huni. Snefru was almost certainly married to Hetepheres I, who would have been at least his half sister, probably by a more senior queen, in order to legitimize his rule. She was the mother of his son, Khufu, who became Egypt's best known pyramid builder, responsible for the Great Pyramid at Giza. We believe his must have had at least three other wives who bore him a number of other sons, including his eldest son, Nefermaet, who became a vizier. He probably did not outlive his father, so was denied the Egyptian throne. Other sons include Kanefer, another vizier who apparently continued in this capacity under Khufu (Cheops). We also believe he fathered several other sons, and at least several daughters.

In reality, Snefru may probably be credited with developing the pyramid into its true form. He apparently began by build what was probably a step pyramid at Maidum (Madum)1, which was later converted into a true pyramid. But this effort met with disaster (though probably not a quick one), because of the pyramid's mass and steep slope. He also built the Red and Bent Pyramids at Dahshur. The Bent Pyramid was the first true pyramid planned from the outset, while the Red Pyramid is the first successful true pyramid built in Egypt. The Red and Bent Pyramids are, respectively, the third and fourth largest pyramids known to have been built in Egypt.

In addition, Snefru is credited with at least one of a series of "regional" or provincial pyramids, at Seila. This is a small, step pyramid with no substructure. A number of other similar pyramids dot the Egyptian landscape, as far south as Elephantine Island, and some Egyptologists believe Snefru (or his father) may be responsible for all, or at least some of these. No one is very certain of the purpose of these small pyramids, but they were likely either associated with provincial cult worship of the king, or may have been located near to the king's "rural" palaces.

In many respects, including the combined scale of building projects and the evolutionary architectural achievements, Snefru must be ranked as one of Egypt's most renowned pyramid builders. In fact, the sheer volume of building work was greater than any other ruler in the Old Kingdom.

However, his achievements in pyramid building extended beyond the pyramid structure itself, and obviously incorporated evolving religious beliefs. During his reign, we see the first real elements of the sun worship that was to follow and reach a culmination over a thousand years later in the reign of Akhenaten.

Left: L:imestone Stele from Snefru's Bent Pyram
For the first time in the orientation of the building plan the main axis was oriented from east to west rather than north to south, as were earlier pyramids. This was apparently a move away from the astronomical "star" oriented beliefs, toward the east-west passage of the sun and the worship of Ra. Now, with Snefru, the mortuary temple is on the east rather than than on the north side like in the Djoser Step Pyramid complex at Saqqara. Furthermore, we see the first of the small satellite pyramids placed near the southern face of the main pyramid, a structure that we still do not completely understand today. Furthermore, the pyramid and mortuary temple elements were now linked by a causeway to a valley temple located on the edge of the cultivation closer to the Nile. We believe that the valley temple operated as a monumental gateway to the whole of the pyramid complex.

While the growing importance of the sun worship is obvious in Snefru's reign, the worship of Osiris was probably also beginning to influence Egyptian religion, though little in the way of documented evidence can be supplied.

With all of Snefru's building activities, it is not surprising that he was very active in the quarries. His name has been found attested to in rock inscriptions at the turquoise and copper mines of the Wadi Maghara in the Sinai peninsula, as well as other quarries.

Snefru is also credited with keeping the administrative power of the country within the royal family, As stated above, two of his sons became viziers and it is likely that many other royal children held important posts. By the end of the 6th Dynasty, administrative power within Egypt would be greatly decentralized which is considered at least one of the reasons Egypt fell into the chaos of the First Intermediate Period. Generally, Egypt was most powerful and prosperous when Egyptian rulers maintained a strong central government, like that of Snefru's. In order to further facilitate this centralized power base, he also apparently reorganized land ownership among his nobles, presumably to prevent them from becoming too powerful, but also to stimulate the cultivation of marshlands.

According to the Palermo Stone, he campaigned militarily against the Nubians and Libyans. The expedition to Nubia was a very large campaign. The Palemo Stone records a booty of 7,000 captives and 200,000 head of cattle. The population of Nubia was never very great, so this was perhaps a rather substantial depopulation of the area. Not only were these campaigns against Nubia initiated to obtain raw material and goods, but also to protect Egypt's southern borders as well as the all important African trade routes. The campaign in Libya records 11,000 captives and 13,100 head of cattle.

The Palermo Stone also provides a record of forty ships that brought wood (probably cedar) from an unnamed region, but perhaps Lebanon. Among other building uses, Snefru is credited as has having used some of this wood to build Nile river boats up to about 50 meters (about 170 ft.) in length.

It is interesting to note that Snefru's later deification was perhaps partially due to his status as an "ideal" king, who's deeds were emulated by later kings to justify their legitimacy to the throne. His reputation was no doubt enhanced by the Westcar Papyrus (now in Berlin), probably written during the Hyksos period. Yet, even though considered a warlike king by many, his worship in the Middle Kingdom was just as much fueled by the admiration of common Egyptians (according to traditional history). Ancient literature repeatedly depicts him as a ruler who would address common Egyptians as "my friend", or "my brother". It is also not surprising that during the Middle Kingdom, his cult was particularly strong among the Sinai miners. Because of his massive building projects, considerable resources from Snefru's reign were employed to develop those quarries. Therefore, Snefru became especially associated with this quarry district.

Certainly Snefru had a number of choices for his burial, but we believe he was actually interred in the Red Pyramid at Dahshure. There, in the 1950s, the remains of a mummy were found of a man past middle age, but not much so, suggesting that the king may have come to rule Egypt at a fairly early age.
Some Egyptologists continue to attribute the Madium Pyramid to Huni (or more properly, Nysuteh), as well as possibly to Horus Qahedjet (2637-2613 BC). However, even these scholars appear to believe that Snefru finished this pyramid, but it would have been highly unusual for a ruler of Egypt to have made such a substantial contribution to his predecessor's mortuary complex. Still the question of who actually started the construction of this pyramid is a mater for future discovery.


Khufu (Cheops) , 1st King of Egypt's 4th Dynasty:
Other spellings: Khufwey, Khnomkhufwey, (Greek:) Cheops

Cheops was the second king of the 4th Dynasty and was the builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Khufu was succeeded by Radjedef, his son by a lessor wife, whose reign was abruptly ended. He was succeeded by Khephren, Khufu's son by Queen Henutsen. A miniature statue of Khufu is on display at the Cairo Museum. This is the only likeness of him known to be in existence.

King Khufu, known as Cheops to the Greeks, is credited with ordering the building of the Great Pyramid at Gizeh, near modern Cairo and Memphis. Unlike his grandfather Djoser Netjeriket, and his father Sneferu, both of whom were remembered as benevolent and compassionate rulers, Khufu was reported by Herodotus to have been a cruel despot.

Khufu’s Horus name was Medjedu, and his full birth-name was Khnum-Khufu, meaning, "the god Khnum protects me." Khnum was considered the local god of Elephantine, near the first Nile cataract, who created mankind on his "potter’s wheel" and was also responsible for the proper flooding of the Nile.

Khufu may have been already on in years when he took the throne. His kinsman and vizier, Hemiunu, was also the architect of the Great Pyramid. Khufu’s senior wife was named Merityotes, and she and his other two wives were each buried in one of the three smaller subsidiary pyramids that lie just south of the mortuary temple of the main pyramid. Khufu had several sons, among them Kawab, who would have been his heir, Khufukhaf, Minkhaf, and Djedefhor, Djedefre and Khephren or Khafre. The so-called Papyrus Westcar contains tales of some of these sons.

Though the Great Pyramid somehow represents the very essence of "ancient Egypt," the King for whom it was built as a tomb has left little recorded information of his actual reign. Khufu probably reigned for 23 or 24 years. There is evidence that he sent expeditions to the Sinai, and worked the diorite stone quarries deep in the Nubian desert, north-west of Abu Simbel. Inscriptions on the rocks at Wadi Maghara record the presence of his troops there to exploit the turquoise mines, and a very faint inscription at Elephantine indicates that he probably mined the red granite of Aswan as well.

Herodotus, who wrote his histories and commentaries on Egypt around 450 BCE, centuries after Khufu had reigned around 2585 BCE, recorded this about the King: "Kheops brought the country into all kinds of misery. He closed the temples, forbade his subjects to offer sacrifices, and compelled them without exception to labor upon his works…the Egyptians can hardly bring themselves to mention…Kheops…so great is their hatred." It was even said that Khufu set one of his daughters into a brothel so that she could raise revenue to build the pyramid, also asking each client for a block of stone so she could build her own pyramid. No evidence exists for such a story, though there are smaller pyramids which probably belonged to half-sister/wives of Khufu, and he did have at least three daughters of record.

Even prior to Herodotus, the author of the document now known as the Papyrus Westcar depicts Khufu as cruel. The text was inscribed in the Hyksos period prior to the 18th Dynasty, though its composition seems to date from the 12th Dynasty. One story, Kheops and the Magicians, relates that a magician named Djedi who can reputedly bring back the dead to life. He is presented to Khufu, who orders a prisoner brought to him, so that he may see a demonstration of the magician’s talents. Khufu further orders that the prisoner should be killed, and then Djedi can bring him back to life. When Djedi objects, the King relents his initial decision, and Djedi then demonstrates his talent on a goose.

It should be noted that while Khufu has acquired this reputation, accurate or not, the years and labor that went into building his Pyramid tomb was surpassed by the three pyramids built by his father Sneferu, who was contrarily remembered as an amiable ruler.

The Great Pyramid originally stood 481 feet high complete with its original casing, but since it lost its top 30 feet, it stands only 451 feet now. It covers about 13 acres. The exterior casing was shining white limestone, laid from the top downwards. It was largely robbed in the Middle Ages to build medieval Cairo. Nothing now remains of the limestone mortuary temple, which was 171 feet by 132 feet, except its black basalt floor. The complex’s valley temple has disappeared under the Arab village, though traces of this temple could be seen when new sewer systems were being laid down.

Along with the pyramid itself, the remains of a magnificent 141-foot long ship of cedar wood had also been found in a rock-cut pit close to the south side of the Great Pyramid. A second ship may also rest in a second sealed pit, though not in as good condition as this first. The ship was restored over many years, and now lies in a special museum built near the pyramid itself. The ship may have symbolized the solar journey of the deceased king with the gods, particularly the sun-god Ra.

It is ironic indeed that for all the magnificence of his pyramid, his funeral boat, and the wonders of the funerary furnishings that were discovered belonging to his mother, Queen Hetepheres, wife to Sneferu, the only portrait we have of Khufu is a tiny 3-inch high statue sculpted in ivory.
It may have been once easy to contemplate the builder of such a monument as the Great Pyramid to have virtually enslaved his people to accomplish it, and to order a royal princess to prostitute herself. Sneferu, Khufu’s father, had three separate pyramids built during his reign. Surely the workmen or nobles would have left some evidence of their dissatisfaction at least at the whimsicality of their sovereign if not his despotism. Yet Sneferu is remembered as amiable and pleasure-loving. And Khafre, Khufu’s son, left not only a pyramid but quite possibly a Sphinx as well. And history, or at least, historians, do not record Khafre is being a despot.

Continuing work at Giza is further showing that the men responsible for the building of the pyramids led normal lives. They baked bread, ate fish, made offerings to their blessed dead and the gods, and cared for their families. They left funerary stelae and tombs behind to give us an indication of how they considered their lot. It is more likely that the Greeks could less easily conceive of such a project of long-term labor as being anything but forced. Perhaps some archaeologist millennia in our own future may find rusted iron skeletons of some of our finest skyscrapers and wonder to what cruel overlords we owed the sweat of our own forced labor.


Djedefre, 3rd King of Egypt's 4th Dynasty:
Other spelling: Redjedef

A lot of the history surrounding Djedefre is changing as we find out more about his pyramid at Abu Rawash. He was presumably the 3rd King of Egypt's 4th Dynasty, and traditionally is considered the son of Khufu by a minor blond, Libyan consort. Perhaps his main significance is that he was the first king to adopt the name, "son of Re". This is significant from the standpoint of the 5th Dynasty, when kings would completely embrace this sun god. Though he was indeed the son of Khufu, the mother has been bought into question by some modern Egyptologists. In fact, our whole understanding of this king seems to be in doubt.

The Turin King list gives Djedefre eight years of rule, though because of some cattle counts, some Egyptologists credit him with a little longer reign.

We know of two of Djedefre's wives, who were apparently named Hetepheres II, his sister, and Khentetenka. Hetepheres II is interesting, in that she was probably one of the longest living of her family line. Djedefre had at least three sons, named Setka, Baka (Bakare) and Hernet, all by Khentetenka, and perhaps two daughters, of which one was Neferhetepes. Fragmentary statues of these children were found in his pyramid complex.

Statue of Setka, Djedefre's son, as a scribe

The king, who's birthname was Djedef-re, meaning Enduring like Re, is also know as Djedefra, Redjedef, and Radjedef. He was believed to have possibly usurped the throne by murdering his older half brother, Kauab. As the son of a more prominent Egyptian queen, Kauab (Kawab) would probably have had a better claim to the throne than Djedefre. Interestingly, Hetepheres II, Djedefre's queen, was apparently married to Kauab before his death. In turn, it was believed that Khafre, Djedefre's younger half brother by Khufu and successor, may have murdered him, perhaps out of revenge.

Apparently, most of these assumptions are based on matters surrounding Djedefre's pyramid at Abu Rawash. Its location alone, abandoning the pyramid field at Giza for Abu Rawash, seems to indicate some sort of split within the family. Then we also have statuary fragments found in the complex that would appear to have been intentionally smashed. It was thought that Khafre may have been responsible for this destruction. Also, the fact that Khafre succeeded Djedefre and immediately moved his mortuary complex back to Giza was believed to substantiate a break, and than a return to the family traditions.

However, much of this is now in dispute (as some of it has always been), or has been proven to be completely wrong. For example, evidence now suggests that it was presumably Djedefre who completed his father's burial at Giza and was particularly responsible for the provision of his funerary boats, where Djedefre's name was found. This does not appear support a break within the family. Furthermore, the broken statues now seem to have been the results of locals, particularly in the Roman and Christian era.

Right: Head of Djedefre
Furthermore, it would also appear from fragmentary evidence around his pyramid that after Djedefre's death, he enjoyed a lengthy cult following that was not disrupted by his successor. Why Djedefre chose to build his pyramid at Abu Rawash remains a mystery, but in many respects, we find evidence that Djedefre certainly had a religious departure from his family. His pyramid has a number of elements that seem to revert to earlier times, while his adoption of a "son of Re" name also suggests religious deviations signaling many things to come. It is now believed that Kauab was in fact probably not murdered by Djedefre, and that Djedefre may have been fairly old when he ascended the throne, and probably died in a manner other than at the hands of his half brother, Khafre.

Djedefre is further attested to by an inscription, along with one also of his father, in the gneiss quarries deep in the Nubian Western Desert. We also find his name inscribed at a structure in Zawiyet el-Aryan. A number of statues have been discovered of this king, including several head recovered from his pyramid. One of these is thought to have possibly been the first known form of a sphinx.

Khafre, the 4th King of Egypt's 4th Dynasty:

Other spellings: Khafra, Khefre, (Greek:) Chephren or Souphis

As with many of the very earliest Pharaoh's, even though they may have left some of the grandest of all monuments in Egypt, they left little in the way of inscriptions, and so we know very little about them. Khafre (Chephren), the builder of the second pyramid on the famous Giza Plateau near Cairo is a fine example.

His birth name was Khafre, which means "Appearing like Re". He is also sometimes refereed to as Khafra, Rakhaef, Khephren or Chephren by the Greeks, and Suphis II by Manetho. He was possibly a younger son of Khufu (Cheops) by his consort, Henutsen, so he was required to wait out the reign of Djedefre, his older brother, prior to ascending to the throne of Egypt as the fourth ruler of the fourth Dynasty. However, there is disagreement on this matter.

There are rumors of a problem with the succession of Khafre. Some authorities maintain that Djedefre may have even stole the throne, perhaps as a younger brother of Khafre, and that Khafre may have even murdered him. Much of this speculation originates from the fact that Djedefre broke with the Giza burial tradition, electing instead to locate his tomb (pyramid) at Abu Rawash. However, there is little real evidence to support such a conclusion, and in fact, Khafre continued Djedefre’s promotion of the cult of the sun god Re by using the title “ the Son of the Sun” for himself and by incorporating the name of the god in his own.

We know of several of Khafre's wives, including Meresankh II (the daughter of his brother, Kawab) and his chief wife, Khameremebty I. His sons include Nekure (Nikaure), Sekhemkare and Menkaure, who succeeded him and married Khameremebty II, Khafre's daughter and Menkaure's sister.

Identifying him with Suphis II, Manetho gives his reign as lasting 66 years, but this certainly cannot be substantiated. Modern Egyptologists believe he may have ruled Egypt for a relatively long period, however, of between the 24 years ascribed to him by the Turin Royal Cannon papyrus (which was apparently confirmed by an inscription in the mastaba tomb of Prince Nekure), and 26 years. He is thought to have ruled Egypt from about 2520 to 2494 BC.

It is clearly evident from the fine mastaba tombs of the nobles in his court that Egypt was prosperous while Khafre held the throne. Carved on the walls of the tomb of Prince Nekure, a "king's son", was a will to his heirs. It is the only one of its kind known from this period, and in it he leaves 14 towns to his heirs, of which at least eleven are named after his father, Khafre. Though his legacy was divided up among his five heirs, 12 of the towns were earmarked to endow the prince's mortuary cult.

We do know that Khafre participated in some foreign trade, or at least diplomacy, for objects dating from his reign have been found at Byblos, north of Beirut, as well as at Tell Mardikh (Ebla) in Syria. He apparently also had diorite quarried at Tashka in Nubia and probably sent expeditions into the Sinai.

Though there are few inscriptions left for us to completely understand the era of Khafre's rule, he did leave behind some of the most important treasures ancient Egypt has to offer. Besides his pyramid complex at Giza, most Egyptologists believe he also built the Great Sphinx and that it is his face that adorns this huge statue, which sits just beside his valley temple. In addition, the life size diorite statue of Khafre found in his valley temple and now located in the Egyptian Antiquities Museum is one of the most magnificent artifacts ever discovered.

Like his father Khufu, Khafre was depicted in fold tradition as a harsh, despotic ruler. Though as late as the New Kingdom, Ramesses II seems to have had no qualms about taking some of the casing from his pyramid at Giza for use in a temple at Heliopolis, by Egypt's Late Period, the cults of the fourth dynasty kings had been revived, and Giza became a focus of pilgrimage.


Menkaure, the Last Great Pyramid BuilderOn the Giza Plateau:

Other spellings: Menkure, (Greek:) Mykerinos

While the great pyramids of the Giza Plateau attest to the lofty rule of at least three of Egypt's early, 4th Dynasty rulers, we actually know very little about these men. Of course, one reason for this was the lack of inscriptions on their most dominate and enduring monuments, including the last and smallest of the Giza Pyramids built by Menkaure and named, "Menkaure is Divine".

We believe that Menkaure, the pharaoh's birth name meaning "Eternal like the Souls of Re", (Greek Mycerinus or Mykerinus and known as Mencheres by Manetho), succeeded his Khafre (Chephren), his father, in about 2532 BC, during Egypt's Old Kingdom. There is some minor evidence that a king may have been interposed between Khafre and his son, presumably as a continuation of the putative power struggle that had followed the death of Khufu, but this is now considered unlikely. His mother is thought to have been Khameremebty I. He was married perhaps to three different queens, including Khameremebty II, who was his eldest sister. He had two sons that we know of, Khuenre, his eldest son who apparently died prior to Menkaure and was buried in a rock tomb (MQ 1) southeast of his father's pyramid, and Shepsekaft, who was his successor. he also had a daughter named Khentkawes.

Though information on Menkaure is lacking, we do know of several members of his court, including the viziers Iunmin and Nebemakhet. Sekhemkare, another sibling, is said to have served under no fewer than five pharaohs. We also know that there was probably Commercial or diplomatic activity outside of Egypt during his reign, for Egyptian object have been found at Byblos, north of Beirut, that date to his Menkaure's rule.

Traditional legend provides that Menkaure's reign was both benevolent and prosperous. Herodotus, who is our primary source of information on Menkaure, tells us that"

"...of all the kings who ruled Egypt,...the greatest reputation for justice... and for this the Egyptians give him higher praise than any other monarch."

However, this angered the gods, because they had decreed that Egypt would suffer 150 years of hardship, which had in fact been evident during the reigns of his father and his grandfather, Khufu. Both are said to have been particularly harsh during the building of their greater pyramids. These legends record that Menkaure reopened temples which had been closed to provide labor for his predecessor's pyramid construction, and repealed many of the more oppressive measures of his predecessors, which therefore was an affront to the gods. Therefore, the deities decreed, through the oracle of Buto, the ancient capital in the Delta whose patron goddess was Wadjet, the sacred cobra (Uraeus that protected the pharaoh, that Menkaure would only reign for six years, after which the oppression would return.

Mendaure is said to have considered this an unwarranted stricture and was determined to overcome it. Hence, he ordered that as night feel, candles were to be lit, and he continued to live by day and night, theoretically expanding his reign from six to twelve years. However, the gods would have their way, and Menkaure died after the six stipulated calendar years.

In reality, while Manetho ascribes Menkaure with a reign of 63 years, Egyptologists believe that he actually ruled for about 28 years (or at least, 26 years). That should have been long enough to built a much more substantial pyramid then his so-called "Third Pyramid" at Giza. Perhaps, therefore, he was in fact benevolent, not pushing his subjects so hard. However, it would almost seem that Menkaure was blessed by the gods, because far more statues survive of Menkaure than of his 4th Dynasty predecessors.

Menkaure with, in both statues, Hathor on his right, and nome figures on his left

In 1899, a number of archaeologists drew lots for the excavation of the Giza Pyramids on the balcony of the Mena House Hotel. The concession for Menkaure was won by George Reisner, who, between 1905 and 1927, the led the Harvard University/Boston Museum expeditions. Working the pyramid site and clearing the valley and mortuary temples at Giza, they found some truly remarkable slate statues. Discovered in the valley temple, they included a splendid triad groups of Menkaure accompanied by the goddess Hathor, who was given the features of his queen, Khamerernebty II. There were also statues of the king standing with nome (province) deities, including a number of fragments that may suggest there was once such statuary for each nome. The workmanship of these statues, which are now in the Egyptian Antiquity Museum in Cairo, is very high, particularly considering the difficulty of this type of stone. However, many of the statues that were discovered were not completed, as was his pyramid, which was later finished by his son and successor, suggesting that Menkaure may indeed have met a sudden death.

It has also been suggested that his valley temple, which was also not completed prior to this king's death and was also probably completed by his son, was expanded to during the 5th and 6th Dynasties, suggesting that his cult following was very important and enduring.


King Shepseskaf and His Mysterious Tomb at Saqqara:
Ultimately, we know very little with any certainty about the last king of Egypt's 4th Dynasty. His birth name was Shepseskaf, meaning "His Soul is Noble", and like everything else about him, seems out of place. Most kings' of this (and most other) periods made some sort of reference to a god in their name, with all but his immediate successor, Userkaf, who founded the 5th Dynasty, giving that honor to the sun god Re.
We do believe with much certainty that his father was Menkaure (Mycerinus), the builder of the last great pyramid on the Giza Plateau. We also believe with considerable certainty that he was responsible for completing his father's pyramid. His mother is unknown, but was probably one of his father's minor queens. We also believe that he had at least one wife, named Bunefer. Egyptologists mostly seem in agreement that he ruled Egypt for a very short period, probably four years. Here, our knowledge of this king seems to end and speculation begins, for scholars appear to have many disagreements about the other aspects of his reign, which mostly hinge on the interpretation of his, and a few other tombs. Therefore, we must explore these prior to presenting other questions about Shepseskaf that beg for answers.

The Tomb of Shepseskaf:

A View of Shepseskaf's Mastaba Tomb

Unlike his immediate predecessors and his successors, Shepseskaf chose the form of a Mastaba rather then a pyramid for his tomb, and perhaps for various reasons, built it in South Saqqara rather than on the Giza Plateau. Called by the locals, Mastaba Fara'un, (Pharaoh's Bench), it has always been one of the most enigmatic tombs of the Old Kingdom and therefore it much investigated by archaeologists. Perring was the first to describe it and though the Lepsius expedition spent little time investigating the tomb, Lepsius did note that it reminded him of a large sarcophagus. Mariette was really the first to truly investigate the structure in 1858, examining its underground construction, but regrettably, only a few of his sketches survived. They were later published by Maspero.

However, through all the early years of Egyptology and up until the time that Gustave Jeuier carried out a systematic investigation of South Saqqara between 1924 and 1925, the tomb was ascribed to Unas, the last of the 5th Dynasty kings. Though Jeuier had a difficult time proving directly that the tomb belonged to Shepseskaf, there were several items evidencing its builder. First of all, a stela was found at the site that, while very fragmentary, contained a part of the sing for the last letter of the king's name. Independent of the site, he also discovered that the name of the king's tomb was "Shepseskaf is [ritually] purified", which concluded with a determinative (an explanatory sign) in the form of a mastaba, suggesting that Shepseskaf's tomb should take that form. Finally another stela dated to the Middle Kingdom showed that during that period, Shepseskaf's cult was still active on the site of Mastaba Fara'un.

Certainly there was a valley temple connected with this tomb, but its remains have never been unearthed. The causeway that normally connected valley temples with their mortuary temples directly did not in this case, but rather led to the southeast corner of the temple before running along the south wall into the open courtyard surround the mastaba. It was built entirely of mudbrick, and seems to have taken the form of a corridor with a vaulted ceiling.

As much an aberration as everything else about this complex, the mortuary temple varies significantly from its predecessors. It stood in front of the east wall of the mastaba and just as the mastaba, was oriented north-south. It was small, but even so we may distinguish two different phases in its development, based on the material employed for its construction.

The oldest section is built of stone and had three entrances. One of the entrances was in the middle of the east facade, while another was near the southeast corner. The third entrance was placed in the middle of the south facade. An open courtyard took up the eastern half of the temple. It was paved in limestone, and in its northwest corner once stood an altar. The inner part of the mortuary temple took up the western section of the temple and consisted of an offering hall shaped like an inverted letter T. In its west wall there was originally a false door in its west wall. Significantly, there were no statue niches in this inner sanctuary, though part of a statue of the king was found in the temple. The northwestern part of the temple was taken up by a cluster of smaller chambers that were probably storage annexes.

Later, a large, open courtyard made of mudbrick was created to the east of the mortuary temple with niches that adorned its inner walls

Shepseskaf's mastabas was huge, measuring some 99.6 meters (327 ft) long by 74.4 meters (244 ft) broad, and oriented north to south. The core of the mastaba was built in two levels of large, grayish yellow limestone blocks that originated in the stone quarries west of the pyramids at Dahshur. In the early years of Egyptian exploration, it was still possible to find remnants of the pathways over which this stone was transported. The mastaba was encased with fine white limestone except for the very bottom course of red granite (which makes us wonder if it was left over from his father's complex). On some of the casing blocks may be found inscriptions of Prince Khaemwese's later restoration of this monument. The outer slope of the casing was 70o and it had a vaulted top between vertical ends, taking the shape of a Buto shrine (according to some Egyptologists, such as Mark Lehner)..

On the axis of the north wall about two and one half meters above ground level, the entrance to the substructure seems more like that of a pyramid rather than a mastaba. Within, a small vestibule communicates with a corridor lined in pink granite that descends at an angle of 23o 30' for 20.95 meters (69 ft) to a corridor chamber immediately followed by three portcullis slots for plugging blocks. Afterwards, the corridor becomes horizontal and eventually terminates in an antechamber with a pink granite ceiling. From there, a narrow corridor leads out from the southeast of the antechamber connecting with six niches (some references state five) that may have functioned as small storage annexes. These may be seen as the equivalent of those found in the pyramid of his father and that of Khentkaues (pyramid), and may foreshadow the three small magazines that would later become standard.

Another short passage descends out of the antechamber to the west allowing access to the burial chamber. Its pink granite ceiling, like that of the burial chamber of his father, Menkaure, was sculpted into a false barrel vault. Indeed, even the fragments of his dark, basalt sarcophagus unearthed in the burial chamber was decorated very similarly to that of his father.

Surrounding the mastaba/mortuary temple complex was a second perimeter wall made of mud brick. Unlike other royal tombs of this period, there appears to have been no tombs for Shepseskaf's family members and officials within the area around his tomb.

The aberration of Shepseskaf's name, his tomb and the tomb of his possible daughter, consort or/and half sister all stand out like sore thumbs, awaiting the theories of Egyptologists that may perhaps never be proven. All we can do here is present the current speculation, and possibly add a little of our own.

Jequier offers an initial explanation that other Egyptologists, such as Jaromir Malek, who provided the Old Kingdom component of the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, find tempting. He was rather convinced that Shepseskaf choose the mastaba style tomb as an intentional protest against the priesthood of the cult of Re, the sun god, which was gaining considerable influence. Jequier believed that the ancient Egyptians considered the pyramid a symbol of the sun, as do many modern Egyptologists. Certainly the rise of the pyramid coincided with the growing influence of Re's cult. He also believed that Shepseskaf's move away from the Giza Plateau and hence, the traditions of his immediate predecessors, supported his position, but perhaps even more important to his argument was Shepseskaf's abandonment of Re's reference within his name.

This theory, along with several of its components can be easily attacked, and have been from a number of different directions. One of the easiest elements to overcome in Jequier's theory is Shepseskaf's move away from the Giza Plateau. His father, Menkoaure was required, due to spatial restrictions, to place his pyramid far away from the Nile, and it is relatively clear from his valley temple placement, blocking the principal conduit for construction materials into the necropolis, that he intended no more major monuments to be built there. In fact, there was simply no more room for such a major construct on the Plateau. This undoubtedly prompted Shepseskaf to look for another location, and in doing so, he chose a place that not so very far from the pyramids of the dynasty's founders. In fact, the stone for his mastaba came from Dahshur, the location of Snefru's Bent and Red Pyramids. Saqqara was also a very ancient necropolis, that in fact relates somewhat to his use of a mastaba rather than a pyramid.

Regarding Shepseskaf's use of a mastaba rather than a pyramid as a protest against the priesthood of Re, Ricke believed that the obelisk, rather than the pyramid, was considered by the Egyptians to be the symbol of the sun. After all, the 5th Dynasty kings who we believe constructed the sun temples, mostly at Abu Ghurob, with a short obelisk as a focal point, did so in addition to their pyramid complexes mostly at Abusir. In his opinion, which seems to be mirrored by one of modern Egypt's great scholars, Mark Lehner, he was, rather than rejecting the cult of re, honoring his religious heritage in the form of the Lower Egyptian "Buto-type" tomb. It was really not very uncommon at all for Egyptian pharaohs to display such archaic tastes. Similarly, Hans-Wolfgang Muller (1907-1991) felt that Shepseskaf's mastaba was a huge version of a hut hung with matting. Indeed, Stadelmann, drawing on the arguments of Ricke and Muller, pointed out that Shepseskaf's use of niches in the courtyard of his mortuary temple, as well as in certain elements of his father's pyramid complex, was, an archaizing element from Egypt's earliest architecture.

In addition, it must also be noted that Shepseskaf faced the difficult task of completing his father's pyramid at Giza. This must have certainly created a considerable administrative and financial burden, at a time when the Egypt was apparently suffering some economic hardship. This may have led him to downsize his own tomb. Other possibilities exist. It is possible that the mastaba was initiated prior to his ascent to the throne, for example, or that it was a provisional tomb created with the possibility that if time permitted, another once could have been built.

We question whether many of the issues will ever be answered. This tomb has been considerably investigated, as has the Saqqara Necropolis in general, so perhaps there will be no new answers. But the possibility always exists that future discoveries may, at least, provide answers to at least some of the questions surrounding this mysterious man and his tomb.



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