Thursday, June 21, 2007

The age of the Pyramid

6th Dynasty

All kings of the 6th dynasty, except for Merenre II and Nitocris, are attested by archaeological sources. Merenre II and Nitocris are only known through the king-lists and Manetho. No known monuments give there names and they are not even mentioned in inscriptions of high officials. Because the king-lists often give Merenre II the same titulary as Merenre I, it is believed that at least his titulary may be the result of a mistake.

The Turin King-list makes a summation of regnal years for the first five dynasties, before listing the kings of the 6th through 8th dynasties. This may suggest that with the 6th Dynasty, a new royal house came to power. The relationship between the founder of the 6th Dynasty and his predecessor is debated. It is believed by some that he was married to his predecessor's daughter.

From a cultural point of view, the 6th Dynasty is the continuation of the end of the 5th Dynasty. The kings continued to commission pyramids for their mortuary cult. The pyramids and mortuary temples of this period are of a standard size and basically have the same layout. The burial chamber, antechamber and entrance corridor of these pyramids are inscribed with Pyramid Texts, following the example set by Unas of the 5th Dynasty. Most kings of the 6th Dynasty also chose to build their funerary monument in Saqqara and here too they were following the example of the last two kings of the 5th Dynasty.

Governmental reforms were intended to strengthen the residence's hold on the rest of the country. It is often claimed that the policy of instating local governors in the provinces eventually caused the downfall of this dynasty and of the Old Kingdom.

It can indeed be noted that during the 1st Intermediate Period, the power of these local rulers appears to have increased, to the detriment of the central government.
The long reign of Pepi II is also often considered the cause of the end of the Old Kingdom.
In this view, the elderly king's court was the stage of intrigue and plot, with different members of the royal family and some high ranking officials conspiring to get a grasp on the government.
It must, however, be noted that there is no evidence to support this "romantic" fantasy. Even if the ageing Pepi II were unable to rule the country by himself, the central administration was organised well enough to govern in his place.

It is believed more and more that changes in climate and a lower inundation of the Nile are likely to have played an important part in the downfall of the dynasty.

Teti, First Ruler of the Sixth Dynasty:
Other spelling: Othoes.

Egypt's 6th Dynasty marks the decent into the darkness of the First Intermediate Period in Egypt's history. At times, the rule of these kings is somewhat obscure, including that of Teti (sometimes also known as Othoes, from Manetho), who was the first king and the founder of the 6th Dynasty His reign settled some of the accession problems following the death of Unas. In fact, he adapted the Horus name, Seheteptawy, which means, "He who pacifies the Two Lands".

He ruled Ancient Egypt from around 2345 until 2333 BC, though of course Egyptologists differ on these dates, as well as his length of rule. The Turin King's List gives him less then one year's rule, which most scholars find very unlikely. Manetho suggests thirty, to thirty-three years, but there is no evidence of his jubilee festival, so this also seems unlikely. The latest known date from Teti's reign is that of the "sixth census", an event that took place on average every two years, or possibly every year and a half. Therefore many Egyptologists give him a reign of twelve years.

His wife, Queen Iput I, was probably the daughter of King Unas who was the last king of the 5th Dynasty. The queen was the mother of Teti's heir, King Pepi I. Historians believe that she is the one that gave him the royal power, legitimizing his rule. She is buried in her own pyramid near Teti's at Saqqara. Other wives included Khuit and Weret-Imtes. Along with his son, Pepi I, he also probably had another son named Teti-ankh-km, which means "Teti-ankh the Black", and a daughter named Seshseshet (also called Watet-khet-her). Her marriage to the vizier Mereruka probably furthered Teti's political stability, creating good will within the increasingly powerful nobility.

Almost all the major court officials of King Unas remained in power during Teti's reign, including his other vizier, Kagemni. As stated, we know little about Teti's reign, though there is evidence that quarry work was performed on his behalf at Hatnub near Abydos, and that he maintained commercial and diplomatic relations with Byblos. He also may have maintained relations with Punt and Nubia, at least as for south as the site of Tomas in northern Nubia.

We have evidence of his exempting the temple at Abydos from taxes, and he was the first ruler to be particularly associated with the cult of Hathor at Dendera.

A seal bearing the king's cartouch

Teti granted more lands to Abydos and his name was inscribed in Hatnub. He built a pyramid in Saqqara which is called by modern Egyptians the " Prison Pyramid". Egyptologists discovered a statue of him made of black and pink granite. The statue is located at the Egyptian museum.

The king was murdered by his guards for mysterious reasons, according to the Manetho. However, there is no other evidence of this violent death, though it might help to explain the possible short rule of a King Userkare, possibly between that of of Teti and his son, Pepi I. It is interesting to note that this king, arbitrarily left out of most modern lists of kings, is better attested to then most histories of Egypt allow. Many references today point out that the only references we have for Userkare are from the Turin and Abydos king's lists, but this is not so. Other documents bearing his name have survived, including one referring to workers at Qau el-Kebir south of Asyut who were possibly engaged in building his tomb. Userkare means the "Ka of Ra is powerful", and therefore has a strong resonance of the 5th Dynasty. Therefore, Userkare may have been a surviving rival of Teti from the 5th Dynasty. However, he may have also simply been a regent associated with Queen Iput after Teti's death, as Pepi I may have been too young to ascend the throne at that time.


userkare, 2nd Ruler of the 6th Dynasty:

Userkare may have been a royal claimant from the Fifth dynasty but he was certainly a rival to Teti for the throne.Userkare took the throne by force. Since Manetho claims that Teti was killed by his bodyguards, theories of conspiracy have been put forward that Userkare was the leader of this conspiracy who then proceeded to seize the throne.

The recently discovered South Saqqara Stone document from Pepi II's reign confirms his existence and gives him a reign of 2 to 4 Years. Teti's son, Pepi I, eventually managed to oust Userkare and succeed his murdered father.

In the Turin King List, there is a lacuna between Teti and Pepi I Meryre, large enough to have fit an entry for Userkare. Userkare is apparently mentioned in several king-lists.

Userkare started work on some larger building projects, as shown by an inscription mentioning his workforce. However, no pyramid-complex has been identified for him presumbly because of the shortness of his reign. T.N.P

Pepi I, 3rd Ruler of the 6th Dynasty:

Other spelling: Piopi.

Pepi I was the second ruler of Egypt's 6th Dynasty, a period that would eventually fall into the abyss of the First Intermediate Period. Pepi I was this pharaoh's birth name, though we may also find him listed as Pepy I, Piopi I, Pipi and the Greek Phiops. His throne name was Mery-re, meaning "Beloved of Re", though he actually used the throne name, Nefersahor during the first half of his reign, later changing it to Mery-re. He ruled Egypt from about 2332 through 2283 BC. He probably ascended the throne as an early age, and appears to have ruled for some 50 years (or at least 40 years).

It is entirely possible that Pepi I did not follow his father to the throne. Kings Lists include the name of a King Userkara between that of Teti and Pepi I, and it may be that this king usurped the throne for a short time.

He was probably the son of Teti and his queen, Iput I. Though he may have had at least six, the wives of Pepi I that we know of were Ankhnesmerire I and II (Sometimes also found as Meryre-ankh-nas), who were the daughters of an influential official (Probably governor of the region) at Abydos named Khui. Pepi I made his brother-in-law, we believe a son of Khui named Djau, vizier. A woman named Were-Imtes may have been his first wife but some Egyptologists have suggested that she might not have been his wife at all.. It may have been Were-Imtes who plotted a conspiracy against her husband from the harem, but she was found out and punished. This happened in the twenty-first cattle census, or about year 42 of the king's rule. An accomplice in this plot might have been Rewer, a vizier of Pepi I who's name has been erased from his tomb. However, Callender has suggested that the conspiracy was not by one of Pepi's queens, but was instead a plot by perhaps the mother of the mysterious King Userkare. Basically, there is considerable confusion between the explanations provided by various Egyptologists about this conspiracy.

Apparently, he married Ankhnesmerire I late in his rule, perhaps even after the harem conspiracy, and may have married her younger sister after the first sister's death, but this is by no means clear. His sons, Merenre (by Ankhnesmerire I) and Pepi II (by Ankhnesmerire II) would rule Egypt through the end of the 6th Dynasty. He also had a daughter by Ankhnesmerire I called Neith, who would later marry her half brother Pepi II. It appears that Pepi II was born either just before or soon after Pepi I's death. Pepi I may have had a number of other wives, including a Nebuunet (Nebwenet) and Inenek-Inti, who's small pyramids are near his at South Saqqara. An inscription has also been found documenting another queen, perhaps from Upper Egypt, named Nedjeftet. Other family members, though we are not so sure of their relationships, probably included a woman named Meretites, and another woman named Ankhesenpepi (or Ankhnesmerire) III. Very recently, (June 2000) we are told by Dr. Zahi Hawass of another pyramid that has been discovered by the French team near Pepi I's that appears to be that of Ankhnesmerire II, though in this report she is referred to as Ankhes-en Pepi.

Ankhnesmerire II holds the infant Pepi II

At least four statues of the king have survived, including the earliest known life size sculpture in metal. This state cane from the temple of Hierakonpolis (Nikhen) in upper Egypt and is made of copper. Found with it was also a copper statue of his young son and future king, Merenre. Other statues include a small green statue of the king probably making offerings to gods, and a small alabaster statue of Pepi I holding the royal crossed flail and scepter (crook).

We know that the reign of Pepi saw the rising influence and wealth of nobles outside the royal court, a condition that perhaps had much to do with a decline into the First Intermediate Period. These nobles built fine tombs for themselves and often boasted of privileges resulting from friendship with Pepi I.

Copper statue of Pepi I and Merenre

We also know that Pepi I initiated a number of trading and other expeditions, often for fine stone to be used in his many building projects. One inscription found at the alabaster quarries at Hatnub is dated to year 50 of his reign. It refers to the 25th cattle count, which was a biennial event. He was also active at the Wadi Maghara turquoise and copper quarries in the Sinai, the greywacke and siltstone quarries of Wadi Hammamat, where his first Sed Festival is mentioned. We believe he also maintained diplomatic and commercial relations with Byblos and Ebla.

He may have also sent expeditions to the mines of Sinai and as far away as Palestine. The expedition into Palestine was led by a person named Weni the Welder (Uni?) and involved landing troops from the sea. A single inscription is the only document of the five campaigns led under Pepi I Palestine, the Land of the Sand Dwellers as the Egyptians called the regions east of Egypt.

His majesty sent me to lead this army 5 times to subdue the land of the Sand Dwellers, every time they rebelled, with these troops. I acted so that his majesty praised me for it. Told that there were rebels amongst these foreigners at the 'Nose-of-the-Gazelle's-head' I crossed in ships, together with these troops. I put to land at the back of the height of the mountain range to the north of the land of the Sand-Dwellers, while (the other) half of this army were travelling by land. I turned back, I obstructed all of them and slew every rebel amongst them.

From the autobiography of Weni the Elder

Pepi I probably did considerable building but little of it remains, as such. Some of his building projects were probably incorporated into later projects, but he did leave behind many inscriptions. Building projects of Pepi I include the remains of a chapel (Hwt-ka) at Bubastis, as well as projects at Elephantine and Abydos. He may have carried out work at Dendara too. He built his pyramid at South Saqqara and the Pyramid Text inscribed on the pyramid walls were the first to be found by Egyptologists, though not the first recorded in a pyramid. This pyramid was called Mn-nfr, meaning (Pepi is) established and good". The corruption of this name by classical writers provided our modern name for Egypt's ancient capital, Memphis. His palace may have been very near his pyramid in South Saqqara.

Pepi is further attested to by decrees found at Dahshure (now in Berlin) and Coptos. He was mentioned in biographies of Weni in his tomb at Abydos, Djaw from his tomb at Abydos, Ibi in his tomb at Deir el-Gabrawi, Meryankhptahmeryre in his tomb at Giza, Qar in hist tomb at Edfu and the biography on a tomb at Saqqara by an unknown person.

Author's Thoughts:

There are a number of interesting questions to be answered about this period. Unas, the last king of the 5th Dynasty began to distance himself from the sun cult so closely connected to the earlier dynasty rulers. However, he did not seem to completely withdraw from this cult. But by the time of Teti, the first ruler of the 6th Dynasty, ties seem to have been severed. He was murdered, we are told and then we find perhaps a new king usurping the throne of Egypt named Userkare. His name means the "Ka of Ra is powerful", reflecting back on the old sun cult. When Pepi I does ascend the throne, perhaps only after a year of rule by Userkare, he has the name of Userkare removed wherever possible, as one might imagine he would under the circumstances. However, Pepe I himself is next the subject of a plot, who at least a few Egyptologists believe might have been initiated by the mother of Userkare. Most resources explain the murder of Teti, the ascension to the throne of Userkare and the plot against Pepi I as three different events, but could much of the trouble of this period have been the results of the pharaohs' abandonment of the sun cult? We also see Pepi I reaching out to the power structure of Abydos, perhaps as allies. This is all simply speculation, historical fiction if you will allow, but the point being is that there is much left to be learned about this period of Egypt's history.


Merenre, 4th Ruler of Egypt's 6th Dynasty:

Other spellings: Mernere, Merenra, Merenra-nem-tyemsaf.

Merenre, sometimes referred to as Merenre I as there was a much later king by the same name, was the third ruler of Egypt's 6th Dynasty. As the oldest living son of Pepi I, he succeeded his father, we believe, at a fairly young age, and probably died unexpectedly young, perhaps between his fifth and ninth year of rule. He was succeeded by his younger half brother, Pepi II. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt places the years he ruled as 2287-2278 BC while Chronicle of the Pharaohs gives him from 2283 until 2278.

Merenre was this king's throne name, which means "Beloved of Re". He is sometimes also referred to as Merenra. His birth name was Nemty-em-sa-f, which means, "Nemty is his Protection". His Horus name was Ankh-khau.

His mother was Ankhnesmerire I (Ankhesenpepi I), who, along with her younger sister by the same name, married Pepi I in the later part of his rule. Labrousse, who's team is excavating in South Saqqara where Merenre's pyramid is located, now believes that Ankhnesmerire II (Ankhesenpepi II), married Merenre. She was a late wife of Pepi I, Merenre's father, and by him, the mother of Pepi II, Merenre's half brother. She may have not been as old, or much older then Merenre, but sometimes working out relationships is interesting. Not only would she be Merenre's queen, but also his stepmother and aunt. Pepi II would not only be his half brother and his cousin, but also his stepson. In addition, the Labrousse team excavating at Saqqara now believes that a Queen Ankhnesmerire III (Ankhesenpepi III) who's pyramid is located very near Pepi I's was a daughter of Merenre, and became the wife of Pepi II. Lets see. That would make her Pepi II's wife, niece and if Ankhnesmerire II was her mother, also his half sister. He had another daughter named Ipwet (Iput II) who's pyramid is also in the South Saqqqara pyramid field.

The copper statue found with a much larger copper statue of Pepi I has long been assumed to be of Merenre and a boy or young man. However, it has been questioned lately whether it is instead a statue of Pepi II.

Merenre may have served as his father's coregent for a few years prior to Pepi I's death. Uni (Weni?), who had worked under Pepi I, continued to make expeditions, and the governor of Aswan, Harkhuf, also led expeditions into Africa. Around, his ninth regnal year, Merenre himself visited Aswan to receive a group of southern chieftains. It is interesting to note that this was a time when new people, who archaeologists refer to as the Nubian C Group, were migrating from the south into northern Nubia. Because of the growing relationship with Nubia during this period, merenre also attempted to improve travel in the first cataract region which was navigated by way of the Dunqul Oasis and canals. We are told that:

His majesty sent (me) in order to dig 5 canals in Upper Egypt and in order to build 3 barges and 4 tow-boats of acacia wood of Wawat, the rulers of the Medja hills Irtjet, Wawat, Yam, Medja were cutting the wood for them. (I) did it entirely in one year, floated and loaded with very large granite (blocks) for the pyramid 'Merenre -appears-in-splendor' . Indeed, I made a saving for the Palace with all these 5 canals.
Autobiography of Weni the Elder

The Nubian rulers are said to have helped by supplying the wood needed to construct the barges. (Since there was no wood in Lower Nubia, they would have had to procure it from sources much farther south). At the same time the Lower Nubian rulers seem also to have profited greatly by sending their fighting men to Egypt for hire. By the end of the Old Kingdom (ca. 2150 BC), the Egyptian armies were mainly composed of Nubian mercenaries, many of whom would ultimately settle in Egypt, marry Egyptian women, and become assimilated into the Egyptian population. During the Old Kingdom, Egyptian texts speak of a land in Upper Nubia called "Yam." Besides troops from "Wawat, Irtjet, and Setju" (Lower Nubia), troops from Yam, too, were hired for service in the Egyptian army. The only source that provides any real information about Yam is a biography of the Aswan governor, Harkhuf, preserved in his tomb at Aswan. Harkhuf tells us that, on behalf of the pharaohs Merenre and Pepi II, he led four expeditions to Yam, each of which took eight months.

It is believed that during his reign, Merenre not only continued his his fathers policies in northern (lower) Nubia, but actually sent officials to maintain Egyptian rule as far south as the third cataract. We are told that the conquest of Nubia resulted from the control of the caravan routes and the Western Oasis that relied on trade. Three were successive expeditions to Tomas in Nubia, which connected the Nile to the caravan routs.

Merenre, like his predecessors, maintained diplomatic and commercial relations with Byblos, and we know from inscriptions and tomb biographies that he had alabaster quarried from Hatnub and greywacke and siltstone from Wadi Hammamat.

A copper statue of Merenre as a young boy was found with a much larger copper statue of his father, Pepi I. These are believed to be the oldest, large copper statues ever found, but some are now questioning whether the statue of the boy is actually that of Merenre, or rather a young Pepi II. There is also a very small sphinx of Merenre in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Merenre is further attested to by a Box (Hippopotamus ivory) in Paris, Louvre Museum, a rock inscriptions near Aswan, the inscriptions on an ivory mother monkey that was probably a gift to an official, decrees of the king found at the pyramid temple of Menkawre and in biographies of Uni (Weni) in his tomb at Abydos, Djaw from his tomb also at Abydos, The tomb of Harkhuf at Elephantine, The tomb of Ibi at Deir el-Gabrawi, the Tomb of Qar at Edfu, and an unknown persons tomb at Saqqara.. He is also mentioned in an inscription in the tomb of Maru at Giza (though this inscription is now in Brussels). Recently another inscription has also been found by a Polish team that mentions Merenre on a rock wall at Deir el-Bahari on the West Bank at Luxor (ancient Thebes).

Merenre was probably buried in his pyramid at South Saqqara, though apparently because of his unexpected death, this pyramid was not yet completed. Until fairly recently, it was believed that the first ever mummy was that of Merenre I, though in reality the mummy found in his pyramid may not have been that of Merenre. Nevertheless, in 1997, excavations began at Hierakonopolis revealing a large predyanstic cemetery full of older mummies. However, if the mummy is indeed that of Merenre, it would remain the oldest know royal mummy. T.N.P

Pepi II, Last ruler of the 6th Dynasty and Egypt's Old Kingdom:

Other spelling: Piopi, Neferkare.

According to tradition, Pepi II was the last ruler of Egypt's 6th Dynasty, and in fact the last significant ruler of the Old Kingdom prior to the onset of what Egyptologists call the Fist Intermediate Period. We are told that his reign of possibly 94 (some Egyptologist believe 64) years was the longest in ancient Egyptian history. He seems to have come to the throne at about the age of six, and would therefore have lived until the age of one hundred. However, because of the onset of the First Intermediate Period, the latter part of his reign was probably ineffectual, perhaps at least somewhat due to his advanced age. Both the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt and Peter A. Clayton, have his reign lasting from 2278 until 2184 BC.

An alabaster statuette in the Brooklyn Museum depicts a young Pepi II, in full kingly regalia, sitting on the lap of his mother. Despite his long reign, this piece is one of only three 3D representations (i.e. statuary) in existence of this particular king. She may have been helped in turn by her brother Djau, who was a vizier under the previous king.

The pharaoh's birth name was Pepi, (also Pepy, Phiops or Fiops) as was his father's. His throne name was Neferkare, which means "Beautiful is the Soul of Re" His mother was Ankhnesmerire II (Ankhesenpepi), who was the sister of his older brother, Merenre and probably acted as Pepi II's regent during his youth. She may have probably been assisted by her brother, Djau, who was a vizier. There is a well known statue of her holding Pepi II as a young boy. However, after Pepi I's death, she seems to have married Merenre. He had a number of wives. These included Neith, the daughter of Pepi I and Ankenesmerire I and Ipwet (Iput II), the daughter of his brother Merenre. There is some confusion here, because we are told that he also married Ankenesmerire III, who was another daughter of Merenre, possibly by his mother Ankhenesmerire II. A final wife that we know of was Udjebten (or Wedjebten). He probably had at least one son named for his brother, Merenre.

We know that Pepi II continued foreign relations in a very similar manner to both his predecessors of the 5th and 6th Dynasties and even developed new links with southern Africa. He maintained diplomatic and commercial relations with Byblos in ancient Syria/Palestine. However, we also learn of an incident where Pepi had to send Pepynakht (Heqaib) to bring back the body of an official who was killed on a mission in the area of Byblos.

shows Pepi II as a very young naked child

but wearing the Uraeus of a king

In Nubia, Pepi sought a policy of pacification. We know of several trips and campaigns made south into Nubia both by Harkhuf, and his successor, Pepynakht. In fact, these powerful local governors managed to control Nubia long after the death of Pepi II form their base in Elephantine (near modern Aswan)

Pepi II appears to have been fascinated with some of these travels, particularly by his fathers old retainer, Harkhuf, governor of Aswan. One interesting account concerns a pygmy secured by Harkhuf on one of his African adventures. When Pepi II learned of this he wrote Harkhuf a letter that Harkhuf later incorporated into his funerary autobiography:

You have said...that you have brought a pygmy of the god's dances from the land of the horizon-dwellers, like the pygmy whom the god's seal-bearer Bawerded brought from Punt in the time of King Isesi. You have said to my majesty that his like has never been brought by anyone who went to Yam previously...Come north to the residence at once! Hurry and bring with you this pygmy whom you brought from the land of the horizon-dwellers live, hail and healthy, for the dances of the god, to gladden the heart, to delight the heart of King Neferkare who lives forever! When he goes down with you into the ship, get worthy men to be around him on deck, least he fall into the water! When he lies down at night, get worthy men to lie around him in his tent. Inspect ten times at night! My majesty desires to see this pygmy more than the gifts of the mine-land and of Punt! When you arrive at the residence and this pygmy is with you live, hale and healthy, my majesty will do great things for you, more than was done for the god's seal-bearer. Bawerded in the time of King Isesi.

He also continued long established mining practices. We know from an inscription that turquoise and copper continued to be mined at Wadi Maghara in the Sinai. Alasbaster was quarried at Hatnub and Greywacke and siltsone from Wadi Hammamat.

However, some information we have from some scenes attributable to Pepi II may be ritualistic. For example, one scene depicting the submission of Libyan chiefs during his reign is a close copy of representations in the mortuary temples of Sahura, Niuserra and Pepi I. Some Egyptologists believe that such scenes are more symbolic expressions of the achievements of the ideal king and bore little resemblance to the reality.

Calcite lid of a vessel.

Some would have us believe that the First Intermediate Period, a time of decline in Egyptian power, was bought on by low inundation of the Nile and crop failure. This is mostly because they believe Pepi II's mortuary complex was built and decorated in a much poorer manner then his predecessors. It his possible that this may have been a contributing factor. However, during Pepi II's reign, we find increasing evidence of the power and wealth of high officials in Egypt, with decentralization of control away from the capital, Memphis. These nobles built huge, elaborate tombs at Cause, Akhmin, Abydos, Edfu and Elephantine, and it is clear that their wealth enhanced their status to the detriment of the king's. Because the positions of these officials was now hereditary, they now owned considerable land which was passed from father to son. Therefore, their allegiance and loyalty to the throne became very casual as their wealth gave them independence from the king. Administration of the country became difficult and so it was Pepi II who divided the position of vizier so that now there was a vizier of Upper Egypt and another of Lower Egypt. Yet the power of these local rulers continued to flourish as the king grew ever older, and probably less of an able ruler.

Foreign relations, particularly concerning Nubia, were also a drain on Pepi II' treasury. In fact, in the latter part of Pepi II's rule, some foreign relations were actually broken off. Hence, we see that towards the end of his reign, the government of Egypt simply unraveled.

Right: A relief fragment from Koptos

Long reigns have proven to create succession problems. As powerful as Ramesses II was, his successors likewise had problems because of their advanced age when they themselves ascended to the throne. Hence, we find that Pepi II may have been succeeded by a son, Merenre II, but perhaps for only one year. According to Manetho, he was married to a Queen Nitocris, who succeeded her husband to become the last ruler of the 6th Dynasty. However, very little archaeological evidence of Merenre II or Nitocris exists. Merenre II's mother would have probably been Neith. After Pepi II, the marvelous building projects ceased almost entirely until the reign of Mentuhotep II of the 11th Dynasty.

Right:The South Saqqara Mound Mystery

A temple at Abydos may have been a ka-chapel built by Pepi II. His pyramid and mortuary complex are located in South Saqqara. Most (if not all) of his wife's smaller pyramids have been discovered nearby.

Pepi II is further attested to by a Calcite statuette of the young king and his mother, now in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, a decree of the king found at the mortuary temple of Menkawre, a decree found at Abydos, and three decrees at Koptos (Coptos). One inscription, now in Cairo, records his Sed festival and another inscription is has been found in Iput II's mortuary temple. The king was further mentioned in the biography of Djau (now in Cairo) in his tomb in Abydos and is mentioned in the tomb of Ibi at Deir el-Gabrawi.
Smaller items attesting to Pepi II include faience plaque from various places mentioning both his first and second Sed festival, a calcite vessels attributed to his reign, an Ivory headrest inscribed with his full titles and several objects found at Byblos.


Friday, June 15, 2007

The Great Pyramid
of Menkaure at Giza

Menkaure apparently intended for his pyramid on the Giza Plateau to be the last of that specific area of the Memphite necropolises which it is, as well as being the smallest. The valley temple lies at the mouth of the main wadi, closing what had been the principal conduit for construction materials brought to Giza for three generations. Named "Menkaure is Divine", the pryamid was thought by some Greeks, according to Herodotus, to belong to the Greek hertaera Rhodopis. Manetho thought that it belonged to Psamtik I's beautiful daughter, Nitokris.

Artist's impression of the main pyramid complex

Diodorus Siculus first described the inscription that bears the name of Mykerinos on this pyramid, but it was not until Vyse in 1837 that anyone actually entered Menkaure's pyramid. He began by investigating its substructure by following a tunnel dug earlier by Caviglia out of a breach in the north wall. The original entrance was not discovered until later. Surprisingly, Lepsius paid almost no attention to this pyramid, and even Petrie worked on it for only a short period in the 1880s. Luckily, George Resiner who was one of the most advanced archaeologists of his time, won the concession for Menkaure's pyramid when archaeologists drew lots for excavating Giza on the balcony of the Mena House Hotel in 1899. He knew beforehand that this pyramid, though small, could provide some rich finds because his assistant, Arthur Mace, had reconnoitered the site. He began a very thorough excavation of the entire complex in 1906 directing a team from Harvard University and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Those excavations continued until 1924.

Menkaure's pyramid, with its original height of some 65-66 meters, represents only about 1/10th of the mass we find in Khufu's pyramid. However, this may be the result of a theology which dictated more emphasis on the temples and less on the pyramid, a process evident to us already in the reign of Khafre which continued throughout the Old Kingdom.

Layout of the whole pyramid complex

The Valley Temple:

The reconstruction of Menkaure's valley temple is more difficult than any other element within his pyramid complex. The west part of the limestone block base and lower part of the core of the temple's north wall were probably completed during the ruler's lifetime, while the remaining clay masonry would be attributable to his son, Shepseskaf. Just behind the portal to the temple there was a square antechamber adorned with four columns. The alabaster (calcite) bases of these columns, pressed into the clay floor, have been preserved. On either side of this room are four storerooms. Behind the entrance antechamber, the whole middle part of the valley temple consisted of a huge open courtyard with inner walls decorated with niches (similar to the mortuary temple's courtyard). A path, paved with limestone slabs, ran from the pillared antechamber through the center of the courtyard to a low stairway, which in turn led through a portico with two rows of wooden columns. This terminated at an offering hall, in which an alabaster altar may have once stood. To the north of the offering hall were twelve storerooms, and to its south were five additional storerooms. This was the area where Reisner found the famous, mostly triad statues of the ruler, along with four unfinished statuettes of Menkaure, fragments of other statues and stone vessels. Three of the statues discovered by Reisner depicted the goddess Hathor on the ruler's right side, with divinities symbolizing three Upper Egyptian nomes on his left. These may have been part of a larger collection of statues for each of the provinces of Egypt, or perhaps only the nomes that provided endowments for the complex.

Perhaps curiously, the function of the valley temple changed over time. Reisner retraced the process by which houses of the pyramid town first crowded up against the front wall of the temple, and then began to be built within it. People began living in the temple itself, particularly in the courtyard, where grain storehouses and lodgings were built.

Perhaps as early as the 5th Dynasty, the temple was badly damaged by water after a particularly heavy rain tore away the temple's west side. Reisner believes that the temple was rebuilt, at least roughly, during the reign of Pepi II.

More recently, an Egyptian archaeologist, Selim Hassan, while excavating the nearby tomb complex of queen Khentkaues I, discovered a small brick structure with a platform, low benches and a small drainage canal, together with a basin at the northeast corner of Menkaure's valley temple. Stored there were a large number of flint blades and stone vessels. Some Egyptologists believe that this structure was used for a "purification ten" and was only a part of a larger structure where the mummification ritual took place.

Another modification of the valley temple was a brick structure built in front of the temple's west wall. It may have provided a widened portal, giving better access between the temple and the pyramid town.

The Causeway:

The causeway of this pyramid complex leading from the Valley temple to the Mortuary Temple was most likely completed by Shepseskaf. It had floors made of limestone blocks and highly compressed clay mixed with limestone fragments. The mudbrick walls that were a little more than two meters thick supported a roof. Reisner believed that the roof was made of wooden beams and mats because he found the remains of such material at the end of the causeway. However, others Egyptologists, because of the width of the side walls and architectural elements of nearby tombs of close family members, believed that there would have been a vaulted roof of brickwork. Nevertheless, the causeway was never completed. Work seems to have stopped at the point where it meets the west side of the old Khufu quarry. From there to down to the valley temple, the causeway was probably never more than a construction ramp for delivering stone. Hence, we really do not know how it was to connect to the valley temple. Yet some Egyptology resources believe that it would have not begun at the west part of the valley temple, but rather would have actually run along its whole south side and part of its west side. They believe it was even accessible from the storerooms in the valley temple's southern section.

The Mortuary Temple:

Like Menkaure's predecessors on the Giza Plateau, his mortuary temple was not built adjacent to his pyramid's east wall. The original temple obviously remained partially uncompleted, we believe, as a result of Menkaure's sudden death. Menkaure began this mortuary temple, as had Khafre, with core blocks of limestone that were locally quarried. The heaviest of these, found at the northwest corner of the temple, is the heaviest known at Giza, weighing some 200 tons.

Mortuary Temple (Bottom) at the time of Menkaure's death
and (above) after Shepseskaf completed it.

Though we know the mortuary temple had an almost square ground plan, its appearance can only be partially reconstructed. Reisner believed that an entrance corridor led from the east terminating in an open courtyard that was meant to be ornamented by pillars. The inside wall of this courtyard was lined with plastered and whitewashed brickwork decorated with niches, which was probably added by his successor in order to complete the temple after Menkaure's death. There was also a small shrine built within the courtyard, that Reisner also dated to the reign of Shepseskaf.

In the west part of the temple, a portico made up of two rows of pillars provided access to a long offering hall. According to Reisner, there was a false door in the offering hall's west wall. However, because of statuary fragments, and the fact that the temple was not immediately adjacent to the pyramid, scholars such as Maragioglio and Rinaldi rejected the idea of a false door, instead seeing a statue of the ruler standing in its stead. They do believe that a false door existed, but that it stood on a small, pink granite platform in front of the pyramid's east wall. In Maragioglio and Rinaldi's view, it would have at first been easily accessible from the east wing of the pyramid's courtyard, before additional rooms were built in the area.

A limestone altar and fragments, including a head, chest, lap, knees and shins of a seated statue of Menkaure, rendered in pink granite were found in the five, two story magazines that form a northwestern part of the mortuary temple. This statue was perhaps meant to be the centerpiece of this entire complex. Originally it stood at the back of a tall and narrow east-west hall at the end of the center axis of the temple, so that the king looked across the open country, through the entrance hall, and down the line of the causeway to the land of the living. The southwest part of the temple remained uncompleted.

Reisner, as well as other Egyptologists, thought that the whole mortuary temple was originally meant to be constructed of pink granite. In fact, we can see that Menkaure's masons had just started bringing in a series of granite blocks on both sides of the corridor. They were cutting back the large limestone core blocks to ensure that the front faces of the granite blocks were flush. When Reisner removed the mudbrick from the casing he found bright red paint on the core blocks marking leveling lines, measurements and the names of the work gangs. However, Ricke rejected this analysis, believing that only the dado was to be made of this fine stone. Irregardless, the temple was not completed by Menkaure, but by his son, using mudbrick, evidenced by an inscription on one of the fragments of a stela that Reisner discovered.

Interestingly, there was also within the mortuary temple a small square room with a single pillar. It had a strikingly similar appearance to the antechamber carree that actually first appears in the mor4tuary temples of the 5th Dynasty pyramids.

Some elements within the temple may even be dated beyond the reign of Menkaure's son, including the stelae of Merenre I and Pepi I.

The Pyramid Proper:

Isometric drawing of the pyramid chambers

Menkaure's pyramid lies at the far end of the Giza diagonal on the very edge of the Mokattam Formation, where it dips down to the south and disappears into the younger Maadi Formation. Just as with his father, Khafre's nearby pyramid, Menkaure's construct had to have a very well prepared rock subsurface, particularly around the northeast corner. This base is two and one half meters higher than his father's pyramid and and occupies a mere quarter of the area consumed by Khafre and Khufu's pyramids. It has a core of local limestone blocks, with casing made of unfinished pink granite from Aswan up to a height of about fifteen meters. Further up, the casing was probably made of fine, Turah limestone. Because completely finished casing blocks would have probably been damaged during transport and installation, particularly at their edges, the final finishing touches were not completed until the very end of the construction process. This also made it possible to achieve a very accurate fitting along the whole surface of the pyramid walls. There is an inscription on the granite casing of the north wall that dates from the Late period, and may be the one mentioned by Diodorus.

Original access was provided to the inner chambers by an entrance on the axis of the north wall, about four meters above ground level. From there, a descending corridor, only partially lined with pink granite, sloped down at an angle of a little more than 26 degrees for 31 meters through the masonry core to the chambers below. This "lower corridor" terminates in a room with walls that were provided with niches. The purpose of this unusual room is still debated among scholars. However, the niches represent the first purely decorative element inside a pyramid since Djoser's Step Pyramid at Saqqara. At the beginning of the next corridor, there is a granite barrier that is made of three blocks that were lowered after its completion. The following corridor continues at a slight downward angle until it comes out in a relatively small, east-west oriented upper antechamber with wall that are completely undecorated. The east end of this chamber is located directly under the vertical axis of the pyramid.

Here, another passageway known as the "upper corridor" runs over the "lower corridor" through a short horizontal section before climbing in a north-south direction into the pyramid core, were it terminates. It is very likely that this double corridor system signals a change in the original construction plans. The "upper corridor" was probably abandoned when the floor of the antechamber was lowered. From this, Petrie believed that the original pyramid was only about half the size that it is today, though others such as Stadelmann doubt his analysis.

In fact, the substructure of this pyramid underwent significant changes. Investigations of both this pyramid, and the tombs of his royal family that are closest in time (Mastabat Faraun and Khentkaues I's stepped tomb) point to the development of these subchambers in three phases, during which the original plan was enlarged.

In the antechamber, Vyse unearthed the remains of an anthropoid wooden coffin with, Menkaure's name Within were human bones. Most scholars today believe this coffin was inserted, perhaps in an effort of restoration, into the pyramid during the Saite period late in Egypt's ancient history. However, the bone fragments were even more recent as revealed by radio carbon dating, that shows hat they probably date to the Coptic Christian period of some two thousand years ago. There is a rectangular indention in the west section of the antechamber floor, suggesting that a sarcophagus may have once been intended for this room.

However, from the middle of the floor of the antechamber, another granite corridor leads downward before becoming horizontal shortly before the actual burial chamber. Just before the entrance to the burial chamber, a short flight of steps leads to an area with six small, deep niches, sometimes known as the "cellar", which has an undetermined function, though there is a similarity to architectural elements in the Mastabat Faraun of Shepseskaf and the stepped tomb of Queen Khentkaues I. Four of the niches are on the east side, and Ricke believed that these were to hold the four canopic vessels containing Menkaure's entrails. He believed that the two additional niches on the north side may have been graced with the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. However, others believe it may be a forerunner of the three chambers to the left (east) in the standardized substructures of 5th and 6th Dynasty pyramids, though it may have simply been used to store funerary equipment and supplies.

Unlike the pyramids of his father and grandfather (Khufu), the rectangular burial chamber is oriented north-south. It is completely covered in pink granite, including even the gabled ceiling, which was actually hollowed out from beneath to make a round, barrel vault. The chamber lies some 15.5 meters beneath the level of the pyramid's base so that the ceiling could be constructed of nine pairs of enormous granite blocks. This construction was carried out after the modification of the plan for the substructure, which made it both difficult and laborious to complete. It required a large descending tunnel to be built in the west part of the upper antechamber, from which visitors today may actually view the top of the vaulted burial chamber.

It is very possible that both the granite burial chamber and the set of niches were built after the after the death of Menkaure on the instructions of his son and successor, Shepseskaf.

On the burial chamber's west wall, Vyse discovered a wonderful, dark basalt sarcophagus that was decorated with niches in the palace facade style. The sarcophagus was empty, and its lid was missing. However, fragments of the lid were discovered, which indicate that it was ornamented with a concave cornice. Ricke saw in this design certain similarities with the decorations in shrines dedicated to the god Anubis, and thought that they were an attempt to provide additional protection for the tomb by means of that divinity. Alas, we are left with only drawing of this piece of funerary equipment, for the ship, Beatrice, which was taking it from Egypt to the British Museum leaving Leghorn sank somewhere between Malta and Spain in 1838. Fortunately, the anthropoid coffin was sent in a separate ship that reached its destination.

Interestingly, in contrast to Khufu's and Khafre's pyramids, there have been no boat pits discovered in relationship to Menkaure's pyramid, despite intensive investigation by an Egyptian archaeologist named Abdel Aziz Saleh, who obviously thought that they should exist.

Already in the late 1630s, the English scholar and traveler John Greaves noted that the casing had largely been removed. The destruction of the pyramid lasted well into the 19th century, when Muhammad Ali Pasha (1805-1848) used some of the pink granite blocks taken from its casing to construct the arsenal in Alexandria.

The Three Queen's Pyramids:

Notable on the Giza Plateau are the three much smaller subsidiary that stand in a row along the south wall of the principal pyramid. Designated G 3a-c, archaeologist attribute them to Menkaure's royal consorts. Of these, only G 3a was a true pyramid, the other two having a four step core, and some Egyptologists believe that it functioned as a cult pyramid, though it was also clearly used for a burial. All three of these pyramids were surrounded by a common perimeter wall.

The Three Queen's Pyramids, from left to right: G 3c, G 3b and G 3a

G 3a, the easternmost, of these pyramids, actually had a small, east-west oriented mortuary temple of its own that was accessible from it's pyramid's courtyard. This mortuary temple was probably partially built of limestone, but was hastily finished with mudbrick. The west end of the mortuary temple was dominated by a fairly large, open courtyard that had niches built into its northern wall. On its south side was a row of wooden columns. A small cult chapel with an entrance adorned with deep, double niches to either side, lead into an offering room that included a false door. storage annexes were located in the northwest part of the temple, and in the southwest a staircase led to the roof terrace.

Pyramid G 3a was the largest of the three constructs, with an entrance situated in the middle of the north wall, only a little above ground level. It has a substructure consisting of a burial chamber dug from the rock under the center of the pyramid's base, which communicates with a descending entrance corridor equipped with a barrier. This burial chamber was originally equipped with a pink granite sarcophagus, embedded in the floor next to the west wall. Unfortunately, it soon fell prey to tomb robbers. There were also fragments of ceramics and charred remains of wood and matting found in this chamber.

We really have little idea who was interred in Pyramid G 3a. Reisner thought that it might be Menkaure's principal consort, Khamerernebti II, but based on a statue of that queen found in the so-called Galarza tomb in the central part of the Giza necropolis, others believe that she was buried alongside her mother, Khamerernebti I in that tomb. In fact, it is not impossible that this pyramid was originally simply a cult pyramid that was latter transformed into a tomb.

Besides being smaller, and lacking the shape of a true pyramid, G 3b also differs in other details. These include the placement of the descending corridor, which lacks a barrier. The bones of a young woman were found in the pink granite sarcophagus which stood against the west wall of the burial chamber that was located under the northwest part of the pyramid. Like G 3a, it also had a small mortuary temple, though in this case it was oriented north-south.

G 3c was never completed with its casing. Like G 3b, the burial chamber was constructed under the northwest part of the pyramid, and was likewise not finished. Though no burial was found within this pyramid, there was clear evidence of a cult following in the small mortuary temple that stood in front of the east side of this pyramid. Also like G 3b, this mudbrick structure was oriented north-south.

Unfortunately, the owners of G 3b-c are completely lost to us and may never be known. We are relatively certain that they were consorts of Menkaure, but otherwise there no information on these royal women.

Recent Excavations:

Recent excavations by Mark Lehner's team near the valley temple have again begun to uncover this vast city of workers who built and maintained the pyramids for generations afterwards. Since 1988, excavations have been concentrated around the area about 300m south of the Sphinx and the gigantic structure known as the 'Wall of the Crow', near to a recently discovered 'worker's cemetery'. So far they have uncovered bakeries, a copper workshop, and worker's houses which, in the year 2000 were found to belong to a vast royal complex comprising huge galleries or corridors, separated by a paved street. This may have lead to a Royal Palace.

Other recent excavations around the pyramid of Menkaure have been conducted by the Egyptian Antiquities Organization in search of evidence of the king's funerary boats and the pyramid's construction ramp. They have discovered an unfinished double-statue of Ramesses II, sculpted from a single block of stone and measuring over three meters in height. This was the first large, New Kingdom statues to be discovered at Giza, and yet another mystery.


Main Pyramid

Original name: Menkaure is Divine

Date of construction: 4th dynasty

Original height: 66.45 meters

Angle of inclination: 51o 20'

Lengths of sides of base 104.6 meters

Length of Causeway 608 Meters

Pyramid G 3a

Original height: 28.4 meters

Angle of inclination: 52o 15'

Length of sides of base: 44 meters

Pyramid G 3b

Length of sides of base: 31.24 meters

Pyramid G 3c

Length of sides of base: 31.24 meters