Friday, September 28, 2007

An Overview of
the Ancient Egyptian Religion

Without the ancient Egyptian Religion, there would probably be little reason for one to visit Egypt today. The great Pyramids would not exist, nor of course, would there be the fabulous temples, the tombs on the West Bank of Thebes (modern Luxor) and their mummies, or the colorful decorations that adorn these structures that have lured travelers to Egypt over the past three thousand or so years. Behind every aspect of Egyptian life, including the art, the political structure and the cultural achievements one must see the religious forces that shaped the fabric of ancient Egypt.

The spiritual world that was created by the ancient Egyptians was a richly fascinating one which remains unique in the history of human religion, but at the same time, somehow familiar in many ways. The character of that spiritual world was both mysterious and manifest, at once accessible and hidden, for although Egyptian religion was often shrouded in layers of myth and ritual, it nevertheless permeated the ancient civilization of the Nile and ultimately shaped, sustained and directed Egyptian culture in almost every way.

One thing that does seem familiar about their ancient religion was that people were very concerned about the afterlife. Furthermore, in order to avoid being counted among the damned of the afterlife, one had to not only venerate the Egyptian gods, but also live by a code of standards that would be judged after death.

Herodotus tells us that the Egyptians "are religious to a higher degree than any other people" Some six centuries later, in the Perfect Discourse, Hermes Trismegistos summed up the spirit of Egyptian religious beliefs for his disciple, Asclepius, in a striking metaphor:

"[Egypt] has become the image of heaven, and what is more, the resting place of heaven and all the forces that are in it. If we should tell the truth; our land has become the temple of the world"

Like the members of any other human culture, the ancient Egyptians were driven to find meaning in existence, but there were also other influences on their religion, such as the need to justify kingship, among others.

We cannot say with any certainty exactly when the foundations of Egyptian religion were actually laid, though it was certainly prior to recorded history. In fact, some of the important mythology, such as the Contentings of Horus and Seth, could have possibly been rooted in real events prior to Egypt's unification.
We must be careful when examining the ancient Egyptian religion. Though there was a considerable amount of consistency between various areas of Egypt and over the religion's long existence, there were significant variations and over time, changes in the theology. For example, while some 1,500 gods and goddesses are known by name from ancient Egypt, many of them were not worshipped at any one time or in any one place.

Over time, many changes took place, and some were very dramatic. The tell-tail signs of these changes were sometimes very obvious. For example, the burial practices of the Egyptians, which were certainly affected by their religious ideologies, went from simple mastabas in the very early periods and during the Predynastic Period, to monumental pyramids during the Old and Middle Kingdoms.

Then, after the first ruler of Egypt's New Kingdom who built a Pyramid at Abydos, the Egyptian Kings rather suddenly did away with superstructures altogether, preferring instead to have hidden tombs with no superstructures at all. Perhaps part of the reason for this was the security of the tomb and its content of valuables, though it did not do much to stop the tomb robbers. However, it also had much to do with the Egyptian religion's movement towards Osiris. The god Osiris also seems responsible for another major change in Egyptian religion through its long history, that is, it's popularization. Osiris was a democratic god who doubtless became more and more popular because the theology surrounding him allowed even common Egyptians the opportunity of immortality after their death.

Of course, some things did stay the same, to an extent. There seems to have always been a sun god from the earliest of times, but his worship too changed over time, and sometimes dramatically. The sun god Re was worshipped at Egypt's earliest shrines, and his veneration probably reached a high point during the late Old Kingdom, when kings not only built their pyramids, but also specialized temples to worship the sun god.

Perhaps one of the most consistent aspects of ancient Egyptian religion was the role of the King, though even this did change over time. However, the king seems to always have been central to the ancient Egyptian religion. What changed was the perception of his role, though even this remained somewhat consistent particularly after the Early Dynastic Period.

While Egyptologists may sometimes address the reasons for changes within the ancient Egyptian religion, this may be one of the most unknown aspects of the religion. Did priests have heated debates over theology which culminated in change? If they did, it must have been mostly narrative in nature, for we have little if any record of this. If such discussions did take place, the King must have been involved, because it is through his actions that most new religious foundations were created, and it was his funerary monuments that seem to have changed the most over time.

That theological discussions and probably discourse took place is almost certain, because the mythology of the religion evolved, becoming more complete, sophisticated and more complex over time. This is particularly obvious from funerary texts, beginning with the Pyramid Texts and moving on to numerous texts particularly during the New Kingdom.

On the other hand, it is very likely that changes took place also because of shifts in regional power. This certainly seems the case when, during the New Kingdom, the center of religious activity shifted to Thebes, where the state god, Amun rose to acclaim. Furthermore, the need of the common populous to be included also effected changes, particularly towards Osiris.

Religion has been defined as a belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe. This is somewhat of an over simplification because religions usually include a system of values as well as various practices. Egyptian religion can be said to encompass their ancient gods, the mythology or accounts of those gods and other aspects of the religion such as creation, death and the afterlife, and the cults who worshipped the gods. However, there are certainly more complexities to the religion, such as how the king played into this structure of religion, and moral dogma concerning what the god's expected of humans (a system of values).

The Gods:

Consistently, from the beginning of Egyptian religion to its final stand at the Temple of Philae, with possibly the exception of one brief period, most scholars agree that the religion was polytheistic. A number of attempts have been made to explain Egyptian religion in terms of monotheism, and certainly scholars of the nineteenth century, steeped in Christian tradition, tended to find traces of monotheism in Egyptian beliefs. The main evidence they sited was the anonymous "god" who the Egyptians referred to in literary and wisdom texts. Now, however, the anonymous god found in Egyptian texts is understood to represent a way of invoking any divine power emanating from any gods, or sometimes, a specific, assumed god worshipped by an individual or one in a specific region.

Even during the 18th Dynasty reign of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), who apparently tried to introduce and promote a single god, the Aten, Egyptian religion cannot be said to have been monotheistic, for while the king himself may have worshipped a single god, and even that is uncertain, his religion never caught on and for the most part, Egyptians in general continued to worship their traditional gods.

However, several researchers have applied the concept of henotheism to Egyptian religion. This practice focuses on one god addressed in a particular time of worship. Essentially, henotheism is the belief in one god without denying the existence of others. The believer unites all known divine powers in his favorite god.

The situation with gods is further complicated by syncretism and other forms of combining them. The term "syncretism" has a special meaning in Egyptology, referring to the combination or merging of aspects of one god in another. This feature first appeared in the 4th Dynasty with Atum-Re of Heliopolis and by Middle Kingdom, there were many such combinations. It has been shown that this was probably a temporary fusion of gods, each keeping their own characteristics.

Furthermore there is the matter of manifestation, a concept that is frequently misunderstood by the general public. Egyptians almost certainly did not worship statues, paintings of gods or, for that matter, animals. These objects were simply believed to be the manifestation, or temporary habitats of the gods who they worshipped.

It should also be noted that the Egyptians created personified conceptions, such as Ma'at (truth, balance), or (Hapi (the inundation), though these were always joined with a god or used as decorations.

Cults were the official structure used to worship the Egyptian gods. In regards to ancient Egypt, this structure included the priests who carried out rituals associated with the gods, who were frequently manifest in the form of statues, within the cult temples. The center of the Egyptian cult was the temple, a sacred area enclosed by a wall, that excluded the profane.

Temples could be called a "house" or "chapel", or a "chapel of the god", which includes a section of the temple devoted to worldly needs. Inside the sanctuary of the temple was the cult statue, which served as the dwelling for the god worshipped in the cult center, though there could be and were more than one in many temples.

Cult rituals were actually a dialogue between the gods, and therefore the king (or a priestly substitute for the king) acted in the divine performance as a god.

Until the Middle Kingdom, the spheres of administration and cult were not separated, but in the 18th Dynasty, a special priesthood was established.

Rituals centered around offerings, but there were certainly numerous other rituals, including many daily functions such as washing and clothing the gods (or at least the statue of the gods). Other rituals took the form of celebrations when, for example, one god might be taken to visit the cult center of another, and it was during these festivals that common Egyptians probably came closest to their gods, for at other times they were prohibited from the sanctuaries that housed the cult statues.

At first the cult, and for that matter, the benefits of religion and the god's which it served was limited to the king for the most part, though many functions and rituals were performed by his substitutes (priests). Common Egyptians could mostly only hope that the King took his religious duties seriously, or otherwise they might expect to suffer famine or other disasters or for that matter, any chance of an afterlife. As time passed, religion became much more popularized, so that in latter Egyptian history, common Egyptians demanded their own means of worshipping and being accepted by their gods. More and more, common Egyptians built within their homes shrines for their personal worship, or at other times, small public shrines where they could worship and pray together. However, throughout Egyptian history, common Egyptians were limited as to the scope that they could participate in the state cult centers.


A myth may be defined as a traditional, typically ancient story dealing with supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that serves as a fundamental type in the worldview of a people, as by explaining aspects of the natural world or delineating the psychology, customs, or ideals of society:

Unlike many modern religions, there was no single (or only a few) textual source that bound up the religious ideology of the ancient Egyptians. There was no bible as such, nor could there have been, because the beliefs sometimes varied from region to region, and the mythology evolved over time.

Texts are known since the third dynasty that make reference to the activities of the gods, usually within accounts of relations between nobles and the king. In fact, most of the known Egyptian myths concern the origins and nature of kingship as the central topic of interest. Narrative literature did not appear before the Middle Kingdom (to our knowledge), but myths certainly existed in oral tradition long before. Allusions to the deeds of gods are inserted in early ritual texts, such as the Pyramid Texts.

Because Egypt had many gods, they also had many myths. Some of them, such as those surrounding Re, the Sun God, particularly during the earlier periods, and later, such as the contention of Horus and Seth, became central to the Egyptian religion, perhaps mainly due to their relevance to Kingship. However, other myths involving, for example, Hathor as a healer, were very important to more common Egyptians, as were myths concerning Bes, a goddess of childbirth and the home. There were certainly other myths, sometimes at odds with others, that explained creation, dealt with the afterlife, and even the end of times.

System of Values:

A value system (also see our articles on evils and ethics) was important to the ancient Egyptians in much the same way that it is today. In fact, many of the values of our modern society were present in the Egyptian system. What is perhaps different is the exact relevance that the ancient Egyptians gave to their value system. Certainly, the value system had both a secular and religious side. On the religious side, then, as in many religions today, one was judged upon death for his or her actions during life, and either condemned to be a member of the damned or the blessed.

However, a system of values was also important for social order, just as it is today, and then as well as now, a criminal system was also available to punish offenders during their lifetime for certain offenses.

Somewhat different was the matter of Ma'at, a personified concept of truth, balance and order. An individual could violate Ma'at by his actions, but so too could the nation as a whole. In this regard, the king was always responsible for maintaining Ma'at on behalf of the country, usually by maintaining and supporting the cult centers, fending off foreign powers and in general by maintaining the system of values, for example, removing corrupt officials. The ancient Egyptians believed that failure to maintain Ma'at, as a country, could result in divine intervention, when the Egyptian gods provided only low Nile floods, and thus famine, enemy incursions or even complete chaos within the country.

This notion of a national Ma'at is not lost to us today. Many people of religion continue to believe that a nation's fortunes are dictated by their adherence to both good deeds and a general belief in God. Biblically, there are more than a few examples of states finding the wrath of God due to a lack of values.

We know of the ancient Egyptian system of values from wisdom text, wall engravings, particularly autobiographies, and from various religious sources.


The King represented Egypt before the gods, and it is he who is depicted most often worshipping them while standing, kneeling or even crawling. In making offerings to the gods, the King attempts to secure order, or Ma'at, which is compulsory for gods as well as kings.

The king was the single link between the divine and the profane, as well as the representative of the gods on Earth. Since the Second Intermediate period, the doctrine of the king as god attempts to explain how a living being can acquire divine status, a concept that was first formulated in the Coffin Texts, and possibly used earlier in the Pyramid Texts. It may have originated in the union of the dead king with Osiris, or that of the living king with Horus.

The first title of an Egyptian king was his Horus name, and there is a close connection of this deity and the king since at least the late Predynastic Period. This basic concept was maintained during all periods, although in various royal representations, the proportions of the king to the god were eventually changed in favor of the god, and therefore making the king of less importance.

The king's divine status has been explained by reference to his two natures. The king became an offspring of the Sun God, Re, in the 4th Dynasty, which is viewed as a loss in divine power. The dead king was seen as Osiris, while the living king was the son of Re. Note that during the 5th Dynasty, the king's built solar temples (to Re), but had Osirian subterranean structures beneath their pyramids, which show the close association of both Re and Osiris with kingship.

So important was the king to ancient Egyptian religion that he was theoretically required to be the head of all ceremonies and rites throughout the country at the same time. The practical answer to this was for the king to elevate members of the royal family, during the Old Kingdom, and nobles of his court later, so that they could represent him. This became the Egyptian priesthood, which eventually developed its own independence and titles during the New Kingdom.

It is not unreasonable that our concept of how the Egyptians worshiped their many gods might change extensively as we find more and more new information. Indeed, there have, over the years, been shifts in how Egyptology views the religion. One might consider the amount of material available on our modern religions, and how little we have on the Egyptian religion, to have an understanding of just how little we actually know about this complex and ancient belief system. T.N.P

Friday, September 21, 2007

Abu Simbel

Perhaps after the Giza pyramids, or coincident with them, the great temple of Abu Simbel presents the most familiar image of ancient Egypt to the modern traveler and reader. When the conservation efforts to preserve the temple from the soon-to be built High Aswan Dam and its rising waters were begun in the 1960s, images of the colossal statues filled newspapers and books. The temples were dismantled and relocated in 1968 on the desert plateau, 200 feet above and 600 feet west of their original location.
Abu Simbel lies south of Aswan on the western bank of the Nile, 180 miles south of the First Cataract in what was Nubia. The site was known as Meha in ancient times and was first documented in the 18th Dynasty, when Ay and Horemheb had rock-cut chapels hewn in the hills to the south.
Ramesses II, called "the Great," built seven rock-cut temples in Nubia. The rock-cut temple of Ramesses II on the west bank of the Nile at Abu Simbel is the greatest of these. This temple was not seen by Europeans until J.J. Burckhardt discovered them in 1813.
The temple, called Hwt Ramesses Meryamun, the "Temple of Ramesses, beloved of Amun," was begun fairly early in Ramesses’ long reign, commissioned some time after his fifth regnal year, but not completed until his 35th regnal year. The massive facade of the main temple is dominated by the four seated colossal statues of Ramesses. These familiar representations are of Ramesses II himself. Each statue, 67 feet high, is seated on a throne and wears the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. Each is taller than the famed Memnon Colossus at Thebes, and all are sculpted directly from the rock face. The thrones are decorated on their sides with Nile gods symbolically uniting Egypt.

Burckhardt said of the first face on the left that it "was the most expressive, youthful countenance, approaching nearer to the Grecian model of beauty than that of any ancient Egyptian figure I have seen."
An ancient earthquake damaged the statues. One is demolished from the waist up.
Between the legs and on each of their sides stand smaller statues of members of the royal family. The smaller statues of relatives were probably, for the first southern colossus: Queen Nefretari by the left leg, the king’s mother, the great wife of Seti I, Muttuya by his right leg, and Prince Amenhirkhopshef in front. For the second southern colossus, Princess Bent’anta stood by the left leg, Princess Nebettawyby the left, and one unnamed female figure, probably that of a lesser royal wife named Esenofre.
The family statues at the first northern colossus were, Queen Nefretari, Princess Beketmut and Prince Riameses in front. For the second northern colossus, there were Princess Merytamun, Queen Muttuya and Princess Nofretari.
Beneath these giant sculptures are carved figures of bound captives.
The forecourt or terrace which fronted the temple contained two tanks for the ablutions of the priests. On the northern side of this terrace stood a small sun-chapel, and on the south, stood a chapel of the god Thoth. Above the entrance, a figure of the falcon-headed sun-god Ra is shown worshipped by flanking images of Ramesses. The rebus figure of Ra contains the prenomen of Ramesses II, or Userma’atre: the falcon headed god Ra has next to his right leg the glyph showing the head and neck of an animal, read User, and the goddess at his left leg is ma’at. At the top of the temple façade is a row of baboon statues in adoring attitudes, said to welcome the rising sun.
A stela at the southern end of the external terrace is called "the Marriage Stela," and is a copy of the record of one of Ramesses II’s diplomatic triumphs, his marriage to a daughter of the Hittite king Hattusilis III.
Within the temple a series of chambers becomes increasingly smaller as the floors of the rooms rise noticeably. This is a basic convention of temple design, as one moves into the temple deeper to the sanctuary which would contain the primeval mound of creation, rising out of the waters of Nun.
The first hall within the temple contains eight large statues of the king as Osiris, four on each side, which also serve as pillars to support the roof. The walls are decorated in relief with scenes showing the king in battle, including the great battle of Kadesh on the north, and Syrian, Libyan and Nubian wars on the south wall, and also presenting prisoners to the gods.
On the north entrance wall in this Hypostyle hall a scene shows Ramesses in the presence of Amun, to whom the king appealed during his battle at Kadesh against the Hittites.
Behind the first hall is a second smaller hall with ritual offering scenes. Here in one scene both Ramesses and Nefertari are depicted before the sacred barque of Amun, and in another, before the sacred barque of Ra-Horakhaty. Three doors lead from here into a vestibule, and then one reaches the sanctuary.
The sanctuary contains a small altar and in its rear niche are four statues. These cult images represent Ramesses II himself, and the three state gods of the New Kingdom, Ra-Horakhty of Heliopolis, Ptah of Memphis and Amun-Ra of Thebes. Before the statues rests a block upon which would have rested the sacred barque itself.

The axis of the temple is arranged so that on two days of the year, in February and October, the rising sun shoots its rays through the entrance and halls until it finally illuminates the sanctuary statues.
To the north of the main temple a smaller temple was built in honor of Ramesses’ great wife, Nefertari, and the goddess Hathor. This temple should not be confused with the beautiful Tomb to Nefertari in the Valley of Queens near Thebes.

As with Ramesses’ own temple, the cliff face was cut back to resemble sloping walls of a pylon. Six colossal standing figures 33 feet high four of Ramesses and two of Nefertari, were cut from the rock face, along with smaller figures of the royal family. An inscription over the entrance reads "Ramesses II, he has made a temple, excavated in the mountain, of eternal workmanship, for the chief queen Nefertari, beloved of Mu, in Nubia, forever and ever, Nefertari for whose sake the very sun does shine."

Inside, Nefertari’s temple has a single pillared hall, with carved Hathor heads atop the pillars. On the sides facing the center of the hypostyle; Ramesses is shown smiting his enemies and offering before various gods, while Nefertari is shown, graceful and slender, with hands raised. Three doors lead to a vestibule with ancillary rooms at either end.

The sanctuary is complete, though two spaces were left on its side walls for doors to rooms, which were never cut. The inner chamber contains a number of images interrelating the royal couple and the gods. On the rear wall, Hathor is depicted in high relief as a cow emerging from the western mountain, with the king standing beneath her chin. Nefertari is shown repeatedly participating in the divine rituals on an equal footing with the king. On the left wall, Nefertari is seen worshipping before Mut and Hathor, and on the right, Ramesses worships before images of his deified self and his wife.

When Greek mercenaries passed by in the 6th century BCE, sand already reached the knees of the statues. These ancient sight-see-ers left an inscription which reads "When King Psammetichus came to Elephantine, this was written by those who sailed with Psammetichus the son of Theolces, and they came beyond Kerkis as far as the river permits."

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Pyramid of Pepi II

at South Saqqara

Pepi II's pyramid in South Saqqara was the last to be built in the best traditions of the Old Kingdom. It was named "Pepi's life is enduring", which indeed it was. He reign we believe lasted 94 years, longer then any other Ancient Egyptian pharaoh. The pyramid is located on the the southern edge of the necropolis, about three miles south Djoser's Step Pyramid, which probably made it a source of inspiration for Middle Kingdom pyramid builders.

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 .

Once again, Perring first investigated the pyramid, followed by Maspero who entered it in 1881. However, not until 1926 was a systematic investigation initiated by Jequier, who continued his work until 1932.

Scene from Pepi II's valley temple

The valley temple of Pepi II is very different then those of some earlier kings. It was a wide structure, with an angular terrace open on its east side and oriented northwest-southeast along a now non-existent canal. There were ramps and entrances at either end of the wide temple, and an entrance in the middle inline with the causeway. Within the valley temple, the front portion was a hall supported by eight pillars. Fragments of the decorative theme have survived, and show the king being received by gods, a victory against Egypt's enemies, and a hunt in a papyrus thicket. A vestibule behind this pillared hall had a stairway leading to the valley temple's roof terrace. In this room were also the entrances into the side storage annexes of the valley temple, along with the entrance to the ascending causeway. The vestibule has a few fragmentary decorations, including a scenes of hippopotamus being hunted, and the transportation of a hippopotamus on a wooden sled.

The causeway connecting the valley temple to the mortuary temple took two turns and angled to the northeast. At the upper turn was a small room that functioned as a guard house. Scenes within the causeway depict the king as a sphinx and a griffin massacring prisoners and enemies of Egypt, as well as scenes showing processions of servants bringing offerings from the mortuary estates and various divinities approaching the ruler on his throne.

The southeastern corner is the best preserved part of the pyramid. The pyramid you see in the distance is Zoser's.

Pepi II's mortuary temple is not unlike those of earlier 5th and 6th dynasty rulers, though it incorporates a few new features. For example, after the causeway but before the entrance corridor are a large, and to either side of it, two small north-south oriented rooms. According to Ricke, these symbolized important religious centers with the center room as Heliopolis, But the north room and Sais the southern room. From here, a stairway lead to the temples roof terrace. Also, the enlargement of the mortuary temple's eastern walls continues the development of the pylon-like features begun at the mortuary temple of Niuserre at Abusir.

Layout of Pepi II's valley temple, pyramid and his queens' pyramids

The entrance corridor lead, as usual, to an open, pillared, courtyard that was paved in limestone. The walls of the courtyard appear to be undecorated. There were eighteen pillars of reddish quartzite. One of these, on the northwest corner, survives. It is adorned with a scene of Pepi II and Re-Harakhty exchanging embraces. The other pillars also featured the king with a god. To either side of this outer section of the mortuary complex are storage annexes.

The transverse corridor between the inner and outer sections of the mortuary temple is noteworthy because it retains some of its decorative theme. Here, we find actually a stylized model of a niche on the west wall, and on the east wall a scene of Pepi II's sed festival, the festival of the god Min, and the execution of a Libyan chieftain. The chieftain is accompanied by his consort and son. However, this last scene is ritualistic, and was also found in the mortuary temple of Sahure.

In the middle of the back wall of the transverse corridor directly behind the open courtyard, an entrance lead into the inner sanctum of the temple. The entrance area is decorated with a scene depicting Pepi II being suckled by goddesses. The floor of the inner sanctum is raised about a meter higher then the outer part of the temple. Here, the first room encountered is the cult chapel, with its five niches, framed in red granite, for statues that originally were provided with narrow, double doors. Significantly, the center niche, which is slightly larger then the others, contains the base of a life size royal statue. It remains the only direct evidence we have that these ever present chambers were in fact statue niches. The niches are lined with pink granite. Behind the chapel is the antechamber carree that once had a single reddish quartzite pillar. Here the ceiling had an astronomical theme, decorated with stars. On the walls we find scenes of courtiers bringing tribute, and above them separated by a row of stars, is Pepi II who is in the company of gods. The north door of the chapel led to five storage annexes, while the south door lead to the offering hall.

A sacrificial table, made from alabaster.

However, before arriving in the offering hall there was a small vestibule and square, single pillared antechamber. In this vestibule we find more scenes of the king suppressing disorder, slaying enemies and hunting wild animals. Above the entrance to the offering hall in the antechamber is a scene of the king embracing the goddess Nekhbet and Anubis as a jackal. There is also depicted as many as 100 deities and 45 officials receiving the king.

The offering hall had a vaulted ceiling and is decorated. Here, the king sits at an offering table with a list of sacrifices, sacrifice bearers, and men slaughtering sacrificial animals. There are as many as 100 dignitaries and residents pictured bringing ducks, geese, quail, pigeons, gazelle, goats, antelopes, cattle, fruit wine, bear and bread. Behind the king is depicted a figure with the symbol of raised arms on his head, the symbol of the king's ka. There was, of course, an alter and at the back of this room adjacent to the pyramid was a false door.

A doorway at the south end of the dividing transverse corridor opened into the pyramid courtyard, where the cult pyramid was located. It was about 15.75 meters (52 feet) square. It has a t-shaped passage and a small chamber, all of which was left rough. A door on the other end of the corridor lead to the main pyramid courtyard, where three depressions (basins) probably were meant to collect libation water.

Pepi II's pyramid is built much like those of his predecessors, using small pieces of limestone secured with a clay mortar for the core and fine white limestone for the casing. The core consisted of five steps. What we do not understand is why the pyramid itself was enlarged. It turns out that after the casing was laid and the north chapel built, a band of brick about seven meters wide was added around the pyramid at the level of the third layer of core blocks. In order to complete this work, the north chapel and enclosure wall were both torn down, though the wall was built back a little farther from the pyramid. This mudbrick work did not rise above the height of the perimeter wall. Edwards suggested that this addition might have been to strengthen the pyramid after it was damaged by an earthquake, but the mudbrick was really not strong enough to be used for this purpose. It may have been added in order to strengthen the lower levels of casing. Others have suggested that the builders wished the pyramid to resemble the Hieroglyph for "pyramid", with a band across the base, or even that it may have symbolized one of his Sed festivals.

Subteranian chambers of Pepi II's pyramid

There is nothing particularly unusual about the subterranean section of the pyramid. The initial corridor descends into a vestibule, at which point everything becomes level. In this area of the pyramid were found alabaster and diorite vessel fragments along with the golden blade of a small, rounded knife which may have been used in the ritual pyramid closing. The vestibule opens up into a second corridor where soon the barrier would have been encountered. The barrier was made up of three huge, portcullis slabs of granite. After the barrier, the corridor continues until it leads into the antechamber. From here, the plan takes a 90 degree right turn into the burial chamber.

The perfection of the Giza pyramids is since long forgotten. The pyramid of Pepi 2 is made from uneven stone, in average about the size of tile bricks.

From the level corridor on, the walls are adorned with pyramid text. The one exception is the back wall of the burial chamber behind the sarcophagus, which is decorated with motifs of a stylized palace facade. In this room, at the head and foot ends of the sarcophagus, were false doors, painted green and topped with the name plate of the king. Both the ceilings of the antechamber and burial chamber are gabled, and decorated with an astronomical theme of stars on a dark background.

About halfway down the side of the black granite sarcophagus there were hieroglyphic inscriptions with Pepi II's name and titles. At the foot of the sarcophagus was a niche for the canopic chest, though only the granite lid was found. Pepi II's mummy has never been found, but at the foot of the sarcophagus' southwest corner was a whole for his canopic chest, the lid of which has been recovered.

It should also be noted that within the ruins of the complex were found many statues of prisoners reminiscent of the complexes of Teti, Djedkare and Pepi I, though here many more were found.

Small queen pyramid to the north of Pepi's. Although collapsed, it still is noted for the fine remains of casing.

To the north, northwest and south of Pepi II's complex were fouind the pyramids of at least three of his queens. The pyramids belonged to Neith, the daughter of Pepi I, Ipwet (Iput II), the daughter of his brother Merenre, and another wife named Udjebten (Wedjebten).


Height: 52.5m
Base: 78.75m
Slope: 53o 13'
Base of Cult Pyramid: 15.75m
Slope of Cult Pyramid: 63o
Length of Causeway: 400m


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Pyramids of Pepi I's Queens
and Family at South Saqqara

We know of about six pyramids near the pyramid of Pepi I in South Saqqara. We assume all of these belong to his family and that nearly all of them were in fact consorts of Pepi I.

Ground Plan of The Pyramids of Pepi I's Queens and Family at South Saqqara in Egypt

Attempting to put it together. The placement of Pepi I, Nebwenet, Inenek-Inti and the Southwest Pyramid should be to scale. The placement and size of Meritites and Ankhesenpepi II and III's pyramids are estimated.

The Pyramid of Queen Nebwenet:

The eastern most of these pyramids belonged to a queen named Nebwenet (Nebuunet). We believe that she was a consort of Pepi I. However, we believe their may be another pyramid possibly located farther east. There is little left of Nebwenet's pyramid, though enough is there for us to estimate its basic layout. It included a small pyramid and an even smaller mortuary temple

The small, simple mortuary temple was located in front of the pyramid's east wall. The temple entrance was located in a small antechamber to the north and a path from this room also led to the open courtyard around the pyramid. The entrance to the mortuary temple first led to a chapel-like room with three niches for statues, and then into the offering hall complete with a false door. The offering halls is somewhat south of the pyramid's east-west axis.

The pyramid was, as most were at Saqqara, built of limestone. The entrance to the pyramid was in its north courtyard in the pavement under a north chapel made of mudbrick Only a fragment of a limestone alter was found in the chapel's ruins. The entrance led to a corridor that descended, later becoming wider and flat thus constituting a small vestibule. Just before the burial chamber was a simple pink granite barrier.

The burial chamber itself is located just south of the pyramid's vertical axis. It is oriented east-west. It had a flat ceiling, and no inscriptions on the walls such as the pyramid text found not only in Pepi I's pyramid but also . There was no mummy found in the burial chamber, but fragments of a pink granite sarcophagus were recovered. A side room, or serdab, to the east o the burial chamber contained fragments of funerary equipment including a cylindrical wooden weight used in weaving, wooden objects in the form of ostrich feathers (possibly symbolic of the goddess Mat), and other items.

Technical: Height: 21m Base: 20.96m

The Pyramid of Queen Inenek-Int:

The pyramid just to the west of Nebwenet's pyramid is that of Inenek-Inti, probably another wife of Pepi I.

Both the pyramid and the mortuary temple of Queen Inenek-Inti are somewhat larger then those of Queen Nebwenet, and the complex also has its own enclosure wall. It apparently even had its own cult pyramid on the pyramid's southeast corner.

The mortuary temple itself is highly unusual, wrapping about the pyramid on the east, north and south sides. It was entered from the north into a small chamber that led directly into a columned courtyard near the northeast corner of the pyramid. West of this courtyard was a two columned chamber and then a number of storage rooms. To the courtyard's south we first encounter a three niche chapel-like area for statues, and then an offering hall

The pyramid itself, though slightly larger, has just about the same ground floor as that of Queen Nebwenet. It too was entered from the pavement of the pyramid courtyard on the north side, where a north chapel was located. It had a descending corridor, becoming level and wider and leading to a burial chamber, with a small room off to its east. However, in this pyramid, the burial chamber is centered on the pyramid's axis.

The Southwestern Pyramid:

West of Inenek-Inti, often described as the "Southwestern Pyramid". belonged to perhaps a queen, but we do not know her name. An inscription describes her as the "eldest daughter of the king". We do not know this woman's position, or whether she was a wife or perhaps a daughter of Pepi I.

The mortuary temple we are told was built in haste, and very little of it remains. An unusual aspect though is that the chapel like niche room only had two niches for statues. There was, of course, also an offering hall, but the general layout is unknown. There were a number of relief fragments found within the ruins, portraying scenes of processions of courtiers, mortuary estates, and a fragment of a cartouche containing the name of Pepi I.
The ruins of this pyramid only stand about three meters high, but its original size was very similar to that of Queen Nebwenet's pyramid, even though the substructure differed substantially. While the entrance and entrance corridor was very similar to that of both Nebwenet's and Inenek-Inti's pyramid, here, the burial chamber sits on the pyramid's vertical axis, and the small adjoining room {Serdab) is to the south of the burial chamber. Within this small chamber was found two rolls of fine linen, a gilded wooden sandal and copper utensils.

Parts of a pink granite sarcophagus and other items similar to those in Nebwenet's pyramid were found within the burial chamber. These included wooden weights used in weaving, wooden feathers (symbolic of Matt), copper fishhooks and large vessels made of fired clay.

Technical: Height: 21m Base: 20.96m

Other Pyramids in the Area and Fairly Recent Discoveries

The Pyramid of Meritites:

Another pyramid in the area has been identified as belonging to Meritites (Merytytyes) who is described as a "daughter of the king and wife of the king". This pyramid lies to the south of the "Southwestern Pyramid", but little else is known. To the north of the "Southwestern Pyramid" is a tomb that we are told belongs to a prince Hernetjerikhet.

The Pyramid of Ankhesenpepi III:

Recently, the pyramid of Ankhesenpepi III was discovered near the southwest corner of the king's pyramid. In the badly damaged burial chamber, apparently a sarcophagus was found which was cut from a huge sandstone block and embedded in the floor. The lid of the sarcophagus was formed from a huge roughly dressed block of pink granite. It should be noted that the name Ankhesenpepi III corrisponds to the name, Ankhnesmerire. We know that Ankhnesmerire I and II married Pepi I, but we do not know the relationship of this woman.

The Pyramid of Ankhesenpepi II:

Very recently, the pyramid of Ankhesenpepi II was discovered just south of the pyramid of Ankhesenpepi III. This must have been the same as Ankhnesmerire II, the younger sister of Ankhnesmerire I and the mother of the King, Pepi II. He was probably a regent for her young son when he took the throne, and in Wadi Maghara in the Sinai we believe a scene depicts this queen wearing the Uraeus, a bit of evidence that supports the conclusion.

A fragment of the pyramid text from the pyramid of Ankhesenpepi II

In addition, we find in her burial chamber the pyramid text. It is engraved in relief and painted green. While Pepi I's pyramid contains such text, there is no indication that any of the other subsidiary pyramids did so with the exception of this one. In fact, she is the first of any woman we know of that was accorded this privilege. In addition, there was also found an enormous, carefully crafted basalt sarcophagus with the queen's name and titles inscribed upon its lid and on the partially exposed east and north sides.

Obviously, there are many more mysteries around the pyramid of Pepi I that need to be worked out Perhaps someday, the riddles of his rule will unravel from the efforts of the French team now excavating the area.