The Fifth Dynasty


The 5th Dynasty began in 2465 BC and ended in 2325 BC., spanning approximately 140 years during the period known as 'The Old Kingdom'.


Userkaf -Userkhaf - "His Soul is Powerful" - 2498 B.C. - 2345 B.C.

Although he started a new dynasty, Userkaf (c.2498 2491) was a grandson of Djedefre. To secure his hold on Egypt, he married Khentkawes, Menkaure's daughter and half-sister of Shepseskaf. Like his predecessor, he built his funerary complex at Saqqara, which was innovative, in that the mortuary temple was to the south of the pyramid, not to the east, as was traditional. This is now seen as being due to the increasing importance of the sun god in the south, the temple would be bathed in the sun's rays throughout the day.

When completed, the pyramid was 161 ft (49 m) high and encased in limestone, though the core was sloppily built and therefore crumbled when this casing was removed by robbers. Although the complex is now ruined and largely inaccessible, limited excavations there have produced a huge pink granite head of Userkaf. Userkaf also built the first of the Solar Temples of Abu-Gurob.

Userkaf, as the originator of the fifth dynasty, clearly felt he should associate himself with one of his great predecessors. To achieve this, he build his pyramid complex at Saqqara, as close as possible to that of Djoser. When completed, the pyramid was 161 ft (49 m) high and encased in limestone, though the core was sloppily built and therefore crumbled when this casing was removed by robbers.

Userkaf's pyramid complex is notable for the fact that his mortuary temple is separate from the pyramid itself. Here, the offering chapel is alone on the east side of the structure, with the mortuary temple some distance to the south. This has been seen by some as indicative of a slight change in ideology the fifth dynasty was more involved with the sun cult at Heliopolis than any previous dynasty, and a building to the south would be bathed in sun throughout the day. Others have proposed a more practical reason, namely that the ground to the east of the pyramid was not stable enough to support any construction placed upon it.

Userkaf was the first pharaoh to build a sun temple. Named Nekhen-Re ("Stronghold of Re" Re was the sun god), it was probably built in up to 4 phases, almost certainly completed under different pharaohs.

In the first phase, a symbolic mound was constructed in a rectangular enclosure.

The second phase took place under Neferirkare, who set a granite obelisk on top of a pedestal building, placing 2 shrines in front.

Later on, Niuserre undertook the third and fourth phases. The third one involved rebuilding the inner enclosure in limestone and extending the outer enclosure, rebuilding the valley temple in the process. The final phase saw the construction of a new, larger altar, along with various embellishments.



Sahure - "He Who is Close to Re" - 2491 - 2477 B.C.

The second king of the 5th Dynasty.

Sahure was a son of Khentkaus I, who, in her tomb at Giza, is said to have been the "mother of two kings". His father probably was Userkaf. There are no wives or children known to him and at least no children of his seem to have outlived him, since he was succeeded by his brother.

Like Userkaf, Sahure built a solar-temple, named Sekhet-Re, which has not yet been located. It is sometimes assumed that in stead of building his own solar-temple, he in fact modified his father's and gave it another name. The textual evidence however, shows that Sekhet-Re was a different temple that was in use at the same time as Userkaf's.

He was the first king to build his pyramid complex at Abusir. It was called Kha-bai-Sahurea and is a few kilometres North of Saqqara. The move to Abusir was perhaps already started by Userkaf, who built his solar-temple there. The reliefs in his mortuary and valley temple depict a counting of foreigners by or in front of the goddess Seshat and the return of a fleet from Asia, perhaps Byblos.

Sahure established the Egyptian navy and sent a fleet to Punt and traded with Palestine. His pyramid at Abusir has colonnaded courts and reliefs of his naval fleet, but his military career consisted mostly of campaigns against the Libyans in the western desert. Reliefs on the walls show evidence for trading expeditions outside Egypt ships are shown with both Egyptians and Asiatics on board. These ships are part of an expedition to the Lebanon, searching for cedar logs. This is corroborated by inscriptions found in the Lebanon testifying to an expedition there under Sahure. As part of the contacts with the Near-East, the reliefs from his funerary monuments also hold the oldest known representation of a Syrian bear.

A relief showing a war against Libya is believed by some to be historical and by others to be merely ritual. The Palermo-stone also mentions expeditions the the Sinai and to the exotic land of Punt, as well as to the diorite quarries North-West of Abu Simbel, thus far into Nubia.

According to the Turin King-list, Sahure ruled for 12 years. The Palermo-stone notes 7 countings, which either indicates a reign of 14 years or that the countings did not occur with a frequency of once every two years.



Neferirkare - "Divine of the Body" - 2477 - 2467 B.C.

Neferirkare was the second son of Khentkaus I to have ruled Egypt. As with his brother Sahure, it is not known whether Userkaf was his father. Neferirkare was married to a name-sake of his mother's, Khentkaus II. It is not unlikely that Khentkaus II too was related to Khentkaus I. At least two children are believed to have been born of this marriage: Neferefre and Niuserre. Other wives and children are not known.

The length of his reign is unfortunately lost on the Turin King-list and the Palermo-stone breaks of after having recorded a 5th counting, which, if the counting occurred every two years, would mean that Neferirkare at least ruled for 10 years. According to Manetho, his rule lasted for 20 years, a number which appears to be generally accepted.

The Turin Canon, also known as the Turin Royal Canon is a unique papyrus, written in hieratic currently in the Egyptian Museum at Turin, to which it owes its modern name.

The Turin Canon is broken into over 160 often very small fragments, many of which have been lost. When it was discovered in the Theban necropolis by the Italian traveller Bernardino Drovetti in 1822, it seems to have been largely intact, but by the time it became part of the collection of the Egyptian Museum in Turin, its condition had severely deteriorated.

The importance of this papyrus was first recognised by the French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion, who, later followed by Gustavus Seyffarth took up its reconstruction and restoration. Although they succeeded in placing most of the fragments in the correct order, the diligent intervention of these two men came too late and many lacunae still remain.

Written during the long reign of Ramesses II, the papyrus, now 1.7m long and 0.41m, comprises on the recto an unknown number of pages that hold a list of names of persons and institutions, along with what appears to be the tax-assessment of each.

It is, however, the verso of the papyrus that has attracted the most attention, as it contains a list of gods, demi-gods, spirits, mythical and human kings who ruled Egypt from the beginning of time presumably until the composition of this valuable document.

The beginning and ending of the list are now lost, which means that we are missing both the introduction of the list -if ever there was such an introduction- and the enumeration of the kings following the 17th Dynasty. We therefore do not know for certain when after the composition of the tax-list on the recto an unknown scribe used the verso to write down this list of kings. This may have occurred  during the reign of Ramesses II, but a date as late as the Dynasty can not be excluded. The fact that the list was scribbled on the back of an older papyrus may indicate that it was of no great importance to the writer.

Neferirkare was the first king to have his birth-name made part of the official titulary, thus adding a second cartouche. He was the first king to have employed both a prenomen and nomen (two names and two cartouches),a custom that later kings would follow.

The hieratic papyrus found at his pyramid complex are probably his most notable contributions to Egyptology. They were originally discovered in 1893 by local farmers and consist of 300 papyrus fragments. They remained unpublished for some seventy-five years, even as the first archaeologists were excavating Abusir. Only later did a Czech mission, which explored the site in 1976, take full advantage of these documents.

The Neferirkara archive reveals a world of detailed and very professional administration. Elaborate tables provide monthly rosters of duty: for guarding the temple, for fetching the daily income (or 'offerings') and for performing ceremonies including those on the statues, with a special roster for the important Feast of Seker.

Similar tables list the temple equipment, item by item and grouped by materials, with details of damage noted at a monthly inspection. Other records of inspection relate to doors and rooms in the temple building. The presentation of monthly income is broken down by substance, source and daily amount. The commodities are primarily types of bread and beer, meat and fowl, corn and fruit. They also mention a mortuary temple of a little-known king, Raneferef, who's tomb was yet to be discovered but thanks to these papyrus, is now known and has yielded significant discoveries.

He also completed (or modified) the solar-temple built by Userkaf in Abusir. His own solar-temple, called Set-ib-Re, has yet to be located.

He was also the second king to erect his funerary monument at Abusir. The seals and papyri discovered in his mortuary temple give some insights into the functioning of this temple. The documents are dated to the end of the 6th Dynasty, which indicates that the cult for the deceased Neferirkare at least lasted until the end of the Old Kingdom.



Shepseskare Ini - "Noble is the Soul of Re" - 2426 - 2419 -

Little to nothing is known about Shepseskare nor his relationship to the other kings of the 5th Dynasty. According to the Turin King-list, he ruled for 7 years. Some seal impressions dated to his reign have been found at Abusir, and these are about the only witnesses of Shepseskare's reign. It is not known whether he built a pyramid or a solar-temple, although the unfinished pyramid located at Abusir between the pyramid of Sahure and the solar-temple of Userkaf, has, by some, been credited to him.



NEFEREFRE - "Beautiful is Re" - 2419-2416 BC

The Fifth King of the Fifth Dynasty. Neferefre was the first son of Neferirkare and Khentkaus II to come to the throne. The Turin King-list is too fragmentary to provide us with the length of Neferefre's reign. He built a solar-temple named Hetep-Re, which has not yet been discovered, and, at Abusir, started with the building of his own pyramid complex. The complex was left unfinished.



NIUSERRE IZI - " Possessed of Re's Power" - 2416-2392 BC

Izi (Niuserre) was the Sixth King of the Fifth Dynasty.

Niuserre was the second son of Neferirkare and Khentkaus II to have ascended to the throne. He was married to a woman named Reputneb, of whom a statue was discovered in the valley-temple connected to his and Neferirkare's pyramid complex. It is not known whether he had any children (that out-lived him).

The Turin King-list is somewhat damaged at the point where Niuserre's name is mentioned, and only allows us to state that he ruled for more than 10 years. The 44 years credited to him by Manetho is considered unreliable. The representation of a Sed-festival found in his solar-temple may indicate that he ruled at least for 30 years.

An inscription found in the Sinai shown Niuserre triumphant over his enemies. It is debatable whether this inscription refers to an actual victory of Niuserre, or whether it was merely symbolic. It does, however, show that Niuserre was active in the Sinai.

He built a solar-temple, named Shesepu-ib-re, in Abu Gurab, a kilometre or more to the North of Abusir. Not only is this the biggest and most complete solar-temple, it is also the only one that was constructed completely of stone. The many finely carved reliefs that remain show the king during a Sed-festival and the world as created by the solar god, with representations of the seasons and the provinces of Egypt. With the reign of Niuserre, the solar-cult appears to have come to its summit.

The sanctuary consisted of an entrance hall that was leading to a court of 100x75 m / 330x250 ft. in size which was surrounded by a stone wall. In the middle of the courtyard stood a huge obelisk, a stone that looked like the modern-day Washington Monument. The obelisk was the cultic symbol for Re, the sun-god.


Remains of the sun temple of King Niuserre in Abu Gurob


The pyramid-complex of Niuserre is located at Abusir, between the pyramids of Sahure and Neferirkare. Instead of building his own valley temple, he had his pyramid complex connected to the valley temple of Neferirkare. His two wives, Reputneb and Khentikus, were buried near him at Abusir.

His Cartouche



Nile Pyramid Complexes

Astronomical Triangulations of Aries, Equinoxes,
Solstices and the Duat of Pharaonic Egypt



MENKAUHOR - "Eternal Like the Souls of Horus" - 2396-2388 BC

Menkauhor was the seventh king of the 5th Dynasty. He ruled Ancient Egypt from 2396 till 2388 BC, but never achieved the level of fame that the rest of the kings in his dynasty did. The relationship of Menkauhor with his predecessors or successors is not known. His reign is attested by an inscription in the Sinai and a seal from Abusir. He is reputed as having sent his troops to Sinai in order to acquire materials for the construction of his tomb. His solar-temple, called Akhet-Re and his pyramid are mentioned in texts from private tombs, but have not yet been identified. There is a small alabaster statue of Menkauhor located in the Egyptian museum in Cairo.



DJEDKARE IZEZI - The Soul of Ra Endures - 2388-2356 BC

The relationship of Djedkare with his predecessors or successors is not known. According to the Turin King-list he ruled for 28 years, although some Egyptologists would prefer to read the number given as 38. Manetho records 44 years for this king.

Djedkare's was a very smart and energetic king, and he was able to take full advantage of all the available mineral resources in Egypt at Wadi Hammamat and Sinai. His name has been found in the Sinai, demonstrating a continued Egyptian interest in the rich regions Abydos and Nubia.

His reign is marked by some important changes: the solar cult, although not abandoned, loses some of its importance and predominance, and the power of the central government is weakened to the advantage of the provincial administration.

Another important change that occurred during Djedkare's reign was the return to Saqqara as a burial place. This does not mean, however, that the funerary temples of Abusir were abandoned. The larger part of the papyri found in the funerary temple of Neferirkare are dated to Djedkare.

His pyramid is now an 80ft X 24m high rubble heap. An inscription found inside in 1946 showed that it belonged to Djedkare hitherto the owner of the pyramid had been unknown, as it had been smashed in antiquity and used as a burial ground in the eighteenth dynasty.

His heir was his son, Prince Remkuy, who died before he assumed the throne.



UNAS - WENIS - 2356 till 2323 BC

Unas was the ninth and last king of the 5th Dynasty.

The relationship of Unas with his predecessors or successors is not known.

Wenis had two wives, Queen Nebet, who was the mother of Prince Wenisakh, and Queen Khenut. It has been proposed that Iput the first was his daughter.

Both of Unas' Queens were buried in mastaba tombs outside of Unas' pyramid complex, which, in itself is unusual since often in this period the Queens would be buried in smaller pyramids near their husband's.

According to the Turin King-list, Unas ruled for 30 years, or perhaps slightly more of part of the number is in the lacuna, which is confirmed by Manetho, who recorded 33 years.

His name has been found in Elephantine, at the Southern border of Egypt (Aswan), and also on an alabaster vessel found in Byblos, the latter perhaps indicating some commercial or diplomatic activities between Egypt and the Near East during this period. He seems not to have left any apparent heirs after his death, which may have resulted in some political instability following his death. An inscription raised at Elephantine shows a giraffe that was brought to Egypt with other exotic animals for ancient Egyptians, during Wenis' reign.

During his reign, successful trade expeditions were conducted with neighboring nations. Another drawing found on a discovered vase shows battle scenes during his reign. There was a major famine during this time.

Unas is mostly known from his pyramid complex, which he built to the North-west of Djoser's at Saqqara. It is the oldest known royal tomb to have contained religious texts, the so-called Pyramid Texts, which are a collection of spells, litanies, hymns and descriptions of the King's life after death. These texts are the oldest known religious writings known to mankind.

The pyramid of Unas, the last pharaoh of the Old kingdom, now lies in ruins on the Saqqara Plateau. It is near the Step Pyramid of Zoser, the great king of the First Dynasty.

Beneath the rubble, in the burial chamber, we find one of the finest examples of the Pyramid Text inscriptions hewn in the polished stone walls and ceiling.

Rise up my father, great king
so that you may sit in front of them.
The cavern of the broad sky is opened to you
so that you may stride in the sunshine.
Stand up for me, Osiris, my father.
I am your son. I am Horus.
I have come that I might cleanse and purify you,
that I might preserve you and collect your bones.
I say this for you.

Unas was adored in the Saqqara region for many centuries after his death.

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