The Fourth Dynasty

Snefru - Snofru (2575-2551 B.C.)

The first king of the 4th Dynasty was an active military leader. His campaigns against the Nubians and the Libyans are recorded on the Palermo Stone. He began trade with the Mediterranean nations and initiated a series of construction projects throughout Egypt, In order to supply Egypt with timber, he sent a fleet of forty ships to Lebanon. While there, he erected monuments to commemorate the event. He built his mortuary complex at Dashur, including the Maidum Pyramid, the Bent Pyramid, and the Red Pyramid. The Bent Pyramid is thought to be an architectural link between the Step Pyramid and the true pyramids. Snefru was deified by the kings of the 12th Dynasty. Many of the rulers of that time built their own mortuary complexes beside his.

Cheops - Khufu - Suphis - (2589-2566 B.C.) - Protected by Khnum

Cheops was the second king of the 4th Dynasty and was the builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza and founder of the Giza Plateau near modern Cairo and Memphis.

Unlike his grandfather Huni, and his father Sneferu, both of whom were remembered as benevolent and compassionate rulers, Khufu was reported by Herodotus to have been a cruel despot.

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

Khufu may have been already on in years when he took the throne. His kinsman and vizier, Hemiunu, was also the architect of the Great Pyramid. KhufuŠs senior wife was named Merityotes, and she and his other two wives were each buried in one of the three smaller subsidiary pyramids that lie just south of the mortuary temple of the main pyramid.

Khufu had several sons, among them Kawab, who would have been his heir, Khufukhaf, Minkhaf, and Djedefhor, Djedefre and Khephren or Khafre. The so-called Papyrus Westcar contains tales of some of these sons.

Though the Great Pyramid somehow represents the very essence of "ancient Egypt," the King for whom it was built as a tomb has left little recorded information of his actual reign. Khufu probably reigned for 23 or 24 years. There is evidence that he sent expeditions to the Sinai, and worked the diorite stone quarries deep in the Nubian desert, north-west ofAbu Simbel.

Inscriptions on the rocks at Wadi Maghara record the presence of his troops there to exploit the turquoise mines, and a very faint inscription at Elephantine indicates that he probably mined the red granite of Aswan as well.

Herodotus, who wrote his histories and commentaries on Egypt around 450 BCE, centuries after Khufu had reigned around 2585 BCE, recorded this about the King: "Kheops brought the country into all kinds of misery. He closed the temples, forbade his subjects to offer sacrifices, and compelled them without exception to labor upon his works²the Egyptians can hardly bring themselves to mention²Kheops²so great is their hatred."

It was even said that Khufu set one of his daughters into a brothel so that she could raise revenue to build the pyramid, also asking each client for a block of stone so she could build her own pyramid. No evidence exists for such a story, though there are smaller pyramids which probably belonged to half-sister/wives of Khufu, and he did have at least three daughters of record.

Even prior to Herodotus, the author of the document now known as the Papyrus Westcar depicts Khufu as cruel. The text was inscribed in the Hyksos period prior to the 18th Dynasty, though its composition seems to date from the 12th Dynasty. One story, Kheops and the Magicians, relates that a magician named Djedi who can reputedly bring back the dead to life. He is presented to Khufu, who orders a prisoner brought to him, so that he may see a demonstration of the magician's talents.

Khufu further orders that the prisoner should be killed, and then Djedi can bring him back to life. When Djedi objects, the King relents his initial decision, and Djedi then demonstrates his talent on a goose.

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

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

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

It is ironic indeed that for all the magnificence of his pyramid, his funeral boat, and the wonders of the funerary furnishings that were discovered belonging to his mother, Queen Hetepheres, wife to Sneferu, the only portrait we have of Khufu is a tiny 3-inch high statue sculpted in ivory.

I t may have been once easy to contemplate the builder of such a monument as the Great Pyramid to have virtually enslaved his people to accomplish it, and to order a royal princess to prostitute herself. Sneferu, Khufu's father, had three separate pyramids built during his reign. Surely the workmen or nobles would have left some evidence of their dissatisfaction at least at the whimsicality of their sovereign if not his despotism. Yet Sneferu is remembered as amiable and pleasure-loving.

And Khafre, Khufus son, left not only a pyramid but quite possibly a Sphinx as well. And history, or at least, historians, do not record Khafre is being a despot.

Continuing work at Giza is further showing that the men responsible for the building of the pyramids led normal lives. They baked bread, ate fish, made offerings to their blessed dead and the gods, and cared for their families.

They left funerary stelae and tombs behind to give us an indication of how they considered their lot. It is more likely that the Greeks could less easily conceive of such a project of long-term labor as being anything but forced. Perhaps some archaeologist millennia in our own future may find rusted iron skeletons of some of our finest skyscrapers and wonder to what cruel overlords we owed the sweat of our own forced labor.

Radjedef - Djedefra - Enduring Like Re - 2566 - 2558 B.C.

Radjedef was the third king of the 4th Dynasty and ruled the country from 2528 BC until 2520 BC. He was the son of Khufu from one of his lesser wives, and killed his own brother, Prince Kewab, who was the rightful heir to the throne. He married Hetepheres , who was the widow of his murdered brother. His chief wife was Kentetenka. His pyramid was discovered at Abu Rowash in Giza.

Khafre - Chephren - Khephren - Rakhaef -
Chephren - Suphis II - Appearing Like Re - 2520-2494 B.C.

The fourth king of the 4th Dynasty was Khafre (Chephren), the son of Khufu, and He built the Pyramid of Chephren and the Great Sphinx next to his father's pyramid at giza. The shpinx appears to be guarding his pyramid which is called 'Khafre is Great'.

Egypt was prosperous during his reign, but Khafre is best remembered for his pyramid and the sphinx.

Khafre's mummy has been lost, but his mortuary temple at Giza yielded one of the finest extant Old Kingdom statues “ an almost undamaged life-size seated diorite figure of the king enjoying the protection of the god Horus. A statue of Khafre under the protective shadow of a falcon is in the Cairo Museum.

Menkaure - Mycerinus - Menhaure - Eternal Like the Souls of Re - (2490-2472 B.C.)

Menkaure with his wife Khamerernebty II
appearing as Hathor (left) and the goddess
of the seventeenth nome of Egypt (right)

The fifth king of the 4th dynasty was the son of Khephren and Khameremebty I.

Menkaure is the son of Khafre and the grandson of Khufu of Dynasty IV. He bore the titles Kakhet and Hornub. There are doubts that Menkaure could be the son of Khafre, because the Turin Papyrus mentioned a name of a king between Menkaure and Khafre, but the name was smashed. A Middle Kingdom text written on a rock at Wadi Hamamat includes the names of the kings: Khufu, Djedefre, Khafre, Hordedef and Bauefre. This text indicates to some that Hordedef and Bauefre ruled after Khafre. But it seems that their names were not written as kings because Menkaure's names were not mentioned. It has been suggested that Hordedef's name was mentioned because was a wise educated man in this period and perhaps Bauefre was a vizier.

He built the smallest pyramid at the Giza plateau, and is called Menkaure is Divine. Menkaure's pyramid is two-tone in color: the top half covered with bright white limestone casing, while red Aswan granite was used for the casing on the bottom. E1-Makrizi, the Arab historian named Menkaure's pyramid as the colored pyramid because of the red granite casing. The pyramid stands 66.5m high, which is much smaller than the other two pyramids at Giza. The pyramid is remarkable because it is the only pyramid in Dynasty IV that was cased in 16 layers of granite, Menkaure planned to cover the surface with granite but he could not because of his sudden death.

The pyramid complex of Menkaure was completed by his son and successor Shepseskaf but the temples has architectural additions which were made during Dynasties V and VI. This suggests that the cult of Menkaure was very important and perhaps differed from the cults of Khufu and Khafre. Shepseskaf completed the pyramid complex with mudbrick and left an inscription inside the Valley Temple indicating that he built the temple for the memory of his father.

At the pyramid's entrance, there is an inscription records that Menkaure died on the twenty-third day of the fourth month of the summer and that he built the pyramid. It is thought that this inscription dates to the reign of Khaemwas, son of Ramsses II. The name of Menkaure found written in red ochre on the ceiling of the burial chamber in one of the subsidiary pyramids.

When pyramid was explored in the 1830's, a lidless basalt sarcophagus was found in the burial chamber. Inside it was a wooden mummiform coffin inscribed with Menkaure's name. This is curious because mummiform coffins weren't made until much later. Best guess is that the coffin was provided in an attempted restoration during the 26th dynasty (that's 2000 years later!) when there was a renewed interest in the culture of the Old Kingdom.

The wooden coffin and basalt sarcophagus were sent on separate ships to England to end up on display in the British Museum, but a storm at sea sank the boat that was transporting the sarcophagus. It sank to the bottom of the sea and was never recovered. The sarcophagus was supposedly lost in the Mediterranean between ports of Cartagena and Malta when the ship "Beatrice" sank after setting sail on October 13, 1838. There still exists the wooden anthropoid coffin found inside the pyramid which bears the name and titles of Menkaure.

Menkaure's main queen was Khamerernebty II, who is portrayed with him in a group statue found in the Valley Temple. It is believed that she is buried in Giza.

Menkaure ruled for 18 years. There are two inscriptions found in his pyramid complex. The first was a decree bearing the Horus name of Merenre of Dynasty VI. The decree stated that the Valley Temple was in use until the end of the Old Kingdom. The objects found in some of the storage rooms of the temples show that the king's cult was maintained and that the temple had a dual function as a temple and a palace.

The second decree of Pepi II was found on the lower temple vestibule, awarding privileges to the priests of the pyramid city. In the adjacent open court and in the area just east of the temple lie the remains of the Old Kingdom houses. Pepi II's decree indicates that these houses belonged to the pyramid city of Menkaure. Here lived the personnel responsible for maintaining the cult of the deceased king.

The statuary program found inside the complex displays the superb quality of arts and crafts. The triads in Menkaure's valley temple suggest that his pyramid complex was dedicated to Re, Hathor, and Horus. In addition, they show the king's relationship with the gods and are essential to his kingship, indicating both a temple and palace function.

The textual evidence indicates that the high officials had more privileges in his reign that in any other period. They had many statues in their tombs; the inscriptions and the scenes increased and were set on rock-cut tombs. In the tomb of Debhen an inscription was found describing the kindness of Menkaure. When Debhen came to visit the king's pyramid, he asked the king for permission to build his tomb near the pyramid. The king agreed and even ordered that stones from the royal quarry in Tura should be used in building his tomb. The text also mentions that the king stood on the road by the Hr pyramid inspecting the other pyramid. The name "Hr" was also found written in the tomb of Urkhuu at Giza, who was the keeper of a place belonging to the Hr pyramid. It is not clear what the Hr pyramid is. Is it a name of a subsidiary pyramid, or the name of the plateau? The Debhen texts is a revelation of how the king tried to inspire loyalty by his people giving them gifts.

Menkaure also had a new policy - he opened his palace to the children of his high officials. They were educated and raised with the king's own children. Shepsesbah is one of those children. The textual and archaeological evidence of the Old Kingdom indicates that the palace of the king was located near his pyramid and not at Memphis. Menkaure explored granite from Aswan and he sent expeditions to Sinai. Excavations under the author revealed a pari of statues of Ramses II on the south side of Menkaure's pyramid. The statues were made of granite, and one represents Ramses as king while the other as Atum-Re.

The name of Menkaure was found written on scarabs dated to the 26th Dynasty, which may imply that he was worshipped in this period.

Herodotus mentioned that Menkaure died suddenly and added that there was an oracle from the Buto statue that foretold that he would live for 6 years. Menkaure started to drink, and enjoy every moment of his remaining years. However, Menkaure lived for 12 years, thus disproving the prophecy. Herodotus also said that his daughter committed suicide. The Greek historian also wrote that the Egyptians loved Menkaure more than his father and grandfather. The Late Period tales were based on Menkaure's reputation during the Old Kingdom. He ruled with justice, gave freedom to his officials to carve statues and make offerings, and stopped the firm rules.

Shepseskaf - 'His Soul is Noble' - (2514-2494 BCE.)

Shepseskaf was the sixth king of the 4th Dynasty.

Pharaoh Menkaure has died after a 28 year long reign. His son and heir by queen Khamerernebty II, the young Prince Khuenre, has tragically died before he could take to the throne. Menkaure is therefore succeeded by Shepseskaf, a son of Menkaure by an unknown minor wife. Although a half brother to Prince Khuenre, he was not an ideal choice for the role of Pharaoh, as he is not of complete royal blood.š

His major wife was Bunefer. He has no known sons and one daughter, Khamaat.

He was in power for just a short perio do of time. This was another difficult political period, during which there were many confrontations with various priests. Many desired independence and rebelled against Shepseskaf's authority.

Shepseskaf completed his father Menkaure's Pyramid. He chose not to be buried in a Pyramid and as he returned to Saqqara after most of his 4th Dynasty predecessors had either preferred Dashur in the South (Snofru) or Abu Rawash (Djedefre) and Giza (Kheops, Khefren and Mykerinos) in the North to build their funerary monuments. This return to Saqqara has often been interpreted more as a distancing of Giza and of the supposedly oppressive politic followed by Kheops and Khefren, but there are, in fact, no valid arguments that support this theory.

Whatever Shepseskaf's motivations for returning to Saqqara may have been, it is perhaps also telling that he moved to an area in Saqqara that does not appear to have been used before: Saqqara-South. In fact, his tomb is the southern-most royal tomb of Saqqara.

Even in the choice of his funerary monument, Shepseskaf chose not to follow the standard established by his ancestors. His tomb consists of a mastaba-shaped superstructure with a small mortuary temple to the east. No satellite or queen's pyramids appear to have been built.

Map of the tomb and temple of Shepseskaf.

The mastaba, which has earned this monument the name Mastabat el-Fara'un, was 99.6 metres long and 74.4 metres broad. It was originally encased in limestone, except for its base course, which was in granite. It had a slope of 70É and certainly was shaped like a shrine: a rounded top flanked by two almost vertical walls.

Cut-away of the Mastabat el-Fara'un showing
the original shape of this rather unique royal tomb.

Source: Lehner, Complete Pyramids, p. 139

The mastaba is entered from the north side, from where a corridor descends for 20.95 metres with a slope of 23É30'. At the end of the passage is a horizontal corridor passage followed by a second passage blocked by three portcullises and an antechamber. A short passage to the west goes down into the vaulted burial chamber that measures 7.79 by 3.85 metres and has a height of 4.9 metres. Fragments of the sarcophagus indicate that it was made of a hard dark stone and decorated like Mykerinos'. To the south of the antechamber a corridor extends with 6 niches to the east, again similar to the niches found in the pyramid of Mykerinos.

The mastaba is enclosed within two mudbrick walls: the first also incorporates a small mortuary temple that had some open courts, an offering hall and a false door, flanked by 5 magazines. The long causeway that extended towards the east has not (yet) been excavated.

After Shepseskaf died, Khentkawes, another child of Menkaure by a minor wife and Shepseskaf's half-sister, married a nobleman named Userkaf, who was the great grandson of Pharaoh Khufu. Upon his marriage to Pharaoh Shepseskaf's half sister Khentkawes, Userkaf was in a strong enough position to be crowned Pharaoh over all Egypt, and begin the 5th Dynasty of Kings.

Userkaf returned to the more traditional pyramid-tomb. From then on, the dimensions and shape of the pyramid, and the temple connected to it, would become more and more standardized.