The Old Kingdom

A military raid against the Nubians is recorded in Sneferu’s Annals on the Pa- lermo Stone. This may have been sufficient to ensure the peaceful working of

THE GREAT KINGS of Dynasty IV are known to us chiefly through their building activities. Although the architecture, sculpture, and painting of the period are fa- miliar to us, scarcely any record of historical events has survived from the reigns of Sneferu and his successors. We know the names and faces of the important people of the time, even a little about their private lives, but although we can guess from their titles something about the parts that they played in public life, we have only tantalizing glimpses of the events in which they found themselves involved. We know that Sneferu sent an expedition to Sinai where a rock carving shows him striking down one of the local Bedouin chiefs. In this he was following in the footsteps of his predecessors of Dynasty III who left records there. Sneferu’s son Cheops also had a bas-relief carved at the Wady Maghara, but there are no fur- ther memorials of expeditions until that of Sahura early in Dynasty V. The Sinai reliefs probably represent military expeditions sent out to put down the lawless tribes of the eastern desert and to protect the important mining operations for turquoise. Cheops also made use of the diorite quarries in a waterless place far out in the Nubian desert about fifty miles west of Abu Simbel. From there came the beautiful stone which Chephren used for his statues. Radedef and Sahura, as well as Cheops, left stelae recording expeditions to these quarries. A military raid against the Nubians is recorded in Sneferu’s Annals on the Pa- lermo Stone. This may have been sufficient to ensure the peaceful working of the diorite quarries in the following reigns, or there may have had to be a continued show of military force in the south. We do not know. Mention is also made in the Annals of the building of 100-ell ships of mer-wood and cedar, which sug- gests regular traffic with the Syrian coast to bring back cedar of Lebanon. Prob- ably the port of call was Byblos, as in later times, for a fragment of a stone vessel bearing the name of Khasekhemuwy was found there, showing that the trade was already in existence at the end of Dynasty 11. A heavy copper axe-head with the name of a boat crew, probably of Cheops, was found at the mouth of the river Adonis not far from Byblos, while excavations at the port have produced other objects inscribed with the names of Chephren and Mycerinus. 
Sneferu reigned for 24 years according to the Turin Papyrus, while a docu- ment of the Middle Kingdom, the Admonitions to an otherwise unknown Vizier of Dynasty 111, Kagemni, states that Sneferu succeeded to the throne at the death of Huni. It is very probable that the new king was the son of a secondary queen and that he legitimized his position by marrying Hetep-heres I, who, if s h e were the eldest daughter of Huni, as is probable, would have carried the blood royal over to the new dynasty. This lady outlived Sneferu and was buried by her son Cheops, probably beside her husband’s pyramid at Dahshur. The tomb did not remain long undisturbed and the queen’s body was destroyed by the robbers who broke into the chamber. A clever prime minister seems to have been able to con- vince Cheops that little damage had been done. He ordered the lid of the alabas- ter coffin replaced to hide the absence of the queen‘s body, and the greater part of the unharmed burial equipment was moved to a secret burial shaft in front of the Great Pyramid in the new cemetery at Giza. Cheops apparently never dis- covered the ruse practised upon him by his minister, for he made an offering to his mother’s spirit before the shaft was finally closed. The secret was not dis- closed until the intact chamber was opened by the Harvard-Boston Expedition in 1925, revealing its amazing treasure of gold-covered furniture and personal equipment that had been presented to the queen by her husband and son. The long and prosperous reign of Cheops seems to have ended in a palace in- trigue of which we have the barest hint in the inscriptions of the beautiful painted chapel of his granddaughter, Queen Meresankh III. Her mother, Hetep-heres II, was married to the Crown Prince Ka-wab who was very probably murdered by Radedef, a son of one of the lesser wives of Cheops. Radedef married Hetep- heres, evidently in an effort to compensate her for the loss of her husband and throne. The marriage can hardly have been a successful one, for another wife had already borne Radedef a son, thus relegating the new queen to a minor posi- tion. Radedef disappears from the scene after a short reign of eight years, leav- ing unfinished the pyramid which he had started at Abu Roash. Hetep-heres her- self joined the party which brought a brother of her first husband to the throne, and married the daughter whom she had borne to Ka-wab to the new king Chephren. Hints of this fraternal strife between the children of the various queens of Cheops are evident in the Giza cemetery in the unfinished tombs and in the malicious erasure of the inscriptions of certain members of the family. This trouble was probably not completely resolved upon the accession of Chephren ren, and it is very likely that the descendants of Radedef made several attempts to regain the throne. They may in fact have been the final cause of the downfall of the dynasty. According to one of the reconstructions of the Turin Papyrus, which is fragmentary at this point, one of them may have been able to seize the throne for a brief time at the close of the reign of Chephren, before his son My- cerinus had succeeded in establishing himself in control of the country. Another may possibly have followed the last real king of the dynasty, Shepseskaf. The legend of later times in the Westcar Papyrus, which relates that the first three kings of Dynasty V were the offspring of the god Ra and a lady named Radedet, wife of a priest at Heliopolis, seems to suggest that the new dynasty came into being as the result of the growing strength of the priesthood of Heliopolis opolis. Although the title of ‘Son of Ra’ had already been adopted by Chephren in the preceding dynasty, the constant use of this title, the records of temple building and endowment inscribed on the Palermo Stone, and above all the in- troduction of the Sun Temple into the funerary cult, seem to support this idea. Just what position the Queen Mother, Khent-kawes, assumed in the transition from one dynasty to another is by no means clear. Her titles indicate great im- portance, while the building of a large tomb of unusual form at Giza shows close association with the older royal family. It is possible that Weserkaf married her in order to strengthen his position on the throne, just as Sneferu had married Hetep-heres I. The Westcar Papyrus makes Weserkaf the brother of Sahura, and Neferirkara, but the last two may be sons of Weserkaf and Khent-kawes. Weser- kaf built his pyramid beside Zoser’s Step Pyramid at Saqqarah. The plan of the temple is more like those of Dynasty IV than the elaborate structures which his successors erected at Abusir. It was decorated with magnificent reliefs, of which unfortunately only fragments remain. His building activities extended as far as Tod in the Theban Nome, where a column has been found inscribed with his name. Sahura is chiefly known for the splendid reliefs which decorated his funerary temple at Abusir. These show the booty which was brought back from raids against the Libyans of the western desert and the Asiatics in the east. Large ships filled with bearded foreigners indicate that one of these expeditions was carried out by sea, as do similar representations in the temple of Unas, at the end of the dynasty, and the raid on southern Palestine mentioned in the biography of Weni in the reign of Pepy I of Dynasty VI. The reliefs of Unas actually show a battle between Egyptians and men who look like Bedouins of the eastern desert, while two private tombs of Dynasty VI picture Egyptians besieging small walled towns, one apparently defended by Libyans and the other by Asiatics. The Palermo Stone mentions offerings from Mafket Land (Sinai) and Punt (the Somali Coast) brought for the temple of Hathor in the reign of Sahura. Expeditions to Punt for the incense so necessary in temple ritual are mentioned frequently in Dynasty VI inscriptions, but one of these refers back to an earlier expedition in Dynasty V. The boy king Pepy II writing to Harkhuf concerning the care of the dancing dwarf which he is bringing back from Wawat mentions that the like has not occurred since the Vizier Ba-wer-djed, on an expedition to the land of Punt, pro- cured for Isesy a similar dwarf from the ’Land of Spirits.’ Most of the kings of Dynasty V have recorded their expeditions to Sinai in rock carvings on the cliffs of the Wady Maghara. Thus we find the rulers of the later Old Kingdom able to penetrate farther into the surrounding countries, although probably only for the purpose of furthering trade and protecting their borders. Nubia must have been well under the control of the kings of Dynasty IV, however, to permit the working of the diorite quar- ries which were reached from some point in the Nile Valley near Abu Simbel. Just what the relations with Byblos were is not certain. An Egyptian temple seems to have been established there as early as Dynasty IV, and the port was apparently open to Egyptian shipping throughout the Old Kingdom for the export of the much-desired cedar wood. Whether Egypt exerted some political control over this town or simply kept up friendly trade connections is quite unknown. Toward the end of Dynasty IV brief biographical inscriptions began to appear in the tombs. While these are more specific than the early account which Methen left of his administrative career in the Delta, they still give us little in the way of historical record. Most of them recount the special favor of the king, such as his inspection of the writer’s tomb, the presentation of tomb equipment, or the ad- vancement in office of the recipient. Many of the inscriptions refer to building works executed for the king, particularly those of the Senezem-ib family which held the office of royal architect and overseer of the king’s works from the reign of Isesy to that of Pepy 11. In Dynasty VI the biography of Weni and those of the caravan leaders of Aswan give a more complete picture of the conduct of trade with the south and operations against the Bedouin tribes in the east during the reigns of Pepy I, Mernera, and Pepy II. We gain an impression of the growing power of the Nomarchs of Upper Egypt in Dynasty VI from the inscriptions in their tombs, which are now made in their own districts and not at the capital. A rapidly increasing process of decentralization was taking place. The king was losing direct control, while more and more power passed into the hands of the powerful provincial leaders, who set up smaller local units of government imi- tating the Memphite court and more and more loosely controlled by it. Thus the energetic Nomarchs of Elephantine were largely responsible for the exploration and colonization of Nubia which was developed to a great extent in Dynasty VI. The enormous building projects of the Old Kingdom and the gradual dissipa- tion of the property of the crown through the gifts of funerary endowments to favorites of the king had decreased the royal wealth to an alarming degree. The gradual equalization of wealth had increased to such a point by the end of the dynasty that the king’s power was dangerously weakened. The very long reign of Pepy II, one of the longest in history, came to an end in political confusion. The complete impoverishment of the royal house is plain from the absence of monuments after those of Pepy 11. As disintegration rapidly set in, this impover- ishment spread throughout all classes of society. An ephemeral Dynasty VII, of which there is no evidence except in Manetho’s King List, gave way to Dynasty VIII, of which we have little record except for the names of certain kings whose order is disputed. That Memphite traditions were carried on is shown by the continuation of some tombs at Saqqarah and the small pyramid of Aba with texts in its burial chamber like those of Dynasty VI. Soon a new royal house managed to set itself up at Heracleopolis and made some attempt to carry on Memphite culture. These kings were evidently able to con- trol the Delta, which had been a prey to marauding desert tribes, as we learn from the instructions of a king, whose name has been lost, to his son King Merikara kara. Upper Egypt had split up into its old tribal units, each Nome under the control of its local ruler. Conditions in every district seem to have been bad, judging from the poverty of the tombs which these Nomarchs prepared for themselves in the neighborhood of their local capitals. Certain decrees set up at Coptos indicate the dependence of the Memphite kings of Dynasty VIII upon the loyalty of the rulers of this Nome which was soon to join forces with the rising power of the Theban Nome. The subsequent history of Egypt is concerned with the growth of this Theban power which in Dynasty XI was destined to gain control first of Upper Egypt, and not very long afterwards of the whole country.