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meters feet chamber temple

The Pyramids of Giza are among the world’s most famous architectural monuments. In ancient times the Greeks included the Great Pyramid among the Seven Wonders of the World. The Egyptians themselves took an interest in the pyramids, restoring the adjacent buildings as late as 1,000 years after they were originally built. Yet in spite of the tremendous awe and curiosity that the pyramids inspire, they are limited sources for the writing of history. The pyramids attest that the Fourth Dynasty (2625–2500 B.C.E. ) must have been a period of strong central government, religious vitality, and technological innovation. Yet the details of these historical trends must be derived from the physical remains of buildings rather than from written texts. In the Fourth Dynasty the Egyptians had not yet started inscribing extended biographical texts in their tombs, a practice of the Sixth Dynasty 300-400 years later, that provides historical details in the later period. None of the extensive records that scholars believe once existed about the administration of the pyramids in the Fourth Dynasty have survived into modern times. None of the records that the Egyptians maintained for their own knowledge of their history have survived except for records of a much later period. Thus nearly everything that can be inferred in modern times about the Fourth Dynasty stems from modern knowledge of the pyramids at Giza, except for very limited information from short inscriptions in nobles’ tombs. A careful look at the plans and details of each building is necessary in order to reconstruct the history of this period. The only supplementary material comes from the Greek historian Herodotus who visited the pyramids in the middle of the fifth century B.C.E.


Three kings built the most famous pyramid complexes in Egyptian history on the Giza plateau during the years 2585 to 2510 B.C.E. Khufu (in Greek, Cheops), his son Khafre (in Greek, Chephren), and his grandson Menkaure (in Greek, Mycerinus) established funeral monuments that rank among the great architectural accomplishments of ancient times. As the American archaeologist Mark Lehner observed, the coordination of the designs of the three separate monuments is one of the most impressive aspects of ancient planning and engineering. Each of the pyramids is nearly perfectly oriented to the cardinal points—north, south, east, and west—of the compass. The southwest corners of all three pyramids align perfectly, forming a straight line that runs northwest to southeast. The alignment between the west face of Khufu’s pyramid and Khafre’s pyramid temple’s east façade is repeated with the west face of Khafre’s pyramid and the east façade of Menkaure’s pyramid temple. Moreover, the south side of the Great Sphinx aligns perfectly with the south face of Khafre’s pyramid. This evidence of mathematical sophistication in addition to the enormous size of the monuments has continued to impress visitors to Egypt since the Greek historian Herodotus visited them in the fifth century B.C.E.


The Great Pyramid measures 230.33 meters (756 feet) on each side and reached a height of 146.59 meters (481 feet). It was taller than any building constructed by humans anywhere in the world before the twentieth century C.E. The Great Pyramid of Khufu’s enormous size has led the German archaeologist Rainer Stadelmann to question if ancient records claiming that Khufu ruled 23 years could be accurate. Even if Khufu ruled thirty years, one average-size stone block would need to be placed every two or three minutes of a ten-hour workday every day of the reign. This “average block” is often said to be about 2.5 tons. Yet the largest blocks at the bottom of the Great Pyramid weighed up to fifteen tons while some of the relieving stones inside the pyramid weigh from fifty to eighty tons each. During that ten-hour day, 230 cubic meters (8,122 cubic feet) of stone would be set in place at his pyramid, causeway, two temples, subsidiary pyramid, queen’s pyramids, or officials’ mastaba tombs. Over the course of his reign, workers built 2,700,000 cubic meters (95,350,000 cubic feet) of stone architecture. These statistics continue to inspire awe at the ancient Egyptians’ accomplishments with such simple tools. The construction techniques reveal that the Egyptian builders had learned well the lessons derived from construction at Meidum and Dahshur during the reign of Khufu’s father, Sneferu. The level platform for a base and the laying of stone blocks in horizontal rows rather than inverted layers proved to be a much more stable building technique than those used at the Meidum Pyramid or the Bent Pyramid of Dahshur. There was a clear evolution from the Meidum Pyramid to the Great Pyramid in technique. This evolution demonstrates the Egyptian ability to learn from previous errors. They were not so conservative in their thinking that they could not benefit from experience. The interior of Khufu’s Great Pyramid contains three chambers reached by a series of three passages. The Swiss Egyptologist Ludwig Borchardt explained the existence of three chambers in 1911 as changes in the plan made to fool tomb robbers. In the late twentieth century Egyptologists have found other possible explanations for the existence of the three chambers, though they have retained the early, sometimes erroneous, names for them. The lowest chamber, called the Subterranean Chamber, is carved directly into the bedrock—the solid surface beneath the desert sand—and reached by the 58.5-meter (191.9-foot) Descending Passage that originates in the north face of the pyramid. The planed dimensions of the Subterranean Chamber were 14 by 7.2 meters (45.9 by 23.6 feet) and 5.3 meters (17.3 feet) high—a huge, high-ceilinged chamber—though it was never finished. Borchardt thought that the workers constructed the Subterranean Chamber first, but then abandoned it as the original tomb chamber and left it unfinished. Stadelmann, on the other hand, surmised that the unfinished nature of the chamber suggested that it had been last, its construction permanently interrupted by Khufu’s death. Stadelmann believed the Subterranean Chamber represented the underworld. The so-called Queen’s Chamber gained its name from early Arab explorers to the pyramid, and could be reached by the Ascending Passage that diverges from the Descending Passage. The Queen’s Chamber is located in the center of the pyramid directly on the east/west axis. This chamber is 5.8 by 5.3 meters (19 by 17.3 feet) with a ceiling six meters (19.6 feet) above its floor—another high-ceilinged room. The Queen’s Chamber contains a corbelled niche 4.7 meters high (15.4 feet). Here, Lehner suggested, was the site of a ka-statue representing the king’s soul. The actual burial was in the King’s Chamber. This chamber—the largest, with the highest ceiling—was 10.6 by 5.2 meters (34.7 by 17 feet) with a ceiling 5.8 meters (28.5 feet) above its floor. It is reached through the Ascending Passage from which it is possible to proceed through the Grand Gallery, which is 46.7 by 2.1 meters (153.2 by 6.8 feet) with a height of 8.7 meters (28.5 feet). The King’s Chamber is lined in red granite and also contains the king’s red-granite sarcophagus. W. M. F. Petrie, the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century English archaeologist, observed that the sacophagus is too wide to have fit through the present door, which suggests that it was placed in the King’s Chamber before the masonry for the higher levels of the pyramid were put in place. This fact led Lehner to conclude that this chamber must have always been planned as the burial chamber or at least that was already the plan at this stage of construction. The other unusual elements of the interior of this pyramid are the so-called airshafts that extend from the Queen’s Chamber to the south and from the King’s Chamber to the south and north. Scholars interpret these shafts as symbolically allowing Khufu to merge with both the northern, circumpolar stars and the stars of the constellation Orion in the south. This interpretation of the “airshafts” shows how religious ideas can be inferred from architectural details. Here it seems the overall east/west orientation associated with the sun-god Re combines with the north/south orientation associated with the gods of the nighttime sky. It is important to remember that the associations of east/west with Re and north/south with the circumpolar stars are also inferred from later documents dating to the Sixth Dynasty. Thus the architecture provides possible confirmation that ideas documented in later dynasties were actually present in the Fourth Dynasty. The Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass located the foundations of the subsidiary pyramid at the southeast corner of the Great Pyramid in the 1990s. It probably represented a parallel to such subsidiary pyramids at Meidum, the Bent Pyramid, and the North Pyramid of Dahshur, though each of these subsidiary pyramids occupies a slightly different location in relation to the main pyramid. The southeast corner is important to the plans of many pyramid complexes. For Djoser’s Saqqara complex, it is the location of the only true door into the complex. The southeast corner is also often used in pyramid complexes to house the ka-statue of the king or to symbolize the ancient custom of a southern tomb in Abydos in a northern necropolis. The three Queen’s Pyramids on the east side of the Great Pyramid of Khufu were each approximately one-fifth the size of the Great Pyramid. They each contained burial chambers reached from passages that began on the north side of the pyramid and then turned to the west. Each of the Queen’s Pyramids had a chapel where offerings could be made to the occupant. The most northern of the three pyramids is thought to belong to Hetepheres, Khufu’s mother. The middle queen’s pyramid might have belonged to Queen Meritetes who lived during the reigns of Sneferu, Khufu, and his son Khafre. She is also thought to be the mother of Kawab, a son of Khufu buried in the mastaba tomb directly east of this queen’s pyramid, but not the mother of the two sons of Khufu who ascended to the throne—Djedefre and Khafre. The third Queen’s Pyramid belonged to Queen Henutsen, another of Khufu’s queens, according to an inscription carved nearly two thousand years later at the chapel attached to it. The prominence of these queens’ burials suggested the existence of a matriarchal system in Egyptian history to nineteenth-century anthropologists, although modern Egyptologists have since abandoned the theory as being difficult to support with concrete evidence. Part of the theory’s fragility rests on interpreting these buildings which cannot even be definitively proven to have belonged to queens. Only foundations and part of the basalt paving stones of Khufu’s Pyramid Temple remain. Yet archaeologists have calculated that it measured 52.5 meters by 40 meters (171.9 by 131.2 feet). The building contained a large courtyard surrounded by pillars. Three rows of pillars separated this courtyard from a smaller broad room containing cult statues. A door separated the broad room and the courtyard also. This general layout featuring a courtyard, a group of pillars without real structural purpose, and a room for statues remained the basic outline for all Egyptian tomb chapels for the 2,000 years following the construction of Khufu’s Pyramid Temple. Builders decorated parts of this temple with relief sculpture, including a procession of estates and Jubilee Festival ( sed ) rituals. This decoration associates the pyramid temple with Sneferu’s statue temple at the Bent Pyramid and the Jubilee Festival ( sed ) Court built by Djoser at the Step Pyramid Complex in Saqqara. Only the most tantalizing ruins of the causeway and Valley Temple of Khufu’s Great Pyramid remain. Like Sneferu’s causeway, Khufu’s causeway must have been covered with relief sculpture. These sculptures might have been the ones described by Herodotus when he visited Giza in the mid-fifth century B.C.E. Hawass discovered the foundations of the Valley Temple forty meters (131 feet) below the Giza Plateau, but the ruins have yielded few clues about the original structure.


King Djedefre (2560–2555 B.C.E. ) was Khufu’s first son to follow him to the throne. If Djedefre’s brother King Khafre and nephew King Menkaure—the next two kings—had not chosen to build at Giza and align their monuments with those built by Khufu, Djedefre’s decision to build at Abu Roash would not have seemed unusual. After all, his grandfather, King Sneferu, built his funeral monuments in two new sites, Meidum and Dahshur, and his father Khufu inaugurated the new site at Giza. Yet our knowledge of what followed Djedefre’s reign has led some scholars to suggest that Khufu’s sons were in conflict. The only evidence for this conflict is the fact that Djedefre inaugurated a new site for his funeral complex and that his brother and nephew returned to Giza when they became kings. Proponents of the theory that Khufu’s sons quarreled have still not made a convincing case. In fact there is evidence that Djedefre completed his father Khufu’s burial and that any destruction found at Djedefre’s monuments at Abu Roash occurred 2,000 years after his successor Khafre came to the throne. Djedefre’s nephew Menkaure left a statue at Abu Roash that suggests that he honored his uncle’s memory, though no later king completed the pyramid. The pyramid of Djedefre at Abu Roash would have resembled the Meidum Pyramid built by his grandfather Sneferu if it had been completed. The angle of slope would have been 52 degrees. The base length was 106.2 meters (348 feet), thus less than half of Khufu’s 230.33 meters (756 feet) of base length at the Great Pyramid. Though only twenty courses were completed, the projected height was about 67 meters (220 feet). Compared to Khufu’s 146.59 meters (481 feet), Djedefre’s monument was also much shorter. The pyramid itself had an entrance on the north side that led 49 meters (160.76 feet) to an interior pit measuring 21 by 9 meters (68.8 by 29.5 feet) and twenty meters (65.6 feet) deep. A pyramid temple’s location—on the east side, but closer to the northeast corner than to the southeast corner—did not follow Khufu’s model of centering the pyramid temple on the east face of the pyramid. The building’s completion in mud brick indicates that workers finished it quickly, probably after the sudden death of Djedefre. The subsidiary pyramid’s location—opposite the southwest corner of the pyramid rather than on the southeast as at the Great Pyramid—is similar in placement to Djoser’s South Tomb at Saqqara. The architect’s plan for a very long causeway from the north side of the pyramid to the valley was not completed. It would have been 1,700 meters (5,577 feet) long had it been completed.


King Khafre, son of King Khufu and brother of the previous king Djedefre, decided to build a funeral complex at Giza that paralleled and aligned with his father’s complex at Giza. The pyramid itself is smaller than the Great Pyramid, but appears equally as tall because of its placement on a section of the Giza plateau ten meters (33 feet) higher than the base of the Great Pyramid. Khafre’s pyramid is 215 meters (705 feet) on each side of the base, about fifteen meters (56 feet) shorter per side than the Great Pyramid. Its height is 143.5 meters (471 feet), 3.09 meters (10 feet) shorter than the Great Pyramid. Khafre’s pyramid preserves the outer casing of Tura limestone on the upper levels that once covered the entire pyramid. The interior of the pyramid contains two descending passages that begin on the north face of the pyramid. The lower passage begins at ground level. It leads to a subsidiary chamber 10.41 by 3.12 meters (34.1 by 10.2 feet) with a ceiling 2.61 meters (8.5 feet) above the floor. The chamber’s location below ground level has led to its comparison to Khufu’s Subterranean Chamber or Queen’s Chamber. American archaeologist Mark Lehner associated it with a statue chamber. The passage continues beyond the chamber and ascends to meet the other, higher descending passage. The passages merge and continue to the burial chamber, a 14.14 by 5-meter (46.3 by 16.4-foot) room with a ceiling 6.83 meters (22.4 feet) above the floor. This chamber contains a black granite sarcophagus. When the Italian explorer Giovanni Belzoni entered the chamber in 1818, he found the lid on the floor and the sarcophagus empty except for some bones belonging to a bull. The German archaeologist Rainer Stadelmann suggested that tomb robbers in antiquity had left the bones in the sarcophagus, though to what purpose is unknown. Khafre’s subsidiary pyramid was located in the center of the south side of his pyramid. Only the foundations remain along with the underground portion of the building. One of two descending passages began outside the actual outline of the pyramid and descended into the bedrock. This passage led to a dead end that contained a niche located on the central axis of the pyramid. Archaeologists discovered pieces of wood inside the niche that, when reassembled, formed a divine booth, a distinctive structure the Egyptians used to house statues. In relief sculptures found in the tomb of Khufu’s granddaughter, Queen Meresankh, a divine booth is depicted holding a statue of this queen. The existence of an actual divine booth in the subsidiary pyramid of Khafre adds weight to the theory that these smaller pyramids housed the burial of a statue. Scholars used this evidence to associate all of the subsidiary pyramids found at Fourth-dynasty pyramid complexes with the South Tomb in Djoser’s Step Pyramid complex in Saqqara. Khafre’s pyramid temple and valley temple are the best-preserved of the Giza temples. They also have been fully excavated, thus making modern knowledge of them much more complete. The pyramid temple contains the five parts that became the standard in the later pyramid complexes: the entrance hall, the broad columned court, a group of five niches for statues of the king associated with the king’s five official names, a group of five storage chambers associated with the five phyles (rotating groups of workers who ran the temple), and an inner sanctuary with a pair of steles and a false door. The material for this 56 by 111-meter (183.7 by 364.1-foot) building consisted of limestone megaliths cased with either granite or Egyptian alabaster (calcite). It is likely that the complex included many statues, probably removed during the New Kingdom by Ramesses II (1279–1213 B.C.E. ) for other royal projects.


The equation of five statue niches in the pyramid temple with the five names of the king presents a good example of the way that architecture confirms the presence of later historical phenomena in the Fourth Dynasty. It is certain that by the Twelfth Dynasty (1938–1759 B.C.E. ) each Egyptian king had five official names and titles. Parts of each of them are known as early as the First Dynasty, yet they are not attested all together as one official name until the Twelfth Dynasty. The names were associated with different deities, including Horus, the two goddesses Nekhbet and Wadjet, the Horus of Gold (another form of Horus), the king’s birth name (called the praenomen ) associated with the king as he incorporates in his person both Upper and Lower Egypt, and finally the name that proclaimed the king to be the son of Re. The five niches strongly suggest that the official names were grouped together into the official titles of the king in the Fourth Dynasty, roughly 600 years before textual evidence exists. Yet this “fact” remains an inference from architecture. No actual examples of the five official titles of the king from the Fourth Dynasty are known.


Most Egyptians living during the Old Kingdom were members of one of the five za , called a phyle in English. A phyle was a group of workers assigned for one-fifth of the year to work for the state. The work included construction and any other kind of service that a temple needed. The evidence for the existence of the phyles comes in its fullest form from the Abu Sir Papyri , a daily journal of workers’ activities at the pyramid of King Neferirkare written in the Fifth Dynasty (2472–2462 B.C.E. ). Supplementary written evidence for the existence of the phyles is found at the Great Pyramid. The names of the different phyles were written on individual blocks. Scholars believe that the supervising scribe wrote the name of the phyle responsible for moving the block on it. Because there were five phyles, scholars infer that each of the five storerooms in the pyramid temple belonged to one of the phyles.


Khafre’s valley temple, like his pyramid temple, is the best-preserved valley temple in Giza. It measures 44.6 by 44.5 meters (146.3 by 145.9 feet) and fronted on the dock of a canal excavated by the Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass in 1995. Like the pyramid temple, its construction material consisted of monolithic limestone blocks cased in either granite or Egyptian alabaster (calcite). The valley temple contained 23 statues of King Khafre, including the famous statue of him with the Horus falcon hovering on his shoulders, now in the Cairo Museum. Herbert Ricke and Siegfried Schott, early twentieth-century German Egyptologists, believed that the statues were critical to a ritual repeated daily that lasted 24 hours of every day. Dieter Arnold, the German archaeologist, suggested that the valley temple relates to the now 500-year-old tradition of a site in the funerary complex where the deceased king could receive the statues of visiting gods as a continuation of the Jubilee Festival ( sed ) in the next world. Egyptologists have largely abandoned Ricke’s older theory that the pyramid temple and pyramid functioned only for the funeral service.


Though the Great Sphinx is actually a work of sculpture rather than architecture, it is integral to the architectural plan of Khafre’s pyramid complex at Giza. It was the first truly colossal work of sculpture created by the Egyptians. The body is 22 times larger than a real lion, which it represents. The carved human face of the Great Sphinx is thirty times larger than an average man’s face. The face hovers twenty meters (66 feet) above the ground. The lion’s body combined with the king’s head was an important symbol of the king’s ability to protect the country from its enemies. In front of the Great Sphinx stood a temple that might not have been completed in Khafre’s time. Part of the difficulty in interpreting its original meaning is that both King Amenhotep II (1426–1400 B.C.E. ) and King Thutmose IV (1400–1390 B.C.E. ) restored it during the New Kingdom. All of the inscriptions date to this later period, leaving no textual evidence contemporary with the original building of the structure. Ricke, however, interpreted Amenhotep II’s building with 24 columns as a place for sun worship with each column representing an hour of the day. The New Kingdom association of the Great Sphinx with the sun-god Reharakhty (“Re-Horus on the Horizons”) adds to the possibility that Ricke had the correct interpretation of the building. Mark Lehner added to the argument the observation that on the day of the summer solstice, the shadows of the sphinx and pyramids merge to form the hieroglyphs used to write Reharakhty’s name. This fact suggests that the name was original to the Old Kingdom and not a New Kingdom addition.


King Menkaure, son of King Khafre and grandson of King Khufu, built the third pyramid at Giza. It is the smallest of the three kings’ pyramids, but the most completely preserved. Its base dimensions are 102.2 by 104.6 meters (335 by 343 feet). It is thus roughly 103 meters (around 414 feet) shorter on each side than Khufu’s Great Pyramid. Menkaure’s pyramid is 65 meters (213.3 feet) high, 81 meters (around 268 feet) shorter than the Great Pyramid. Menkaure’s pyramid thus represents less than one-quarter of the area of the Great Pyramid and only one-tenth of the mass. Lehner speculated that the reduction in size stemmed from the reduced amount of space then available in Giza after the construction of the first two pyramids rather than an indication of diminished importance. The more elaborate decoration of Menkaure’s pyramid and valley temples, along with an apparent increased attention to their complexity and size, supports this theory, as does the greater use of granite in Menkaure’s temple—a more expensive building material than the limestone used in the other two Giza pyramid complexes. A single tunnel that begins on the north face of the pyramid allows access to the interior of the tomb. The tunnel—1.05 meters wide and 1.2 meters (3.4 by 3.9 feet) high—descends 31.7 meters (102 feet) to a paneled chamber. The chamber—3.63 by 3.16 meters (11.9 by 10.3 feet)—has walls carved with the false door motif. The false door represents the first return of internal decoration of a pyramid since the time of Djoser, over 100 years earlier. A horizontal chamber leads from the paneled chamber to an antechamber (an outer room that serves as an entrance to the main room) measuring 14.2 by 3.84 meters (46.5 by 12.5 feet) with a ceiling 4.87 meters (15.9 feet) above the floor. A short ascending tunnel was abandoned in antiquity, but a descending tunnel from the antechamber leads to the burial chamber. A small room on the right of the passage before reaching the burial chamber may have been for storage. The burial chamber is 6.59 by 2.62 meters (21.6 by 8.5 feet) with a ceiling 3.43 meters (11.2 feet) above the floor. In the granite-lined burial chamber the English explorer Richard H. W. Vyse found the sarcophagus in 1837. He shipped it to England in 1838, but it was lost at sea in a storm between Malta and Spain and was never recovered. In addition to the sarcophagus, Vyse found a wooden coffin dating to Dynasty 26 but inscribed with Menkaure’s name. This wood coffin was roughly 2,000 years younger than the pyramid. In addition, human bones dating to the Christian period in Egypt were in the upper chamber. This evidence of activity of such varied periods indicates that access to the pyramid after the Old Kingdom was more frequent than Egyptologists once suspected. South of the main pyramid, Menkaure’s workers built three small pyramids. Two were either never finished or were intended to be step pyramids. The third small pyramid might originally have been planned as a subsidiary pyramid for the king’s ka (soul). The presence of a granite sarcophagus in it suggests, however, that it was also used as a queen’s pyramid because such coffins were used to bury mummies rather than a kastatue. All three pyramids had mud brick chapels attached. Menkaure’s son, King Shepseskaf, completed his pyramid temple and causeway in mud brick after his death, although apparently the intention was to finish it in limestone covered with granite. The decoration intended for the pyramid temple was the paneled palace façade motif, customary for at least 400 years in royal funeral complexes. This decoration links Menkaure’s Pyramid Temple to the earlier royal enclosures in Abydos. On the wall facing the east face of the pyramid, the builders erected a false door and placed a statue of Menkaure striding forward in front of it. This arrangement recalls similar false doors with statues in contemporary mastaba tombs built for the king’s extended family. The causeway was incomplete. The mortuary temple was built at the mouth of the wadi (a dry river bed) formerly used to bring construction materials from the Giza quarry. The American archaeologist Mark Lehner observed that the plan to block this wadi suggests that the builders did not intend to use the quarry again, which indicates that Menkaure’s valley temple was the last major construction at Giza. Though the builders completed the limestone foundations of the temple, King Shepseskaf completed the building in mud brick. George Reisner, the German excavator of the temple, established that squatters moved into it soon after its completion. The squatters stored the sculpture completed for the temple in storage facilities, leaving them to be discovered in the early twentieth century. Reisner’s careful excavation allows Egyptologists to determine that the squatters lived in the temple for many generations, at least through the Sixth Dynasty, roughly 210 years after Menkaure’s death.


King Shepseskaf chose a tomb type entirely different from his royal ancestors. He erected a tomb at Saqqara, returning to the royal cemetery that had been used roughly 150 years earlier by King Djoser. The tomb, called in Arabic the Mastabat el-Fara’un (Mastaba of the Pharaoh), was a gigantic structure shaped like a contemporary nobleman’s mastaba—a building that is rectangular in profile—rather than like a royal pyramid. Though Egyptologists agree that this sudden change represented an important shift in policy, the actual meaning of that shift cannot be established with the information currently available. The Mastabat el Fara’un is 99.6 by 74.44 meters (327 by 244 feet). The two sidewalls slope at seventy degrees and are joined by a vaulted ceiling. The bottom course is granite but the remainder of the building used limestone. A descending corridor inside leads 20.95 meters (69 feet) to a chamber and a further passage to an antechamber. Another short passage with a side room with statue niches slopes downward to the burial chamber with false vaulting carved into the ceiling. Inside the burial chamber was a stone sarcophagus similar to the one made for Shepseskaf’s father, Menkaure. This sarcophagus type, the room with statue niches, and the false vaulting in the burial chamber are the major similarities between Shepseskaf’s tomb and that of his father. These features will perhaps be significant if scholars draw any conclusion as to why Shepseskaf chose to change royal burial customs so dramatically. The German archaeologist Dieter Arnold emphasized the similarities the structure shares with the palace of the living king. The paneling of the lowest course of the mastaba suggests the palace façade of the living king. This emphasis on the living king also suggests that there might have been reliefs showing the food offerings made to the king after his death in the temple built on the east side of the mastaba and in the unexcavated valley temple. This theme was already important for noblemen’s tombs in this period. If this interpretation is true, it would suggest that Shepseskaf conceived himself as more human than previous kings had claimed to be.


The pyramid complexes built at Giza in the Fourth Dynasty illustrate the advantages and disadvantages historians face when using architecture as the major source for information about a historical time period. Historians concentrate on the change and continuity in plans and techniques found among the Fourth-dynasty complexes and both their precursors and successors. Sometimes it is easier to identify a major change than it is to understand what the change meant. Both Djedefre and Shepseskaf chose to build funerary monuments outside of Giza, a surprising development in light of Khafre and Menkaure’s decisions to build at Giza. Though Djedefre’s choice to build outside Giza would initially seem to parallel his grandfather’s and father’s own decisions to build funeral monuments in new sites, it has struck some historians as aberrant. They have even seen it as evidence of a feud among the Fourth-dynasty princes. Djedefre’s brother and successor, Khafre, chose to build near his father’s pyramid and even to make connections between the plans of the two complexes. Khafre’s son and successor, Menkaure, followed in his father’s footsteps, but Menkaure’s son, Shepseskaf, behaved in a most unusual way by both abandoning Giza for Saqqara and, what’s more, building a giant mastaba rather than a pyramid. The real significance of these events cannot be determined in any definitive way. Yet other historical inferences, supported by textual evidence, seem to help us understand where the Fourth Dynasty was located in a long tradition. For example, it is possible to understand the use of five statue niches in Khafre’s pyramid temple as placing the tradition of five official royal titles squarely into the Fourth Dynasty. Direct textual evidence for the use of the five official names for the king does not otherwise exist in this period, but only much later. The existence of five separate storage rooms can also be explained as evidence for the independence of the five phyles that worked to maintain the temple.

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