Archaeology

The Building of the Egyptian Pyramids



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In the beginning of the Old Kingdom and from the political power and wealth that the Early Dynasty Period had secured had helped increase the centralization of government and the creation of an efficient administrative system within the Old Kingdom. The usage of god names which had identified the kings with their cultic gods had also changed throughout the Old Kingdom. It was with the last king of the Second Dynasty, King Khasekhem who had changed his name by combining both the god name Horus and Seth together giving him the new royal name King Khasekhemwy. The reason behind this change was based on a political move on the king's part. It was honoring himself for unifying Egypt and bringing down the rebellions that were causing the instability in Egypt. Burial remains, such has a statue that was found at Hierakonpolis depicts the King wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt representing his victory over Northern Egypt. When King Nebka took the throne in 2686 BCE it was the beginning of the Third Kingdom and the beginning of the Old Kingdom. During King Nebka reign the Horus name returns and it isn't until the Fourth Dynasty that a new god name, "Son of Ra" is used for the Kings.

The beginning of the Old Kingdom showed remarkable advancement in architecture, technology and building methods which can still be observed today. It was King Djoser from the Third Dynasty who introduced Egypt with the first step pyramid. This pyramid was the first building to have been completely built of stone. The architect of the step pyramid was Imhotep, who was also known as the High Priest of Ra and the vizier of King Djoser. Imhotep's artistic architectural innovations and with the pyramids being the main image of the Old Kingdom they were also seen as a symbol indicating that Egypt was powerful and wealthy. The enormous size of the step pyramid complex clearly was an indication that Egypt was wealthy enough to maintain and feed a large work force. The step pyramid complex not only contained a religious purpose, but it also showed political power for King Djoser having control over both the Northern and Southern parts of Egypt. This can be seen in the House of the North and the House of the South buildings within the complex. Even King Djoser burial within the pyramid was symbolic to the control of the two lands of Upper and Lower Egypt.

During the end of the Third Dynasty we see a change in pyramid building. It is believed that the first square shaped pyramid, known as the Meydum pyramid, was begun by King Huni and then later completed by his successor King Sneferu of the fourth Dynasty. This change in architectural design is considered to be the reason for a break in the dynasties. King Sneferu had built two other pyramids located at Dahshur, one known as the Bent pyramid and the second pyramid known as the Red Pyramid. These pyramids became known as the true pyramids of Ancient Egypt and symbolized the ultimate divine destiny of the Pharaoh.

One of the greatest pyramids ever built was during reign of King Khufu. King Khufu whose full name was Khnum-Khufu (The God Khnum Protects Me) was the second king of the Fourth Dynasty. The Great Pyramid is located on the Giza plateau and is King Khufu's greatest achievements. Surrounding the Great Pyramid contained several mastabas which were the burials for King Khufu's selected officials. One of these mastabas belonged to a priest and within his tomb there were painted images of daily life and offering scenes. Providing him with the things needed for the afterlife. The purpose for burying officials close to the king was to guarantee they would provide for the king in the afterlife and to secure themselves for a better life in the after world. It is believed that the pyramids of the Old Kingdom served as a "residence for the king's Ka and where it housed his viscera. It is also believed that the pyramid served as a role in the king's jubilee festival in the afterlife." (Silverman, 1997:178)

It was during the Fourth Dynasty that a new religious mummification technique appeared. It included the removal and embalmment of internal organs during mummification. Throughout the Old Kingdom only the royal families and court favorites were mummified. Unlike the poor who were buried in sand pits and left to be dried out, the elite were able to establish themselves with a more impressive type of burial. They had coffins and underground burial chambers that were to serve in their memory. The elites of this period were also buried with servant statues which were believed to serve them in the afterlife. They had statues of themselves depicting them as being healthy, wealthy and of course showing that they were able to eat well and weren't confined to laborious work. Statues of kings depicted them as being young, masculine and strong.

Another great monument of the Old Kingdom is the Great Sphinx. The Great Sphinx was built during the reign of King Khafra (Appearing like Re) during the latter part of the Fourth Dynasty. The Great Sphinx is believed to be a guardian statue that was to guard the pyramids of the Giza Plateau and was built in front of King Khafra's pyramid. "The Great Sphinx is associated with the solar cult as an image of Hor-Em-Akhet, "Horus of the Horizon" and the Sphinx was envisaged as standing against the horizon formed by the Great Pyramid which was called Akhet-Khufu, 'Horizon of Khufu" and the pyramid of Khafre." (Silverman, 1997:186)

It was with the Fifth Dynasty that another change in architectural design appears. It was during the reign of King Userkaf (His Soul is Powerful), the first king of the Fifth Dynasty. King Userkaf decided to build his pyramid in Saqqara and was the first to build a solar temple. Several other kings in the beginning of this Dynasty had also built sun temples. "The building of sun temples was the outcome of a gradual rise in importance of the sun-god. Ra now became Egypt's closest equivalent to a state god. [It is suggested] that they were built for the afterlife rather than the present." (Hendrixkx & Vermeersch, 2000:108) The solar temples are believed to be the an eternal place for the king's sed festivals and showed the importance and the rise in the sun cult.

The last king to build a sun temple was King Menkauhor (Eternal are the Souls of Ra). The last king of the Fifth Dynasty was King Unas. His pyramid was the smallest one built during the Old Kingdom but was the first burial chamber to contain pyramid texts for the king's resurrection and ascension to the afterworld. The pyramid texts were inscribed on the inner walls and contained various magical spells that would protect and provide for the king giving him eternal existence. In the pyramid texts the king is "identified with the god Osiris, who is lord of the Underworld
At the death of King Unas there was a short period of political instability. This instability could have been because King Unas left no heir to the throne and this brought the conclusion to the Fifth Dynasty. It was King Teti who took the throne by marrying what is believed to be one of King Unas daughters. This making King Teti the first king of the Sixth Dynasty. It is believed that when King Teti took the throne he had "resolved the monarchical and political instability in Egypt which [in addition to marrying Iput] legitimized his right to rule." (Clayton, 1994: 64) By this accomplishment he took the Horus name Seheteptawy (He Who Pacifies the Two Lands).

It appears that all the kings during the Sixth Dynasty had built pyramids and each burial chamber contained copies of the pyramid texts which started at the end of the Fifth Dynasty. During the Sixth Dynasty the kings built shrines extensively for the local gods of Egypt. At the death of Teti his son Pepi I took throne and became the next king of Egypt. During the reign of Pepi I there appears to have been a period of "rising influence and wealth which came from nobles outside the royal court; these nobles began to build fine tombs for themselves in the provincial areas of Upper Egypt." (Clayton, 1994:66). Giving them a prominent position throughout Egypt. Pepi I even married two daughters from a ruler of a nome. These two women bore the next successors of the Sixth Dynasty, King Merenre and King Pepi II. It wasn't until roughly about sixty seven years after King Teti reunited Egypt which brought an end to the chaos and instability of the Fifth Dynasty that the decline of power in the Egyptian state appeared again, but this time it not only brought an end to the sixth Dynasty, but it also brought an end to the Old Kingdom. With the increasing decentralization of control and the declining power of the Egyptian state there appeared to have been an increase of power of the nomarchs causing Egypt to fall into a long period of instability. It is also believed that it was Pepi II who had contributed to the decline of the Old Kingdom.

Works Cited

Clayton, Peter 1994, Chronicle of the Pharaohs, Thames & Hudson, London

De Trafford, Aloisia, Pyramid Texts [On-line] http://www.egyptvoyager.com/pyramids_text.htm, 23 April 2006

Hendrickx, S & Vermeersch, P in Shaw 2000, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press, New York

Silverman, David 1997, Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press, New York.

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