Pyramid of Unas

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Pyramid of Unas
A photograph of the ruined pyramid of Unas. Parts of the base of the pyramid remain generally intact, with visible polished stone blocks, while the head of the pyramid resembles a large mound of sand. The ruins of the mortuary temple can be seen in the foreground. Segments of the bases of the walls of the mortuary temple and pyramid complex have been retained, though much of the structure is in ruins.
The ruined pyramid complex of Unas
Coordinates 29°52′5.9″N 31°12′53.2″E / 29.868306°N 31.214778°E / 29.868306; 31.214778Coordinates: 29°52′5.9″N 31°12′53.2″E / 29.868306°N 31.214778°E / 29.868306; 31.214778
Ancient name
M17 S29
> F35 Q1 Q1 Q1 O24

"Beautiful are the [cult] places of Unas"[4]
Alternatively translated as "Perfect are the places of Unas"[5] or
"The places of Unas are complete"[6]
Constructed Fifth Dynasty (c. 24th century BC)
Type True (now ruined)
Material Limestone
Height 43 m (141 ft; 82 cu)[6] (original)
Base 57.75 m (189 ft; 110 cu)[6]
Volume 47,390 m3 (61,980 cu yd)[7]
Slope 56°18'35[8]
Pyramid of Unas is located in Egypt
Pyramid of Unas
Location within Egypt

The Pyramid of Unas (in ancient Egyptian Nefer asut Unas meaning Beautiful are the places of Unas) was built in the 24th century BC for the Egyptian pharaoh Unas, the ninth and final king of the Fifth Dynasty.[9][a] It is the smallest Old Kingdom pyramid, but significant due to the discovery of ritual and personal spells incised into the walls of its subterranean chambers. This tradition carried on in the pyramids of subsequent rulers, through to the end of the Old Kingdom, and into the Middle Kingdom through the Coffin Texts, which form the basis of the Book of the Dead.

Unas built his pyramid between the complexes of Sekhemket and Djoser, in North Saqqara. Access to the site required the construction of a long causeway, comparable to that leading to Khufu's pyramid, which was anchored at a nearby lake with a valley temple. A long wadi was used as a pathway. The terrain was difficult to negotiate and contained old buildings and tomb superstructures. These were torn down and repurposed as underlay for the causeway. A significant stretch of Djoser's causeway was reused for embankments. Tombs that were on the path had their superstructures demolished and were paved over, preserving their decorations. Two Second Dynasty tombs, presumed to belong to Hotepsekhemwy, Nebra, and Ninetjer, from seals found inside, are among those that lie under the causeway. The site was later used for numerous burials of Fifth Dynasty officials, private individuals from the Eighteenth through Twentieth Dynasties, and a collection of Late Period monuments known as the "Persian tombs".

The causeway joined the temple in the harbour with the mortuary temple on the east face of the pyramid. At the end of the causeway was a large granite doorway, seemingly constructed by Unas's successor, Teti, allowing entry into the mortuary temple. Just south of the upper causeway were two long boat pits, these may have contained two wooden boats; the solar barques of Ra, the sun god. The temple was laid out in a similar manner to Djedkare Isesi's. A transverse corridor separates the outer from the inner temple. The entry chapel of the inner temple has been completely destroyed, though it once contained five statues in niches. A feature of the inner temple was a single quartzite column that was contained in the antichambre carrée. The room is otherwise ruined. Quartzite is an atypical material to use in architectural projects, though examples of it being used sparingly in the Old Kingdom exist. The material is associated with the sun cult due to its sun-like coloration.

The underground chambers remained unexplored until 1881, when Gaston Maspero, who had recently discovered inscribed texts in the pyramids of Pepi I and Merenre I, gained entry. Maspero found the same texts inscribed on the walls of Unas's pyramid, their first known appearance. The 283 spells in Unas's pyramid constitute the oldest, smallest and best preserved corpus of religious writing from the Old Kingdom. Their function was to guide the ruler through to eternal life, and ensure his continued survival even if the funerary cult ceased to function. In Unas's case, the funerary cult may have survived the turbulent First Intermediate Period and up until the Twelfth or Thirteenth Dynasty, during the Middle Kingdom. This is a matter of dispute amongst Egyptologists, where a competing idea is that the cult was revived during the Middle Kingdom, rather than having survived until then.

Location and excavation

The pyramid is situated in the Saqqara plateau, and connects a line running from the pyramid of Sekhemkhet to the pyramid of Menkauhor.[18] The site required the construction of an exceptionally long causeway to reach a nearby lake, indicating that the site must have held some significance to Unas.[19]

The pyramid was briefly examined by John Shae Perring and soon after by Karl Richard Lepsius; the latter catalogued the pyramid on his pioneering list as number XXXV.[4] Entry was first gained by Gaston Maspero, who examined its substructure in 1881.[4][20] He had recently discovered a set of texts in the pyramids of Pepi I and Merenre I. Those same texts were discovered in Unas's tomb, making this their earliest known appearance.[4] From 1899 to 1901, an architect and Egyptologist Alessandro Barsanti conducted the first systematic investigation of the pyramid site, succeeding in excavating part of the mortuary temple, as well as a series of tombs from the Second Dynasty and the Late Period.[21] Later excavations by Cecil Mallaby Firth, from 1929 until his death in 1931, followed by the architect Jean-Philippe Lauer from 1936 to 1939, were conducted with little success. The archaeologists Selim Hassan, Muhammed Zakaria Goneim and A. H. Hussein mainly focused on the causeway leading to the pyramid while conducting their investigations from 1937 to 1949. Hussein discovered a pair of limestone-lined boat pits at the upper end of the causeway. In the 1970s, Ahmad Musa excavated the lower half of the causeway and the valley temple.[22] Moussa and another archaeologist Audran Labrousse [fr] conducted an architectural survey of the valley temple from 1971 to 1981.[23] The pyramids of Unas, Teti, Pepi I and Merenre were the subjects of a major architectural and epigraphic project in Saqqara, led by Jean Leclant.[24] From 1999 until 2001, the Supreme Council of Antiquities conducted a major restoration and reconstruction project on the valley temple. The three entrances and ramps were restored, and a low limestone wall built to demarcate the temple's plan.[23]

Mortuary complex


Old Kingdom mortuary complexes consist of five essential components: (1) a valley temple; (2) a causeway; (3) a pyramid, or mortuary, temple;[25] (4) a cult, or satellite, pyramid;[26] and (5) the main pyramid.[27] Unas's monument has all of these elements: the main pyramid, constructed six steps high from limestone blocks;[22] a valley temple situated in a natural harbour at the mouth of a wadi;[5] a causeway constructed using the same wadi as a path;[5] a mortuary temple similar in layout to that of Unas's predecessor, Djedkare Isesi's,[28] and a cult pyramid south of the mortuary temple.[29]


Bottom foreground shows the white limestone casing that remains at the lowest layers of the pyramid. Roughly dressed blocks of various sized can be seen behind the casing. The amount of rubble increases with height.
Remains of the outer casing on Unas's pyramid

Though Unas's reign lasted for around thirty to thirty-three years,[11] his pyramid was the smallest built in the Old Kingdom.[4] Time constraints cannot be considered a factor explaining the small size, and it is more likely that resource accessibility constrained the project.[22] The monument's size was also inhibited due to the extensive quarrying necessary to increase the size of the pyramid. Unas chose to avoid that additional burden and instead kept his pyramid small.[30] The complex is situated between the pyramid of Sekhemkhet and the south-west corner of the pyramid complex of Djoser, in symmetry with the pyramid of Userkaf situated at the north-east corner, in Saqqara.[31]

The core of the pyramid was built six steps high, constructed with roughly dressed limestone blocks which decreased in size in each step.[22] This was then encased with fine white limestone blocks.[32] Some of the casing on the lowest steps has remained intact.[28] The pyramid had a base length of 57.75 m (189.5 ft; 110.21 cu) converging towards the apex at an angle of approximately 56°, giving it a height of 43 metres (141 ft; 82 cu) on completion.[33]

Unas's consorts, Khenut and Nebet, were buried in a double mastaba north-east of the main pyramid.[34] The chapel for Nebet's mastaba contains four recesses. One bears a cartouche of Unas's name, indicating that it may have contained a statue of the king, whereas the others contained statues of the queen.[35]


A photo of the north face of the pyramid. Small sections of limestone casing survive. The entry into the substructure sits near the foot of the base.
Modern entrance to the pyramid substructures (bottom left)

A small chapel was situated adjacent to the pyramid's north face. It consisted of a single room, with an altar and a stela bearing the hieroglyph for "offering table".[28] An entry way into the substructure of the pyramid lay under its pavement.[28][33] The substructure of the pyramid is similar to that of Unas's predecessor, Djedkare Isesi.[28] The entry leads into a vertically sloping corridor, which is followed into a "corridor-chamber" at the bottom. From here a horizontal passage follows a level path, which is guarded by three granite slab portcullises in succession.[22][33] The passage ends at an antechamber, a room measuring 3.75 m (12.3 ft) by 3.08 m (10.1 ft), located under the centre axis of the pyramid. To the east, a doorway leads to a room – called the serdab[36] – with three recesses.[33][b] To the west lay the burial chamber, a room measuring 7.3 m (24 ft) by 3.08 m (10.1 ft), containing the ruler's sarcophagus.[28][39] The roof of both the antechamber and burial chamber was gabled, in a similar fashion to earlier pyramids of the era.[28]

Near the burial chamber's west wall sat Unas's coffin, made from greywacke rather than basalt as was originally presumed.[28][44] A canopic chest had once been buried at the foot of the south-east corner of the coffin.[28] Traces of the burial are fragmentary; all that remain are portions of a mummy, including its right arm, skull and shinbone, as well as the wooden handles of two knives used during the opening of the mouth ceremony.[28] The mummy remains have been displayed in the Egyptian Museum of Cairo.[33] The walls surrounding Unas's sarcophagus[33][45] were sheathed in white alabaster incised and painted to represent the doors of the royal palace facade, complementing the eastern passage.[28][46] Taken as symbolically functional, these allowed the king to depart the tomb in any direction.[47] The ceiling of the burial chamber was painted blue with gold stars to resemble the night sky.[33] The ceiling of the antechamber and corridor were similarly painted; however, whereas the stars in the antechamber and the burial chamber pointed northward, the stars in the corridor pointed towards the zenith.[28] The remaining walls of the burial chamber, antechamber, and parts of the corridor were inscribed with a series of vertically written texts, chiseled in bas-relief and painted blue.[28][33]

Pyramid Texts of Unas

A photograph taken from inside the burial chamber. The dark grey, open sarcophagus is visible at the bottom. Behind the sarcophagus, the walls have a painted palace façade motif. Above the west wall are long vertically written hieroglyphic inscriptions filling the gable space. The gabled ceiling is visible painted with stars.
The burial chamber with protective spells filling the west gable, protecting the sarcophagus and its contents below

The inscriptions, known as the Pyramid Texts, were the central innovation of Unas's pyramid,[12][6] on whose subterranean walls they were first etched.[12][48] A total of 283 such spells,[33] out of at least 1,000 known and an indeterminate number of unknown ones,[49] appear in Unas's pyramid.[48] They are the oldest, smallest and best preserved corpus of religious writing from the Old Kingdom.[50][12] Though they first appeared in Unas's pyramid, many of the texts are significantly older.[51][c] The texts subsequently appeared in the pyramids of the kings and queens of the Sixth to Eighth Dynasties,[49][54] until the end of the Old Kingdom.[12]

Ancient Egyptian belief held that the individual consisted of three basic parts; the body, the ka, and the ba.[55] When the person died, the ka would separate from the body and return to the gods from where it had come, while the ba remained with the body.[55] The body of the individual, interred in the burial chamber, never physically left;[40] but the ba, awakened, released itself from the body and began its journey toward new life.[56][40] Significant to this journey was the Akhet: the horizon, a junction between the earth, the sky, and the Duat.[57] To ancient Egyptians, the Akhet was the place from where the sun rose, and so symbolised a place of birth or resurrection.[57][58] In the texts, the king is called upon to transform into an akh in the Akhet.[59][60] The akh, literally "effective being", was the resurrected form of the deceased,[55][61] attained through individual action and ritual performance.[62] If the deceased failed to complete the transformation, they became mutu, that is "the dead".[55][57] The function of the texts, in congruence with all funerary literature, was to enable the reunion of the ruler's ba and ka leading to the transformation into an akh,[63][61] and to secure eternal life among the gods in the sky.[48][64][65]

The writings on the west gable in Unas's burial chamber consist of spells that protect the sarcophagus and mummy within.[66][67] The north and south walls are dedicated to the offering and resurrection rituals respectively,[40][56] and the east wall contains texts asserting the king's control over his sustenance in the form of a response to the offering ritual.[68][69] In the rituals of the burial chamber,[50] the king is identified both as himself and as Osiris,[70] being addressed as "Osiris Unas".[12] The king is also identified with other deities, occasionally several, alongside Osiris in other texts.[71] The Egyptologist James Allen identifies the last piece of ritual text on the west gable of the antechamber:[68]

Your son Horus has acted for you.
The great ones will shake, having seen the knife in your arm as you emerge from the Duat.
Greetings, experienced one! Geb has created you, the Ennead has given you birth.
Horus has become content about his father, Atum has become content about his years, the eastern and western gods have become content about the great thing that has happened in his embrace—the god's birth.
It is Unis: Unis, see! It is Unis: Unis, look! It is Unis: hear! It is Unis: Unis, exist! It is Unis: Unis, raise yourself from your side!
Do my command, you who hate sleep but were made slack. Stand up, you in Nedit. Your good bread has been made in Pe; receive your control of Heliopolis.
It is Horus (who speaks), having been commanded to act for his father.
The storm-lord, the one with spittle in his vicinity, Seth—he will bear you: he is the one who will bear Atum.[72]

The east wall held a second set of protective spells, starting with the "Cannibal Hymn".[73] In the hymn, Unas consumes the gods to absorb their power for his resurrection.[74][75] The Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson identifies the hymn as a mythologizing of the "butchery ritual" in which a bull is sacrificed.[75] The serdab remained uninscribed.[76] The north, west and south walls contain texts whose primary concern is the transition from the human realm to the next, and with the king's ascent to the sky.[77] The southern section of the walls of the corridor contain texts[78][d] that focus primarily on the resurrection and ascension of the deceased.[80] The mere presence of the spells[e] within the tomb were believed to have efficacy,[82] thus protecting the king even if the funerary cult ceased to function.[83][84][f]

Parts of the corpus of Pyramid Texts were passed down into the Coffin Texts,[64] an expanded set of new texts written on non-royal tombs of the Middle Kingdom, some retaining Old Kingdom grammatical conventions and with many formulations of the Pyramid Texts recurring.[49][86][87] The transition to the Coffin Texts was begun in the reign of Pepi I and completed by the Middle Kingdom. The Coffin Texts formed the basis for the Book of the Dead in the New Kingdom and Late Period.[64] The texts would resurface in tombs and on papyri for two millennia, finally disappearing around the time that Christianity was adopted.[88]

Valley temple

A photo of the east side of the valley temple. A ramp leading up to the terrace and the main entrance sits slightly off center in the image. There are no walls above the foundation of the temple, though three pillars remain; one pillar is near the rampway, two other pillars stand at the south entrance into the south hall.
Valley temple belonging to Unas's pyramid complex

Unas's valley temple is situated in a harbour which naturally forms the point where the mouth of a wadi meets the lake. The same wadi was used as a path for the causeway.[5][6] The temple sits between those of Nyuserre Ini and Pepi II. Despite a complex plan, the temple did not contain any significant innovations.[89] It was richly decorated – in a fashion similar to the causeway and mortuary temple – and the surviving palm granite columns that stood at the entrance into the temple evidence their high quality craftsmanship.[89]

The main entrance into the temple was on the east side, consisting of a portico with eight granite palm columns arranged into two rows. A narrow westward corridor led from the entry into a rectangular north-south oriented hall. A second hall was to the south. Two secondary entrances into the halls were built on the north and south sides. Each had a portico with two columns. These were approached by narrow ramps. West of the two halls was the main cult hall. It had a second chamber with three storerooms to the south and a passageway leading to the causeway to the north-west.[23]


A photo taken from inside the causeway facing the direction of the pyramid. Much of the walls is missing, though what remains is in good condition. The pavement is damaged though generally intact. The pyramid can be seen far into the distance.
Causeway leading to the pyramid of Unas

The causeway connecting the valley temple to the mortuary temple of Unas's pyramid complex was constructed along the path provided by a natural wadi.[5] The causeway, at between 720 m (2,360 ft)[90] and 750 m (2,460 ft)[5] long, was among the longest constructed for any pyramid, comparable to the causeway of Khufu's pyramid.[5] Construction of the causeway was complicated and required negotiating uneven terrain and older buildings which were torn down and their stones appropriated as underlay. The causeway was built with two turns, rather than in a straight line.[90] Around 250 m (820 ft) worth of Djoser's causeway was used to provide embankments for Unas's causeway where gaps formed as a result of the wadi.[5][90] South of the uppermost bend of the causeway were two 45 m (148 ft) long boat pits of white limestone, which might originally have housed wooden boats with curved keels representing the day and night vessels of Ra, the sun god.[20][91][92] The boats lay side by side in an east-west orientation.[93]

Tombs in the path of the causeway were built over, preserving their decorations, but not their contents, indicating that the tombs had been robbed either before or during the causeway's construction.[20] Two large royal tombs, dating to the Second Dynasty, are among those that lie beneath the causeway.[94][95] The western gallery tomb contains seals bearing the names of Hotepsekhemwy and Nebra, and the eastern gallery tomb contains numerous seals inscribed with the name of Ninetjer indicating probable ownership.[94] The superstructures of the tombs were demolished, allowing the mortuary temple and upper end of the causeway to be built over the top of them.[30]

The interior walls of the causeway were highly decorated with painted bas-reliefs, but records of these are fragmentary.[5] The remnants depict a variety of scenes including the hunting of wild animals, the conducting of harvests, scenes from the markets, craftsmen working copper and gold, a fleet returning from Byblos, boats transporting columns from Aswan to the construction site, battles with enemies and nomadic tribes, the transport of prisoners, lines of people bearing offerings, and a procession of representatives from the nomes of Egypt.[5][90][96] A slit was left in a section of the causeway roofing, allowing light to enter illuminating the brightly painted decorations on the walls.[5] The archaeologist Peter Clayton notes that these depictions were more akin to those found in the mastabas of nobles.[20]

The Egyptologist Miroslav Verner highlights one particular scene from the causeway depicting famished desert nomads. The scene had been used as "unique proof" that the living standards of desert dwellers had declined as a result of climatic changes in the middle of the third millennium B.C. The discovery of a similar relief painting on the blocks of Sahure's causeway casts doubt on this hypothesis. Verner contends that the nomads may have been brought in to demonstrate the hardships faced by pyramid builders bringing in higher quality stone from remote mountain areas.[90] Grimal briefly mentions the same scene, seeing it as foreshadowing the nationwide famine that seems to have struck Egypt[g] at the onset of the First Intermediate Period.[98] According to Allen et al., the most widely accepted explanation for the scene is that it was meant to illustrate the generosity of the sovereign in aiding famished populations.[99]

A photo taken near the end of the causeway. Left of centre stand two pillars that remain of the granite doorway constructed by Teti. The damaged walls of the mortuary temple are visible in the background, with the pyramid standing over them further into the background.
End of Unas's causeway towards the mortuary temple

A collection of tombs were found north of the causeway.[100] The tomb of Akhethotep, a vizier, was discovered by a team led by Christiane Ziegler.[101] The other mastabas belong to the viziers Ihy, Iy–nofert, Ny-ankh-ba and Mehu.[102][103] The tombs are conjectured to belong to Unas's viziers, with the exception of Mehu's tomb, which is associated with Pepi I.[102] Another tomb, belonging to Unas-ankh, son of Unas, separates the tombs of Ihy and Iy-nofert.[104][105] It may be dated late into Unas's reign.[104]

Ahmed Moussa discovered the rock-cut tombs of Nefer and Ka-hay – court singers during Menkauhor's reign[106] – south of Unas's causeway, containing nine burials along with an extremely well preserved mummy found in a coffin in a shaft under the east wall of the chapel.[107] The then Chief Inspector at Saqqara Mounir Basta discovered another rock-cut tomb just south of the causeway in 1964, later excavated by Ahmed Moussa when it was uncovered that the tombs belonged to two palace officials – manicurists[108] – living during the reigns of Nyuserre Ini and Menkauhor, in the Fifth Dynasty, named Ni-ankh-khnum and Khnum-hotep. A highly decorated chapel for the tomb was discovered the following year. The chapel was located inside a unique stone mastaba that was connected to the tombs through an undecorated open court.[107]

Mortuary temple

Layout of Unas's mortuary temple. In order: (1) Granite doorway built by Teti; (2) Entrance hall with (5a and b) storerooms to the north and south; (3) Courtyard with (4) eighteen granite columns; (6) Transverse corridor; (7) Chapel with five statue niches; (8a, b and c) Storerooms of the inner temple; (9) Antichambre carrée with central column; (10) Offering hall with (11) false door bearing a protective inscription; (12) Cult pyramid; and (13) Courtyard surrounding the pyramid complex.

The mortuary temple in Unas's pyramid complex has a layout comparable to his predecessor, Djedkare Isesi's, with one notable exception. A pink granite doorway separates the end of the causeway from the entrance hall. It bears the names and titles of Teti, Unas's successor, indicating that he must have had the doorway constructed following Unas's death.[109][5] The entrance hall had a vaulted ceiling, and a floor paved with alabaster. The walls in the room were decorated with relief paintings that depicted the making of offerings.[110] The entrance hall terminates into an open columned courtyard, with eighteen – two more columns than in Djedkare Isesi's complex – pink granite palm columns supporting the roof of an ambulatory.[110][5] Some of the columns were reused centuries later in buildings in Tanis, the capital of Egypt during the Twenty First and Twenty Second Dynasties. Other columns have been displayed in the British Museum, and in the Louvre. Relief decorations that were formerly in the courtyard have also been reused in later projects, as shown by the presence of reliefs of Unas in Amenemhat I's pyramid complex in El-Lisht.[110]

A photograph of the upper half of a column from the mortuary temple. It takes on the shape of papyrus leaves at the top.
Papyriform column from Unas's mortuary temple on display in the Louvre

North and south of the entrance hall and columned courtyard were storerooms.[110] These were stocked regularly with offering items for the royal funerary cult, which had expanded influence[h] in the Fifth Dynasty.[116] Their irregular placement, resulted in the northern storerooms being twice as numerous as the southern. The rooms were used for burials in the Late Period, as noted by the presence of large shaft tombs.[110] At the far end of the courtyard was a transverse corridor creating an intersection between the columned courtyard at its east and inner temple to its west, with a cult pyramid to the south, and a larger courtyard surrounding the pyramid to the north.[29]

The inner temple is accessed by a small staircase leading into a ruined chapel with five statue niches.[110][5] The chapel and offering hall were surrounded by storerooms; as elsewhere in the temple, there were more storerooms to the north than south.[117] The antichambre carrée – a square antechamber[5] – separated the chapel from the offering hall.[110] The room measures 4.2 m (14 ft; 8.0 cu) on each side, and is the smallest such chamber from the Old Kingdom.[118] In this case, it too has been completely destroyed.[110] It was originally entered through a door on it's eastern side, and contained two additional doors leading to the offering hall and storeroom.[118] The room contained a single column made of quartzite – fragments of which have been found in the south-west part of the temple[110] – quarried from the Gabel Ahmar stone quarry near Heliopolis.[5] Quartzite, being a particularly hard stone – a 7 on the Mohs hardness scale – was not typically used in architectural projects.[119] It was used sparingly as a building material at some sites Old Kingdom sites in Saqqara.[120][121] The hard stone is associated with the sun cult, a natural development caused by the coloration of the material being sun-like.[122][5] Remnants of a granite false door bearing an inscription concerning the souls of the residents of Nekhen and Buto, marks what little of the offering hall has been preserved. A block from the door has been displayed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.[110][123]

Later history

Evidence suggests that Unas's funerary cult survived through the First Intermediate Period and into the Middle Kingdom,[124] an indication that Unas retained prestige long after his death.[125] Two independent pieces of evidence corroborate the existence of the cult in the Middle Kingdom: 1) A stela dated to the Twelfth Dynasty bearing the name Unasemsaf[i] and 2) A statue of a Memphite official, Sermaat,[j] from the Twelfth or Thirteenth Dynasty, with an inscription invoking Unas's name.[127] The Egyptologist Jaromír Málek contends that the evidence only suggests a theoretical revival of the cult, a result of the valley temple serving as a useful entry path into the Saqqara necropolis, but not its persistence from the Old Kingdom.[128] Despite renewed interest in the Old Kingdom rulers at the time, their funerary complexes, including Unas's, were partially reused in the construction of Amenemhat I's and Senusret I's pyramid complexes at El-Lisht.[129]

The Saqqara plateau witnessed a new era of tomb building in the New Kingdom. Starting with the reign of Thutmose III in the Eighteenth Dynasty and up until possibly the Twentieth Dynasty, Saqqara was used as a site for the tombs of private individuals.[130] The largest concentrations of tombs from the period are found in a large area south of Unas's causeway.[131] This area came to prominent use around the time of Tutankhamun.[132] Unas's pyramid underwent restorative work in the New Kingdom. In the Nineteenth Dynasty,[20] Khaemweset, High Priest of Memphis and son of Ramesses II, had an inscription carved onto a block on the pyramid's south side commemorating his restoration work.[5][28]

Late Period monuments, colloquially called the "Persian tombs", thought to date to the reign of Amasis II were discoverd near the causeway. These include tombs built for Tjannehebu, Overseer of the Royal Navy; Psamtik, the Chief Physician; and Peteniese, Overseer of Confidential Documents. The Egyptologist John D. Ray explains that the site was chosen because it was readily accessible from both Memphis and the Nile Valley.[133] Traces of Phoenician and Aramaic burials have been reported in the area directly south of Unas's causeway.[134]

See also


  1. ^ Proposed dates for Unas's reign: c. 2404–2374 BC,[10][11] c. 2375–2345 BC,[12][13] c. 2356–2323 BC,[14] c. 2353–2323 BC,[15] c. 2312–2282 BC,[16] c. 2378/48–2348/18 ± 1–3 years BC.[17]
  2. ^ The function of the serdab is unclear.[37] Joachim Spiegel considered the room to represent the day sky.[38] Nicolas Grimal postulates that these held statues of the deceased.[39] Mark Lehner adds that the niches could have been used for storing provisions of the cult; a symbolic transfer of offerings presented at the offering hall's false door into the subterranean chambers.[40] Leclant disputes the royal statue hypothesis, proffering instead their use as storage compartments for funerary materials.[41] Bernard Mathieu posits that the serdab represents the "Demeure d'Osiris" (residence of Osiris), where the ruler has to descend below the horizon before resuming their ascent to the northern sky.[42] James Allen notes that it may relate to the tripartite "Tomb of Horus", featured in the Amduat, containing Horus's dismembered body after he is slain by Seth. The three recesses thus contained the "human head, falcon wings, and feline rear" of Horus.[38][43]
  3. ^ Many of the texts of the offering ritual share commonalities with an "offering list" that has been discovered in other Fifth Dynasty tombs. The earliest intact example has been sourced from the non-royal tomb of Debeheni, apparently endowed to him by Menkaure of the Fourth Dynasty. Precursor lists have been dated to non-royal tombs built during Khufu's reign, two centuries before Unas's reign.[52] Fragments of the list have been discovered in the mortuary temples of the Fifth Dynasty rulers Sahure, Neferirkare Kakai, and Nyuserre.[53]
  4. ^ In Unas's pyramid, only the south sections of the horizontal passage was inscribed.[79][33] Teti's pyramid received the same treatment, though the pyramids of Merenre and Pepi II had writings throughout the entire horizontal passage and the vestibule with the three granite portcullises, and Pepi I's pyramid also had writings on a section of the ascending corridor as well.[79]
  5. ^ The symbols were strongly believed to have powerful magic imbued within; so much so that hieroglyphic symbols representing dangerous animals, such as a snake or lion, were intentionally damaged after being inscribed in order to prevent them from corporealising and threatening the well being of the king in his chambers.[81]
  6. ^ A motivator for the regular performance of the cult was the temporary nature of oration. By inscribing the texts, the rites gained permanence.[85] Even as an akh, the deceased required the attention of the living who sustained them through rituals and offerings.[57]
  7. ^ The issue of famines and economic crises is a hallmark of the First Intermediate Period of Egypt. A series of failures of the Nile flood in various years, a result of climate change, is often blamed for the collapse of the Old Kingdom. Evidence in the form of biographical testimonies, such as the inscriptions of Ankhtifi in his tomb at El-Mo'alla, attesting to the famines are numerous, but somewhat questionable. Climatic change bringing drier seasons appears to have started during the Old Kingdom, and archaeological observations at Elephantine suggests that flooding seasons were better, not worse, during the First Intermediate Period. Crises took on a socially significant context during the period, and gave a basis for the legitimacy of rulers' power. Rulers positioned themselves as responsible for caring for the whole of their society, and of the weak and unfortunate, while in turn ensuring their right of authority and demand for respect.[97]
  8. ^ By the Fifth Dynasty, the religious institution had established itself as the dominant force in society;[111][112] a trend of growth in the bureaucracy and the priesthood, and a decline in the pharaoh's power had been established during Neferirkare Kakai's reign and only intensified during Unas's.[113] The prioritization of cult activities received its expression in the expansive storeroom complexes[114] that became a feature of pyramid temples beginning with Sahure's reign,[96] and the space they occupied increased in a linear fashion from Neferirkare Kakai's reign onwards.[115]
  9. ^ transl. Wnỉs-m-zʒ.f[126]
  10. ^ transl. Sr-mʒꜥt[126]


  1. ^ Jiménez-Serrano 2012, p. 155.
  2. ^ Edel 2013, p. 74.
  3. ^ Budge 1920, p. 167a.
  4. ^ a b c d e Verner 2001d, p. 332.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Lehner 2008, p. 155.
  6. ^ a b c d e Arnold 2003, p. 250.
  7. ^ Bárta 2005, p. 180.
  8. ^ Lehner 2008, p. 10.
  9. ^ Altenmüller 2001, pp. 597 & 600.
  10. ^ Verner 2001b, p. 590.
  11. ^ a b Altenmüller 2001, p. 600.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Malek 2003, p. 102.
  13. ^ Shaw 2003, p. 482.
  14. ^ Lehner 2008, p. 8.
  15. ^ Allen et al. 1999, p. xx.
  16. ^ Dodson & Hilton 2004, p. 288.
  17. ^ Verner 2001a, p. 411.
  18. ^ Lehner 2008, pp. 82–83.
  19. ^ Lehner 2008, p. 83.
  20. ^ a b c d e Clayton 1994, p. 63.
  21. ^ Verner 2001d, pp. 332–333.
  22. ^ a b c d e Verner 2001d, p. 333.
  23. ^ a b c Hawass 2015, Chapter 10.
  24. ^ Chauvet 2001, p. 177.
  25. ^ Verner 2001d, p. 293.
  26. ^ Lehner 2008, p. 146.
  27. ^ Bárta 2005, p. 178.
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Verner 2001d, p. 334.
  29. ^ a b Verner 2001d, pp. 335–337.
  30. ^ a b Dodson 2016, p. 29.
  31. ^ Lehner 2008, pp. 10, 83 & 154.
  32. ^ Verner 2001d, pp. 333–334.
  33. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Lehner 2008, p. 154.
  34. ^ Dodson & Hilton 2004, p. 68.
  35. ^ Verner 2001d, p. 339.
  36. ^ Allen 2005, p. 10.
  37. ^ Allen 2005, pp. 11 & 14, note. 17.
  38. ^ a b Billing 2018, p. 78.
  39. ^ a b Grimal 1992, p. 125.
  40. ^ a b c d Lehner 2008, p. 33.
  41. ^ Mathieu 1997, pp. 294 & 301.
  42. ^ Mathieu 1997, p. 292.
  43. ^ Allen 2005, pp. 11 & 14, note 17..
  44. ^ Nicholson & Shaw 2006, p. 57.
  45. ^ Verner 1994, p. 54.
  46. ^ Hays 2009, pp. 215–216.
  47. ^ Hays 2009, p. 216.
  48. ^ a b c Verner 1994, p. 57.
  49. ^ a b c Allen 2001, p. 95.
  50. ^ a b Allen 2005, p. 15.
  51. ^ Allen 2005, p. 4.
  52. ^ Hays 2012, pp. 86–89.
  53. ^ Smith 2009, pp. 8–9.
  54. ^ Verner 2001c, p. 92.
  55. ^ a b c d Allen 2005, p. 7.
  56. ^ a b Allen 2001, p. 96.
  57. ^ a b c d Janák 2013, p. 3.
  58. ^ Hays 2009, p. 195.
  59. ^ Hays 2009, pp. 209–212.
  60. ^ Hays 2012, pp. 212–213.
  61. ^ a b Lehner 2008, p. 24.
  62. ^ Janák 2013, p. 2.
  63. ^ Allen 2005, pp. 7–8.
  64. ^ a b c Grimal 1992, p. 126.
  65. ^ Hays 2012, p. 10.
  66. ^ Allen 2005, p. 11.
  67. ^ Hays 2012, pp. 107–108.
  68. ^ a b Allen 2005, p. 16.
  69. ^ Hays 2012, p. 289.
  70. ^ Allen 2005, pp. 11 & 15.
  71. ^ Smith 2017, p. 139.
  72. ^ Allen 2005, pp. 16 & 41.
  73. ^ Allen 2005, pp. 11 & 16.
  74. ^ Eyre 2002, p. 134.
  75. ^ a b Wilkinson 2016, Part 3 "Hymns", 1 "The Cannibal Hymn", p. 1.
  76. ^ Lehner 2008, p. 158.
  77. ^ Hays 2012, pp. 106–109 & 282.
  78. ^ Hays 2012, pp. 108–109.
  79. ^ a b Allen 2005, p. 12.
  80. ^ Hellum 2012, p. 42.
  81. ^ Verner 2001d, pp. 42–43.
  82. ^ Malek 2003, p. 103.
  83. ^ Lehner 2008, p. 145.
  84. ^ Allen 2001, p. 600.
  85. ^ Hays 2012, pp. 257–258.
  86. ^ Lesko 2001, p. 574.
  87. ^ Verner 2001d, p. 44.
  88. ^ Hays 2012, p. 1.
  89. ^ a b Wilkinson 2000, p. 128.
  90. ^ a b c d e Verner 2001d, p. 337.
  91. ^ Verner 2001d, pp. 337–338.
  92. ^ Grimal 1992, p. 124.
  93. ^ Altenmüller 2002, p. 271.
  94. ^ a b Wilkinson 2005, p. 207.
  95. ^ Allen et al. 1999, p. 157.
  96. ^ a b Grimal 1992, p. 123.
  97. ^ Seidlmayer 2003, pp. 118–120.
  98. ^ Grimal 1992, p. 123 & 137–139.
  99. ^ Allen et al. 1999, p. 360.
  100. ^ Strudwick 1985, pp. 56–57.
  101. ^ Allen et al. 1999, p. 136.
  102. ^ a b Strudwick 1985, p. 56.
  103. ^ Manuelian 1999, p. 598.
  104. ^ a b Strudwick 1985, p. 57.
  105. ^ Dodson & Hilton 2004, p. 69.
  106. ^ Strudwick 1985, pp. 13 & 205.
  107. ^ a b Allen et al. 1999, p. 162.
  108. ^ Strudwick 1985, p. 205.
  109. ^ Verner 2001d, pp. 334–335.
  110. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Verner 2001d, p. 335.
  111. ^ Wegner 2001, p. 333.
  112. ^ Grimal 1992, pp. 89–90.
  113. ^ Verner 2001b, pp. 589–590.
  114. ^ Bárta 2005, p. 186.
  115. ^ Bárta 2005, pp. 184, fig 4.; & 186.
  116. ^ Bárta 2005, pp. 186 & 188.
  117. ^ Verner 2001d, p. 336.
  118. ^ a b Megahed 2016, p. 248.
  119. ^ Ossian 2001, pp. 104–105.
  120. ^ Nicholson & Shaw 2006, p. 54.
  121. ^ Lucas 1959, p. 79.
  122. ^ Ossian 2001, p. 105.
  123. ^ Ćwiek 2003, p. 270.
  124. ^ Morales 2006, p. 314.
  125. ^ Allen et al. 1999, p. 9.
  126. ^ a b Malek 2000, p. 251.
  127. ^ Malek 2000, p. 251 & 607.
  128. ^ Malek 2000, p. 256.
  129. ^ Malek 2000, pp. 256–257.
  130. ^ Schneider 1999, pp. 847–848.
  131. ^ Schneider 1999, p. 849.
  132. ^ Schneider 1999, p. 852.
  133. ^ Ray 1999, p. 845.
  134. ^ Ray 1999, p. 846.


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External links

  • Pyramid Texts Online - Read the texts in situ. View the hieroglyphs and the complete translation.
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