Egypt old kingdom (2,613-2,181 BCE)

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Step Pyramid of Djoser at Ṣaqqārah
Funerary temple of Djoser at Ṣaqqārah
Roofed colonnade of columns Ṣaqqārah
Ka Statue of Djoser
Sneferu’s Bent and Red Pyramids
Rahotep and Nofret statues
Great Pyramid at Giza, Khufu
Pyramid of Khafre
Sculpture of Khafre
King Mankaure with Hathor and Bat
Pyramid of Menkaure
Memi and Sabu
Great Sphinx
King Menkauhor (Mycerinus) and queen
Ptah-khenui and his wife
Fifth Dynasty tomb of Khuwy
Nyuserre double statue
Seated portrait statue of Dersenedj
Alabaster statue of Ankhnesmeryre II/Pepi II
Seated statue of an official
Eight Dynasty Cartouches
Jasper weight, Ninth Dynasty

The Old Kingdom is often referenced as the ‘Age of the Pyramid Builders’. It spanned from the third to the sixth dynasties.

THIRD DYNASTY c2,686 – 2,613 BCE:

The third dynasty is confused by the four king lists. The Turin King List and the Abydos King List record five kings, while the Saqqara Tablet only records four, and Manetho records nine (many are kings using multiple names). ultcult suggests these five – Nebka, Djoser, Djoserti, [various suggestions] and Huni.


This is the polished white limestone, six-tier, step pyramid of pharaoh Djoser at Ṣaqqārah Necropolis. It is UNESCO World Hertiage Site 86-002 and forms part of Memphis and its Necropolis. It was designed by the architect Imhotep who built it as a series of mastabas, one atop the other,
It was built between 2,670-2,650 BCE and is 63m high and 121 x 109m at its base.
It is claimed as the earliest large-scale cut stone construction made by humankind. However, it is a contemporary of the the South American pyramids at Caral.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Djoser complex is surrounded by a limestone wall 10.5 m (34 ft) high. Pictured iss the funerary temple of Djoser at Ṣaqqārah, that forms part of the south tomb. This has a paneled wall and its top is decorated with the figures of the uraeus serpents (sacred cobras) symbolising hope in a new life.

Detail showing cobras
The limestone roofed colonnade corridor leads into the complex from the south. The 6.6m high stone pillars were carved to imitate bundled plant stems.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons
The Statue of Djoser from his serdab within his pyramid. A serdab means literally ‘cold water’, which became Arabic for ‘cellar’. The serdab of an Egyptian tomb is a chamber off the narrow corridor leading to the burial chamber. Here the Ka statue of a deceased individual is placed, to become a receptacle for the deceased’s soul or ka. Priests performed a special ritual called the ‘opening of the mouth’ ceremony. The mouth, eyes, nose and ears were touched with ritual implements giving the statue the power of breath, sight, smell, and hearing. This enabled the statue to magically perceive the world.

FOURTH DYNASTY c2,613– 2,494 BCE:

The fourth dynasty is heralded as the Egyptian ‘golden age’, a period of peace and prosperity, and much trading with other countries. It was also the peak for pyramid building. The dynasty had six kings. The first king of the dynasty, Sneferu (2,613–2,589 BCE), known as ‘the Briner of Beauty’, experimented and evolved from the mastaba and step pyramids to build smooth-sided pyramids. The four following kings each commissioned at least one pyramid, the last king of this dynasty, Shepseskaf (probably 2,518–2,510 BCE) did not. The second paraoh, Khufu aka Cheops (2,589–2,566 BCE) built the Great Pyramid at Giza. Djedefre (2,566-2,558 BCE), Khafre (2.558-2,532 BCE) and Menkaure (2,532-2503 BCE) built pyramids known by their name. Giza boasts three pyramids, each with its own burial complexes. These were built across 60 years – 2,550-2,490 BCE – by Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure.


Sneferu evolved pyramid building. His first, the Pyramid at Meidum, collapsed in antiquity.

This top picture is his second, the ‘bent pyramid’. Located in the necropolis at Dahshur, 40km south of Cairo, it was built in 2,600 BCE. The ‘bent’ reference is due to the lower sides using a 54-degree inclination, but above 47m high it is at 43-degrees. Of the around ninety pyramids found, to date, in Egypt, it is the one that has the best preserved polished limestone outer casing; it used bigger gaps between the stones, and this has been conjectured as a contributing factor. It has a height of 105m and 190 x 124m at the base.

The lower picture is of the ‘red pyramid’, the largest pyramid at Dahshur at 105m high and 220 x 200m at the base. It is one kilometre from the Bent Pyramid. The white limestone cladding was removed during the Middle Ages for building projects in Cairo, revealing the red limestone inside, hence its ‘red’ moniker. It is the first truly smooth-sided pyramid. It was built from 2,575-2,551 BCE.. Perhaps a lesson learned with the bent pyramid, it is built at 43-degrees.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: ancient-egypt.org

Image source: ccs.instructure.com

These painted statues depict Prince Rahotep and his wife Nofret. Most identify him as Sneferu’s son, others suggest Huni, the last pharoah of the Third Dynasty. Still others suggest thet the inscription ‘physical son of the king’ was an honorific and does not confirm that Rahotep’s father was a king.
The inscription does detail the many roles he performed, among these are ‘Chief of Seers at Heliopolis’, ‘Keeper of the Ames Sceptre’,  ‘Eldest of the Palace’, ‘Controller of the Archers’..
Nofret’s inscriptions says she was ‘known to the king’ and is assumed to mean part of the royal entourage. (ED’s note: can’t mean ‘bibilically’ as that book is yet to come.)
The lower picture is Rahotep’s slab stela at the British Museum.
Khofu (aja Cheops) Great Pyramid of Giza. It took around twenty years to build around 2,560 BCE. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it is extant and largely intact.
Standing 146.5m high the Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years.
It used 2.3 million blocks of limestone and granite, some as heavy as 80 tonnesthe whole covered by a limestone casing, but most of that is now gone. It contains three known chambers.
The Giza complex has two mortuary temples honouring Khufu, three smaller pyramids for his wives, a smaller ‘satellite’ pyramid, and small mastaba tombs for nobles.
The lower picture is a statuette of Khufu/Cheops. It was found at Abydos and is on display at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo (it is 8 x 3 x 3cm).

Image source: ancient-origins.net

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: ccs.instructure.com

The Pyramid of Khafre, or Chephren, (2,558−2,532 BCE) is the second-tallest and second-largest of the Giza pyramids. However it is sat higher by 10m on bedrock. It is 136m high, its base sides 216m. Its sides are set at 53-degrees, the Great Pyramid is 51-degrees. When explored in the early 19th c, a chamber was found but thee sarcophagus was open and the lid discarded beside it, a second chamber was found but no purpose could be established.
This statue of ‘Khafre Entroned’ is fabricated in an extremely hard dark stone, anorthosite gneiss, which was transported from royal quarries from 400 miles away via the Nile. It was placed in the pharaoh’s valley temple near the Great Sphinx as a ka statue.
Khafre wears a linen nemes headdress, covering his forehead and draping over his shoulders shoulders. The headdress depicts the uraeus, or cobra emblem. He also wears a royal false beard. His kilt covers his waist, leaving uncovered his idealised upper body. This sort of Egyptian portrait does not faithfully record the pharaoh’s features, but instead aims to present the divine nature of his kingship.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: teacherinabox.org.au

A number of triads were discovered in the ruins of Menkauhor Valley Temple. It is fabricated from greywacke.
On the left is the goddess Hathor with a sun disk and cow’s horns, she is associated with fertility, creation, birth, and rebirth. She appears to be holding hands with the king.
On the right is the goddess Bat, a cow goddess that was omnipresent inEgyptian worship, but her role was subsumed into Hathor; here Hathor wears the cow horns. Both goddesses are depicted with human frames.
In the middle, a striding King Menkauhor, wears a crown of Upper Egypt and a wraparound kilt.
Menkaure’s Pyramid was built around 2,510 BCE. At 66m high and 109m sides at the base, it is the smallest of the Giza Pyramids, It used limestone and Aswan granite and cased in Turan limestone, it has a 51-degree angle. Three smaller ‘queen’ pyramids are adjacent, possibly his half-sisters. It has signs of being unfinished and it is conjectured the pharaoh died at this poiny,
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: metmuseum.org

The size and material stamps this out as a non-royal sculpture. It is painted limestone and 62 x 25 x 16cm. Hieroglyphics on its base describes it as ‘the Royal Acquaintance Memi and Sabu’. It was found in a serdab of a non-royal chapel at Giza.
Pair statues are also intended to be a ka receptacle, and usually the fetured pair are married. It was thought this sort of sculpture began in the fifth/sixth dynasty, but her coffure and the mutual embrace stamps it out as fourth dynasty.
The monolithic Great Sphinx is a limestone statue of a reclining sphinx. It is one of the world’s oldest statues. The sphinx is a mythical creature with a lion’s body and a pharaoh’s head, in this case, Khalfre. It is 20m high ad 73m in length, it was carved from the bedrock. The layers in the limestone have different weathering rates, the head is particularly hard-wearing. The site is undermined by a number of shafts that lead nowhere, these are surmised to have been dug by grave-robbers. Its precise dates, sculptor/s and purpose remain a mystery. It is usually dated to c2,500 BCE because of Khafre references, though there are no inscriptions to link the two. However a later ‘Dream’ stele (c1,400 BCE), raised by pharaoh Thutmose IV, suggests there was a link Khafre to Sphinx.
The lower picture is a 19th century CE albumen print of the Great Sphinx when only partly excavated.

Image source: gohighbrow.com
Image source: Wikimedia commons

FIFTH DYNASTY (2,494-2,345 BCE):

The nine Fifth Dynasty pharaohs reigned for approximately 150-250 years, from 2,494–2,345 BCE. There is however some diagreement about the order of reigns, and the length of reigns. Userkaf (Horus name Irimaat) is usually considered to be the first and Unas (Horus name Wadjtaw) the last. All of the V Dynasty pharaohs built pyramids in Abusir or Saqqara.


Image source: khanacademy.org

The 140 cm tall statue of King Menkaure and his primary queen, Khamerernebty II (daughter of Khaufre and .KhamerernebtyI) was fabricated in greywacke sandstone. Menkaure (aka Mycerinus) planned a massive burial chamber of granite blocks and a black sarcophagus. The sarcophagus was found but lost at sea while being transported to England. Menkaure’s mortuary and valley temples, were not completed before his death, but a number of statues, intended for them, were found. He adopts the standard pose with left foot forward, while his queen adopts a more natural pose. Her right arm passes around his waist and her left clasps his left upper arm. She is clothed in a thin dress, what in Greek cultrue had become known as ‘wet-drapery’. It is on show at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
This statue of lesser mortals is half the size at just 70cm tall and consists of painted limestone. The statue was found in a serdab of a mastaba at Giza. Ptah-khenui and his wife adopt the same pose. Those feet look odd and the overall sculpting is clearly less proficient. It too is on show at Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Image source: arthistoryresources.net

Image source: mirror.co.uk


In 2019 archaeologists publicised the find of a tomb at Saqgara of a senior official named Khuwy believed to have been a nobleman in the Fifth Dynasty. The L-shaped chamber has limestone walls painted with oil and resin. The top picture shows a cow being butchered, the lower is Khuwy is sat at a table making offerings to the deities.
King Nyuserre Ini was one of this dynasty’s longest serving pharoahs at 24-35 years. This double statue of his shows him as a young and as an old man. Clearly he couldn’t find room for his wife Reptynub, despite her probably being the mother of Mankauhor Kaiu who succeeded him. He was the last of his dynasty to build his pyramid at Abusir. It is on show at the Museum of Egyptian Art in Munich.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: kwasikonadu.info

Djedkare Isesi was also a long-serving pharoah, 33-44 years. But is perhaps better known for his erudite oldest son (unclear if my birth or adoption), Ptahhotep. The painted relief is of Ptahhotep found at Saqqara at his mastaba. Ptahhotep served as Djedkare’s vizier and subject of a well-respected ‘wisdom text’ named The Instructions (or Maxims) of Ptahhotep in which a father and famous sage provides instruction for his son, particularly in the subject of human relations. It was apparently inspired by the goddess Maat. The authorship is usually credited to a grandson of Ptahhotep, Ptahhotep Tshefi.
This c2400 BCE statue of rose granite is 68cm tall. It shows the seated Dersenedj, a scribe and administrator. It too was found at Giza and is on show at the Neues Museum Berlin.
Image source: Wikimedia commons
Image source

SIXTH DYNASTY (2,345-2,181 BCE):

The sixth dynasty spanned oevr 150 years and at least seven pharaohs from Teti to Nitocris. The previous dynasty had expanded the priesthood and the bureaucracy, which invariably led to a decline in the paharoh’s power. This is reflected in the opulent private tombs of nobles and officials.

Teti’s accession is vague, but it is believed that his wife Iput is thought to be the daughter of Unas, the last pharaoh of the Fifth Dynasty; Unas died without male heir.

Pepi I is notable for despatching expeditions to the Sinai Peninsula to mine turquoise and copper, but also north to Byblos (Lebanon), Ebla (Syria) and south to Punt (Somalia).

Pepi II is dubiously claimed to have ruled for 94 years.

Nitocris (aka Nitiqreti) was long thought a female, with claims to be the first feamle pharaoh and the first ruling queen in the world. Much of the confusion comes from an account by Herodotus. Current wisdom says she was male and called king Neitiqerty Siptah.


Image source: Wikimedia commons

This alabaster statuette is of Ankhenespepi II and her son Pepi II. Ankhenespepi was a remarkable womand, she was married to two pharaohs, Pepi I and Merenre I. Her sister had been married to Pepi I before her. Merenre was her nephew, but reigned for a short time. It is also suggested that she acted as Pepi II’s regent while he was a child. This merited her own pyramid at Saqqara.
The statue is described as depicting her as Isis and her son as Horus. It is on show at the Brooklyn Museum NY USA.
This limestone statue depicts a seated official on a block chair. This growth in significance of officils does have benefits for historians. For example, it is from their tomb’s biographical drawings and inscriptions that we learn of a plot that failed against Pepi I and of Pepi II’s excitement that one of his expeditions is returning with a dancing pygmy from Yam, south of Nubia.
Though it is believed that deep-rooted officials from Pepi II’s long rule, were responsible for weakening the sixth dynasty.

Image source: Wikimedia commons


The Seventh through the Eleventh Dynasties are considered an intermediate period. Some authorities add the seventh and eight back into the Old Kingdom and others consider the tenth and eleventh forward into the Middle Kingdom.


This is the Abydos King List for the Eight Dynasty showing the seventeen pharaohs. The top strip shows Netjerkare Siptah to Neferkamin. The bottom shows Nikare until Neferirkare

Image source: Wikimedia commons

This Jasper weight bears the cartouche of Nebkaure Khety (2,160-2,130 BCE) of the Ninth (or Tenth?) Dynasty.

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