Pyramids with Texts
Pyramid Texts are inscribed on the walls on ten pyramids which
are all situated at the necropolis of Saqqara. These pyramids
date to the Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Dynasties of the Old Kingdom
(2705-2213 BC). The main part of this enormous collection
of texts is inscribed in the pyramids of the kings of the
Fifth and Sixth Dynasties: Unas, the last King of the Fifth
Dynasty, his successor Teti, who was the first king of the
Sixth Dynasty and his successors Pepi I, Merenre and Pepi
II. A small selection of these texts are also found in the
pyramids belonging to the three queens of Pepi II: Oudjebten,
Neit and Apouit, and that of the Eighth Dynasty petty-king
Ab. Recently (March 2000), the discovery of a tenth pyramid
containing texts was announced at the 8th International Congress
of Egyptology in Cairo by the Head of Egyptian Antiquities
Dr. Gaballah and the Director of Excavations, Prof. Jean Leclant.
pyramids are built on a much smaller scale than their more
famous counterparts on the Giza plateau, and have, by comparison,
very eroded and unimpressive exteriors. It seems that construction
techniques during this period were inferior to those used
to build the earlier pyramids. These pyramids, instead of
being solidly built, have an outer casing of Tura limestone
which is filled with a core of rubble. The largest of these
pyramids belong to the kings Unas, Teti, Pepi I, Merenre and
example, the base of the pyramid of Unas measures 220ft. square
with a calculated original height of 43 metres (+/-141ft).
Unas erected his pyramid close to the South-West corner of
Djoser's step-pyramid enclosure wall and almost diagonally
opposite the pyramid of Userkaf, founder of the dynasty. The
pyramid of Teti is located to the North-East of the step-pyramid.
The pyramids of Pepi I, Merenre and Pepi II are further south,
close to the mastaba of Shepseskaf.
entrance to these pyramids is from their Northern side, in
keeping with the style of earlier pyramids. An innovation
lies in the exact location of the entrance which is under
the pavement instead of on the facade of the pyramid. Three
granite portcullises were used to block the square entrance
to the corridor which descends into the funerary chambers.
The soft Tura limestone bedrock was a suitable medium for
the carving of the Pyramid Texts. The mortuary complex of
Unas survives in a much more complete state than any of the
others and includes a causeway about 750 yards long. It does
not follow a straight line and changes direction twice to
use natural features to their best advantage. South of the
causeway lie two boat-pits, side-by-side, each about 148 ft.
in length and lined by Tura limestone.
funerary chambers within the five pyramids belonging to the
Kings Unas, Teti, Pepi I, Merenre and Pepi II all follow a
very similar plan. The entrance is on the pavement, at the
foot of the Northern facade of the pyramids. A narrow passage
descends down to a horizontal corridor that leads into the
Antechamber. This is a small rectangular room which is flanked
by two further chambers, the burial chamber to the West and
another chamber in the East, containing three small niches,
perhaps intended for offerings. The burial goods were pillaged
from the pyramids in antiquity and all that remains is the
architectural shell - the walls and the ceiling of these chambers.
When the pyramids were first investigated in the early 1880s
by Gaston Maspero, Head of Antiquities in Cairo, the architecture
in all but Unas' pyramid was found to be damaged or unstable
in many places. The French Archaeological Mission at Saqqara
has been involved in a project of restoring these pyramids
which was begun in the 1950s and which continues today. It
is fortunate that the enormous basalt sarcophagus, now empty
and partially damaged, still remains in its original position
at the Western end of the burial chamber. Nearby, there is
a square impression in the floor where the canopic chest would
have been placed, containing the internal organs of the deceased
Credits: Ms. Jackie Jay
is unique about these pyramids is that they contain the Pyramid
Texts. These texts are inscribed onto the limestone walls
in vertical columns in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic script.
These sacred texts cover the walls of the Burial Chamber,
Antechamber, the short passage in between them, and part of
the walls of the Passage leading into the Antechamber from
the Entrance. The vaulted ceiling of these chambers is decorated
with stars representing the night sky, the heavens.
The Pyramid Texts have aroused much speculation regarding
their origin because they emerge, as a fully-fledged collection
of mortuary texts, without any precedent in the archaeological
Pyramid Texts are made up of approximately 759 utterances.
The term utterance is used to describe the spells which make
up these texts because it is likely that they were uttered,
that is, spoken, by priests in the course of the royal mortuary
rituals. These utterances vary considerably in length and
are often separated from one another by markers in the hieroglyphic
text. No pyramid contains every single one of these utterances,
rather, each pyramid contains a unique selection of them.
The pyramids belonging to the kings of the Fifth and Sixth
Dynasties contain by far the largest selections. The fact
that the texts are made up of distinct utterances which do
not have a strict narrative sequence linking them together
has led scholars to believe that many of them were not composed
specifically for the purpose of being inscribed in the pyramids
but may have had earlier uses. The main theme in the Pyramid
Texts is the king's resurrection and ascension to the Afterworld
and this is described in many different ways. In some of the
texts, the king boards the sun-boat of Re and passes through
different regions in the sky, encountering many gods. In other
texts, the king reaches the sky by flying up as a bird, such
as a falcon or a goose. At other times the king climbs up
the ladder of the sky. What all these texts have in common
is an emphasis on the eternal existence of the king and the
location of the sky as the realm of the Afterlife, which is
dominated by the sun-god Re. The night sky is also described,
particularly the Imperishable stars. In many of the texts
the king is identified with the god Osiris, who is lord of
sarcophagus in the Burial Chamber is inscribed with several
lines of Pyramid Texts. These texts show that the sarcophagus
was personified as Nut, who was the sky goddess and also the
mother of the deceased king. So, to achieve eternal life in
the Afterworld, the king had to be reborn through Nut.
gable above the sarcophagus, on the Western wall of the burial
chamber, is inscribed with protection spells to guarantee
the safety of the deceased king, both physically, within the
pyramid, and spiritually in the Afterlife.
of the Pyramid Texts consist of food and drink offerings which
give us an insight into the variety of ingredients which were
available for the king. Different types of bread and beer
- staples in the Ancient Egyptian diet - feature prominently.
Also mentioned are grain, barley and wine, as well as carob
beans, figs, many different cuts of meat, milk and onions.
We are also informed that the king was offered all kinds of
fresh vegetables and all kinds of sweets.