April 3, 2012

Unas Pharaoh Biography and the Pyramid Texts 2375-2345 BC

Unas Pharaoh
2375-2345 BC
 Dynasty 5

The last king of the 5th Dynasty was Unas, whose rubble-core pyramid lies just to the south of Djoser's temenos wall at Saqqara. Although largely ruined, it still preserves the basic pyramid complex with a valley temple at the desert edge from which a long causeway (with a curious kink in it) leads up to the east face of the mortuary temple and the north entrance to the pyramid. The pyramid was first entered in modern times by Gaston Maspero in 1881 when he found that, for the first time, the interior of a pyramid was decorated. The antechamber and most of the walls of the burial chamber were covered by long columns of texts, the so-called 'Pyramid Texts'.

Unas Pyramid
A small section of the causeway leading up to Unas' pyramid has been restored to its full height with its roof closed save for a narrow light slit. The walls were covered with carved reliefs more reminiscent of the mastaba tombs of the nobles, showing markets and bargaining in progress, ships in full sail, hunting in the desert, small vignettes of desert life and, most interestingly, scenes of famine which presumably occurred during the reign. On the south side of the causeway are two huge stone-lined boat pits, but whether they actually held wooden boats like that of Khufu or were just symbolic is debatable. The causeway was built over a number of earlier tombs and thus served to preserve them and their decoration; unfortunately, little of their contents remains, since the majority were robbed when the causeway was built, if not before.

On the outer casing of the south side of Unas' pyramid is an inscription recording the restoration of the pyramid, which had fallen into decay, and the restitution of the king's name. This was done in the 19th Dynasty by Khaemwaset, High Priest of Memphis and one of the many sons of Ramses II who predeceased him: he might be described as the first conservation archaeologist. Found scattered on the desert face, the inscription was restored and replaced high up on the pyramid in the late 1940s.

It appears that Unas left no heir, leading to a short period of political instability. This was apparently resolved, however, when Teti rose to the throne as the first ruler of the 6th Dynasty.

The Pyramids Texts

The Pyramids Texts
When Gaston Maspero entered the pyramid of King Unas in 1881, he found long columns of hieroglyphic inscription covering the walls. Known as the Pyramid Texts, these comprise 228 spells designed to help the soul of the deceased on its journey in the next world, some of which may have been recited during the burial ceremony. Unas' pyramid was the first to feature such texts, but the tradition was quickly established to become the norm in the next dynasty.

No complete series exists in any of the pyramids, but a total of 400 spells have been collated from the pyramids of Unas and his 6th Dynasty successors. The texts were replaced in the Middle Kingdom by the Coffin Texts, which subsequently became the papyrus ‘Book of the Dead’ in the New Kingdom.

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