June 30, 2012

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids at Dahshur Part 5

The Menkaure pyramid, too, was built with large, well-squared blocks. Vyse and Perring said that ‘The bulk of the pyramid has been more carefully built than the two larger and the stones have been better finished, and are of greater size’. Moreover, the hole cut into its eastern face by the Caliph Malek al Aziz Othman reveals a substantially built buttress wall. On the other hand, the mortuary temple, the causeway and the valley building were finished with inferior materials by Menkaure’s successor, Shepseskaf. There is a strange contrast in Menkaure’s mortuary temple of immense limestone blocks, weighing as much as 200 tons each, and the use of mud brick and plaster. All these signs of a sudden lack of interest and saving of labour are part of the abrupt end of the Pyramid Age. The surprisingly large number of granite courses at the Menkaure pyramid casing may be another indication of this decline. Possibly the granite quarries at Assuan, which began only after Khufu to produce in large numbers casing stones for pyramids under construction and future ones, were taken by surprise at the sudden drop in demand. It almost looks as if the quarry masters found themselves with an excessive number of casing! blocks on their hands which were then all used at the Menkaure pyramid, the last one of the Fourth Dynasty.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids
Other architectural innovations on the pyramids of the Giza period concern the design of the interior passages and chambers. The only corbelled roof at Giza is that of the Grand Gallery in Khufu’s pyramid. This high and sloping passage provides interesting evidence for the fear of slip which seems to have been ever present in the mind of the Egyptian architects after the Meidum disaster. The roof slabs are made to lie individually against notches in the top of the walls and not against each other. This was to ensure that the weight of the slabs did not accumulate at the lower end of the sloping ceiling. The roof of the Queen’s chamber in the Khufu pyramid and those of the tomb chambers in the Khafre and Menkaure pyramids consist of very large gabled blocks of limestone which have stood the test of time. We do not know whether, above these roofs, there are relieving chambers similar to those above the King’s chamber of Khufu.

The efforts made by the Giza architects to erect large pyramids with a gradient of 4/7r mainly involved the development of mega- lithic building on an immense scale. Even if we assume that the large squared blocks were confined to the packing only, this required the preparation of about 700,000 carefully shaped limestone cubes, weighing roughly 2^ tons each. To these will have to be added something like one million m.2 of well-built buttress walls and 200,000 m.2 of smooth planed casing consisting of large blocks of Tura limestone. The remaining examples of this casing show that the stones were made to fit so closely that a postcard cannot be inserted between the blocks.

Who were the people that issued the orders for this immense enterprise, and who executed them? Who were the members of the Egyptian ‘establishment’, to use contemporary parlance? First and foremost it was, of course, the pharaoh, but his position seems to have undergone a considerable change during the first four dynasties. Arising from a tribal society, the early pharaohs evidently held a divine kingship as it has survived to our day in Africa. The welfare of the people depended on the health and vigour of the king, who originally was not allowed to lose his powers with advancing age but had to be killed ceremonially when his strength waned. In historic times the slaying had been replaced by a magical rejuvenation ceremony, the heb-sed festival which soon came to be regarded as a regnal jubilee.

It was evidently during the four centuries covering the first two dynasties that the position of the king changed from a wizard with magical powers into the institution of the crown. The unification of the two kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt required the beginnings of a central administration, based on the capital, which had to be more rational and more permanent than the somewhat haphazard activities of a tribal chieftain. It was probably a gradual, though not necessarily a smooth development, but always tending towards centralisation. As the heresy of Peribsen indicates, this was a period still perturbed by religious schisms, the origin of which lay in the past. It was a time when the local gods were both relegated to a secondary position and absorbed into a remarkably unadjusted pantheon. The Egyptians were extremely conservative and never threw anything away. So they kept all the tribal fetishes without making much effort to integrate them into a unified religious system. All that happened was that some of the local gods attained some specific, and generally accepted, minor function. So, for instance, the cow totem of Dendera, Hathor, and the cat Bast of Bubastis became the universally acknowledged goddesses of love, and the hippopotamus Toueris the goddess of childbirth.

The invading dynastic race conquered Egypt under the standard of the Horns falcon, and their leader, finally to become king of Upper and Lower Egypt, was personally identified with this totem bird. The most important of the king’s titular names was his Horus name which is inscribed in the ‘serekh’, an image of the palace facade surmounted by the falcon. It was incidentally from this representation of the royal palace, the Great House, in Egyptian ‘per-o’, that the Hebrew word ‘pharaoh’ was derived. 120 rpjje royal name had become taboo and ‘the Great House’ was the standard circumlocution used in reference to the king. The local 0(js had their temples and priesthoods but Horus stood high above them, his supremacy challenged only by the indigenous god Seth of Ombos. As mentioned in the first chapter, Seth succeeded under the Second Dynasty pharaoh, Peribsen, in supplanting Horus, but Horus was re-installed later during this same dynasty. It is significant, however, that eventually, under Kha-sekhemui, a compromise was reached with both the Horus and Seth emblems surmounting the serekh. Subsequently a judicious division of the world was instituted by the priesthood, in which Seth received the heavens and Horus the earth. This permitted the king, as the personification of Horus, to rule unimpeded over the land of Egypt.

With the consolidation reached at the turn of the Second Dynasty, the capital, as the seat of the central administration, gained in importance and it was inevitable that the priesthoods of the local gods were the most likely sources to provide the civil service. The local god of Memphis was Ptah, who had become the patron of learning and the scribes, which marked out his temple as a suitable sanctuary for the members of the administration. It appears that the kings, especially the early ones, relied heavily on this institution which they fostered and endowed. Another even more ancient sanctuary existed 30 km. north-east of Memphis at On, which was called Heliopolis by the Greeks. As the name indicates, it was a shrine of the sun god Re and its emblem was a conical stone, the ben-ben, representing the rays of the sun falling on earth. The temple of Heliopolis was also the home of astronomy, mathematics, the measurement of time and the calendar. Such little information as we have indicates a certain amount of rivalry between the priesthoods of Ptah and of Re for a leading part in advising and guiding the monarchy.

It seems that during the first two dynasties the influence of Ptah was decisive but with the beginning of the Third Dynasty Heliopolis took an ever-increasing share. Imhotep was a high priest of Heliopolis and there can be little doubt that the scientific and architectural expertise manifested in the building of the Step Pyramid of Saqqara emanated from the mathematics school of the sun god. Apart from the novel design of Zoser’s tomb, the Step Pyramid complex itself is still dominated by the ancient tribal traditions with a stone replica of the heb-sed court, laying stress on the pharaoh’s rejuvenation by magic. A similar enclosure R.P.—7 121 around the pyramid of Sekhemket shows that this tradition was maintained in the Third Dynasty.

Then, however, a fundamental change in the position of the pharaoh seems to have taken place at the turn of the Third Dynasty. Our evidence for it is the departure in the lay-out of the Meidum pyramid. Even before it was decided to transform the original step structure into the pyramidal emblem of Re, important changes in design had taken place. The tomb chamber was not at the bottom of a shaft; there was a polar passage laid out from the beginning of the plan and the large heb-sed enclosure was omitted in favour of an unadorned small temenos wall with a causeway and a valley building. The meaning of the Egyptian monarchy was taking on a new form under the guidance of the Heliopolitan priesthood.

Egyptian Pyramids at Dahshur :


Post a Comment

Hi, If you found any copyright content in Ancient Egypt blog please don't hesitant to send an email : ancientegyptblog@gmail.com and will delete within 24 Hours


Follow us

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...