Djedkare Isesi

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Djedkare Isesi (known in Greek as Tancheres) was a pharaoh, the eighth and penultimate ruler of the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt in the late 25th century to mid-24th century BC, during the Old Kingdom. Djedkare succeeded Menkauhor Kaiu and was in turn succeeded by Unas. His relations to both of these pharaohs remain uncertain, although it is often conjectured that Unas was Djedkare's son, owing to the smooth transition between the two.

Ancient Greek Version of the Greek language used from roughly the 9th century BC to the 6th century AD

The ancient Greek language includes the forms of Greek used in Ancient Greece and the ancient world from around the 9th century BC to the 6th century AD. It is often roughly divided into the Archaic period, Classical period, and Hellenistic period. It is antedated in the second millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek and succeeded by Medieval Greek.

Pharaoh Title of Ancient Egyptian rulers

Pharaoh is the common title of the monarchs of ancient Egypt from the First Dynasty until the annexation of Egypt by the Roman Empire in 30 BCE, although the actual term "Pharaoh" was not used contemporaneously for a ruler until Merneptah, c. 1200 BCE. In the early dynasty, ancient Egyptian kings used to have up to three titles, the Horus, the Sedge and Bee (nswt-bjtj) name, and the Two Ladies (nbtj) name. The Golden Horus and nomen and prenomen titles were later added.

The Fifth Dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with Dynasties III, IV and VI under the group title the Old Kingdom. The Fifth Dynasty pharaohs reigned for approximately 150 years, from the early 25th century BC until the mid 24th century BC.


Djedkare likely enjoyed a reign of more than 40 years, which heralded a new period in the history of the Old Kingdom. Breaking with a tradition followed by his predecessors since the time of Userkaf, Djedkare did not build a temple to the sun god Ra, possibly reflecting the rise of Osiris in the Egyptian pantheon. More significantly, Djedkare effected comprehensive reforms of the Egyptian state administration, the first undertaken since the inception of the system of ranking titles. He also reorganised the funerary cults of his forebears buried in the necropolis of Abusir and reformed the corresponding priesthood.

Userkaf Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh

Userkaf was an Egyptian pharaoh and the founder of the Fifth Dynasty. He reigned for seven to eight years in the early 25th century BC, during the Old Kingdom Period. He belonged, in all probability, to a branch of the Fourth Dynasty royal family, although his parentage remains uncertain. He could have been the son of queen Khentkaus I. He had at least one daughter and very probably a son with his consort Neferhetepes. This son succeeded him as pharaoh Sahure.

Ra ancient Egyptian solar deity

Ra or Re is the ancient Egyptian deity of the sun. By the Fifth Dynasty in the 25th and 24th centuries BC, he had become one of the most important gods in ancient Egyptian religion, identified primarily with the noon sun. Ra was believed to rule in all parts of the created world: the sky, the Earth, and the underworld. He was the god of the sun, order, kings, and the sky.

Osiris God of the afterlife in Egyptian mythology

Osiris is the god of fertility, alcohol, agriculture, the afterlife, the dead, resurrection, life, and vegetation in ancient Egyptian religion. He was classically depicted as a green-skinned deity with a pharaoh's beard, partially mummy-wrapped at the legs, wearing a distinctive atef crown, and holding a symbolic crook and flail. He was one of the first to be associated with the mummy wrap. When his brother, Set, cut him up into pieces after killing him, Isis, his wife, found all the pieces and wrapped his body up. Osiris was at times considered the eldest son of the god Geb and the sky goddess Nut, as well as being brother and husband of Isis, with Horus being considered his posthumously begotten son. He was also associated with the epithet Khenti-Amentiu, meaning "Foremost of the Westerners", a reference to his kingship in the land of the dead. As ruler of the dead, Osiris was also sometimes called "king of the living" as he is the first god-king of Earth in ancient Egypt, therefore considered the blessed dead "the living ones". Through syncretism with Iah, he is also the god of the Moon.

Djedkare commissioned expeditions to Sinai to procure copper and turquoise, to Nubia for its gold and diorite and to the fabled Land of Punt for its incense. One such expedition had what could be the earliest recorded instance of oracular divination undertaken to ensure an expedition's success. The word "Nub", meaning gold, to designate Nubia is first recorded during Djedkare's reign. Under his rule, Egypt also entertained continuing trade relations with the Levantine coast and made punitive raids in Canaan. In particular, one of the earliest depictions of a battle or siege scene was found in the tomb of one of Djedkare's subjects.

Copper Chemical element with atomic number 29

Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a soft, malleable, and ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. A freshly exposed surface of pure copper has a pinkish-orange color. Copper is used as a conductor of heat and electricity, as a building material, and as a constituent of various metal alloys, such as sterling silver used in jewelry, cupronickel used to make marine hardware and coins, and constantan used in strain gauges and thermocouples for temperature measurement.

Turquoise opaque, blue-to-green mineral that is a hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminium

Turquoise is an opaque, blue-to-green mineral that is a hydrated phosphate of copper and aluminium, with the chemical formula CuAl6(PO4)4(OH)8·4H2O. It is rare and valuable in finer grades and has been prized as a gemstone and ornamental stone for thousands of years owing to its unique hue. In recent times, turquoise has been devalued, like most other opaque gems, by the introduction onto the market of treatments, imitations and synthetics.

Nubia region along the Nile river, which is located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt

Nubia is a region along the Nile river encompassing the area between Aswan in southern Egypt and Khartoum in central Sudan. It was the seat of one of the earliest civilizations of ancient Africa, with a history that can be traced from at least 2500 BC onward with the Kerma culture. The latter was conquered by the New Kingdom of Egypt under pharaoh Thutmose I around 1500 BC. Nubia was home to several empires, most prominently the kingdom of Kush, which conquered Egypt during the 8th century BC during the reign of Piye and ruled the country as its Twenty-fifth Dynasty.

Djedkare was buried in a pyramid in Saqqara named Nefer Djedkare ("Djedkare is perfect"), which is now ruined owing to theft of stone from its outer casing during antiquity. The burial chamber still held Djedkare's mummy when it was excavated in the 1940s. Examinations of the mummy revealed that he died in his fifties. Following his death, Djedkare was the object of a cult that lasted at least until the end of the Old Kingdom. He seemed to have been held in particularly high esteem during the mid-Sixth Dynasty, whose pharaohs lavished rich offerings on his cult. Archaeological evidence suggests the continuing existence of this funerary cult throughout the much later New Kingdom (c. 1550–1077 BC). Djedkare was also remembered by the ancient Egyptians as the Pharaoh of Vizier Ptahhotep, the purported author of The Maxims of Ptahhotep , one of the earliest pieces of philosophic wisdom literature.

Egyptian pyramids Ancient pyramid-shaped masonry structures located in Egypt

The Egyptian pyramids are ancient pyramid-shaped masonry structures located in Egypt. As of November 2008, sources cite either 118 or 138 as the number of identified Egyptian pyramids. Most were built as tombs for the country's pharaohs and their consorts during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods.

Saqqara village in Giza Governorate, Egypt

Saqqara, also spelled Sakkara or Saccara in English, is a vast, ancient burial ground in Egypt, serving as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis. Saqqara features numerous pyramids, including the world-famous Step pyramid of Djoser, sometimes referred to as the Step Tomb due to its rectangular base, as well as a number of mastabas. Located some 30 km (19 mi) south of modern-day Cairo, Saqqara covers an area of around 7 by 1.5 km.

Pyramid of Djedkare Isesi Ruined pyramid complex of Djedkare Isesi in South Saqqara

The Pyramid of Djedkare Isesi is a late 25th to mid 24th century BC pyramid complex built for the Fifth Dynasty pharaoh Djedkare Isesi. The pyramid is referred to as Haram el-Shawwâf, by locals. It was the first pyramid to be built in South Saqqara.

The reforms implemented by Djedkare are generally assessed negatively in modern Egyptology as his policy of decentralization created a virtual feudal system that transferred much power to the high and provincial administrations. Some Egyptologists such as Naguib Kanawati argue that this contributed heavily to the collapse of the Egyptian state during the First Intermediate Period, c. 200 years later. These conclusions are rejected by Nigel Strudwick, who says that in spite of Djedkare's reforms, Ancient Egyptian officials never amassed enough power to rival that of the king.

Naguib Kanawati is an Egyptian Australian Egyptologist and Professor of Egyptology at Macquarie University in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

First Intermediate Period of Egypt period in ancient Egyptian history after end of the Old Kingdom

The First Intermediate Period, often described as a "dark age" in ancient Egyptian history, spanned approximately one hundred and twenty-five years, from c. 2181–2055 BC, after the end of the Old Kingdom. It comprises the Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and part of the Eleventh Dynasties. Very little monumental evidence survives from this period, especially from the beginning of the era. The First Intermediate Period was a dynamic time where rule of Egypt was roughly equally divided between two competing power bases. One of those bases was at Heracleopolis in Lower Egypt, a city just south of the Faiyum region. The other was at Thebes in Upper Egypt. It is believed that during this time temples were pillaged and violated, artwork was vandalized, and the statues of kings were broken or destroyed as a result of the postulated political chaos. These two kingdoms would eventually come into conflict, leading to the conquest of the north by the Theban kings and the reunification of Egypt under a single ruler, Mentuhotep II, during the second part of the Eleventh Dynasty. This event marked the beginning of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt.


Contemporaneous sources

Djedkare is well attested in sources contemporaneous with his reign. [note 2] The tombs of many of his courtiers and family members have been discovered in Giza, [note 3] Saqqara and Abusir. [24] They give insights into the administrative reforms that Djedkare conducted during his reign and, in a few cases, even record letters that the king sent to his officials. [25] [26] These letters, inscribed on the walls of tombs, typically present royal praises for the tomb owner. [27]

Abusir Village in Giza Governorate, Egypt

Abusir is the name given to an Egyptian archaeological locality – specifically, an extensive necropolis of the Old Kingdom period, together with later additions – in the vicinity of the modern capital Cairo. The name is also that of a neighbouring village in the Nile Valley, whence the site takes its name. Abusir is located several kilometres north of Saqqara and, like it, served as one of the main elite cemeteries for the ancient Egyptian capital city of Memphis. Several other villages in northern and southern Egypt are named Abusir or Busiri. Abusir is one relatively small segment of the extensive "pyramid field" that extends from north of Giza to below Saqqara. The locality of Abusir took its turn as the focus of the prestigious western burial rites operating out of the then-capital of Memphis during the Old Kingdom 5th Dynasty. As an elite cemetery, neighbouring Giza had by then "filled up" with the massive pyramids and other monuments of the 4th Dynasty, leading the 5th Dynasty pharaohs to seek sites elsewhere for their own funerary monuments.

Another important source of information about Egypt during the reign of Djedkare is the Abusir papyri. These are administrative documents, covering a period of 24 years [28] during Djedkare's reign; they were discovered in the mortuary temples of pharaohs Neferirkare Kakai, Neferefre and queen Khentkaus II. [29] In addition to these texts, the earliest letters on papyrus preserved to the present day also date to Djedkare's reign, dealing with administrative or private matters. [28]

Historical sources

Djedkare is attested in four ancient Egyptian king lists, all dating to the New Kingdom. [30] The earliest of these is the Karnak king list, dating to the reign of Thutmose III (1479–1425 BC), where Djedkare is mentioned on the fifth entry. Djedkare's prenomen occupies the 32nd entry of the Abydos King List, which was written during the reign of Seti I (1290–1279 BC). Djedkare is also present on the Saqqara Tablet (31st entry) [16] where he is listed under the name "Maatkare", probably because of a scribal error. [31] Djedkare's prenomen is given as "Djed" on the Turin canon (third column, 24th row), [30] probably because of a lacuna affecting the original document from which the canon was copied during the reign of Ramses II (1279–1213 BC). [31] The Turin canon credits Djedkare with 28 years of reign. [2] [31] [32]

In addition to these sources, Djedkare is mentioned on the Prisse Papyrus dating to the 12th Dynasty (c. 1990–1800 BC). [33] The papyrus records The Maxims of Ptahhotep and gives Djedkare's nomen "Isesi" to name the pharaoh whom the purported authors of the maxims, vizier Ptahhotep, served. [34] Djedkare was also probably mentioned in the Aegyptiaca , a history of Egypt written in the 3rd century BC during the reign of Ptolemy II (283–246 BC) by the Egyptian priest Manetho. No copies of the Aegyptiaca have survived to this day and it is known to us only through later writings by Sextus Julius Africanus and Eusebius. Africanus relates that a pharaoh Tancheres (Ancient Greek Τανχέρης) reigned for 44 years as the eighth and penultimate king of the Fifth Dynasty. [35] Given its position within the dynasty, Tancheres is believed to be his Hellenized name. [30]



Isesi-ankh as depicted on his false door stela Isesi-ankh closeup.jpg
Isesi-ankh as depicted on his false door stela

Djedkare's parentage is unknown; in particular his relation with his predecessors Menkauhor Kaiu and Nyuserre Ini cannot be ascertained. [37] Djedkare is generally thought to have been the son of Menkauhor Kaiu, but the two might instead have been brothers and sons of Nyuserre Ini. [38] Another hypothesis suggests that Djedkare and Menkauhor could have been cousins, [38] being sons of Nyuserre and Neferefre respectively. [39] The identity of Djedkare's mother is similarly unknown. [37]


The name of Djedkare's principal wife was Setibhor. This important queen consort whose name was lost but found in 2019 was the owner of a large pyramid complex located to the northeast of Djedkare's pyramid in Saqqara. [40] This could indicate that she was the mother of Djedkare's successor, Unas, [2] or that Djedkare owed the throne to her. [41] [42] The very high status of this queen is suggested by some features of her funerary complex that are otherwise reserved to kings: [43] her pyramid has its own satellite pyramid, has a causeway leading from a valley temple up to a mortuary temple devoted to the cult of the queen and had an entrance hall pr-wrw, an open courtyard and a square antechamber. [42] [44] Furthermore, some reliefs showing the queen had been reworked with royal insignia and vultures added above her head. [45] Since the construction of the queen's pyramid was apparently undertaken after the planning of Djedkare's pyramid and her relief had been reworked, the Egyptologist Klaus Baer suggests that this queen may have ruled after the death of Djedkare, playing an important role in his succession. This is rejected by other Egyptologists, such as Michel Baud, owing to the lack of evidence for a regency or interregnum between Djedkare and Unas. [46]

The Egyptologist Wilfried Seipel has proposed that this pyramid was initially intended for queen Meresankh IV, whom he and Verner see as a wife of Djedkare. Seipel contends that Meresankh was finally buried in a smaller mastaba in Saqqara North after she fell into disgrace. [47] Alternatively, Aidan Dodson and Dyan Hilton have proposed that she was a wife of the preceding king, Menkauhor Kaiu. [48]


Wooden statues of Kekheretnebti and in the background, of Neserkauhor, now in the Naprstek Museum Naprstek Museum - NM Prague 20.JPG
Wooden statues of Kekheretnebti and in the background, of Neserkauhor, now in the Náprstek Museum

Only one son of Djedkare has been identified for certain, Neserkauhor, [49] who bore the title of "eldest beloved king's son of his body". [note 4] [50] [51] Neserkauhor also bore the title of Iry-pat, showing that he was an important member of the royal court, as well as a priestly title "Greatest of the Five in the temple of Thot", suggesting that he may have been a vizier [50] or had similar occupations. [51]

As well as Neserkauhor, there is indirect evidence that princes Raemka [note 5] and Kaemtjenent [note 6] [55] are sons of Djedkare [56] [57] [58] based on the dating and general location of their tombs in Saqqara. For example, the tomb of Kaemtjenent mentions vizier Rashepses, who served during the reign of Djedkare. [59] [60] Raemka also bore the title of "king's son of his body", [52] almost exclusively reserved to true princes of royal blood. [note 7] The locations of Raemka's and Kaemtjenent's tombs have led some Egyptologists to believe that both princes are sons [57] of queen Meresankh IV buried nearby, who would thus be one of Djedkare's wives. These conclusions are debated, in particular in the case of Kaemtjenent, whose title of "king's son" may have been purely honorific. [61]

A high official named Isesi-ankh could have been yet another son of Djedkare, as suggested by his name meaning "Isesi lives". [48] Yet, similarities in the titles and locations of the tombs [note 8] of Isesi-ankh and Kaemtjenent have led Egyptologists to propose that they could instead be brothers and sons of Meresankh IV, [63] or that the former is a son of the latter. [64] Even though Isesi-ankh bore the title of "king's son", the Egyptologists Michel Baud and Bettina Schmitz argue that this filiation was fictitious, being only an honorary title. [65] [66]

Finally, the successor of Djedkare, Unas, is thought to have been his son [2] in spite of the complete lack of evidence bearing on the question. [67] The main argument in favor of this filiation is that the succession from Djedkare to Unas seems to have been smooth, [68] as suggested indirectly, for example, by the Abusir papyri. [69] Indirect evidence also comes from the reliefs of Unas' causeway, which show many officials bearing names incorporating "Isesi", suggesting at the very least that Unas did not perceive Djedkare as an antagonist. [70] [71] [72]


Several daughters of Djedkare have been identified by the title of "king's daughter of his body" and the general date of their tomb. These include Kekheretnebti, [note 9] [48] whose filiation is clearly indicated by her other title of "Beloved of Isesi", [73] Meret-Isesi, [note 10] [48] Hedjetnebu, [note 11] [74] [48] and Nebtyemneferes. [note 12] [48] Less certain is the filiation of Kentkhaus III, wife of vizier Senedjemib Mehi, who bore the title of "king's daughter of his body". [75] [76] It is debated whether this title indicates a true filiation or if it is only honorary. [76] [77]


Alabaster vase bearing an inscription celebrating Djedkare's first "Sed" festival, Musee du Louvre Djedkare Isesi.jpg
Alabaster vase bearing an inscription celebrating Djedkare's first "Sed" festival, Musée du Louvre

The relative chronological position of Djedkare as the eighth and penultimate ruler of the Fifth Dynasty, succeeding Menkauhor Kaiu and preceding Unas on the throne, is well established by historical sources and confirmed by archaeological evidence. [81]

The duration of Djedkare's reign is much less certain. Djedkare's time on the throne is well documented by the Abusir papyri, numerous royal seals and contemporary inscriptions; taken together, they indicate a fairly long rule for this king. [note 14] [84] While the Turin canon credits him with 28 years of reign, there is direct evidence for an even longer reign. Several artefacts and inscriptions have been uncovered relating to Djedkare's rejuvenation or "sed" festival, normally celebrated only after 30 years of reign. For example, the tomb of one of Djedkare's viziers, Senedjemib Inti, relates construction works undertaken during the year of the 16th cattle count in preparation for the festival ceremonies. An alabaster vase now on display at the Louvre museum [note 15] bears an inscription celebrating Djedkare's first sed festival, indicating in all likelihood that he reigned beyond his 30th year on the throne. [78]

One of the Abusir papyri was found to be dated to the "Year of the 22nd Count, IV Akhet day 12", constituting Djedkare's latest known date. [note 16] [87] This date might correspond to any time from the 32nd year of Djedkare's reign up to his 44th year on the throne, depending on whether the cattle count was once every two years or once every year and a half. The higher estimate is close to Manetho's 44-year figure credited to Tancheres, [88] the Hellenized name of Djedkare, although this may just be coincidental. [89] Modern estimates thus put Djedkare's reign length as certainly more than 33 years and, if the cattle count was regularly biennial, at least 42 to 44 years. [89] This makes Djedkare the longest reigning king of the Fifth Dynasty. [12]


Statue of Djedkare from the temple of Osiris in Abydos Petrie Statue of Djedkare from Abydos.png
Statue of Djedkare from the temple of Osiris in Abydos

The reign of Djedkare heralded a new period in the history of the Old Kingdom. [91] [92] First, he did not build a sun temple, as his predecessors had done since the time of Userkaf, some 80 years earlier. [note 17] [93] [94] This may be a result of the increased prominence of Osiris compared with the sun god Ra during the late Fifth Dynasty. [1] [95] [96] [97] The rise of Osiris corresponds to changes in the role of the king with respect to the wider Egyptian society. In particular, the king loses his role as the sole guarantor of the afterlife, which now becomes available beyond the immediate royal circle. These changes demythologise the king's position and, as the Egyptologist Hans Goedicke writes, make him fully human yet still socially dominant. [98] The importance of the cult of Osiris becomes manifest when the Pyramid Texts of the pyramid of Unas are inscribed a few decades later. [95] [99] In this context, it is perhaps noteworthy that the only [100] known statue of Djedkare was discovered in the ruins of the temple of Osiris, in Abydos. [90] Another manifestation of the winds of change [101] during Djedkare's time on the throne is the confirmation of the relocation of the royal necropolis from Abusir, where it had been since the reign of Sahure, to Saqqara, where Menkauhor Kaiu, Djedkare and his successor, Unas, built their pyramids. Abusir may have become overcrowded by the time of Menkauhor's accession [102] and the capital may have been shifted south to Saqqara, along with the royal necropolis, around the same time. [103] The abandonment of Abusir as a royal necropolis and the termination of sun temple building are possibly related, given the close association between the two since the reign of Userkaf. [104]

Domestic reforms

Two statues of Ptahhotep, a vizier during Djedkare's reign Statuevizir095.jpg
Two statues of Ptahhotep, a vizier during Djedkare's reign

During his reign Djedkare effected significant reforms of the state administration and priesthood, in particular that pertaining to the funerary cults [106] in the necropolis of Abusir. [note 18] [107] These evolutions are witnessed by changes in priestly titles and more broadly, in the system of ranking titles of high officials, which was modified for the first time in its existence. [93] For example, the priesthood of the royal pyramids was reorganized, [1] with Djedkare possibly changing the titles and functions of the priests from "priest of king" to "priest of the pyramid", [108] although this change may have happened earlier, under Nyuserre Ini. [109] Princes of royal blood could once more hold administrative titles, [note 19] a prerogative they had lost during the early Fifth Dynasty. [93] At the same time, viziers could now hold the prestigious titles of Iry-pat [92] and Haty-a [110] and, as "overseer of the royal scribes", became the head of the scribal administration. [111] At least one vizier, Seshemnefer III, even bore the title of "king's son of his body", one of the most distinguished titles at the time and normally reserved to princes of royal blood. Yet neither Seshemnefer III's father nor his mother seems to have belonged to the royal family. [112] For the period spanning the reign of Djedkare until that of Teti, viziers were furthermore responsible for the weaponry of the state, both for military and other purposes. [112] Following the reforms undertaken by Djedkare, three viziers would be in office at the same time: [113] two in the Memphite region and a Southern one, the "governor of Upper Egypt", [93] with a seat at Abydos. [1] [2] In total six viziers were appointed during Djedkare's reign. [note 20] [105]

Lower ranking officials lost power during the late Fifth Dynasty and were frequently limited to holding only one high title, [113] a departure from the preceding period. [93] Such functions as "overseer of the granary" and "overseer of the treasury" disappear from the record some time between Djedkare's reign and that of Teti, [93] while men of lower status became head of the legal administration. [111] Consequently, the viziers concentrated more power than before while lower echelons of the state administration were reduced. [111] At the same time, the size of the provincial administration was increased, and it also became more autonomous from the central government. [2] In particular, the nomarchs were responsible in their provinces for performing works hitherto conducted by Memphite officials. [111]

Building activities

The main building activity undertaken during the reign of Djedkare was the construction of his pyramid complex in Saqqara. Djedkare also either completed or undertook restoration works in the funerary complex of Nyuserre Ini in Abusir, as indicated by a now damaged inscription, [114] which must have detailed Djedkare's activities on the site. [note 21] [115] Further building works took place in Abusir during the second half of Djedkare's reign following the curious [116] decision by members of the royal family to be buried there rather than next to Djedkare's pyramid in Saqqara. A group of mastabas was thus constructed for princess Kekheretnebti and her daughter Tisethor, princess Hedjetnebu, the courtiers Mernefu and Idu, who was buried with his wife Khenit, and prince Neserkauhor. [102] [116]

Djedkare also undertook building activities in relation with his "sed" festival as indicated by a decree that he sent to his vizier Senedjemib Inti on the year of the 16th cattle count, [117] praising him for his work. [118] The decree mentions the construction of a broad rectangular court [119] or artificial lake [120] [121] for the jubilee of the king, some 1000 cubits long and 400 cubits wide, [118] amounting to c. 525 m × 231 m (1,722 ft × 758 ft). [122] [123] The court was located within the precincts of a palace built for the ceremonies of the "sed" festival, which was probably located in the vicinity of his pyramid. [note 22] [123] Another decree addressed to Senedjemib Inti and later inscribed on the walls of his mastaba records the decoration of a chapel of Hathor in the palace of the king. This chapel was most likely built during his reign. [128]

Djedkare may have left some of his monuments unfinished at his death, as suggested by several relief-bearing blocks inscribed with his name and which were found reused in the pyramid of king Unas. Their original setting remains unknown. [129] A reused granite block with the king's name was also found at the pyramid of Amenemhat I at Lisht. [130]

Activities outside Egypt

Drawing by Karl Richard Lepsius of a relief of Djedkare, Wadi Maghara Relief of Djedkare Isesi Wadi Maghara.png
Drawing by Karl Richard Lepsius of a relief of Djedkare, Wadi Maghara

Expeditions to mines and quarries

Three or four [note 23] rock inscriptions dating to Djedkare's reign have been found in the Wadi Maghareh in Sinai, where mines of copper and semi-precious stones were exploited throughout the Old Kingdom, from the Fourth until the Sixth Dynasty. [133] These inscriptions record three expeditions sent to look for turquoise: the earliest one, dated to the third [134] or fourth [135] cattle count–possibly corresponding to the sixth or eighth year of Dejdkare's reign–explicitly recalls the arrival of the mining party to the "hills of the turquoise" [note 24] after being given "divine authority for the finding of semi-precious stones in the writing of the god himself, [as was enacted] in the broad court of the temple Nekhenre". [134] [135] This sentence could indicate the earliest known record of an oracular divination undertaken in order to ensure the success of the expedition prior to its departure, Nekhenre being the sun temple of Userkaf. [135] Another inscription dating to the year of the ninth cattle count–possibly Djedkare's 18th year on the throne – shows the king "subduing all foreign lands. Smiting the chief of the foreign land". [134] [135] The expedition that left this inscription comprised over 1400 men and administration officials. [137] [138] Some Egyptologists have proposed that these men were also sent to mine copper. [139] [140]

These expeditions departed Egypt from the port of Ain Sukhna, on the western shore of the Gulf of Suez, as revealed by papyri and seals bearing Djedkare's name found on the site. [141] [142] The port comprised large galleries carved into the sandstone serving as living quarters and storage places. [142] The wall of one such gallery was inscribed with a text mentioning yet another expedition to the hills of turquoise in the year of the seventh cattle count–possibly Djedkare's 14th year on the throne. [136] [143] In early 2018, more than 220 clay seals bearing the serekh of Djedkare were uncovered in Tell Edfu in the south of Upper Egypt. These seals have been found in close association with copper ore, Nubian potery, the remains of two large buildings and a settlement. Edfu, called Behdet by the ancient Egyptians, was likely the place of departure for the mining expeditions sent to the Eastern desert and the Red Sea during Djedkare's reign. These expeditions were undertaken by a special group of prospectors, called the sementiu, who were under the orders of an administration official sent by the king from Memphis to Edfu. [144]

Gold cylinder seal bearing the names of Djedkare and Menkauhor Kaiu, purportedly from Anatolia DjedkareIsesi-GoldCylanderSeal MuseumOfFineArtsBoston.png
Gold cylinder seal bearing the names of Djedkare and Menkauhor Kaiu, purportedly from Anatolia

South of Egypt, Djedkare dispatched at least one expedition to the diorite quarries located 65 km (40 mi) north-west of Abu Simbel. [note 25] [147] Djedkare was not the first king to do so, as these quarries were already exploited during the Fourth Dynasty and continued to be so during the Sixth Dynasty and later, in the Middle Kingdom period (c. 2055 BE – c. 1650 BC). [146]

Djedkare probably also exploited gold mines in the Eastern Desert and in Nubia: indeed, the earliest mention of the "land of gold" – an Ancient Egyptian term for Nubia [note 26]  – is found in an inscription from the mortuary temple of Djedkare. [149]

Trade relations

Egypt entertained continuing trade relations with the Levant during Djedkare's reign, possibly as far north as Anatolia. A gold cylinder seal bearing the serekh of Djedkare together with the cartouche of Menkauhor Kaiu is now on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. [note 27] [145] The seal, whose gold may originate from the Pactolus river valley in western Anatolia, [150] could attest to wide-ranging trade-contacts during the later Fifth Dynasty, [2] [151] but its provenance remains unverifiable. [note 28] [154]

Trade contacts with Byblos, on the coast of modern-day Lebanon, are suggested by a fragmentary stone vessel unearthed in the city and bearing the inscription "King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Djedkare [living] forever". [155] [156] A biographical inscription discovered in the tomb of Iny, a Sixth Dynasty official, provides further evidence for an Egyptian expedition to Byblos during Djedkare's reign. [157] Iny's inscription relates his travels to procure lapis lazuli and lead or tin [158] for pharaoh Merenre, but starts by recounting what must have been similar events taking place under Djedkare. [159]

To the south of Egypt, Djedkare also sent an expedition to the fabled Land of Punt [147] to procure the myrrh used as incense in the Egyptian temples. [160] The expedition to Punt is referred to in the letter from Pepi II Neferkare to Harkuf some 100 years later. Harkuf had reported that he would bring back a "dwarf of the god's dancers from the land of the horizon dwellers". Pepi mentions that the god's sealbearer Werdjededkhnum had returned from Punt with a dwarf during the reign of Djedkare and had been richly rewarded. The decree mentions that "My Majesty will do for you something greater than what was done for the god's sealbearer Werdjededkhnum in the reign of Isesi, reflecting my majesty's yearning to see this dwarf". [161]

Relief from the tomb of Inti showing a scene of battle or siege Petrie Relief of Inti from Dishasha.png
Relief from the tomb of Inti showing a scene of battle or siege

Djedkare's expedition to Punt is also mentioned in a contemporaneous graffito found in Tumas, a locality of Lower Nubia some 150 km (93 mi) south of Aswan, [30] where Isesi's cartouche was discovered. [163]


Not all relations between Egypt and its neighbors were peaceful during Djedkare's reign. In particular, one of the earliest known depictions of a battle or a city being besieged [164] is found in the tomb of Inti, an official from the 21st nome of Upper Egypt, who lived during the late Fifth Dynasty. [157] [164] The scene shows Egyptian soldiers scaling the walls of a Near Eastern fortress on ladders. [30] [165] More generally, ancient Egyptians seem to have regularly organised punitive raids in Canaan during the later Old Kingdom period but did not attempt to establish a permanent dominion there. [166]


The pyramid of Djedkare in Saqqara Djedkare-Isesi-05.jpg
The pyramid of Djedkare in Saqqara

Djedkare built his pyramid in South Saqqara. It was called Nefer Isesi or Nefer Djedkare in Ancient Egyptian, [note 29] [167] variously translated as "Isesi/Djedkare is beautiful" [168] or "Isesi/Djedkare is perfect". [2] [9] It is known today as Haram el-Shawwâf (Arabic : هَـرَم ٱلـشَّـوَّاف, romanized: Haram ash-Shawwāf, lit.  'The Sentinel Pyramid'), [167] because it stands on the edge of the Nile valley. [169] [170]

The pyramid originally comprised six or seven steps made of irregular and roughly hewn limestone blocks and mortar, of which only three survive. This core was overlaid by casing stones of white Tura limestone, which were stolen in antiquity. At the time of its construction the pyramid stood 52 m (171 ft) high, with a base length of 78.75 m (258.4 ft) and an inclination angle of 52°. [170]

In the interior of the pyramid a descending passage led, behind three granite portcullises, to an antechamber, three magazine rooms and the burial chamber. In the burial chamber, pieces of alabaster and a faience bead on a gold thread were discovered, as well as many fragments of what was originally a large sarcophagus of dark grey basalt. [170] The sarcophagus was sunk into the floor of the burial chamber and there was a niche for the canopic chest of the king to its north-east. An almost complete mummy was discovered in the remnants of the sarcophagus. An examination by Ahmed Batrawi of these skeletal remains, excavated in the mid-1940s under the direction of Abdel-Salam Hussein, suggests that Djedkare died at the age of 50 to 60 years. [84] [171]

To the east of the pyramid, Djedkare's mortuary temple was laid out. [172] Its eastern façade was flanked by two massive stone structures, which resemble the later pylons. The mortuary temple is connected via a yet unexcavated causeway to a valley temple. [172]


Impact of the reforms

The large mastaba of Senedjemib Inti, vizier under Djedkare Mastaba Senedjemib Inti.jpg
The large mastaba of Senedjemib Inti, vizier under Djedkare

For Nigel Strudwick, the reforms of Djedkare were undertaken as a reaction to the rapid growth of the central administration in the first part of the Fifth Dynasty [111] which, Baer adds, had amassed too much political or economic power [173] in the eyes of the king. [174] Joyce Tyldesley sees the reign of Djedkare as the very beginning of a decline in the importance of the king, in conjunction with the gradual rise of the power wielded by the high and provincial administration. [175] Concurrent with this trend is a process of decentralization, with local loyalties slowly superseding allegiance to the central state. [175] Since offices and the vizierate in particular could be inherited, [2] the reforms of Djedkare created a "virtual feudal system" as Nicolas Grimal writes, [147] [176] with much power in the hands of a few puissant officials. This is best witnessed by the large, magnificent mastaba tombs that Djedkare's viziers built. [147] In this context, Djedkare's reforms of the ranking system might have been an attempt at maintaining a sprawling administration under control, [113] yet ultimately failed. For some Egyptologists, such as Naguib Kanawati, this failure contributed in no small part to the fall of the Old Kingdom, [177] but others, including Strudwick, believe the reasons of the collapse must be sought elsewhere as the power of an administration official never approached that of the king. [173]

The reforms of Djedkare played an important role in flourishing of the arts during the later Old Kingdom, as artisans and craftsmen could now find many wealthy patrons beyond the king. This created a surge in the number of commissions leading to a general improvement of the artistic works. This also provided the artisans with a new wealth, which they used to build their own large funerary complexes. [2]

Funerary cult

Old Kingdom

Personified agricultural estate of Djedkare called "Ra desires that Isesi lives" Isesi Estate.png
Personified agricultural estate of Djedkare called "Ra desires that Isesi lives"

Djedkare was the object of a funerary cult established at his death and which lasted until the end of the Old Kingdom nearly 200 years later. Provisions for this cult were produced in several agricultural estates set up during Djedkare's reign. The names of some of these estates have been found inscribed on the walls of the tombs of his courtiers: "Ra desires that Isesi lives", [note 30] "Heqa desires that Izezi live", [note 31] "Perfect of emulation is Isesi", [note 32] "The mnza-vessel of Djedkare", [note 33] "Perfect of favors is Isesi", [note 34] "Seshat makes Isesi live", [note 35] "The Ka of Isesi is foremost", [note 36] "Dominion belongs to Izezi", [note 37] "Work of the command of Izezi", [note 38] "Bastet wishes that Izezi lives", [note 39] "Horus perpetuates Izezi", [note 40] "The offerings of Izezi", [note 41] and "Izezi is one who loves life". [note 42]

Djedkare seems to have been held in high esteem during the Sixth Dynasty. For example, Merenre Nemtyemsaf I chose to place his pyramid complex close to that of Djedkare. [183] In addition, the South Saqqara Stone, a royal annal dating to the reign of Merenre or of his successor Pepi II, [184] records rich offerings being made to Djedkare on behalf of the king. [note 43] [185] [186] An estimated 92% [187] of the text inscribed on the stone was lost when it was roughly polished to be reused as a sarcophagus lid, possibly in the late First Intermediate (c. 2160–2055 BC) to early Middle Kingdom period (c. 2055–1650 BC). [188]

More generally, an historical or literary tradition concerning events in the time of Djedkare seems to have flourished toward the end of Old Kingdom as can be inferred from the tombs of Harkuf and Iny. [189] These two officials were in charge of expeditions to foreign lands–Punt and Byblos– under Merenre I and Pepi II and both relate similar expeditions that took place during the time of Djedkare. [189]

New Kingdom

The funerary cult of Djedkare enjoyed a revival during the New Kingdom (c. 1550–1077 BC). For the early part of this period, this is best attested by the Karnak king list, a list of kings commissioned by pharaoh Thutmose III. The list was not meant to be exhaustive, rather it gave the names of Thutmose's forefathers whom he wanted to honor by dedicating offerings. [190]

For the later New Kingdom, a relief from the Saqqara tomb of the priest Mehu, dating to the 19th or 20th Dynasty shows three gods faced by several deceased pharaohs. These are Djoser and Sekhemket, of the Third Dynasty and Userkaf, founder of the Fifth Dynasty. He is followed by a fourth king whose name is damaged but which is often read "Djedkare" or, much less likely, "Shepseskare". The relief is an expression of personal piety on Mehu's behalf, who prayed to the ancient kings for them to recommend him to the gods. [191]

See also


  1. Proposed dates for Djedkare Isesi's reign: 2436–2404 BC, [1] [2] [3] 2414–2375 BC [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] 2405–2367 BC, [9] 2380–2342 BC, [10] 2379–2352 BC, [11] 2365–2322 BC. [12]
  2. Numerous artefacts bearing Djedkare's nomen, prenomen or serekh have been unearthed, which provide information about trade relations or the state administration during Djedkare's reign. These artifacts are now scattered throughout the world in many museums including the Louvre Museum, [17] the Petrie Museum, [18] [19] the Metropolitan Museum of Art, [20] the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, [21] and the Egyptian Museum of Berlin. [22]
  3. Cemetery 2000 in Giza contains several tombs of overseers and inspectors of the palace attendants who lived during Djedkare's reign. [23]
  4. Neserkauhor was buried in mastaba C, south of Nyuserre's pyramid complex in the east of the Abusir necropolis. [50]
  5. Prince Raemka was buried in the mastaba tomb S80, also known as mastaba D3 and QS 903, in Saqqara, north of Djoser's pyramid. [49] His tomb seems to have been usurped [52] from a certain Neferiretnes. [53] The chapel from Raemka's tomb is now on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. [54]
  6. Prince Kaemtjenent was buried in the mastaba tomb S84 in Saqqara. [49]
  7. As opposed to those bearing the title "king's son", which was used as an honorary title during the later Fifth Dynasty.
  8. Isesi-ankh was buried in mastaba D8, north of the pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara. [62]
  9. Kekheretnebti is believed to have died in her early thirties, she was buried in mastaba B in east Abusir, south of the pyramid complex of Nyuserre. [73] She had a daughter named Tisethor, who was buried in an extension of her tomb. [48]
  10. Probably buried in Abusir. [48]
  11. Buried in the mastaba K, south of Nyuserre's complex in Abusir, [74] likely prior to the building of Tisethor's tomb.
  12. Buried in Abusir. [48]
  13. The inscription reads "First occasion of the Sed festival of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt Djedkare, beloved of the bas of Heliopolis, given life, stability, and all joy for ever." [78] [79]
  14. The years of 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 22nd cattle counts are attested in contemporary sources for Djedkare. [82] [83]
  15. Catalog number E5323. [85]
  16. Miroslav Verner writes that Paule Posener-Kriéger and Jean-Louis de Cenival transcribed the year date numeral in the papyrus as the "year of the 21st count" in their 1968 study of the Abusir papyri. [86] Verner notes that in "the damaged place where the numeral still is, one can see a tiny black trace of another vertical stroke just visible. Therefore, the numeral can probably be reconstructed as 22. [87]
  17. With the possible exception of Shepseskare who might not have the time required to start one.
  18. The abandonment of Abusir as the royal necropolis meant that Djedkare had to strictly regulate its activities so as to ensure the proper continuation of the funerary cults taking place there, which explains in large part the administrative content of the Abusir papyri. [107]
  19. The Egyptologist Nigel Strudwick illustrates this novelty with the cases of Isesi-ankh and Kaemtjenent, who both bore the title of "king's son" as well as a number of administrative titles such as "overseer of all the works of the king" and "seal bearer of the god". [62] The Egyptologists Michel Baud and Bettina Schmitz have argued that the title of "king's son" here does not denote a true filiation and was only honorary, at least in the case of Isesi-ankh. [66] [65] More generally Baud and Schmitz consider that true princes of blood were qualified of smsw [z3 nswt] for "eldest [king's son]" and remained excluded from holding administrative offices. [110]
  20. These are Ptahhotep Desher, Seshemnefer III, Ptahhotep, Rashepses, another Ptahhotep, and Senedjemib Inti. [105]
  21. The block inscribed with the text relating Djedkare's works in the temple of Nyuserre reads "Horus Djedkhau, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Two Ladies Djedkhau, the Golden Horus Djed, Djedkare. For the king of Upper and Lower Egypt [Nyuse]rre he set up a monument ...". [114] It is now in the Egyptian Museum of Berlin, catalog No. 17933. [22]
  22. The name of the palace mentioned in the decree has been the subject of varying translations owing to the damaged state of the inscription. For Brovarski and Sethe the palace is simply called the "jubilee palace" in the decree, [124] while others such as Breasted, [125] Roccati, [126] and Trigger [123] have read the palace name as "lotus-blossom of Isesi" or "lotus of Isesi" (Ancient Egyptian Nehbet). Wente reads the "jubilee palace of Lotus-of-Izezi". [127]
  23. It is unclear whether two of the inscribed texts originate from the same damaged inscription or have always been part of two different inscriptions. [132]
  24. Also translated as "terraces of turquoise" from the Egyptian ḫtjw mfk3t. [136]
  25. The rock exploited in these quarries actually comprises two varieties of gneiss, the word "diorite" being misused by Egyptologists to designate these. [146]
  26. Gold is Nub in Ancient Egyptian, and the "land of gold" may have given rise to the modern word "Nubia" [148]
  27. The golden seal has the catalog number 68.115. [145]
  28. The provenance of the seal is usually believed to be a tomb in a yet undiscovered site along the Eastern Mediterranean coast. [152] The archaeologist Karin Sowada doubts the authenticity of the seal. [153]
  29. Transliterations nfr-Jzzj and nfr-Ḏd-k3-Rˁ. [167]
  30. Ancient Egyptian Mr-Rˁ-ˁnḫ-Izzi, tomb of Ptahhotep II, Saqqara. [178]
  31. Ancient Egyptian Mr-Ḥq3-ˁnḫ-Izzi. [179]
  32. Ancient Egyptian Nfr-nḥrw-Izzi. [180]
  33. Ancient Egyptian Mnz3-Ḏd-k3-Rˁ. [181]
  34. Ancient Egyptian Nfr-ḥzwt-Izzi. [181]
  35. Ancient Egyptian Sˁnḫ-Sš3t-Izzi. [181]
  36. Ancient Egyptian ḫnty-k3-Izzi. [181]
  37. Ancient Egyptian N(y)-w3s-Izzi. [182]
  38. Ancient Egyptian Irt-wḏt-Izzi. [182]
  39. Ancient Egyptian Mr B3stt-ˁnḫ-Izzi. [182]
  40. Ancient Egyptian Srwḏ-Ḥr-Izzi. [182]
  41. Ancient Egyptian Ḥtpwt-Izzi. [182]
  42. Ancient Egyptian Mr ˁnḫ-Izzi. [182]
  43. See in particular the zone F6 of the Saqqara stone. [185]

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  124. Brovarski 2001, p. 99, Footnote e.
  125. Breasted 1962, text 273.
  126. Roccati 1982, p. 126.
  127. Wente 1990, p. 18.
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  133. Mumford 1999, pp. 1071–1072.
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  135. 1 2 3 4 Strudwick 2005, p. 137.
  136. 1 2 Tallet 2012, p. 151.
  137. Gardiner, Peet & Černý 1955, Pl. IX num. 19.
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  139. Valbelle & Bonnet 1996, p. 3.
  140. Allen et al. 1999, p. 177.
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  143. Tallet 2010, p. 21.
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  147. 1 2 3 4 Grimal 1992, p. 79.
  148. "Nubia" & Catholic Encyclopedia 2016.
  149. Klemm & Klemm 2013, p. 604.
  150. Young 1972, pp. 11–13.
  151. Vermeule, Stone & Vermeule 1970, p. 34.
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  154. Schulman 1979, p. 86.
  155. Nelson 1934, pl. III no. 1, see here and there.
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  158. Marcolin 2006, p. 297–298, footnote f.
  159. Marcolin 2006, p. 293.
  160. Hayes 1978, p. 67.
  161. Wente 1990, pp. 20–21.
  162. Petrie 1898, plate IV.
  163. Weigall 1907, p. 108, Pl. LVIII.
  164. 1 2 Strudwick 2005, p. 371.
  165. Kanawati & McFarlane 1993, pp. 26–27, pl. 2.
  166. Redford 1992, pp. 53–54.
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  168. Grimal 1992, p. 118.
  169. Leclant 1999, p. 865.
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  171. Batrawi 1947, p. 98.
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  173. 1 2 Strudwick 1985, p. 341.
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  176. Sicker 2000, p. 12.
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  178. 1 2 Murray 1905, pl. IX.
  179. Brovarski 2001, p. 152.
  180. Brovarski 2001, p. 55.
  181. 1 2 3 4 Brovarski 2001, p. 56.
  182. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Brovarski 2001, p. 70.
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  187. Baud & Dobrev 1995, p. 25.
  188. Baud & Dobrev 1995, pp. 54–55.
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  190. Wildung 1969, pp. 60–63.
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Preceded by
Menkauhor Kaiu
Pharaoh of Egypt
Fifth Dynasty
Succeeded by