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Shepseskaf was the sixth and last pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt during the Old Kingdom. He reigned 6 to 8 years starting circa 2510 BC. The only activities firmly datable to his reign are the completion of the temple complex of the Pyramid of Menkaure and the construction of its own mastaba tomb at South Saqqara, the Mastabat al-Fir’aun, "stone bench of the pharaoh". [3]

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.

Fourth Dynasty of Egypt dynasty of ancient Egypt

The Fourth Dynasty of ancient Egypt is characterized as a "golden age" of the Old Kingdom of Egypt. Dynasty IV lasted from c. 2613 to 2494 BC. It was a time of peace and prosperity as well as one during which trade with other countries is documented.

Old Kingdom of Egypt period of Ancient Egypt in the 3rd millennium BC

In ancient Egyptian history, the Old Kingdom is the period spanning c. 2686–2181 BCE. It is also known as the "Age of the Pyramids" or the "Age of the Pyramid Builders", as it encompasses the reigns of the great pyramid builders of the Fourth Dynasty— among them King Sneferu, who perfected the art of pyramid-building, and the kings Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, who constructed the pyramids at Giza. Egypt attained its first sustained peak of civilization during the Old Kingdom—the first of three so-called "Kingdom" periods which mark the high points of civilization in the lower Nile Valley.



Shepseskaf's family is uncertain. Egyptologist George Andrew Reisner proposed that Shepseskaf was Menkaure's son based on a decree mentioning that Shepseskaf completed Menkaure's mortuary temple. This however cannot be considered a solid proof of filiation since the decree does not describe the relationship between these two kings. Furthermore, the completion of the tomb of a deceased pharaoh by his successor does not necessarily depend on a direct father/son relation between the two. [4]

George Andrew Reisner egyptologist

George Andrew Reisner Jr. was an American archaeologist of Ancient Egypt, Nubia and Palestine.

The mother, wives and children of Shepseskaf are unknown. If Menkaure was indeed his father, his mother could have been one of Menkaure's royal wives Khamerernebty II or Rekhetre. It's possible that Shepseskaf's wife was Khentkaus I, but this is far from certain. Queen Bunefer has been suggested as a possible wife of Shepseskaf based on the titles as a priestess of Shepseskhaf. She may however have been a daughter who served as a priestess in the cult for her father. Finally, Khamaat, the wife of a nobleman named Ptahshepses and daughter of a king, may be a daughter of Shepseskaf or Userkaf. [5]

Khamerernebty II was an ancient Egyptian queen of the 4th dynasty. She was a daughter of Pharaoh Khafra and Queen Khamerernebty I. She married her brother Menkaure and she was the mother of Prince Khuenre.

Rekhetre was an ancient Egyptian queen from the late 4th dynasty or early 5th dynasty. She was a daughter of Pharaoh Khafra. Her husband is never mentioned, but Rekhetre would have been the wife of one of Khafre's successors, possibly Menkaure.

Khentkaus I Queen of Ancient Egypt during the 4th dynasty

Khentkaus I, also referred to as Khentkawes, was a royal woman who lived in ancient Egypt during the Fourth and the Fifth Dynasties. She may have been a daughter of king Menkaure, the wife of both king Shepseskaf and king Userkaf, the mother of king Sahure, and perhaps, in her own right, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt. Her mastaba at Giza – tomb LG100 – is located very close to Menkaure's pyramid complex. This close connection may point to a family relationship. Although the relationship is not clear, the proximity of the pyramid complex of Khentkaus to that of king Menkaure has led to the conjecture that she may have been his daughter.


He was likely the last pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt if he was not succeeded by a certain unknown ruler named Thamphthis as recorded in some Egyptian literature and, indirectly, by the Turin Canon. No ruler named Thamphthis is recorded in contemporary documents such as royal monuments or private tombs in the Old Kingdom cemeteries of Giza and Saqqara which date to this period. [6] The long-lived palace courtier Netry-nesut-pu explicitly lists this sequence of Old Kingdom kings he served under in his tomb: Radjedef → Khafre → Menkaure → Shepseskaf, and the first three 5th dynasty kings namely Userkaf, Sahure and Neferirkare. [7] Finally, "No names of estates of the period [which are] compounded with royal names make mention of any other kings than these, nor do the names of...royal grandchildren, who often bore the name of a royal ancestor as a component of their own [name]." [8]

Thamphthis is the hellenized name of an ancient Egyptian ruler (pharaoh) of the 4th dynasty in the Old Kingdom, who may have ruled around 2500 BC under the name Djedefptah for between two and nine years. His original Egyptian name is lost, but it may have been Djedefptah or Ptahdjedef according to William C. Hayes. Thamphthis is one of the shadowy rulers of the Old Kingdom, since he is completely unattested in contemporary sources. For this reason, his historical figure is discussed intensely by historians and egyptologists.


Shepseskaf's reign is attested through the funerary inscriptions made by the officials who served him. These are mostly found in Gizah and Saqqara. The fact that many of these inscriptions only mention Shepseskaf without further details hints at the short duration of his reign. The court officials who mentioned Shepseskaf are:

Khafra ancient Egyptian pharaoh of 4th dynasty

Khafra was an ancient Egyptian king (pharaoh) of the 4th Dynasty during the Old Kingdom. He was the son of Khufu and the throne successor of Djedefre. According to the ancient historian Manetho, Khafra was followed by king Bikheris, but according to archaeological evidence he was instead followed by king Menkaure. Khafra was the builder of the second largest pyramid of Giza. The view held by modern Egyptology at large continues to be that the Great Sphinx was built in approximately 2500 BC for Khafra. Not much is known about Khafra, except from the historical reports of Herodotus, writing 2,000 years after his life, who describes him as a cruel and heretical ruler who kept the Egyptian temples closed after Khufu had sealed them.

Mastaba type of ancient Egyptian tomb

A mastaba or pr-djt is a type of ancient Egyptian tomb in the form of a flat-roofed, rectangular structure with inward sloping sides, constructed out of mud-bricks. These edifices marked the burial sites of many eminent Egyptians during Egypt's Early Dynastic Period and Old Kingdom. In the Old Kingdom epoch, local kings began to be buried in pyramids instead of in mastabas, although non-royal use of mastabas continued for over a thousand years. Egyptologists call these tombs mastaba, from the Arabic word مصطبة (maṣṭaba) "stone bench".

Giza City in Egypt

Giza is the third-largest city in Egypt and the capital of the Giza Governorate. It is located on the west bank of the Nile, 4.9 km (3 mi) southwest of central Cairo. Along with Cairo Governorate, Shubra El Kheima, Helwan, 6th October City and Obour, the six form the Greater Cairo metropolis.

Other than these scanty references to Shepseskaf's reign, the only stele known today that is firmly datable to that period was uncovered in Menkaure's pyramid complex. It mentions a royal decree by Shepseskaf where he makes donations in favor of his father's mortuary cult. [15]

Reign length

The Turin Canon ascribes Shepseskaf a rule of four years and his anonymous 4th dynasty successor—presumably a reference to Djedefptah—a reign of two years. In contrast, Manetho's King List explicitly gives Shepseskaf a reign of seven years which may be a combination of the 4 + 2 (= 6) full year figures noted in the Turin Kinglist for the last two kings of the Fourth Dynasty plus a significant monthly fraction. Manetho's King List does, however, also note the existence of the unknown and possibly fictitious ruler Djedefptah—called Thampthis in his records—who is ascribed a reign of nine years.

The Palermo stone describes the first year of Shepseskaf's reign. Shepseskaf is confirmed as the immediate successor of Menkaure and was apparently crowned on the eleventh day of the fourth month. Analyses of the space available between the beginning of his reign and that of his successor indicate that Shepseskaf did not reign more than seven years. [16] Finally, the Palermo stone indicates that the emplacement and name of Shepseskaf's tomb were chosen during his first year on the throne. The name of the tomb is written with the determinative of a pyramid. [17]


Mastabat al-Fir'aun, Saqqara. Mastaba-faraoun-3.jpg
Mastabat al-Fir’aun, Saqqara.
Isometric image of the mastaba of Shepseskaf taken from a 3d image 011 Shepseskaf.jpg
Isometric image of the mastaba of Shepseskaf taken from a 3d image

Shepseskaf's tomb is a great mastaba at Saqqara, which was originally called Shepseskaf is purified and is now known as Mastabat al-Fir’aun. This mastaba was first recognized as such by Richard Lepsius in the mid 19th century and was first excavated in 1858 by Auguste Mariette. However it was not before the years 1924-1925 that the mastaba was thoroughly explored by Gustave Jéquier. The mastaba was initially thought to be the tomb of the 5th dynasty king Unas, but Jéquier discovered evidence that it belonged to Shepseskaf. In particular, he uncovered a Middle Kingdom stele indicating that Shepseskaf mortuary cult was still active onsite during this time period.

In building himself a mastaba, Shepseskaf broke with the Fourth Dynasty tradition of constructing large pyramids. Indeed, his predecessors built 2 pyramids of Giza and one in Abu-Rawash; while Sneferu, the founder of the fourth dynasty, alone constructed three pyramids in his reign most notably, the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid. It is not clear why Shepseskaf did not start a pyramid for himself and several theories have been put forth to explain this choice:

See also

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Saqqara village in Giza Governorate, Egypt

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Menkaure Egyptian pharaoh of the 4th dynasty

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Sahure Egyptian pharaoh

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  1. 1 2 Thomas Schneider: Lexikon der Pharaonen. Albatros, Düsseldorf 2002, ISBN   3-491-96053-3, page 248.
  2. Alan H. Gardiner: The royal canon of Turin, Griffith Institute, Oxford (UK) 1997, ISBN   0-900416-48-3, page 16; table II.
  3. Peter Clayton: Chronicle of the Pharaohs. Thames and Hudson, London 1994. p. 56
  4. Peter Jánosi: Giza in der 4. Dynastie. Die Baugeschichte und Belegung einer Nekropole des Alten Reiches. Band I: Die Mastabas der Kernfriedhöfe und die Felsgräber, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien 2005, S. 66, ISBN   3-7001-3244-1
  5. Dodson, Aidan and Hilton, Dyan. The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson. 2004. ISBN   0-500-05128-3
  6. P.F. O'Mara, Manetho and the Turin Canon: A Comparison of Regnal Years, GM 158 (1997), p.51
  7. P.F. O'Mara, Manetho and the Turin Canon: A Comparison of Regnal Years, GM 158 (1997), p. 51. O'Mara's source on Netry-nesut-pu is Kurt Sethe's Urkunden or Urk I, p.166
  8. O'Mara, p.51; O'Mara's sources are LD, II, Urkunden I and Auguste's Mariette's 1889 book 'Mastabas de l'ancien empire'
  9. Cf. K. R. Lepsius, § 89 p.109 et K.H. Sethe, § 106, p.166
  10. Cf. S. Hassan, p.176-199
  11. She bears the title of
    njswt sA.t n Xt f, royal daughter of his body, which was found in her tomb in Gizah.
  12. Cf. K.H. Sethe, § 107, p.166 & H. Gauthier, p.180
  13. Cf. J.H. Breasted § 254-262 ; pp.115-118
  14. Cf. S. Hassan, pp.75-85
  15. Cf. K.H. Sethe, § 101, p.160
  16. Cf. G. Daressy
  17. Cf. J.H. Breasted § 150-152 ; p.67
  18. Ian Shaw The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt
  19. Mark Lehner The Complete Pyramids: Solving the Ancient Mysteries