Djedkare Isesi (known in Greek as Tancherês), was an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh, the eighth and penultimate ruler of the Fifth Dynasty in the late 25th century BCE to mid 24th century BCE, during the Old Kingdom period. He is assigned a reign of twenty-eight years by the Turin Canon although some[who?] Egyptologists believe this is an error and should rather be thirty-eight years. Manetho ascribes to him a reign of forty-four years while the archaeological evidence suggests that his reign is likely to have exceeded thirty-two years. Djedkare's prenomen or royal name means "The Soul of Ra Endureth."
Djedkare is attested in three ancient Egyptian king lists, all dating to the New Kingdom. Djedkare's prenomen occupies the 32nd entry of the Abydos King List, which was written during the reign of Seti I (1290–1279 BCE). Djedkare is also present on the Saqqara Tablet (31st entry) where he is listed under the name "Maatkare", probably because of a scribal error. Djedkare's prenomen is given as "Djed" on the Turin canon (third column, 24th row), likely owing to a lacuna affecting the original document from which the canon was copied during the reign of Ramses II (1279–1213 BCE). The Turin canon credits Djedkare with 28 years of reign. These sources all place Djedkare as the eighth and penultimate ruler of the Fifth Dynasty, succeeding Menkauhor Kaiu and preceding Unas on the throne.
In addition to these sources, Djedkare is mentioned on the Prisse Papyrus dating to the 12th Dynasty (c. 1990–1800 BCE). The papyrus records the The Maxims of Ptahhotep and gives Djedkare's nomen "Isesi" to name the pharaoh whom the authors of the maxims, vizier Ptahhotep, served. Djedkare was also likely mentioned in the Aegyptiaca, a history of Egypt written in the 3rd century BCE during the reign of Ptolemy II (283–246 BCE) 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 "Tancherês" reigned for 44 years as the eighth and penultimate king of the Fifth Dynasty. Given its position within the dynasty, Tancherês is believed to be the Hellenized name of Djedkare Isesi.
Djedkare's parentage is unknown, in particular his relation with his predecessors Menkauhor Kaiu and Niuserre Ini cannot be ascertained. Djedkare is generally thought to have been the son of Menkauhor Kaiu but the two might instead have been brothers and sons of Niuserre Ini. In yet another hypothesis, Djedkare and Menkauhor could have been cousins, being sons of Niuserre and Neferefre, respectively. The identity of Djedkare's mother is similarly unknown.
The name of Djedkare Isesi's principal wife is not known. An important queen consort was very likely the owner of the pyramid complex located to the northeast of Djedkare's pyramid in Saqqara. The queen's pyramid had an associated temple and it had its own satellite pyramid. Baer suggested that the reworking of some of the reliefs may point to this queen ruling after the death of Djedkare. It is possible that this queen was the mother of Unas, but no conclusive evidence exists to support this theory. The Egyptologists 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 contend that Meresankh was finally buried in a smaller mastaba in Saqqara North after she fell into disgrace. Alternatively, Aidan Dodson and Dyan Hilton have proposed that she was a wife of the preceding king, Menkauhor Kaiu.
Djedkare's sons were:
- Prince Neserkauhor, buried in Abusir.
There is indirect evidence that princes Raemka[note 1] and Kaemtjenent[note 2] are sons of Djedkare 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. Similar arguments have led Egyptologists to believe that both princes are sons of queen Meresankh IV buried nearby, who would thus be one of Djedkare's wives. By the same reasoning however, they could instead be sons of Menkauhor Kaiu and Meresankh IV one of his consorts.
A high official named Isesi-ankh could also have been a son of Djedkare Isesi as suggested by his name, however similarities in the titles and locations of the tombs[note 3] of Isesi-ankh and Kaemtjenent have led Egyptologists to propose that they either were brothers, sons of Meresankh IV, or that the former was a son of the latter. Even though Isesi-ankh bore the title of "son of the king", the Egyptologists Michel Baud and Bettina Schmitz have shown that this filiation was fictive, being used as a title.
The successor of Djedkare, Unas, is thought to have been his son as well, in spite of the complete lack of evidence bearing on the question. The main argument in favor of this filiation is that the succession from Djedkare Isesi to Unas seems to have been smooth. In particular reliefs from Unas' causeway show many officials bearing basilophorous names incorporating "Isesi", suggesting at the very least that Unas did not perceive Djedkare as an antagonist.
His daughters include:
- Kekheretnebti, King's Daughter of his Body, buried in Abusir. She had a daughter named Tisethor.
- Meret-Isesi, King's Daughter of his Body, buried in Abusir.
- Hedjetnebu, King's Daughter of his Body, buried in Abusir.
- Nebtyemneferes, King's Daughter, buried in Abusir.
- Kentkhaus, King's daughter of his Body, wife of Vizier Senedjemib Mehi, was likely a daughter of Djedkare Isesi.
Djedkare Isesi did not, as was customary for his dynasty, build his own sun temple, but did build his pyramid at Saqqara instead of Abusir. This is possibly a manifestation of the consolidation of the cult of Osiris during the late Fifth Dynasty. The importance of this cult becomes manifest when the pyramid texts of the pyramid of Unas are inscribed a few decades later. For the Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley, the reign of Djedkare Isesi marks the beginning of a decline in the importance of the king, in conjunction with the gradual rise of the power wielded by the administration and priesthood. Concurrent with this trend is a process of decentralization, with local loyalties slowly superseding allegiance to the central state.
Activities in Egypt
There is evidence that Djedkare Isesi effected a reform in the organization of the priesthood at the royal pyramid, changing the titles and functions of the priests from "priest of king" to "priest of the pyramid".
Several people from the reign of Djedkare Isesi are known through their tombs in Giza. Cemetery 2000 contains several tombs of overseers and inspectors of the Palace attendants. These people are thought to have held functions in the royal palace. The inspectors of the palace attendants include Redi (G 2086), Kapi (G 2091), and Pehenptah (G 2088). Some of these individuals attested in Giza held further position within the royal court.
A courtier named Saib (G 2092+2093) was also a companion and held the positions of director of the palace. Saib was also secretary of the House of Morning. Saib was buried in a double mastaba. He may have shared this tomb with his wife Tjentet, who was a priestess of Neith. Nimaatre (G 2097) was another palace attendant of the Great House. Nimaatre may have been related to Saib, but this is not certain. Nimaatre also served as secretary of the Great House (i.e. the Palace).
A man named Nefermesdjerkhufu (G 2240) was companion of the house, overseer of the department of palace attendants of the Great House, he who is in the heart of his lord, and secretary. He also held the positions of overseer of the two canals of the Great House, and he held a porition related to the royal documents.
A nobleman by the name of Kaemankh (G 4561) was royal acquaintance and was associated with the royal treasury. Kaemwankh was an inspector of administrators of the treasury, and secretary of the king's treasure.
Another well attested vizier was Senedjemib Inti. Senedjemib Inti was buried in Giza; in mastaba G 2370. He is described as true count Inti, chief justice and vizier Senedjemib, and the royal chamberlain Inti. Letters from Djedkare to his Vizier have been preserved because Senedjemib Inti had them inscribed in his tomb. One royal decree is addressed to the chief justice overseer of all works of the king and overseer of scribes of royal documents, Senedjemib. This decree mentions the planning of a court in the pool area(?) of the jubilee palace called "Lotus-of-Isesi". This decree is dated to either the 6th or 16th count, 4th month of the 3rd season, day 28. A second letter concerns a draft of the inscriptions of a structure called the "Sacred Marriage Chapel of Isesi". The third decree recorded in Inti's tomb mentions the construction of a lake.
Senedjemib Inti died during the reign of Djedkare Isesi. Inscriptions in the tomb of Inti describe how his son, Senedjemib Mehi, asks and receives permission to bring a sarcophagus from Tura. Senedjemib Mehi would later follow in his father's footsteps and become vizier during the reign of one of Djedkare's successors.
Evidence of activity outside Egypt
Inscriptions in the Sinai – in Wadi Maghareh – shows a continued presence during the reign of Djedkare Isesi. Expeditions were sent to find and bring back semi-precious stones such as turqoise. Inscriptions can be dated to the 3rd (or 4th) and 9th cattle count.
Djedkare is known to sent expeditions to Byblos and Punt. The expedition to Punt is referred to in the letter from Pepi II 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 Isesi 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".
Large galleries carved into the sandstone mountain were found. They served as living and storage places. In one of them, a wall inscription from the time of Djedkare Isesi has been found. The inscription gives details on a large expedition in the area, looking for various minerals.
Length of Reign
An entire series of dated administrative papyri from Djedkare's reign was discovered in king Neferirkare's mortuary temple. According to Miroslav Verner, Djedkare Isesi's highest known date is a Year of the 22nd Count, IV Akhet day 12 papyrus. Verner writes that Paule Posener-Kriéger transcribed the year date numeral in the papyrus here as the 'year of the 21st count' in P. Posener-Kriéger, J.L de Cenival, The Abusir Papyri, London 1968, Plates 41 & 41A; however; 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." This date would belong anywhere from Year 32 to Year 44 of Djedkare's reign depending on whether the cattle count was biennial (once every 2 years) or once evey year and a half. Djedkare Isesi's reign is well documented by the Abusir Papyri, numerous royal seals and contemporary inscriptions; taken together, they indicate a fairly long reign for this king. Another element in favor of a long reign is an alabster vase E5323 on display at the Louvre museum celebrating Djedkare's first Sed festival, an event occurring on the 30th year on the throne of a king. An examination of the king's skeletal remains, found in the king's pyramid in the mid-1940s by Abdel Salam Hussein and A. Varille, by A. Batrawi suggest that Djedkare died at the age of 50 to 60 years old.
Djedkare moved from Abusir to South Saqqara to construct his pyramid complex. His pyramid was called "Beautiful is Djedkare". Today it is called Haram el-Shawaf El-Kably which means "the Southern Sentinel pyramid". The pyramid tomb at Saqqara was constructed with six steps, which were then covered with white limestone. The top three levels of the pyramid are now missing and most of the limestone casing has been removed.
In the interior of the pyramid three rooms would have contained Djedkare's burial. The burial chamber contained the dark grey basalt sarcophagus which held the body of the king. The canopic jars were buried in the floor of the burial chamber, to the north-east of the sarcophagus. An antechamber and a storage chamber completed the set of interior rooms. Djedkare's almost complete mummy, along with a badly broken basalt sarcophagus and a niche for the canopic chest, was discovered in the pyramid. Djedkare died at ca 50–60 years of age.
To the east of the pyramid Djedkare's mortuary temple was laid out. The east facade of the mortuary temple featured to massive stone structures which resemble the later pylons. The mortuary temple is connected via a causeway to a valley temple. An interesting structure associated with Djedkare's pyramid is the so-called "Pyramid of the Unknown Queen". This pyramid complex lies at the south-east corner of Djedkare's complex.
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