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 Mastabet el-Fara'un, "stone bench of the pharaoh”.
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.
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.
He was likely the last Egyptian Pharaoh of the Fourth dynasty if he was not succeeded by a certain unknown ruler named Djedefptah as recorded in some Egyptian literature and, indirectly, by the Turin Canon. No ruler named Djedefptah 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. Palace officials who served in the interval between the 4th and 5th dynasties of Egypt such as 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. 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]."||”|
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 :
- Sekhemkare, a son of Khafra, priest of the royal funerary cults. His mastaba, located in Gizah (G8154) yielded a list of the kings under whom he served, from Khafra down to Sahure through Shepseskaf. This list also gives Userkaf as the immediate successor to Shepseskaf.
- Bunefer, royal princess and priestess of Shepseskaf funerary cult, buried in Gizah (G8408). She is believed to be either one of Shepseskaf's wife, daughter or one of his sisters and to have participated in his burial ceremonies · .
- Nisutpunetjer, who was a priest of the royal funerary cults. His mastaba in Gizah (G8740) yielded a list of pharaohs under whom he served, from Djedefra down to Sahure and mentions Shepseskaf followed by Userkaf.
- Ptahshepses I, great priest of Ptah. An inscription on his false door stele details his biography. He relates that he was educated at court with Shepseskaf who later promoted him to the office of first priest of Ptah and gave him his daughter Khamaat for wedding.
- Kaunisut, a palace official, cites Shepseskaf in his mastaba at Gizah (G8960).
Other than these scanty references to Shepseskaf 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.
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 7 years. 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.
Shepseskaf's tomb is a great mastaba at Saqqara, which was originally called Shepseskaf is purified and is now known as mastabat Fara'un. 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:
- Shepseskaf may have designed a smaller tomb for himself because he was faced with the arduous task of completing his father's pyramid at Giza while simultaneously building his own tomb, at a time where Egypt was less prosperous than during the early 4th dynasty.
- Shepseskaf may have chosen to build a mastaba at Saqqara, rather than a pyramid at Gizah, to undermine the growing influence of the priesthood of Re. This hypothesis could also explain the absence of any reference to Re in his name as well as that of his probable immediate successor Userkaf.
- Shepseskaf chose to build a mastaba following the archaic tradition of the first, second and early third dynasties.
- Shepseskaf initially planned to build himself a pyramid, as hinted by the Palermo stone, but died shortly after work had started. Consequently, his successor or his queen may have finished the tomb as a mastaba rather than pyramid.
- Peter Clayton: Chronicle of the Pharaohs. Thames and Hudson, London 1994. p. 56
- 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
- Dodson, Aidan and Hilton, Dyan. The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson. 2004. ISBN 0-500-05128-3
- P.F. O'Mara, Manetho and the Turin Canon: A Comparison of Regnal Years, GM 158 (1997), p.51
- 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
- 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'
- Cf. K. R. Lepsius, § 89 p.109 et K.H. Sethe, § 106, p.166
- Cf. S. Hassan, p.176-199
- She bears the title of
- Cf. K.H. Sethe, § 107, p.166 & H. Gauthier, p.180
- Cf. J.H. Breasted § 254-262 ; pp.115-118
- Cf. S. Hassan, pp.75-85
- Cf. K.H. Sethe, § 101, p.160
- Cf. G. Daressy
- Cf. J.H. Breasted § 150-152 ; p.67
- Shepseskaf by J. Dunn
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