Merenre Nemtyemsaf (meaning "Beloved of Ra, Nemty is his protection") was an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh, fourth king of the Sixth Dynasty. He ruled Egypt for six to 11 years in the early 23rd century BC, toward the end of the Old Kingdom period. He was the son of his predecessor Pepi I Meryre and queen Ankhesenpepi I and was in turn succeeded by Pepi II Neferkare who might have been his son or less probably his brother. Pepi I may have shared power with Merenre in a co-regency at the very end of the former's reign.

Merenre's rule saw profound changes in the administration of the southern provinces of Egypt, with a marked increase in the number of provincial administrators and a concurrent steep decline in the size of the central administration in the capital Memphis. As a consequence the provincial nobility became responsible for tax collection and resource management, gaining in political independence and economic power. This led to the first provincial burials for the highest officials including viziers, governors of Upper Egypt and nomarchs. Several trading and quarrying expeditions took place under Merenre, in particular to Nubia where caravans numbering hundreds of donkeys were sent to fetch incense, ebony, animal skins, ivory and exotic animals. Such was the interest in the region that Merenre had a canal dug to facilitate the navigation of the first cataract into Nubia. Trade with the Levantine coast for lapis lazuli, silver, bitumen, and tin took place while quarrying for granite, travertine and alabaster took place in the south and in the Eastern Desert.

A pyramid complex was built for Merenre in Saqqara, known as Khanefermerenre by the Ancient Egyptians meaning "The appearance of the perfection of Merenre" and likely completed prior to the king's death. The subterranean chambers were inscribed with the Pyramid Texts. In the burial chamber, the black basalt sarcophagus of the king still held a mummy when it was entered in the 19th century. The identification of the mummy as Merenre's is still uncertain. Following his death, Merenre was the object of a funerary cult until at least the end of the Old Kingdom. During the New Kingdom period, he was in a selection of past kings to be honoured.


Parents and siblings

Merenre was the son of king Pepi I Meryre and queen Ankhesenpepi I, also called Ankhesenmeryre.[5][6] Pepi I probably begot him in his old age.[7][8] Ankhesenpepi's motherhood is indicated by her titles. She bore the title of "mother of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt of the pyramid of Merenre" in tomb inscriptions,[9] a style which at the time indicated relation to the king.[10] Ankhesenpepi was a daughter of the nomarch of Abydos, Khui, and his wife Nebet.[7][11] Pepi I made her into a vizier, the sole woman of the Old Kingdom period known to have held such a title.[12][13] Khui and Nebet's son, Merenre's uncle Djau, served in the position of vizier under Merenre and Pepi II Neferkare.[14]

Princess Neith was Merenre's full sister.[14][15] The archaeologist Gustave Jéquier has proposed that Neith was first married to Merenre then to Pepi II, explaining the absence of her tomb near that of Merenre as would be expected of a royal spouse.[16] The Egyptologist Vivienne Callender observes however that among Neith's titles presented in her tomb, those referring to her relation to Merenre are now illegible. Consequently, Callender states that whether or not she was married to Merenre cannot be ascertained beyond doubt.[17]

Probable children of Pepi I who might thus be at least half-siblings of Merenre include princes Hornetjerkhet and Tetiankh and princess Meritites IV.[18][19]

Consorts and children

Sixth dynasty royal seals and stone blocks found at Saqqara demonstrate that Merenre's aunt Ankhesenpepi II,[note 3] who married Pepi I, was also married to Merenre.[21] She was the mother of the future pharaoh Pepi II. This is shown by her titles of "royal wife of the pyramid of Meryre", "Royal wife of the pyramid of Merenre" and "royal mother of the pyramid of Neferkare [Pepi II]".[22]

Many Egyptologists favour Pepi I as the father of Pepi II.[23] But the Egyptologist Philippe Collombert observes[23] that since historical sources agree that Merenre's reign intervened between those of Pepi I and Pepi II and lasted for around a decade, and given that one source states that Pepi II acceded to the throne at the age of six,[24] then this indirectly indicates that Merenre I, rather than Pepi I, was Pepi II's father.[25] This opinion is shared by the Egyptologists Naguib Kanawati and Peter Brand.[13][21]

Merenre had at least one daughter, Ankhesenpepi III,[21] who became the wife of Pepi II.[26] Merenre could also be the father of queen Iput II, another wife of Pepi II.[24]



Merenre is well attested by archaeology not only through his pyramid complex, but also through inscriptions and small artefacts bearing his name. These include an alabaster vessel (inventory E 23140b) and ivory box (inventory N. 794), both in the Louvre Museum;[27][28] a small sphinx in the National Museum of Scotland (inventory 1984.405);[29] another sphinx in the Pushkin Museum;[30] a calcite vessel in shape of a mother monkey and her child in the Metropolitan Museum of Art;[31][32] a vase (inventory EA4493),[33] a box (inventory EA65848)[34] and a fragment of tomb painting (inventory EA65927), all in the British Museum;[35] an alabaster vase (inventory no.3252) in the National Archaeological Museum, Florence;[36] and a similar vessel from Elephantine that was in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (inventory CG 18694) in 1907.[37]



Cartouche with hieroglyphs inscribed on yellow limestone
Merenre's cartouche on the Abydos King List

The relative chronological position of Merenre Nemtyemsaf I within the Sixth Dynasty is certain. Historical sources and archaeological evidences agree that he succeeded Pepi I Meryre on the throne and was in turn succeeded by Pepi II Neferkare, evidencing that he was the fourth king of the dynasty.[38] The earliest historical source on the matter is the South Saqqara Stone, a royal annal inscribed during the reign of either Merenre or Pepi II. An estimated 92%[39] 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).[40] Nonetheless the few legible text fragments of the annal support the succession "TetiUserkare → Pepi I → Merenre I" possibly followed by Pepi II, making Merenre the fourth king of the Sixth Dynasty.[41]

Three more historical sources agree with this chronology,[note 4] three of which date to the New Kingdom period. The Abydos King List, written under Seti I (fl. c. 1290 BC) places Merenre I's cartouche as the 37th entry between those of Pepi I and Pepi II.[43] The Turin Canon, a list of kings on papyrus dating to the reign of Ramses II (fl. c. 1250 BC) probably records Merenre I in the fifth column, fourth row,[note 5] and may have supported his relative position within the dynasty although his name as well as those of his predecessor and successor is illegible.[44] If the attribution of the entry is correct, then Merenre is credited with a reign length ending with the number four,[45] perhaps some years and four months,[46][47] or four or 14 years.[48][49] Also dating to the reign of Ramses II is the Saqqara Tablet, explicitly relating the succession "Pepi I → Merenre I → Pepi II", with Merenre located on the 24th entry.[44][note 6]

The latest historical source recording a similar information is the Aegyptiaca (Αἰγυπτιακά), a history of Egypt written in the third century BC during the reign of Ptolemy II (283–246 BC) by the priest-historian Manetho. No copies of the Aegyptiaca have survived and it is now known only through later writings by Sextus Julius Africanus and Eusebius. According to the Byzantine scholar George Syncellus, Africanus wrote that the Aegyptiaca mentioned the succession "Othoês → Phius → Methusuphis → Phiops" at the beginning of the Sixth Dynasty. Othoês, Phius, Methusuphis (in Greek, Μεθουσοῦφις) and Phiops are believed to be the Hellenised forms for Teti, Pepi I, Merenre and Pepi II, respectively.[50] The Aegyptiaca credits Methusuphis with seven years of reign.[50]


Merenre's reign is difficult to date precisely in absolute terms. An absolute chronology referring to dates in our modern calendar is estimated by Egyptologists working backwards by adding reign lengths—themselves uncertain and inferred from historical sources and archaeological evidence—and, in a few cases, using ancient astronomical observations and radiocarbon dating.[51] These methodologies do not agree perfectly and some uncertainty remains. As a result, Merenre's rule is generally dated to the early 23rd century BC.[52] Various hypotheses[note 2] have been proposed by scholars though it is impossible to determine which one is right.[52]


The South Saqqara Stone, the royal annals of the Sixth Dynasty, with register F at the bottom pertaining to Merenre's reign[69]

During the Old Kingdom period, Ancient Egyptians dated their documents and inscriptions by counting the years since the accession of the current king to the throne. These years were often referred to by the number of cattle counts which had taken place since the reign's start.[70] The cattle count, which involved counting cattle, oxen and small livestock, was an important event aimed at evaluating the amount of taxes to be levied on the population.[71] During the early Sixth Dynasty this count was perhaps biennial,[72] occurring every two years.[70][73] The latest surviving inscription written during Merenre's rule is located in a quarry at Hatnub mentioning the year after the 5th cattle count.[74] If the cattle count was regular and purely biennial, this might correspond to Merenre's tenth year on the throne.[74] Similarly, for Baud and Dobrev a regular biennial count implies that the South Saqqara Stone recorded at least 11 to 13 years of reign for Merenre, almost twice the figure of seven years attributed to him in the Aegyptiaca.[75] For Baud such a reign length is consistent with the finished state of Merenre's pyramid complex.[76]

In 1959, the Egyptologist and philologist Alan Gardiner proposed reading a now discounted 44 years figure on the Turin canon for Merenre,[45][77] which the Egyptologist and art historian William Stevenson Smith later took to be 14 years instead, of which he attributes nine to a co-regency between Merenre and Pepi I.[78] The Egyptologist Elmar Edel[79] thought such lengths of reign would explain the time necessary for the peaceful relations that Egypt entertained with Lower Nubian chiefs under Merenre to switch to more adversarial ones under Pepi II.[80] In contrast, because of doubts on the regularity of the cattle count[47][81] and of the general paucity of monuments and documents datable to his reign, Merenre is often credited with less than a decade on the throne by most modern Egyptologists: some[note 7] give him nine to eleven years; while others[note 8] propose six or seven years of reign.[44]

Accession to the throne: co-regency

Merenre's father Pepi's rule seem to have been troubled at times, with at least one conspiracy against him hatched by one of his harem consorts.[87] This may have given him the impetus to ally himself with Khui, the nomarch of Coptos, by marrying his daughters, queens Ankhesenpepi I and II.[12][13][88] The Egyptologist Naguib Kanawati conjectures that Pepi faced another conspiracy toward the end of his reign, in which his vizier Rawer may have been involved. To support his theory, Kanawati observes that Rawer's image in his tomb has been desecrated, with his name, hands and feet chiselled off, while this same tomb is dated to the second half of Pepi's reign on stylistic grounds.[89] Kanawati further posits that the conspiracy may have aimed at having someone else made heir to the throne at the expense of the designated heir Merenre. Because of this failed conspiracy, Pepi I may have taken the drastic[note 9] step of crowning Merenre during his own reign,[93] possibly "in an attempt to secure stability and continuity within the family" as Miroslav Bárta writes;[93] thereby creating the earliest documented co-regency in the history of Egypt.[89] The Egyptologists Jaromir Málek and Miroslav Verner agree with this analysis;[54] Verner adds that Merenre acceded to the throne at an early age and died young.[54][94] That such a co-regency took place was first proposed by Étienne Drioton who pointed to a gold pendant bearing the names of both Pepi I and Merenre I as living kings, implying that both ruled concurrently for some time.[95][96] In support of this hypothesis, the Egyptologist Hans Goedicke mentions the inscription dated to Merenre's year of the fifth cattle count from Hatnub which he takes to indicate ten years of rule hence contradicting Manetho's figure of seven years. This could be evidence that Merenre dated the start of his reign before the end of his father's reign, as a co-regency would permit.[97]

Statue of a man made of rusted green copper
The smaller copper statue from Hierakonpolis, representing Merenre or a young Pepi I[98]

A possible further piece of evidence for a co-regency is given by two copper statues uncovered in an underground store beneath the floor of a Ka-chapel of Pepi in Hierakonpolis.[99] There the Egyptologist James Quibell uncovered a statue of King Khasekhemwy of the Second Dynasty, a terracotta lion cub made during the Thinite era,[100] a golden mask representing Horus and two copper statues.[101] Originally fashioned by hammering plates of copper over a wooden base,[101][102] these statues had been disassembled, placed inside one another and then sealed with a thin layer of engraved copper bearing the titles and names of Pepi I "on the first day of the Sed festival".[100] The two statues were symbolically "trampling underfoot the Nine bows"—the enemies of Egypt—a stylized representation of Egypt's conquered foreign subjects.[103] While the identity of the larger adult figure as Pepi I is revealed by the inscription, the identity of the smaller statue showing a younger person remains unresolved.[100] The most common hypothesis among Egyptologists is that the young man shown is Merenre.[104] As Alessandro Bongioanni and Maria Croce write: "[Merenre] was publicly associated as his father's successor on the occasion of the Jubilee [the Sed festival]. The placement of his copper effigy inside that of his father would therefore reflect the continuity of the royal succession and the passage of the royal sceptre from father to son before the death of the pharaoh could cause a dynastic split."[105] Alternatively, Bongioanni and Croce have also proposed the smaller statue may represent "a more youthful Pepi I, reinvigorated by the celebration of the Jubilee ceremonies".[106]

The existence of the co-regency remains uncertain, lacking any definite proof.[107] For Vassil Dobrev and Michel Baud, who analysed the royal annals of the South Saqqara Stone, Merenre directly succeeded his father in power. In particular, the legible parts of the annals bear with no traces in direct support of an interregnum or co-regency. More precisely, the document preserves the record of Pepi I's final year and proceeds immediately to the first year of Merenre.[108] Furthermore, the shape and size of the stone on which the annals are inscribed makes it more probable that Merenre did not start to count his years of reign until soon after the death of his father.[109] Furthermore, William J. Murnane writes that the gold pendant's context is unknown, making its significance regarding the co-regency difficult to appraise. The copper statues are similarly inconclusive as the identity of the smaller one, and whether they originally formed a group, remains uncertain.[110]

Domestic activities


Rock cut tomb and pillars in brownish stone cliff under the blue sky of the Egyptian desert
Provincial tomb of Heqaib near Aswan

Developments of the provincial administration were undertaken during Merenre's rule,[111] with a marked increase in the number of provincial administrators including newly created titles for granary and treasury overseers, paralleled with a steep decline in the size of the central administration in Memphis.[112][113] For the Egyptologists Nigel Strudwick and Petra Andrassy this witnesses to an incessantly[112] evolving domestic policy aimed at managing the remote southern provinces.[114][115] The motivations behind such changes are not clear. Either an attempt was made at improving the provincial administration or the goal was to disperse powerful nobles throughout the realm, away from the royal court.[112] Indeed, the many marriages of Pepi I may have generated instability by creating competing groups and factions at court.[116] In any case, the reforms appear to have been implemented rather uniformly, suggesting that the central executive authority of the state was still substantial at that time.[115]

With these changes, provincial officials were now directly responsible for the collection of local tax and labour and dealt with all works in their nomes from then on.[117][114] The increasing political and economic importance of individual nomes and local centres is reflected in that even the highest ranking officials including the viziers and the overseers of Upper Egypt started to be abundantly buried in the provinces rather than close to the royal necropolis.[93][118][119] For example, the nomarch of the second nome Qar was buried in Edfu,[120] nomarchs Harkhuf and later Heqaib in Qubbet el-Hawa near Aswan,[121] vizier Idi near modern-day Asyut and vizier Weni in the eighth nome at Abydos.[122] More provincial burials of Upper Egyptian nomarchs from this time period have been uncovered in Elephantine, Thebes (fourth nome), Coptos (fifth nome), Dendera (sixth nome), Qasr el-Sayed (seventh nome), Akhmim (ninth nome), Deir el-Gabrawi (12th nome), Meir (14th nome), El Sheikh Sa'id (15th nome), Zawyet el-Maiyitin (16th nome), Kom el-Ahmar (18th nome), Deshasha (20th nome)[119] and Balat in the Dakhla Oasis.[93] These rock-cut tombs are markedly different from the mastabas of the royal necropolises.[93] At the same time, Pepi I, Merenre and Pepi II deliberately set up cults for queens Ankhesenpepi I, Ankhesenpepi II and later Iput II in the Qift province, whence they originated. Richard Bußmann says this was an effort to "strengthen the kings' ties to powerful families in Upper Egypt".[123]

At the personal level, Merenre may have appointed Idi,[124] possibly a relative of Djau, to the courtly rank of sole companion of the king and nomarch of the Upper Egyptian eighth nome.[125] Idi later served Pepi II in the 12th nome.[126] Another administrative official whom Merenre promoted was Weni. He was made leader of quarrying expeditions then a count and governor of Upper Egypt.[127][128] In this role Weni organised two censuses and two corvées in the South on behalf of the court.[129] Weni was then elevated to the highest offices, those of vizier and chief judge,[130] and likely died during Merenre's reign.[131] Merenre appointed Qar nomarch of Edfu and overseer of Upper Egyptian grain and livestock resources.[132] He was also appointed chief judge over the whole of Upper Egypt.[133] Merenre also made Kaihap Tjeti, a provincial-born young royal courtier under Pepi I,[134] into a stolist of the god Min. Kaihap Tjeti later became nomarch of the ninth Upper Egyptian nome under Merenre or Pepi II, and was buried near Akhmim.[135]

Cultic activities

Drawing in black ink on yellow paper of pieces of hieroglyphic inscriptions
Fragments of private stele bearing Merenre's cartouche from Kom el-Sultan[136]

Religious activities dating to Merenre's reign are recorded on the legible passages of the South Saqqara Stone: early in his reign he offered 30 oxen to an unidentified god and five to Wadjet.[137] To Seth he offered a lost number of oxen.[138] A statue of the king might also have been erected in the first couple of years of his reign.[139][140] Additional offerings can be inferred from the surviving remnants of the texts, numbering hundreds or even thousands[141] of oxen, lapis-lazuli,[141] loincloths, incense to Ptah,[142] Heryshaf, Nefertum and the Ennead,[143] hundreds of birds and perfumed oil to Khenti-Amentiu,[144] and silver objects and kohl to Khenti-kheti. The list of offerings also mentions Djedkare Isesi,[143][145] penultimate king of the Fifth Dynasty, who seems to have been held in high esteem during Merenre's reign.[143] Merenre even chose to place his pyramid complex close to that of Djedkare.[146]

In addition to these activities, Merenre made a decree pertaining to the funerary cult of Menkaure as shown by fragmentary inscriptions uncovered in the latter's mortuary temple.[147][148]

Construction works

The main monument dating to Merenre's reign is his pyramid complex. Apart from this, there are tentative indications that Merenre had work carried out in the temple of Osiris and Khenti-Amentiu in modern-day Kom el-Sultan, near Abydos. There, fragments of several private stelae dating to his reign were uncovered in the temple's foundations, which was completely renovated in the 12th dynasty (c. 1990–1800 BC). The nature and extent of the works undertaken at the time cannot be fully ascertained;[136] possibly Merenre had a Ka-chapel built there following his father who built such chapels extensively throughout Egypt.[149][note 10]

End of reign

A second co-regency between Merenre and Pepi II has been proposed by Stevenson Smith following the discovery of a cylinder seal in Tell el-Maskhuta.[78] The seal, belonging to an administrative official, is inscribed with "the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Merenre, living forever like Re" and shows the king smiting an enemy and the Horus names of both Merenre and Pepi II in serekhs facing one another.[81] This evidence for a shared reign is circumstantial and could equally well indicate that the official meant to convey that he served in the army under both kings,[151] or that the kings were close kin.[152] Given Pepi II's youth on acceding to the throne and Merenre's likely short reign, William J. Murnane and others after him including Anthony Spalinger[80] and Nigel Strudwick[152] have rejected the idea of a co-regency between the two rulers.[151] In contrast for Miroslav Bárta the possibility of this co-regency cannot be excluded.[93]

Foreign activities

Drawing in black ink showing a man holding a staff seated in front of hieroglyphs
Inscription of Merenre from Hatnub[153]

Eastern Desert and Levant

Merenre sent at least one mining expedition to Wadi Hammamat in the Eastern Desert to collect greywacke and siltstone.[154] Weni, who began his career under Teti, rose through the ranks of the administration under Pepi I was the leader of this expedition and reported its goal:

His majesty sent me to Ibhat[note 11] especially to bring back the sarcophagus "Chest of the living" and its lid, as well as a costly and noble pyramidion for the pyramid of Merenre, my mistress.[155]

The expedition left two inscriptions in the Wadi,[156][157] indicating that it took place on the year of the second cattle count, probably Merenre's fourth year on the throne.[158] Alabaster was extracted from Hatnub,[87] also in the Eastern Desert, a location where an expedition under the leadership of Weni was tasked with the quarrying of a very large travertine altar stone for the pyramid of Merenre:[74][129][159][160][161]

Horus Ankhkhau, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt Merenre. The Behdetite. The perfect god, lord of the Two Lands. May all protection and life be behind him like Re for ever. Year after the fifth occasion. A mission which the Haty-a overseer of Upper Egypt, sole companion, Weni carried out.[162]

While there is no direct evidence for Egyptian activity in Sinai specifically during Merenre's reign, frequent expeditions were sent in the region for turquoise and other resources during the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties. Egypt in all probability maintained diplomatic and trade relations with Byblos to procure cedar wood,[163] and with Canaan and the wider Levant—then in the Early Bronze Age IV to Middle Bronze Age I period[164]—as witnessed by imported jars found in the tombs of Idi and Weni.[165] Further abroad, the high official Iny, who served under Pepi I, Merenre and Pepi II, either led or participated in a sea-borne mission to Syria-Palestine, possibly during Merenre's rule, to obtain lapis lazuli, silver, bitumen[166] and lead or tin.[167] In addition, a possible military campaign in the southern Levant which Weni may have conducted under Pepi I shows the continuing interest in those regions to the east and northeast of the Nile Delta on behalf of the Egyptian state at the time.[168][169]


Drawing in black ink on yellow paper showing a standing pharaoh, staff in hand, surrounded by hieroglyphs
Drawing of a relief from Aswan showing Merenre receiving the submission of Lower Nubian chieftains, possibly dated to his first regnal year[80]

During Merenre's reign Lower Nubia was the focus of Egypt's foreign policy interests. Two rock reliefs depict the king receiving the submission of Nubian chieftains, the earlier of which, located on the ancient route from Aswan to Philae near the First Cataract, shows Merenre standing on the symbol for the union of the two lands, suggesting that it was carved during his first year of reign.[80][170] Toward the end of the Old Kingdom period, Nubia saw the arrival of the C-Group people from the south. Centred at Kerma, they struggled intermittently with Egypt and its allies over control of the region which, for the Egyptians, was a source of incense, ebony, animal skins, ivory and exotic animals.[163] Three Egyptian hosts were sent in expeditions by Merenre to procure luxury goods from Lower Nubia,[171] where tribes had united to form a state,[172] into the land of Yam [fr], possibly modern-day Dongola or Shendi.[173]

These expeditions took place under the direction of the caravan conductor and later nomarch of Elephantine Harkhuf.[5] He claimed to have pacified the land South of Egypt but his expeditions likely constituted a labour force and a traders' caravan above all. The aim of such expeditions was first and foremost to exploit resources the locals would not or could not use, and only rarely did they had to fight.[171] The first expedition, during which Harkhuf was accompanied by his father the lector priest Iri,[174] lasted for seven months while the second took eight months.[5] On the third expedition, which took place at the end of Merenre's reign or early in Pepi II's,[47] Harkhuf was informed that the king of Yam had gone to war against the Tjemehu people, possibly Libyans or people to the west of Nubia.[175] He consequently either joined his forces with those of Yam, in order to defeat their adversaries and gain riches;[5] or he caught up with the king of Yam to prevent the outbreak of hostilities.[175] The ruler of Irtjet, Setju and Wawat might have further threatened to interfere with Harkhuf's return to Egypt but changed stance, offering cattle and goats to Harkhuf. This was possibly after he had received gifts or because of Harkhuf's strong escort.[176][177] At any rate, Harkhuf went to great length to explain to the king his unexpected delays as the duration of these expeditions was a matter of pride to him.[175] He was greeted in return by an envoy from the court bringing date-wine, cakes, bread, and beer.[177] Such expeditions, each of which represented a 2,000–3,000 kilometres (1,200–1,900 mi) round-trip journey,[178] took the form of large caravans of donkeys. The third one led by Harkhuf numbered three hundred asses carrying various goods including incense, ebony and grain in large storage jars.[179] To meet the demands of trade within Egypt and outside of Egypt for pack animals, donkeys were raised in large numbers in Egypt since at least the Fourth Dynasty.[180]

Drawing of a rock inscription showing a man standing and facing hieroglyphs[182]
Relief from El-Hesseh depicting Merenre and mentioning the submission of Lower Nubia, from his fifth year of reign[181]

In the year of the fifth cattle count since the beginning of his reign, Merenre travelled south to Elephantine from his capital to receive the submission of Nubian chieftains.[172] This is indicated by an inscription and relief located opposite the cataract island of El-Hesseh near Philae:[183][184]

The king of Upper and Lower Egypt Merenre, beloved of Khnum, lord of the cataract region. Year of the fifth occasion, second month of the Shemu season, day 28. A visit from the king himself, when he stood at the far end of the foreign lands: the rulers of Medja, Irertjt and Wawat kissed the ground and gave great praise.[182]

On the same occasion, Merenre might also have visited the temple of Satet on Elephantine island to renew a naos erected by Pepi I.[172] This is suggested by another inscription of Merenre on the rock face of a natural grotto in a niche of the temple:[185]

Year of the fifth occasion, second month of the Shemu season, day 24. A visit from the king himself, when he made prisoners of the rulers of the foreign lands: the king of Upper and Lower Egypt Merenre, may he live for ever.[186]

Besides Harkhuf, another Egyptian high official who was active in Nubia at the time was Weni, who had been promoted to commander of the army by Pepi I. As such Weni hired Nubian mercenaries for his military campaigns in Sinai and the Levant, mercenaries which were also frequently employed as police force.[163] Weni was also tasked with bringing back from Elephantine to Memphis a false door of granite and granite doorway and lintels for the upper chamber of the pyramid complex of Merenre.[187] He did so, sailing down-stream with six cargo-boats, three tow boats and one warship,[188] finally mooring by the pyramid.[187] The tow-boats were large barges capable of transporting heavy loads; Weni's biography gives their dimensions as 31 m (102 ft) in length and 15.5 m (51 ft)-wide.[189] Overall, Egyptian activities in Lower Nubia were sufficiently important that Weni was directed to oversee the excavation of a five-channels canal near modern-day Shellal.[129][190] The canal ran parallel to the Nile, in order to facilitate the navigation of the First Cataract.[57][163] On the same occasion, Weni had seven boats of acacia built from timber he had received from Nubian chieftains.[191]

Pyramid complex

Main article: Pyramid of Merenre

Main pyramid

Ruined heap of brownish stones in a sand desert
The ruined pyramid of Merenre

The pyramid of Merenre was built at South Saqqara. The Ancient Egyptians named it Khanefermerenre, which is variously translated as "Merenre appears in glory and is beautiful",[192] "The perfection of Merenre rises",[5] "The appearance of the perfection of Merenre",[60] and "Merenre appears and is beautiful".[193] The pyramid is located 450 m (1,480 ft) to the south-west of the pyramid of Pepi I and a similar distance to the pyramid of Djedkare.[83] The pyramid originally reached a height of 100 Egyptian cubits, c. 52.5 m (172 ft), and had a square base side-length of 150 cubits, c. 79 m (259 ft).[83] It may have been accessed via a causeway starting from a harbour located on the nearby Wadi Tafla, some 300 m (980 ft) away, but also 27 m (89 ft) below.[83] Fine limestone for the pyramid was quarried in Tura, the quarries being administered from Saqqara or Memphis.[194]

The inner passages of the pyramid were laid out according to those found in Djedkare Isesi's pyramid.[195] They are inscribed with the Pyramid Texts.[196] Discovered by the Egyptologist Gaston Maspero at the end of the nineteenth century,[197] the texts of the pyramid of Merenre were only published in full in 2019 by the Egyptologist Isabelle Pierre-Croisiau.[198] The north wall of the burial chamber, now completely ruined, bore offering ritual formulae which continued onto the east wall, as is the case in the pyramids of Unas, Teti and Pepi I.[199] The Pyramid Texts are made of hundreds of utterances organised in groups of inscriptions, yet in different copies the utterances could be in varying position within a group and exchanged between groups. This reveals some editorial dynamism in the composition of the rites they represent.[200] The south and west wall of the burial chamber of Merenre bear texts concerning the transfiguration of the king.[201] On the east wall are utterances calling for the perpetuation of the cult of the deceased ruler, while two further groups of texts on the resurrection of Horus and the protection of Nut are found on the opposite wall.[202] The rest of the texts found in the burial chamber pertain to the anointing and wrapping of the king,[203] his provisioning,[204] summons by Isis and Nephthys,[205] and the ascent to the sky.[206] Leading out of the sarcophagus chamber, the walls of the antechamber bear texts calling for the king's joining the company of the gods and apotropaic formulae.[207] The remaining corridors and vestibules of the tomb bear utterances on the celestial circuit of the king and gods.[208]

Mortuary temple

The pyramid of Merenre is surrounded by a wider mortuary complex, its offering chapel located on the north face of the pyramid. Fragments of reliefs showing the gods greeting the king in the afterlife have been uncovered there. The hall of the chapel is paved with limestone. Further on stands the base of a granite false-door. Some of the decoration of the complex was left unfinished, as work likely stopped at the death of the king.[209]


Head of mummy emerging from a linen cloth, the lower part hidden beneath the cloth
Mummified head found in the burial chamber of the pyramid of Merenre

In 1881 the Egyptologists Émile and Heinrich Karl Brugsch managed to enter the burial chamber of Merenre's pyramid via a robber's tunnel. They found its massive ceiling beams of limestone hanging dangerously as the lower retaining walls of the chamber had been removed by stone robbers.[83] The black basalt sarcophagus was still intact, its lid pushed back, and in it lay the mummy of a 1.66 m (5.4 ft)-tall man.[83] The mummy was in a poor condition because ancient tomb robbers had partially torn off its wrappings. The Brugsch brothers decided to transport the mummy to Cairo, in order to show it to Auguste Mariette, head of the Egyptian Department of Antiquities and by then dying. During the transport the mummy suffered further damage: problems with the railroads prevented the mummy from being taken to Cairo by train and the Brugschs took the decision to carry it on foot. After the wooden sarcophagus employed to that end had become too heavy, they took out the mummy and broke it into two pieces. Parts of the mummy including the head remained in the Boulaq Cairo neighbourhood until they were moved to the nearby Egyptian Museum. Émile Brugsch donated some of the rest, a collarbone, cervical vertebrae and a rib to the Egyptian Museum of Berlin. These have not been located since World War II.[210][211][212]

Preliminary forensic analyses of the mummy by Grafton Elliot Smith indicate that it is that of a young man, as suggested by possible traces of a sidelock of youth.[78][213] The identity of the mummy remains uncertain as Elliot Smith observed that the technique employed for the wrapping was typical of the Eighteenth Dynasty (fl.c. 1550–1292 BC) rather than the Sixth.[15] Re-wrapping of older mummies is known to have occurred, so that this observation does not necessarily preclude that the mummy is that of Merenre.[15] The mummy has not been properly studied since Elliott Smith's analyses in the early 20th century, and its identification remains uncertain.[83]


Old Kingdom

Like other kings of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties, Merenre was the object of an official, state-sponsored funerary cult which took place in his pyramid complex. In the mid-Sixth Dynasty, nomarchs were overseer of the priests of such cults. For instance, Qar, nomarch of Edfu[214] and Gegi, nomarch of the Thinite nome, were "instructor of the priests of the pyramid 'Merenre appears and is beautiful'";[193] Heqaib, nomarch of the first nome of Upper Egypt under Pepi II, was "leader of the phyle[note 12] of the pyramid of Merenre".[216]

Some of the priests serving the cult in the pyramid complex of Merenre are known by name, including Iarti and his son Merenreseneb;[217] a certain Meru called Bebi;[218] and Nipepy, who also officiated in the pyramid of Pepi I.[219] Another piece of evidence concerning this cult comes from a decree of Pepi II exempting people living in the pyramid town of Merenre from tax or corvée.[220] A fragmentary papyrus letter from a certain Ankhpepy,[note 13] inspector of the royal granary at the pyramid town of Merenre, further confirms its existence and prosperity at the time of Merenre's and Pepi II's reigns:

...[of] the pyramid of Merenre, which is made in excellent fashion ... of stone; in accordance with my orders I have spent a year at the pyramid of Merenre, which is indeed prospering...[221]

A few priests serving the funerary cult of Merenre during the later Sixth Dynasty are known; for example the priest Idu Seneni served in both Merenre's and Pepi II's pyramids.[133] The cult was active even outside of Merenre's mortuary temple at Saqqara: inscriptions in Elkab attest to the presence of priests of this cult officiating in or in the vicinity of the local temple of Nekhbet.[222] This perhaps persisted into the First Intermediate Period, as possibly witnessed by the career of Menankhpepy.[note 14] Menankhpepy served as priest in the pyramid complex of Merenre but uncertainties on the precise dating of his lifetime hinder positive conclusions on the persistence of Merenre's cult in the turmoil of the First Intermediate Period. The Egyptologists Henry George Fischer and Ludwig Borchardt proposed that Menankhpepy lived during the Ninth[224] or Eleventh[225] Dynasties, respectively, while recent reappraisals have led to a Sixth Dynasty dating.[226][227][228][note 15]

Later periods

The deposit of cultic objects comprising the two bronze statues of Pepi I and possibly Merenre uncovered by James Quibell in Hierakonpolis was in all probability placed there during building works in the early Middle Kingdom period.[230] This deposit, and others like it found in the temple area, is composed of ceremonial objects and statuary dating from the earlier periods. This suggests some cultic practices with them up to that point.[231]

Similarly, some cult of Merenre existed or was revived in the New Kingdom period as shown by the presence of his cartouche on the Karnak King List. The list was composed during the reign of Thutmosis III (c. 1479–1425 BC) with the purpose of honouring a selection of royal ancestors.[42]

Merenre is the name of the pharaoh and one of the main protagonists in the French-language animated cartoon series ''Papyrus'' [fr]. The cartoon depicts him as a benevolent ruler, father of the main heroine, princess Théti-Chéri.[232][233] In the comics Papyrus, the pharaoh is named after Merneptah instead.[234]


  1. ^ The box, inventory N. 794, is inscribed with, on the lid: "Horus Ankhkhau, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Two Ladies Ankhkhau, the double Golden Horus, Merenre, may he live for ever" and on the front of the box: "Horus Ankhkhau. The king of Upper and Lower Egypt Merenre. The Two Ladies Ankhkhau. Given life for ever".[1] The box might originate from Thebes and might have originally been part of the funerary equipment of a provincial official.[2]
  2. ^ a b List of dates proposed for Merenre's reign: 2361–2355 BC,[53] 2310–2300 BC,[5][54] 2287–2278 BC,[8][55][56][57][58] 2285–2279 BC,[59][60] 2283–2278 BC,[4] 2283–2269 BC,[61] 2263–2257 BC,[62] 2260–2254 BC,[63] 2255–2246 BC,[32][64][65] 2252–2242 BC,[66] 2235–2229 BC,[59] 2227–2217 BC,[66][67] 2219–2212 BC.[68]
  3. ^ Ankhesenpepi II was either the full sister of the half sister of Ankhesenpepi I.[20]
  4. ^ In addition to these sources, Merenre's cartouche is also present on the Karnak King List composed during the reign of Thutmosis III (c. 1479–1425 BC). The list was meant to present a selection of past kings that were to receive a cult. In particular, the kings are given out of chronological order and therefore Merenre's relative position within the Sixth Dynasty cannot be ascertained from this source.[42]
  5. ^ This corresponds to the fourth column, fourth row in Gardiner's reading of the canon.[44]
  6. ^ Also reported as 35th entry depending on the reading order for the entries.[44]
  7. ^ Shaw and Nicholson,[57] Verner,[54] Allen,[64] Altenmüller,[5] Málek,[56] Sowada,[55] Rice,[8] Krauss,[82] Lehner,[83] and Hornung.[67]
  8. ^ Baer,[84] Spalinger,[47] Beckerath,[59] Wright and Pardee,[53] Clayton,[4] Brovarski,[85] Dodson and Hilton,[68] Strudwick,[62][86] and Baker.[44]
  9. ^ The drastic nature of Pepi's decision—if there was a co-regency—is apparent on noting the Ancient Egyptians conception of the kingship as "rulership by a single individual holding a supreme office in a lifelong tenure, most often succeeding on a hereditary principle and wielding [...] great personal power".[90] The emphasis on a single individual holder follows from the Ancient Egyptians' perception of the king as having an exclusive relationship with the gods, controlling religious benefits and owning the whole of Egypt.[91] The king, as a divine being, offspring of Ra, who upholds Egypt's unity and prosperity as well as the cosmic order preordained by the gods and plays the crucial role of mediator between the people and the gods, with the capacity of conveying the gods' messages and will.[91] The king not only had these unique roles but the institution of kingship was perceived as a divinely established order guarding Egypt against chaos.[92][91]
  10. ^ Ka-chapels were small cult buildings comprising one or more chambers to hold offerings dedicated to the cult of the Ka of a deceased or, in this case, the king.[150]
  11. ^ Most likely the Wadi Hammamat is the modern name for the place named Jbhꜣ.t in the biography of Weni, who led expeditions there.[155]
  12. ^ A phyle is a group of part-time workers serving in the mortuary cults and work crews during the Old Kingdom in Egypt.[215]
  13. ^ Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, inventory JE 52001A.[221]
  14. ^ Menankhpepy, mn-ꜥnḫ-ppy meaning "Pepi's life is enduring" is also known as Meny Mnỉ, his good name.[223]
  15. ^ Some of the publications supporting a Sixth Dynasty dating for Menankhpepy appeared before Fischer's death but left him unconvinced.[229]


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