Shepseskaf (meaning "His[note 2] Ka is noble") was a pharaoh of ancient Egypt, the sixth and probably last ruler of the fourth dynasty during the Old Kingdom period. He reigned most probably for four but possibly up to seven years in the late 26th to mid-25th century BC.

Shepseskaf's relation to his predecessor Menkaure is not entirely certain; he might have been his son or possibly his brother. The identity of his mother is highly uncertain as she could have been one of Menkaure's consorts or queen Khentkaus I or Neferhetepes. Similarly, Shepseskaf's relation to his probable successor on the throne, Userkaf, is not known although in the absence of clear indication of strife at the transition between the fourth and fifth dynasties, Userkaf could well have been his son or his brother. If Shepseskaf was succeeded directly by Userkaf rather than by Thampthis as claimed by some historical sources, then his death marks the end of the fourth dynasty. The transition to the fifth dynasty seems not to have been a sharp rupture but rather a continuous process of evolution in the king's power and role within the Egyptian state. Around this time, some of the highest positions of power such as that of vizier which had hitherto been the prerogative of the royal family were opened to nobles of non-royal extraction.

The only activities firmly datable to Shepseskaf's short reign are the completion of the hitherto unfinished mortuary complex of the Pyramid of Menkaure using mudbricks and the construction of his own tomb at South Saqqara, now known as the Mastabat al-Fir'aun. Shepseskaf's decisions to abandon the Giza necropolis and to build a mastaba, that is a flat-roofed rectangular structure, rather than a pyramid for himself are significant and continue to be debated. Some Egyptologists see these decisions as symptoms of a power-struggle between the king and the priesthood of Ra, while others believe purely practical considerations, possibly including a declining economy, are at fault. Alternatively, it may be that Shepseskaf intended his tomb to be a pyramid, but after his death it was completed as a mastaba. Possibly because of this, and the small dimensions of his tomb compared to those of his forebears and his short reign, Shepseskaf was the object of a relatively minor state-sponsored funerary cult that disappeared in the second half of the fifth dynasty. This cult was revived in the later Middle Kingdom period as a privately run lucrative cult aimed at guaranteeing a royal intercessor for the offerings made to their dead by members of the lower strata of society.



See also: Fourth Dynasty of Egypt family tree

The relationship between Shepseskaf and his predecessor Menkaure is not entirely certain. The dominant view in modern Egyptology was first expounded by George Andrew Reisner who proposed that Shepseskaf was Menkaure's son. Reisner based his hypothesis on a decree showing that Shepseskaf completed Menkaure's mortuary temple. This hypothesis is shared by many Egyptologists including Aidan Dodson and Dyan Hilton,[30] Rainer Stadelmann[31] and Peter Clayton.[32] Peter Jánosi nonetheless remarks that the decree does not constitute irrefutable proof of filiation since it does not describe the relationship between these two kings explicitly.[note 3] In particular, 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.[34][10] A possible alternative proposed by Miroslav Verner is that Menkaure and Shepseskaf could have been brothers,[35] and the latter's consequently advanced age when ascending to the throne could explain his short reign.[2] In contrast with these hypotheses, Egyptologists Ludwig Borchardt and William C. Hayes posited that Shepseskaf could have been of non-royal extraction and took the throne only thanks to his marriage to queen Khentkaus I.[36]

The identity of Shepseskaf's mother is even more uncertain than that of his father. If the latter was Menkaure, then Shepseskaf's mother could have been one of Menkaure's royal wives Khamerernebty II, Rekhetre or a secondary wife.[5] Alternatively Miroslav Bárta believes that Khentkaus I may have been Shepseskaf's mother[24] and also the mother of his successor Userkaf.[note 4][37] Indeed, a close relationship between Shepseskaf and Khentkaus I has been inferred by Egyptologist Selim Hassan based on the "immense conformity" of their tombs, an opinion that is widely shared,[38][39][40][41] yet what this relationship was remains unclear. Khentkaus I may instead have been the wife[42] or the daughter of Shepseskaf.[2] One more possibility was put forth by Arielle Kozloff, who proposed instead that it was Neferhetepes, a daughter of Djedefre, who was Shepseskaf's mother.[43] For Egyptologist Vivienne Gae Callender there is no evidence in support of this hypothesis.[44]

Queens and children

wornout relief of a seated woman
Portrait of Khentkaus I from her tomb

Inscriptions in queen Bunefer's Giza tomb[note 5][45] demonstrate that she is related to Shepseskaf: she notably bore the title of "Great of praise, priestess of King Shepseskaf, the king's wife, the great ornament, the great favourite". Lana Troy, an Egyptologist, deduces from this title that while she married a pharaoh, she served as a priestess in the funerary cult for her father[note 6] and therefore must have been Shepseskaf's daughter and the consort of another unspecified king.[46] Indeed, all priestesses serving in a king's funerary cult were princesses, daughters or granddaughters of that king. If this hypothesis is true, it makes Bunefer the only queen known from Ancient Egypt to have served in a mortuary cult.[47] Exceptional circumstances could explain this observation, for example if there was no other suitable female descendant to officiate in Shepseskaf's cult after his death.[48] Bunefer's mother could have been Khentkaus I whose tomb is located near Bunefer's so that Khentkaus I might have been a consort of Shepseskaf.[48] Bunefer's royal husband may have been pharaoh Thamphthis, whose existence is uncertain however as he is not attested archaeologically (see below for a discussion).[48]

Hassan, who excavated Bunefer's tomb, rejects the opinion that Bunefer was Shepseskaf's daughter. He notes that most of Bunefer's titles are wifely ones and stresses "the fact that the name of Shepseskaf appears in her tomb is in favour of the assumption that he was her husband".[49] In any case Bunefer had at least one son, whose name is lost, and whose father was not a king according to this son's titles.[50] He was possibly an issue from a second, non-royal, marriage of Bunefer.[51][52]

Princess Khamaat married to the high priest of Ptah, Ptahshepses, and is known by her titles to have been the daughter of a king. She was long thought to be a daughter of Shepseskaf[53] following a hypothesis by 19th-century Egyptologist Emmanuel de Rougé.[54] A consensus was reached on this issue,[48][55][56][57][58][59][60] but in 2002 Egyptologist Peter F. Dorman published inscriptions from Ptahshepses's tomb showing that she was Userkaf's daughter instead.[61]

Finally, Mark Lehner proposes that Shepseskaf fathered pharaoh Userkaf with queen Khentkaus I, an idea shared by Kozloff[62][63] but rejected by Bárta who thinks they were brothers.[24] Alternatively, Khentkaus I has been conjectured to be Shepseskaf's daughter.[2]


Shepseskaf's reign is difficult to date precisely in absolute terms. An absolute chronology referring to dates in the modern Western 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 dates.[27] These methodologies do not agree perfectly and some uncertainty remains. As a result, Shepseskaf's rule is dated to some time around the late 26th to mid-25th century BC.[note 1][26]

Relative chronology

yellowish head of a man wearing a false beard under the chin and a pleated hair wig
Statue head at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts believed to depict either Shepseskaf[64] or Menkaure[65]

The relative chronological position of Shepseskaf within the fourth dynasty is not entirely certain. The near contemporary[note 7] fifth dynasty royal annals now known as the Palermo stone indicates unambiguously[note 8] that he succeeded Menkaure on the throne and was crowned on the 11th day of the fourth month. The identity of his successor is less certain. Archaeological evidence seems to indicate that Shepseskaf was succeeded directly by Userkaf. In particular, no intervening king is mentioned on the tombs of officials who served at the time. For example, an inscription in the tomb of the palace courtier Netjerpunesut gives the following sequence of kings he served under: Djedefre → Khafre → Menkaure → Shepseskaf → Userkaf → SahureNeferirkare.[70][71][72] Similarly, in his Giza tomb prince Sekhemkare reports about his career under the kings Khafre, Menkaura, Shepseskaf, Userkaf and Sahure,[72][73] while the high priest[74] Ptahshepses describes being born under Menkaure, growing up under Shepseskaf and starting his career under Userkaf.[75] Furthermore, Egyptologist Patrick O'Mara underlines that "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]."[70] This reconstruction of late fourth to early fifth dynasty is also in agreement with that given on the Abydos king list written during the reigns of Seti I (c. 1292–1279 BC), where Shepseskaf's cartouche is on the 25th entry between those of Menkaure and Userkaf.[76][77]

Three historical sources go directly or indirectly against this order of succession. The source in direct contradiction is the Aegyptiaca (Αἰγυπτιακά), a history of Egypt written in the 3rd century BC during the reign of Ptolemy II (283–246 BC) by 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 "Bicheris → Sebercherês → Thamphthis" at the end of the fourth dynasty while "Usercherês" is given as the fifth dynasty's first king. Sebercherês (in Greek, Σεβερχέρης) and Usercherês are believed to be the Hellenised forms for Shepeseskaf and Userkaf, respectively,[78] while the identities of Bicheris and Thampthis are unknown. They could refer to shadowy figures, perhaps the fourth dynasty prince Baka in the case of Bicheris and Thampthis could originate from the Egyptian name Djedefptah, or they could both be fictitious rulers.[79] That a king might have reigned between Shepseskaf and Userkaf is also indirectly supported by the Turin canon, a king list written during the 19th dynasty in the early Ramesside era (1292–1189 BC). The canon, written on papyrus is damaged at several spots and thus many royal names are either fragmentary or completely lost in lacunae today. In column III, line 15 King Shepseskaf is listed, line 16 is wholly in a lacuna while the end of Userkaf's name is legible on line 17. The missing line 16 must have originally held the royal name of Shepseskaf's unknown successor.[80] The Saqqara Tablet, written under Ramses II (c. 1303–1213 BC), also seems to have mentioned an unknown successor for Shepseskaf as it originally listed nine cartouches corresponding to fourth dynasty kings, when only six are otherwise known from archaeological evidence (Sneferu, Khufu, Djedefre, Khafra, Menkaure and Shepseskaf). The five cartouches between those of Khafre and Userkaf are now illegible.[76][81]

For Egyptologist Nigel Strudwick, the uncertainty regarding Shepseskaf's successor and the presence of further shadowy rulers in historical sources during the late fourth dynasty point to some family instability at the time.[82]


The duration of Shepseskaf's rule is uncertain but it is generally taken to have lasted probably four[83] but perhaps up to seven years. Explicit archaeological evidence on this matter is reduced to six documents. Four of these are inscriptions dated to the year of his accession to the throne, three found in tombs of the Giza necropolis and one from the Palermo stone.[84] The last two contemporary inscriptions mention his second regnal year,[note 9] one of which is found on the decree of Shepseskaf concerning Menkaure's pyramid town.[88][89]

Two historical sources report the duration of Shepseskaf's reign. The Turin canon credits him with a reign of four years,[90] while Manetho's Aegyptiaca gives him seven years on the throne.[84][91] Although this figure is compatible with the Palermo stone which may have had up to seven compartments relating Shepseskaf's reign according to Georges Daressy,[92] this is considered an overestimate according to modern consensus. Verner points notably to the unfinished state of his mastaba to conclude Shepseskaf's rule did not exceed the four years attributed to him by the Turin canon.[note 10][93] A reappraisal of the Palermo stone by Jürgen von Beckerath limits the space available on it for Shepseskaf's rule to five or six compartments, corresponding to that many years.[94] Manetho's count may be explained by a conflation of the four full years attributed to Shepseskaf by the Turin king list plus two full years and a significant monthly fraction credited to his anonymous successor on that list. This successor could correspond to Manetho's Thampthis, to whom Manetho gives nine years of reign, although as observed by Verner archaeological evidence for this ruler is nil.[70][95]


Very few activities of Shepseskaf are known. The Palermo stone[note 7] reports that in the year of his accession to the throne he participated in the "going around the Two Lands" and a "festival of the diadem" during which two images of the god Wepwawet were fashioned and the gods who unite the two lands are said to have followed the king. These events occurred at or close to the coronation of the king.[96] The site of Shepseskaf's tomb, said to be a pyramid, was chosen that same year. On that occasion, an enclosure of Lebanese wood may have been set up to surround the perimeter of the part of the Saqqara necropolis where the tomb was to be constructed.[97] Finally Shepseskaf probably decreed a daily offering of 20 measures of something (what was offered is lost in a lacuna of the stone) to the senuti shrine.[note 11][100]

a small white statue of a man striding
Alabaster statuette of Babaef II, a vizier of Shepseskaf, from his Giza tomb G5230, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien[101]

It was during his second year of rule that Shepseskaf recorded the earliest surviving decree from the Old Kingdom period.[102][103] Inscribed on a limestone slab uncovered in Menkaure's mortuary temple, the decree concerns the completion of this temple, records offerings to be made there and protects the estate and staff of the pyramid of Menkaure by exempting them from taxation:[note 12][85][104]

Horus Shepsesket, the year after the first occasion of the count of cattle and herds [...] which was done in the presence of the King himself. The King of Upper and Lower Egypt Shepseskaf. For the king of Upper and Lower Egypt [Menkaure] he set up a monument, a pekher offering [...] in the pyramid of Menkaure [...] With regard to the pekher offering brought for the king of Upper and Lower Egypt [Menkaure] [...] priestly duty [is done] with respect to it for ever. [...] [it should never be taken away by someone] in the course of his duty for ever [...] the pyramid of Menkaure [...]. My majesty does not permit [...] servants [...] priests [...][105]

Excavations of Menkaure's mortuary temple confirm that it was probably left unfinished at this pharaoh's death. Originally planned to be made of granite, then altered to be completed of white Turah limestone,[106] all stone construction ceased and the temple was hastily finished in crude bricks during Shepseskaf's rule.[107] This material allows for rapid construction.[106] Shepseskaf's works concerned the causeway and entrance corridors of the temple, its great open court, storerooms and inner temple as well as the exterior walls. All brick constructions were covered in yellow mud then plastered white and left plain, except for the walls of the great open court which were made into a system of niches.[106] The completed doorways were fitted with wooden doors and the temple floors were of beaten mud on packed limestone chips, while the great court received a stone flooring.[108]

Further activities are reported in Herodotus' account of the late fourth dynasty.[109] According to Herodotus, Menkaure was succeeded by a king, whom he calls Asukhis,[note 13] who built an outer court of Hephaestus's (Ptah's) temple, decreed a new law on borrowing to remedy the lack of money in circulation during his reign and built a brick pyramid.[note 14] [109] Herodotus's account cannot easily be reconciled with the historical reality and seems to stem from confusion between fourth and 24th dynasty rulers,[111] garbled references to legends regarding a second dynasty king as lawgiver and 12th dynasty brick pyramids of Dahshur, such as that of Amenemhat III.[112] As Diodorus Siculus makes similar mistakes in reporting the history of the fourth dynasty – notably, both he and Herodotus incorrectly believed the fourth dynasty came after the 20th[110] – it is possible that it was their sources in Egypt which were at fault.[113]

Court life

Some of the officials who served under Shepseskaf are known from the funerary inscriptions they made on their tombs and which mention the king. These are mostly found in Giza 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 include Babaef II, vizier under Shepseskaf and possibly his cousin;[114] Sekhemkare, a son of Khafre, priest of the royal funerary cults;[note 15] Nisutpunetjer, who was a priest of the royal funerary cults;[note 16] Ptahshepses I who was educated among the royal children in Shepseskaf's palace and harem,[118] later promoted to the office of priest of Ptah by Userkaf and son-in-law of this pharaoh;[119] and Kaunisut, a palace official, priest and director of hairdressers.[120][121]

End of dynasty

The division of ancient Egyptian kings into dynasties is an invention of Manetho's Aegyptiaca, intended to adhere more closely to the expectations of Manetho's patrons, the Greek rulers of Ptolemaic Egypt.[122] The historical reality of these dynasties is difficult to appraise and they might not correspond to the modern conception for that term: for example Djoser, the first king of the third dynasty, was the son of Khasekhemwy, final king of the Second dynasty.[note 17][124] Stadelmann and Bárta remark that Shepseskaf (which means "His Ka is noble") and Userkaf have much in common, for example their throne names both follow the same pattern qualifying the Ka of Ra as "noble" for the former and "strong" for the later[note 3] and they probably belonged to the same family with Userkaf being either Shepseskaf's son[62][63] or his brother.[125] In addition, the biographies of officials serving at the time show no break in their careers at the juncture of the fourth and fifth dynasties and no traces of religious, political or economic upheavals at the time.[note 18][29]

Some distinction between the fourth and fifth dynasties may nonetheless have been recognised by the ancient Egyptians, as recorded by a tradition much older[note 19] than Manetho's[128] and found in the tale of the Westcar Papyrus. In this story, King Khufu is foretold the demise of his line and the rise of a new dynasty through the accession of three sons of Ra to the throne of Egypt.[note 20][132]

In modern Egyptology no sharp division is understood to have taken place between the fourth and fifth dynasties.[133] Yet some transition between them is perceived through the evolution of the Egyptian state at the time, from one where all power and positions of prestige were taken by the royal family, to one where the state-administration was opened to people of non-royal descent. It is in the interval from Menkaure to Userkaf that the royal family began to step back from the highest offices, in particular that of the vizier.[134] Shepseskaf, Userkaf and their fifth dynasty successors responded to these changes by designing new means of asserting their supremacy and religious influence, through the cult of Ra, the creation of novel offices of state[135] and changes in the king's role.[136] Ra's primacy over the rest of the Egyptian pantheon and the increased royal devotion given to him made Ra a sort of state-god,[43][137] a novelty in comparison with the earlier fourth dynasty, when more emphasis was put on royal burials.[138]


Main article: Mastabat al-Fir'aun

Shepseskaf's tomb is a great mastaba at South Saqqara. Called Qbḥ-Špss-k3.f ("Qebeh Shepseskaf") by the ancient Egyptians, this name is variously translated as "Shepseskaf is pure",[77] "Shepseskaf is purified", "Coolness of King Shepseskaf"[139] and "The cool place of Shepseskaf".[8] Nowadays it is known as Mastabat al-Fir'aun, meaning "bench of the pharaoh" in Egyptian Arabic. This mastaba was first recognised as such by Richard Lepsius who listed it as structure XLIII in his pioneering list of pyramids.[140] First excavated in 1858 by Auguste Mariette, it was not before the years 1924–1925 that the mastaba was thoroughly explored by Gustave Jéquier.[3][141]


a large rectangular structure of yellow mudbricks in the desert
Mastabat al-Fir’aun, Saqqara

Shepseskaf's decision to be buried in South Saqqara represents a departure from the Giza necropolis used by his predecessors. The reason for this choice is debated. Verner remarks that this choice had political symbolism[93] as it allowed Shepseskaf a greater proximity to the dynasty founder Sneferu's red and bent pyramids in Dahshur, possibly emphasising his belonging to the dynastic line.[142] For Bárta, Shepseskaf simply decided to come back to the traditional burial grounds of Saqqara and Abusir, a choice that therefore does not need to be seen as a sign of religious conflicts within the royal family,[143] as had been proposed by Hassan.[144]

However, the main reason might have been economic or practical rather than political or religious.[145] There was simply not enough space left in Giza for another large pyramid complex,[142] and the proximity of limestone quarries to South Saqqara could have played a role.[146] Egyptologist Adolf Erman instead conjectures that the choice of location for a pharaoh's tomb was mostly dictated by the vicinity of his palace which could change owing to economic, political and military interests.[147] This remains unverified as no palace of an Old Kingdom king has been located so far,[147][148] and it may be instead that it was the centre of the administration and royal house which followed the funerary complex rather than the other way around.[149]

Decision to build a mastaba

As Shepseskaf chose to have a mastaba built for himself he broke with the fourth dynasty tradition of constructing pyramids. Several theories have been put forth to explain this choice. First, Verner hypothesises that Shepseskaf may have designed a mastaba as a temporary measure because he was faced with the arduous task of completing Menkaure's pyramid complex at Giza while simultaneously having to start his own tomb.[142] In this theory, Shepseskaf may have intended to turn the mastaba into a pyramid at a later stage.[93] In support of this theory is the observation that the architecture and layout of the subterranean structures of the mastaba exactly follow the standard plan for royal pyramids.[93] Shepseskaf might have been forced to take this decision if Egypt experienced economic difficulties at the time as Verner posits,[5] or perhaps Menkaure's failure to complete his mortuary temple could have made Shepseskaf more cautious about his own tomb.[93]

At the opposite, Egyptologist Stephen Quirke believes that Shepseskaf's tomb amounts to the first step of a planned step pyramid that was unfinished owing to its owner's early death, only to be completed by his successor or his queen in the shape of a mastaba.[150] This theory finds some support in the Palermo stone which indicates that the emplacement and name of Shepseskaf's tomb were chosen during his first year on the throne. In this text the name of the tomb is written with the determinative of a pyramid rather than that of a mastaba,[151] but in the tomb of Nikauhor, who worked as overseer of Shepseskaf's tomb, it appears with the determinative of a mastaba.[note 21][139][153]

Alternatively, Hassan has put forward the idea that Shepseskaf may have deliberately chosen to build a mastaba owing to religio-political reasons, as the pyramid shape is closely associated with the solar cult.[note 22] In doing so he would have tried to undermine the growing influence of the priesthood of Ra.[154] This hypothesis could also explain the absence of a direct theophoric reference to Ra in his name as well as in that of his probable immediate successor Userkaf.[note 23] Hassan, who believes Khentkaus I was Shepseskaf's consort, further conjectures that Khentkaus was forced to marry Userkaf, the high priest of Ra, after Shepseskaf's death.[4] This marriage would have sealed the unrivalled ascendancy of the solar cult throughout the fifth dynasty.[38] Egyptologist Jaromir Málek concurs in part with this hypothesis, seeing Shepseskaf's decision as the symptom of a possible religious crisis.[10] The archaeologist Joyce Tyldesley notes that if Shepseskaf really did intend his tomb to be a mastaba and regardless of his motivations, this indicates that while a pyramid may be desirable, it was not an absolute necessity for a pharaoh to reach the afterlife.[41]

In a fourth opinion, Bárta, who stresses that the reasons for Shepseskaf's choice largely elude us, nonetheless proposes that the king may have lacked full legitimacy after ascending the throne from his position of high official through marriage.[24] In this hypothesis Shepseskaf would be a son of Khentkaus I. While in all probability related to the fourth dynasty royal family, he may not have had the legitimacy that prince Khuenre, the firstborn son of Menkaure and queen Khamerernebty II, had enjoyed prior to his death. Possibly faced with opponents and a state-administration increasingly from outside of the royal family, he could have chosen to build a non-typical tomb fitting his peculiar status.[155]


entrance of a stone lined corridor filed with desert sand amidst stone rubble
Entrance to the mastaba's subterranean chambers

The mastaba, oriented on a north–south axis, is rectangular in shape with a base of 99.6 m × 74.4 m (327 ft × 244 ft) and a height of 18 m (59 ft).[41] The outer slope of its wall is 65°[156] or 70° and it may have risen in two steps.[157] The tomb dimensions are deemed very small and modest by Verner as compared with the great pyramids of Shepseskaf's fourth dynasty predecessors.[158] Indeed, the total volume of the mastaba masonry represents no more than a third that of Menkaure's pyramid. For Verner and Egyptologist Abeer El-Shahawy, this could be explained by the decline in the economic prosperity of Egypt at the time as well as a decline in the king's power.[4][5] At the opposite, for Stadelmann one should not conclude that political instability or economic difficulties prevented Menkaure, Shepseskaf and their successors from emulating the great pyramids of their forebears. Instead he proposes that the main impetus behind Menkaure's smaller pyramid and for Shepseskaf's decision to have a mastaba made for himself is a cultic change, where the pyramid is replaced as the centre of appearance and importance by the mortuary temple as the centre of the funerary ritual.[2] In spite of its reduced size, Shepseskaf's tomb and funerary complex were probably unfinished at the death of the king, something which is taken to confirm a short reign. Excavations have shown that parts of the associated mortuary temple as well as the entirety of the causeway leading to it from the Nile valley have been "hastily"[93] completed in mudbrick, probably by one of his successors.[93][159]

The narrow ends of the mastaba were deliberately raised unlike the traditional fashion, making the tomb look like a great sarcophagus[3][158] or the hieroglyphic determinative for a shrine.[note 24][142] The mastaba was originally clad with white Turah limestone except for its lower course, which was clad in red granite.[41][157] The entrance to the substructures is on the mastaba's northern face, from where a nearly 20.95 m (68.7 ft) long rock-cut passageway descends at 23°30'[157] to an antechamber, the access to which was to be protected by three portcullises. To the southeast of the antechamber is a room with six niches, possibly storerooms, while west of the antechamber lies the burial chamber. Measuring 7.79 m × 3.85 m (25.6 ft × 12.6 ft) it is lined with granite and has a 4.9 m (16 ft) high arched ceiling sculpted into a false vault.[157] Remnants of a decorated dark basalt sarcophagus were uncovered there although the burial chamber was never finished and in all probability never used.[41]

The mastaba was surrounded by a double enclosure wall of mudbricks. On the eastern face of the tomb was a mortuary temple with an offering hall, false door and five storerooms, the layout of which later served as template for Neferirkare Kakai's temple.[160][161] No niches meant to house statues of the king were found, although fragments of a statue of Shepseskaf in the style of those of Khafre and Menkaure were uncovered in the temple.[162] To the east lay a small inner court and a larger outer one. Remnants of a causeway have been found; it is supposed to have led to a valley temple which has yet to be located.[157]


Old Kingdom

Like other pharaohs of the fourth and fifth dynasties, Shepseskaf was the object of an official funerary cult after his death. This cult seems to have been relatively minor when compared to those given to his predecessors. Only three priests serving in this cult are known,[163] including Shepseskaf's probable daughter queen Bunefer.[46] This contrasts with the at least 73[164] and 21[165] priests known to have served in the cults of Khufu and Menkaure, respectively. Furthermore, no evidence for Shepseskaf's cult has been found beyond the mid fifth dynasty, while the cults of some of his close successors lasted beyond the end of the Old Kingdom.[166] Provisions for these official mortuary cults were produced in agricultural estates set up during the ruler's reign. Possibly owing to the short duration of his reign only two such estates are known for Shepseskaf[167] compared with at least sixty for Khufu.[168]

In parallel to the official cult, it seems that Shepseskaf's name and memory were especially well regarded at least as late as the second half of the fifth dynasty as attested by at least seven[169] high officials bearing the name Shepseskafankh, meaning "May Shepseskaf live" or "Shepseskaf lives", up until the reign of Nyuserre Ini.[170][171] This includes a royal physician,[172] a royal estate steward,[173][174] a courtier,[175] a priest,[176] and a judicial official.[177]

Middle Kingdom

While no trace of state-sponsored cult of Shepseskaf have been uncovered from the late Old Kingdom and First Intermediate periods, Jéquier discovered a Middle Kingdom stele during his excavations of Shepseskaf's mortuary temple. At that time, the vicinity of the mastaba had become a necropolis housing tombs from the lower strata of society.[178] The stele uncovered by Jéquier probably originated from a nearby tomb and had been reused at a later time as paving for the temple floor.[179] The stele indicates that some sort of popular cult had been revived by the 12th dynasty on the premises of the temple.[179] Dedicated by a butcher named Ptahhotep, the stele depicts Ptahhotep and his family seemingly officiating a fully functioning cult, with its priests, scribes and servants.[180][181] Contrary to the Old Kingdom state-sponsored cult honouring Shepseskaf, the main object of this cult was not Shepseskaf himself but the dead of the surrounding necropolis for whom people were making offerings, offerings which only the gods could give the dead after accepting them thanks to Shepseskaf's intercession.[182] For Jéquier, this cult had been turned into a lucrative activity by Ptahhotep's family.[183][184]

New Kingdom

Along with other royal monuments at Saqqara and Abusir which had fallen into ruin, Shepseskaf's mastaba was the object of restoration works under the impulse of prince Khaemwaset, a son of Ramses II.[185] This was possibly to appropriate stones for his father's construction projects while ensuring a minimal restoration for cultic purposes.[186]


  1. ^ a b Proposed dates for the reign of Shepseskaf: 2523–2519 BC,[2][3][4][5] ending 2510 BC,[6] 2511–2506 BC,[7][8] 2504–2500BC,[9] 2503–2498 BC,[10][11][12] ending 2494 BC,[13][14] 2486–2479 BC,[15] 2472–2467 BC,[16][17][18] ending 2465 BC,[19] 2462–2457 BC,[20] 2461–2456 BC,[7] 2442–2436 BC,[21] 2441–2438 BC,[22] 2441–2436 BC,[23] ending 2435 BC,[24] 2396–2392 BC.[25] Radiocarbon studies have yielded the following intervals for Shepseskaf's date of accession to the throne: 2538–2498 BC with 68% probability, 2556–2476 BC with 95% probability.[26] These studies are based archaeological samples to measure fluctuations in radiocarbon activity, specific information on radiocarbon activity in the region of the Nile Valley (anchored by dendrochronology to absolute dates), direct linkages between the dated samples and historical chronology and relative dating information. Samples dated to specific reigns were collected from museum collections and excavation material while certain types of material (notably charcoal and mummified remains) were avoided owing to their susceptibility to contamination.[27]
  2. ^ a b c The word "his" here may refer to the god Ra rather than to the pharaoh.[29]
  3. ^ a b Direct father-son relationships between Old Kingdom pharaohs are never explicitly reported in contemporary documents. Furthermore, no official title is known to have designated the crown prince before his accession to the throne. This makes such relationships difficult to assert beyond doubt from purely archaeological evidence.[33]
  4. ^ Of particular importance is an unusual title of Khentkaus I which seems to indicate that she was the mother of two kings.[37]
  5. ^ Buried in Giza tomb G8408, she bore the title of njswt sA.t n Xt f, meaning "royal daughter of his body" but her father's identity remains in doubt.[45]
  6. ^ She may have participated in his burial ceremonies.[45]
  7. ^ a b Although the surviving fragments of the Palermo stone itself probably date to the much later 25th dynasty (fl. 760–656 BC), they were certainly copied or compiled from Old Kingdom sources.[66] These themselves date to the first half of the fifth dynasty, possibly under Neferirkare's rule, as the annals record no event after that.[67][68] In addition, Patrick O'Mara has shown that the Old Kingdom source itself used earlier royal annals probably first written in the time span between Menkaure's and Userkaf's reigns, i.e. possibly during Shepseskaf's.[69]
  8. ^ This part of the Palermo stone is actually ascribed to the Early Dynastic Period, specifically the transition between Aha and Djer.
  9. ^ During the Old Kingdom period, the Egyptians did not record time as we do today. Rather, they counted years since the beginning of the reign of the current king. Furthermore these years were referred to by the number of cattle counts which had taken place since the start of the reign. The cattle count was an important event aimed at evaluating the amount of taxes to be levied on the population. This involved counting cattle, oxen and small livestock.[85] During the first half of the fifth dynasty, this count might have been biennial[86] although it may not always have happened at regular intervals.[87] Following these principles, these inscriptions talk of the year after the first cattle count of Shepseskaf's reign. If the count was indeed biennial, which is uncertain, this would correspond to his second regnal year.[84]
  10. ^ A mastaba takes time to build and the unfinished state of the tomb gives some indication on the reign duration as works on the royal tomb started in the king's first year of reign and either stopped or were interrupted at the death of the king. Depending on the final state of the originally planned tomb one can thus estimate on the maximum duration of the king's reign. Had Shepseskaf reigned longer than four years, his mastaba would have been more advanced at his death than it is, according to Verner.[93]
  11. ^ Senuti shrine, transliteration snwt.[98] This might designate a building perhaps marked by snake stelae, possibly at Heliopolis.[99]
  12. ^ The decree, now fragmentary and damaged, is currently housed in the Egyptian Museum under the temporary number[103]
  13. ^ Also called Aseskaf.[110]
  14. ^ Herodotus's account is as follows: "After Mycerinus, the priests said, Asukhis became king of Egypt. He built the eastern outer court of Hephaestus's temple; this is by far the finest and grandest of all the courts, for while all have carved figures and innumerable felicities of architecture, this court has far more than any. As not much money was in circulation during this king's reign, they told me, a law was made for the Egyptians' allowing a man to borrow on the security of his father's corpse; and the law also provided that the lender become master of the entire burial-vault of the borrower, and that the penalty for one giving this security, should he fail to repay the loan, was that he was not to be buried at his death either in that tomb of his fathers or in any other, nor was he to bury any relative of his there. Furthermore, in his desire to excel all who ruled Egypt before him, this king left a pyramid of brick to commemorate his name, on which is this writing, cut on a stone: 'Do not think me less than pyramids of stone; for I excel them as much as Zeus does other gods; for they stuck a pole down into a marsh and collected what mud clung to the pole, made bricks of it, and thus built me.' These were the acts of Asukhis."[109]
  15. ^ His mastaba, located in Giza and now known as G8154 yielded a list of the kings under whom he served, from Khafre down to Sahure.[115][116]
  16. ^ His mastaba is now known as Giza tomb G8740.[117]
  17. ^ To quote Stadelmann on the subject: "With Userkaf, Manetho begins a new dynasty. Recent historical research, however, suggests that the delimitation of king lists into dynasties should be viewed with a certain reserve. In any case, the reason for the Manethonian division into dynasties seems to be different from that which modern historians would take as a basis. The sparse, almost exclusively archaeological knowledge of the monuments simply does not allow any clear statements as to the extent to which such dynasties actually do justice to the historical reality of the Old Kingdom."[123]
  18. ^ For Jéquier though, the very fact that Shepseskaf had a mastaba built for himself rather than a pyramid could be evidence of such troubles.[126]
  19. ^ This tale dates to the 17th (fl. c. 16th century BC) or possibly the 12th dynasty (fl. c. 19th century BC).[127]
  20. ^ In the tale the first three kings of the fifth dynasty are said to be brothers but it is now known thanks to archaeological evidences that Userkaf, Sahure and Neferirkare Kakai had father-son relationships with one another.[129][130][131]
  21. ^ Janák, Vymazalová and Coppens note in passing that this sign could be "a schematic depiction of the mastaba-like tomb [...] of pharaoh Shepseskaf".[152]
  22. ^ Verner is explicitly against this hypothesis, qualifying it as "erroneous".[5]
  23. ^ Against this opinion Stadelmann thinks that the "Ka" in Shepseskaf's and Userkaf's names does refer to the soul of Ra.[29]
  24. ^ That is, the mastaba took the shape of a Buto shrine with a rounded vaulted top between vertical ends.[157]


  1. ^ a b Schneider 2002, p. 248.
  2. ^ a b c d e Stadelmann 2001, p. 597.
  3. ^ a b c Chauvet 2001, p. 176.
  4. ^ a b c El-Shahawy & Atiya 2005, p. 33.
  5. ^ a b c d e Verner 2001c, p. 588.
  6. ^ Grimal 1992, p. 390.
  7. ^ a b von Beckerath 1997, p. 188.
  8. ^ a b Strudwick 2005, p. xxx.
  9. ^ Clayton 1994, p. 56.
  10. ^ a b c Málek 2000, p. 91.
  11. ^ Rice 1999, p. 190.
  12. ^ Sowada 2009, p. 3.
  13. ^ Bard 1999, pp. xliv–xlv.
  14. ^ Baker 2008, pp. 425–426.
  15. ^ von Beckerath 1999, p. 283.
  16. ^ Lehner 2008, p. 8.
  17. ^ Allen et al. 1999, p. xx.
  18. ^ Kozloff 1982, p. 214.
  19. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica 2022.
  20. ^ Vernus & Yoyotte 1996, p. 219.
  21. ^ Bárta 2016, p. 51.
  22. ^ Strudwick 1985, p. 3.
  23. ^ Hornung 2012, p. 491.
  24. ^ a b c d Bárta 2017, p. 5.
  25. ^ Dodson & Hilton 2004, p. 288.
  26. ^ a b Ramsey et al. 2010, p. 1556.
  27. ^ a b Ramsey et al. 2010, p. 1554.
  28. ^ Gardiner 1959, p. 16, table II.
  29. ^ a b c Stadelmann 2000, pp. 535–536.
  30. ^ Dodson & Hilton 2004, p. 55.
  31. ^ Stadelmann 2000, pp. 529–530.
  32. ^ Clayton 1994, p. 59.
  33. ^ Stadelmann 2000, p. 532.
  34. ^ Jánosi 2005, p. 66.
  35. ^ Verner 2001b, p. 588.
  36. ^ Verner & Zemina 1994, p. 119.
  37. ^ a b Bárta 2016, p. 57.
  38. ^ a b Verner & Zemina 1994, p. 118.
  39. ^ Callender 1994, pp. 87 & 91.
  40. ^ Maragioglio & Rinaldi 1967, p. 170.
  41. ^ a b c d e Tyldesley 2005, p. 222.
  42. ^ Hayes 1978, p. 65.
  43. ^ a b Kozloff 1982, p. 220.
  44. ^ Callender 1994, p. 101.
  45. ^ a b c Hassan & Habashi 1941, pp. 176–199.
  46. ^ a b Troy 1986, p. 154.
  47. ^ Callender 1994, pp. 85–86.
  48. ^ a b c d Callender 1994, p. 86.
  49. ^ Hassan & Habashi 1941, p. 181.
  50. ^ Hassan & Habashi 1941, pp. 176, 196, figs. 147, 149, 150, 152, 156, 159, pls. 54–56, 58.
  51. ^ Callender 1994, p. 87.
  52. ^ Hassan & Habashi 1941, pl. LVI.
  53. ^ Dorman 2002, p. 107.
  54. ^ de Rougé 1865, p. 67.
  55. ^ Grimal 1992, p. 75.
  56. ^ Smith 1971, p. 184.
  57. ^ Vercoutter 1992, p. 295.
  58. ^ Troy 1986, p. 154, #4.20.
  59. ^ von Beckerath 1984, p. 584.
  60. ^ Wildung 1977, p. 1257.
  61. ^ Dorman 2002, pp. 95 & 101.
  62. ^ a b Lehner 2008, p. 140.
  63. ^ a b Kozloff 1982, p. 216.
  64. ^ Hayes 1978, p. 108.
  65. ^ Museum of Fine Arts Boston 2022, catalog number 09.203.
  66. ^ Bárta 2017, p. 2.
  67. ^ Allen et al. 1999, p. 3.
  68. ^ Grimal 1992, p. 46.
  69. ^ O'Mara 1996, pp. 207–208.
  70. ^ a b c O'Mara 1997, p. 51.
  71. ^ Sethe 1903, entry 166.
  72. ^ a b Strudwick 2005, p. 78.
  73. ^ Strudwick 1985, p. 136, n. 125.
  74. ^ Dorman 2002, pp. 95–110.
  75. ^ Strudwick 2005, p. 304.
  76. ^ a b Daressy 1912, p. 205.
  77. ^ a b Baker 2008, p. 425.
  78. ^ Waddell 1971, pp. 46–51.
  79. ^ von Beckerath 1997, p. 158.
  80. ^ Ryholt 1997, p. 17.
  81. ^ von Beckerath 1997, pp. 24 & 216.
  82. ^ Strudwick 2005, p. 8.
  83. ^ Hayes 1978, p. 58.
  84. ^ a b c Verner 2001a, p. 383.
  85. ^ a b Katary 2001, p. 352.
  86. ^ Verner 2001a, p. 391.
  87. ^ Spalinger 1994, p. 297.
  88. ^ Verner 2001a, p. 383, footnotes 182 & 183.
  89. ^ Sethe 1903, entry 160.
  90. ^ Verner 2001a, pp. 383 & 416.
  91. ^ Waddell 1971, pp. 46–47.
  92. ^ Daressy 1912, p. 26.
  93. ^ a b c d e f g h Verner 2001a, p. 384.
  94. ^ Hornung 2012, p. 484.
  95. ^ Verner 2001a, pp. 384 & 416.
  96. ^ Strudwick 2005, p. 79, footnote 9.
  97. ^ Bogdanov 2020, p. 132.
  98. ^ Nuzzolo & Krejčí 2017, p. 372.
  99. ^ Strudwick 2005, p. 508.
  100. ^ Strudwick 2005, p. 69.
  101. ^ Kunsthistorisches Museum 2022, Inv. 7785.
  102. ^ Hsu 2012, pp. 270 & 273.
  103. ^ a b Strudwick 2005, p. 97.
  104. ^ Sethe 1903, p. 160, § 101.
  105. ^ Strudwick 2005, pp. 97–98.
  106. ^ a b c Reisner 1931, p. 30.
  107. ^ Lehner 2008, p. 136.
  108. ^ Reisner 1931, pp. 30–31.
  109. ^ a b c Godley 1963, Book II.136.1–4.
  110. ^ a b Bérard 1937, p. 289.
  111. ^ Bérard 1937, p. 291.
  112. ^ How & Wells 1991, II.136.1–4.
  113. ^ Bérard 1937, p. 292.
  114. ^ Dodson & Hilton 2004, p. 56.
  115. ^ Lepsius 1859, p. 109, § 89.
  116. ^ Sethe 1903, p. 166, § 106.
  117. ^ Sethe 1903, p. 166, § 107.
  118. ^ Dorman 2002, p. 101.
  119. ^ Breasted 1906, pp. 115–118, § 254–262.
  120. ^ Digital Giza 2022e.
  121. ^ Hassan 1936, pp. 75–85.
  122. ^ Redford 2001, pp. 336–337.
  123. ^ Stadelmann 2000, p. 529.
  124. ^ Stadelmann 2000, p. 530.
  125. ^ Bárta 2016, p. 57, footnote 26.
  126. ^ Jéquier 1925, p. 256.
  127. ^ Burkard et al. 2003, p. 178.
  128. ^ Málek 2000, p. 98.
  129. ^ Verner & Zemina 1994, pp. 68 & 85.
  130. ^ Verner 2007, p. 9.
  131. ^ El Awady 2006, pp. 192–198 & 208–213.
  132. ^ Lichtheim 2006, pp. 215–220.
  133. ^ Bárta 2016, p. 70.
  134. ^ Bárta 2016, pp. 52, 70–71.
  135. ^ Bárta 2016, pp. 70–71.
  136. ^ Goedicke 2000, pp. 405–406.
  137. ^ Málek 2000, pp. 98–99.
  138. ^ David & David 2001, p. 164.
  139. ^ a b Bogdanov 2020, p. 129, footnote 45.
  140. ^ Lepsius 1859, pp. 199–201.
  141. ^ Jéquier 1925, pp. 251–261.
  142. ^ a b c d Baker 2008, p. 426.
  143. ^ Bárta 2016, p. 59.
  144. ^ Hassan 1943, pp. 63–67.
  145. ^ Verner 2001b, p. 89.
  146. ^ Verner & Zemina 1994, p. 24.
  147. ^ a b Verner & Zemina 1994, p. 26.
  148. ^ Verner 2010, p. 91.
  149. ^ Lehner 2002, pp. 34 & 61.
  150. ^ Quirke 2001, p. 126.
  151. ^ Breasted 1906, p. 67, § 150–152.
  152. ^ Janák et al. 2011, p. 432.
  153. ^ The Giza Archive 2022, photo A7394_NS.
  154. ^ Verner & Zemina 1994, pp. 50 & 118.
  155. ^ Bárta 2016, p. 60.
  156. ^ Lehner 2008, p. 120.
  157. ^ a b c d e f Lehner 2008, p. 139.
  158. ^ a b Verner & Zemina 1994, p. 50.
  159. ^ Maragioglio & Rinaldi 1967, p. 144.
  160. ^ Nuzzolo 2007, p. 235.
  161. ^ Ricke 1950, pp. 75–78.
  162. ^ Jéquier 1925, pp. 254–255.
  163. ^ Wildung 1969, p. 225.
  164. ^ Wildung 1969, pp. 152–156.
  165. ^ Wildung 1969, pp. 213–214.
  166. ^ Morales 2006, p. 313.
  167. ^ Wildung 1969, pp. 226–227.
  168. ^ Wildung 1969, pp. 156–158.
  169. ^ Gourdon 2007, p. 148.2.
  170. ^ Gourdon 2007, p. 390.
  171. ^ Bárta 2015, p. 24.
  172. ^ Bárta 2015, p. 27.
  173. ^ Digital Giza 2022d, tomb G 6040.
  174. ^ Reisner 1939, p. 29.
  175. ^ Digital Giza 2022a, tomb G 8492.
  176. ^ Digital Giza 2022b, tomb G 8983.
  177. ^ Digital Giza 2022c, tomb G 1008.
  178. ^ Jéquier 1925, pp. 257–258.
  179. ^ a b Jéquier 1925, p. 254.
  180. ^ Jéquier 1925, p. 259.
  181. ^ Wildung 1969, p. 228.
  182. ^ Jéquier 1925, p. 260.
  183. ^ Jéquier 1925, pp. 260–261.
  184. ^ Dunham 1935, pp. 147–148, footnote 1.
  185. ^ Lehner 2008, p. 38.
  186. ^ Málek 1992, pp. 57–76.


Preceded byMenkaure Pharaoh of Egypt End of Fourth Dynasty Succeeded byUserkaf