Sneferu (snfr-wj "He has perfected me", from Ḥr-nb-mꜣꜥt-snfr-wj "Horus, Lord of Maat, has perfected me", also read Snefru or Snofru),[4] well known under his Hellenized name Soris (Koinē Greek: Σῶρις by Manetho), was the founding pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt during the Old Kingdom. Estimates of his reign vary, with for instance The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt suggesting a reign from around 2613 to 2589 BC,[5] a reign of 24 years, while Rolf Krauss suggests a 30-year reign,[6] and Rainer Stadelmann a 48-year reign.[7] He built at least three pyramids that survive to this day and introduced major innovations in the design and construction of pyramids.

Reign length

Detail of a relief showing Sneferu wearing the white robe of the Sed-festival, from his funerary temple of Dahshur and now on display at the Egyptian Museum

The 24-year Turin Canon figure for Sneferu's reign is considered today to be an underestimate since this king's highest-known date is an inscription discovered at the Red Pyramid of Dahshur and mentioning Sneferu's 24th cattle count, corresponding to at least 24 full years.[8] Sneferu, however, was known to have a minimum of at least three years after the cattle count dates: his years after the 10th, the 13th and the 18th count are attested at his Meidum pyramid.[9] This would mean that Sneferu ruled Egypt a minimum of 27 full years.

However, in the Palermo Stone, recto 6 at the bottom of the fragment shows the year of the 7th count of Sneferu while recto 7 on the same following row shows the year of the 8th count of Sneferu.[10] Significantly, there is a previous mostly intact column for Sneferu in recto 5 which also mentions events in this king's reign in a specific year but does not mention the previous (6th) year.[11] This column must, therefore, be dated to the year after the 6th count of Sneferu. Hence, Sneferu's reign would be a minimum of 28 years. Since there are many periods in Sneferu's reigns for which Egyptologists have few dates—only the years of the 2nd, 7th, 8th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 23rd and 24th count are known for Sneferu before one considers the years after his cattle counts[12]—this pharaoh is most likely to have had a reign in excess of 30 years to manage to build three pyramids in his long rule but not 48 years since the cattle count was not regularly biannual during his kingship. (There are fewer years after the count dates known for Sneferu compared to year of the count or census dates.)

Family and succession

See also: Fourth Dynasty of Egypt family tree

Cartouche name Sneferu in the Abydos King List

Sneferu was the first king of the Fourth Dynasty of ancient Egypt, who according to Manetho reigned for 24 years (2613–2589 BC). Manetho was an Egyptian priest, living in the third century BC, who categorized the pharaohs of dynastic Egypt into thirty-one dynasties.[13] Though his schematic has its flaws, modern scholars conventionally follow his method of grouping. The Papyrus Prisse, a Middle Kingdom source, supports the fact that King Huni was indeed Sneferu's predecessor. It states that "the majesty of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Huni, came to the landing place (i.e., died), and the majesty of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Sneferu, was raised up as a beneficent king in this entire land..."[14] Aside from Sneferu's succession, we learn from this text that later generations considered him to be a "beneficent" ruler. This idea may stem from the etymology of the king's name, for it can be interpreted as the infinitive "to make beautiful".[15] It is uncertain whether Huni was Sneferu's father; however, the Cairo Annals Stone denotes that his mother may have been a woman named Meresankh.[16]

Hetepheres I was Sneferu's main wife and the mother of Khufu,[17] the builder of the Great Pyramid on the Giza Plateau.


Sons of Sneferu:

Daughters of Sneferu:

Building projects

The Meidum pyramid
Sneferu Pyramid waste limestone block. Hole in bottom, used as pivot block on which to turn heavy levers in moving stones. 4th Dynasty. From Meidum, Egypt. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London

The most well known monuments from Sneferu's reign are the three pyramids he is considered to have built. In Dahshur: the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid and in Meidum the Meidum pyramid. Under Sneferu, there was a major evolution in monumental pyramid structures, which would lead to Khufu's Great Pyramid, which would be seen as the pinnacle of the Egyptian Old Kingdom's majesty and splendour, and as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The first of Sneferu's massive undertakings is the Pyramid at Meidum. There is some debate among scholars as to Sneferu's claim to the Meidum pyramid, and many credit its origin to King Huni. Nonetheless, the pyramid is a remarkable example of the progression of technology and ideology surrounding the king's burial site. The immense stone structure serves as physical testimony to the transition from the stepped pyramid structure to that of a "true" pyramid structure. Archaeological investigations of the pyramid show that it was first conceived as a seven-stepped structure, built in a similar manner to the Djoser complex at Saqqara. Modifications later were made to add another platform, and at an even later stage limestone facing was added to create the smooth, angled finish characteristic of a "true" pyramid.[24] Complete with a descending northern passage, two underground chambers, and a burial vault, the pyramid mainly follows the conventions of previous tombs in most aspects other than one: instead of being situated underneath the colossal structure, the burial chamber is built directly within the main body albeit very near ground level.[25]

Sneferu's Bent Pyramid at Dahshur

The Bent Pyramid, also known as the Rhomboidal or Blunted Pyramid, attests to an even greater increase in architectural innovations. As the name suggests, the angle of the inclination changes from 55° to about 43° in the upper levels of the pyramid. It is likely that the pyramid initially was not designed to be built this way, but was modified during construction due to unstable accretion layers. As a means of stabilising the structure, the top layers were laid horizontally, marking the abandonment of the step pyramid concept.[26] The internal components of the Rhomboidal pyramid have also evolved. There are two entrances, one from the north and another from the west. The subterranean chambers are much larger, and distinguished by corbel walls and ceilings with more complex diagonal portcullis systems in place. J.P Lepre asserts:

It is apparent that with the interior design of the Bent Pyramid the architect was groping and experimenting, taking maximum advantage of the huge volume of the monument (50 million cubic feet), the largest pyramid constructed to that date.[27]

The satellite pyramid complementing Sneferu's Bent Pyramid introduces more change in the architecture of the time, when the passageway is built ascending westward (as opposed to the conventionally descending northward direction of the passages of previously built pyramids) towards the burial chambers.[28]

Egypt decided to open the Bent Pyramid for tourism in July 2019 for the first time since 1965. Tourists will be able to reach two 4600-year-old chambers through a 79-meter narrow tunnel built from the northern entrance of the pyramid. 18-meter-high "side pyramid", which is assumed that have been built for Sneferu's wife Hetepheres will also be accessible. It is the first time for this adjacent pyramid opened to the public after its excavation in 1956.[29][30][31][32][33]

The Red Pyramid of Sneferu

With the increase of innovation in Sneferu's building projects, one expects that his last pyramid, the Red Pyramid, will show the greatest complexity and change in architecture yet. Upon first glance, one may be disappointed seeing that the construction of the Red Pyramid seemingly is simpler than its predecessor. Lepre points out that some of the internal innovations that the previous pyramids boast seem to be missing in the king's last monument. Although the chambers and burial vaults are all present in the monument's main body, no ascending passageway has been excavated, nor is there evidence of a western entrance or diagonal portcullis. Although the absence of these features have dissuaded many archaeologists from further studying the Red Pyramid, Lepre is convinced that there are secret chambers waiting to be uncovered within the stone superstructure.

In 1950, fragments of human remains were found in the passage way of the Red Pyramid and examined by Dr. Ahmed Mahmud el Batrawi. The remains and wrappings were found to be consistent with 4th dynasty mummification techniques. Whether these humain remains belong to Sneferu is uncertain.[34]

Considering that the remains of King Sneferu have not yet been found or positively identified, it still may be possible that his sarcophagus and actual mummy lie hidden in his Red Pyramid in a hidden chamber. Lepre claims: "the Red pyramid remains one of the chief pyramids that may possibly contain secret chambers, not the least of which may be the true burial chamber of King Sneferu himself."[35] Whether or not this conjecture is true is left to modern archaeologists to determine.

Sneferu's architectural innovations served as a catalyst for later pyramid builders to build on. The first king of the fourth dynasty set a challenging precedent for his successors to match, and only Khufu's Great Pyramid can rival Sneferu's accomplishments. As time progressed and ideology changed in Ancient Egypt, the monuments of the kings decreased greatly in size. As the Pyramid of Menkaure is only a fraction of the size of the previous pyramids, the focus of Egyptian ideology might have shifted from the worship of the king to the direct worship of the sun god, Ra.[36]

Foreign relations

To enable Sneferu to undertake such massive building projects, he would have had to secure an extensive store of labour and materials. According to Guillemette Andreu, this is where the king's foreign policy played a large part. Sneferu's conquests into Libya and Nubia served two purposes: the first goal was to establish an extensive labour force, and the second goal was to gain access to the raw materials and special products that were available in these countries.[36] This is alluded to in the Palermo Stone:

"[Reign of] Sneferu. Year ...
The building of Tuataua ships of mer wood
of a hundred capacity, and 60 royal boats of sixteen capacity.
Raid in the Land of the Blacks, and the bringing in of seven thousand
prisoners, men and women, and twenty thousand cattle, sheep, and
The bringing of forty ships of cedar wood (or perhaps "laden with cedar
Reused building materials found at the pyramid complex of Amenemhat I that are thought originally to have been a depiction of the Sed festival for Sneferu 

According to this inscription, Sneferu was able to capture large numbers of people from other nations, make them his prisoners and then add them into his labour force. During his raids into Nubia and Libya, he also captured cattle for the sustenance of his massive labour force. Such incursions must have been incredibly devastating to the populations of the raided countries, and it is suggested that the campaigns into Nubia may have contributed to the dissemination of the A-Group culture of that region.

Sneferu's military efforts in ancient Libya led to the capture of 11,000 prisoners and 13,100 head of cattle.[38] Aside from the extensive import of cedar (most likely from Lebanon) described above, there is evidence of activity in the turquoise mines on the Sinai Peninsula.[39] There would also have been large-scale quarrying projects to provide Sneferu with the stone he needed for his pyramids.

Sneferu's ancient cedar wood ship Praise of the Two Lands is the first known instance of a ship being referred to by name.[40]

See also


  1. ^ Thomas Schneider: Lexikon der Pharaonen. Albatros, Düsseldorf 2002, ISBN 3-491-96053-3, pp. 278–279
  2. ^ A. Dodson & D. Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, Thames and Hudson Ltd: London, 2004.
  3. ^ Alan H. Gardiner: The royal canon of Turin
  4. ^ Homs, George. "Snefru . Pharaoh of Egypt (± 2620-± 2547) » Stamboom Homs » Genealogie Online". Genealogie Online. Retrieved 2019-03-05.
  5. ^ Jaromir Malek in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, p. 87
  6. ^ Krauss, Rolf (1996). "The length of Sneferu's reign and how long it took to build the 'Red Pyramid'". Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. 82: 43–50. doi:10.2307/3822113. JSTOR 3822113.
  7. ^ Rainer Stadelmann: Beiträge zur Geschichte des Alten Reiches: Die Länge der Regierung des Snofru. In: Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Institutes Kairo (MDAIK), Vol. 43. von Zabern, Mainz 1987, ISSN 0342-1279, pp. 229–240.
  8. '^ Miroslav Verner, Archaeological Remarks on the 4th and 5th Dynasty Chronology", Archiv Orientální. vol. 69, Praha 2001, p. 367
  9. ^ Verner, pp. 367
  10. ^ H. Schäfer, Ein Bruchstück altägyptischer Annalen, 1902 (APAW: Phil.-hist Kl. 4) 30–31
  11. ^ see Christine Hobson, Exploring the World of the Pharaohs:A Complete Guide to Ancient Egypt, Thames & Hudson paperback, 1993, p. 15
  12. ^ Verner, pp. 365–367
  13. ^ An Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, p. 36
  14. ^ "The Instructions of Kagemni," Papyrus Prisse
  15. ^ The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, p. 93
  16. ^ The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, p. 51
  17. ^ a b The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, p. 57
  18. ^ Porter and Moss, Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs, and Paintings; Part III.
  19. ^ a b Nicolas-Christophe Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, p. 68
  20. ^ a b c The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, p. 61
  21. ^ The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, p. 58
  22. ^ a b c The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, p. 60
  23. ^ Porter and Moss, Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs, and Paintings; Part III;
  24. ^ An Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, pg.134
  25. ^ The Egyptian Pyramids... p. 51
  26. ^ An Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, p. 135
  27. ^ The Egyptian Pyramids... p. 53
  28. ^ The Egyptian Pyramids... pp. 53–54
  29. ^ "'Bent' pyramid: Egypt opens ancient oddity for tourism". The Guardian. Reuters. 2019-07-14. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-07-15.
  30. ^ "Egypt opens Sneferu's 'Bent' Pyramid in Dahshur to public". Reuters. 2019-07-13. Archived from the original on July 14, 2019. Retrieved 2019-07-15.
  31. ^ "Egyptian 'bent' pyramid dating back 4,600 years opens to public". The Independent. 2019-07-13. Retrieved 2019-07-15.
  32. ^ "Egypt's 4,600yo Bent Pyramid opens to the public after more than half a century". ABC News. 2019-07-14. Retrieved 2019-07-15.
  33. ^ "Egypt's Bent Pyramid opens to visitors". 2019-07-13. Retrieved 2019-07-15.
  34. ^,263224,263387
  35. ^ The Egyptian Pyramids... p. 54
  36. ^ a b An Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, p. 144
  37. ^ The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, p. 100 (emphasis added)
  38. ^ Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, p. 107
  39. ^ The Complete Royal Families, p. 50
  40. ^ Anzovin, item # 5393, p. 385 "Reference to a ship with a name appears in an inscription of 2613 BCE that recounts the shipbuilding achievements of the fourth-dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Sneferu. He was recorded as the builder of a cedarwood vessel called 'Praise of the Two Lands.'"

Further reading