4th Dynasty (2575-2465)


The 4th Dynasty is mostly known for its enormous building projects. The building of monumental pyramid complexes already started with Snofru, the first king of this dynasty, and seems to have been abandoned towards the end of the dynasty.

Snofru at least converted the Step Pyramid of Meidum into a 'real' pyramid, in addition to which he also built the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid at Dashur. The pyramid at Meidum has long time been credited to Huni, the last king of the 3rd Dynasty, but as Huni's name has never been found near that monument, it seems likely that it was built by Snofru as well. In any case, the largest mass of pyramids was built during the reign of Snofru.

Head of a statue of Djedefre.
Source: Ziegler,  L'Egypte ancienne au Louvre, p. 57.

Kheops, the second king of the dynasty, built the largest pyramid, at the plateau of Giza, to the north of the Memphite necropolis. A graffito left behind by the workmen in one of the relief chambers above the burial chamber, as well as some administrative documents dated to his reign, definitely link Kheops to this pyramid.
The two other pyramids at Giza were built by Khefren en Mykerinos, a son and grandson of Kheops respectively.
The pyramid of Djedefre, the oldest surviving son and successor of Kheops, does not appear to have been completed, hinting at a short reign.

Except for two kings, the chronology of the 4th Dynasty is fairly well known. The first problematic king is listed between Khefren and Mykerinos as Bakare in several kinglists. The Turin Canon is damaged at this point, but it does insert a king, whose name is lost, between Khefren and Mykerinos. It is possible that a hieratic inscription found in or near the unfinished pyramid of Zawiyet el-Aryan is to be read as Baka. If this is the case, then not only do we appear to have evidence of the existence of this ephemeral king, we also have a monument that was constructed by him. It is also possible for this Baka(re) to have been a son of Djedefre's.
The second problematic king is the last of the dynasty. He is only known through Manetho by the name of Thamphthis. The Turin Canon is again damaged at this point, but it does have sufficient place between Shepseskaf and Userkaf for one king. No inscriptions or monuments from the end of the 4th Dynasty can be linked with this name.

Another problem surrounding the chronology of this dynasty is the discrepancy between the kinglists and the list provided by Manetho. The kinglists place the kings in the order that is now generally accepted by Egyptologists, whereas Manetho apparently first lists the kings that have been attested by great monuments, resulting in the following order: Soris (Snofru), Suphis (Kheops), Suphis (Khefren), Menkheres (Mykerinos), Ratoises (Djededre), Bikheris (Bakare), Sebercheres (Shepseskaf) and Thamphthis.
Archaeological evidence, however, appears to support the order in the kinglists rather than Manetho's version.

The fact that Djedefre was succeeded by Khefren, his brother, and not by his son and the fact that Djedefre built his pyramid at Abu Rawash instead of Giza, has often been interpreted as evidence of dynastic struggle between Kheops' many descendants. Romantic as it may be, this interpretation is not supported by any hard evidence.
The apparently bizare succession order that gave rise to this theory, becomes even more incomprehensive if the king Bakare listed by the king-lists was a son of Djedefre, as has often been suggested. It would be quite strange for Khefren to have eliminated Djedefre, but leave Djedefre's heirs alive and with the opportunity to claim the throne. Khefren's marriage to Meresankh III, an adoptive daughter of Djedefre, too does not support the theory of a dynastic fued.

But perhaps we simply do not know enough of the complex family structure of the 4th Dynasty or of its succession rules at this time, to be able to understand its chronology.

Click on the thumbnails below to learn more about the kings of the 4th Dynasty.

© Jacques Kinnaer 1997 - 2021