5th Dynasty (2465-2323)

Compared to the previous dynasties, the 5th Dynasty is fairly well known. All kings noted in the king-lists and by Manetho are attested by archaeological sources. This is largely due to the increased amount of documents from this period.

This dynasty has brought some significant changes and innovations to the Egyptian society.
First of all, the rising importance of the solar cult, already noted for the 4th Dynasty, came to a climax. Except for the last two of this dynasty, all kings built a so-called solar temple. Two such solar temples have been found and have proven to be quite unique buildings. The first solar temple, at Abusir, to the north of Saqqara, was built by Userkaf and extended by Neferirkare and Niuserre. The only other remaining one, was built by Niuserre at Abu Gorab, north of Abusir. The names of the other solar temples are known, but they have not yet been identified.

A massive altar at the Solar Temple of Niuserre at Abu Gorab, north of Abusir.

A massive altar at the Solar Temple of Niuserre at Abu Gorab, north of Abusir.

Probably due to a shift in religious views, the building of solar temples came to a sudden stop with the reign of Djedkare. 

A second innovation only came at the end of the dynasty, with the reign of king Unas, who was the first to have religious texts, known today as Pyramid Texts, inscribed in the burial chamber, antechamber and part of the entrance corridor of his pyramid at Saqqara.
It is not impossible that the appearance of these texts is related to the disappearance of the solar temples.

The Pyramid Texts found inside the pyramid of Unas at Saqqara are the oldest known funerary texts found thus far on the walls of a royal tomb.

The Pyramid Texts found inside the pyramid of Unas at Saqqara are the oldest known funerary texts found thus far on the walls of a royal tomb.

On an architectural level, we not only note the building of the solar temples, but also a standardisation in the building of pyramid complexes. Most kings built their pyramid complex at Abusir, near the solar temple of Userkaf, who had built his own pyramid at Saqqara. The organisation and number of rooms in the pyramid, the buildings outside the pyramid and the rooms inside these buildings would more and more become part of a canon. We also note that the pyramids are significantly smaller than those of the beginning of the 4th Dynasty. This has often been explained by the more limited resources available to the 5th Dynasty kings. Against this view, it should be observed that most of the 5th Dynasty kings no longer appeared to limit their building efforts to a pyramid complex and that the complexes were often beautifully decorated. The Ancient Egyptian penchant for standardisation may also explain the smaller pyramids.

The royal titulary was also extended and would from this dynasty on consist of 5 sets of titles. Although it was first used by 4th Dynasty king Djedefre, the title Son of Re would become an important part of the titulary. It was followed by the king's personal name and links him directly to the solar cult. The older titles, the so-called Horus- and Nebti-names, would still be part of the titulary.

From the beginning of this dynasty on, we also note an increase in the number of high officials. Contrary to the 4th Dynasty, high offices were now no longer restricted to members of the royal family. Government and administration were reformed and this resulted in a far more efficient bureaucracy through which the king could control the country. The larger number of dignitaries also resulted in more documentation left to us and this is one of the reasons why we know more of this dynasty then of the previous one.

Despite all these changes, the 5th Dynasty may have been closely related to the 4th. The Turin King-list lists the kings of this dynasty immediately after those of the 4th, without marking any change. The founder of this dynasty, Userkaf, is believed to have been a descendant of Kheops, perhaps directly or through marriage. The story noted on the Papyrus Westcar, however, makes Userkaf the brother of his two successors and the son of a priest of Re and a woman named Radjedet. Archaeological sources contradict this view, which has been held for true by many Egyptologists. The story is likely to have been intended to explain the close relationship between the 5th Dynasty and the solar cult.

Click on the thumbnails below to learn more about the kings of the 5th Dynasty. It is possible that Shepseskare needs to be placed between Neferefre and Niuserre, rather than before Neferefre. This is based on the fact that Shepseskare's name was found on some seal impressions in Neferefre's mortuary temple at Abusir, which suggests that it was Shepseskare who completed the edifice.

© Jacques Kinnaer 1997 - 2023