Thursday, March 19, 2015
The dominance of the Step Pyramid complex is something of a mixed blessing for ancient historians. It certainly highlights the reign of Netjerikhet as a period of great artistic, architectural and administrative innovation. However, it tends to obscure the king’s other accomplishments and the evidence for his activities in other parts of Egypt. Only fragments now survive of a decorated shrine from Heliopolis (W.S.Smith 1949:133–7, figs 48–53). The scenes in raised relief may be connected with the celebration of a Sed-festival and/or with the ennead (assembly of nine gods) worshipped at Heliopolis.
The pyramid complex had been developed by the rulers of the Old Kingdom as the customary burial place for kings, and it appeared in its earliest form as the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. From this design, perhaps intended to represent a ramp or ‘stairway’ to enable the deceased ruler to ascend and to join the gods in the sky, the Egyptians developed the true pyramid form, best exemplified by the famous three pyramids of Cheops, Chephren and Mycerinus at Giza. The true pyramid may be an attempt to represent in stone the form and appearance of a sun’s ray and again to provide the king, whose body rested within the pyramid, with a means of access to the sky. There are various indications that the development of the true pyramid was closely associated with the increased importance of the Solar cult, centred around the worship of Rec, the Sun-god. This cult, particularly linked to the kingship in the Old Kingdom, promoted the belief of the king’s divinity as the Sun-god’s son. It was envisaged that the king upon death would join Rec in his barque, journeying across the skies, and that he therefore needed a means of ascent. However, he was also believed to descend to re-occupy his mummified body which was placed in the pyramid, and to partake of the essence of the food offerings presented to the dead king through the medium of his mortuary ritual.
The pyramid itself was only one element in a complex of buildings, designed to ensure the king’s resurrection and the continuation of his power as a ruler in the hereafter. In the Old Kingdom it was believed that the king alone enjoyed an individual afterlife, and all his subjects experienced eternity only through him. Later, in the Middle Kingdom, when a process of democratisation occurred in funerary and religious beliefs, every individual might expect a chance of eternity. The idea of a pyramid had been fully developed by the early 4th Dynasty, and indeed the second pyramid at Giza, built for Chephren, is the best-preserved example of this type which later became the standard layout. It consisted of a Valley Building, a covered Causeway, a Mortuary Temple, and the pyramid itself.