Menkaure, the Last Great Pyramid Builder On the Giza Plateau

Menkaure, the Last Great Pyramid Builder On the Giza Plateau

By Jimmy Dunn

Menkaure's Cartouche

While the great pyramids of the Giza Plateau attest to the lofty rule of at least three of Egypt's early, 4th Dynasty rulers, we actually know very little about these men. Of course, one reason for this was the lack of inscriptions on their most dominate and enduring monuments, including the last and smallest of the Giza Pyramids built by Menkaure and named, "Menkaure is Divine". We believe that Menkaure, the pharaoh's birth name meaning "Eternal like the Souls of Re", (Greek Mycerinus or Mykerinus and known as Mencheres by Manetho), succeeded his Khafre (Chephren), his father, in about 2532 BC, during Egypt's Old Kingdom. There is some minor evidence that a king may have been interposed between Khafre and his son, presumably as a continuation of the putative power struggle that had followed the death of Khufu, but this is now considered unlikely. His mother is thought to have been Khameremebty I.

Menkaure and his Wife, Whameremebty II

He was married perhaps to three different queens, including Khameremebty II, who was his eldest sister. He had two sons that we know of, Khuenre, his eldest son who apparently died prior to Menkaure and was buried in a rock tomb (MQ 1) southeast of his father's pyramid, and Shepsekaft, who was his successor. he also had a daughter named Khentkawes.

Though information on Menkaure is lacking, we do know of several members of his court, including the viziers Iunmin and Nebemakhet. Sekhemkare, another sibling, is said to have served under no fewer than five pharaohs. We also know that there was probably Commercial or diplomatic activity outside of Egypt during his reign, for Egyptian object have been found at Byblos, north of Beirut, that date to his Menkaure's rule.

Traditional legend provides that Menkaure's reign was both benevolent and prosperous. Herodotus, who is our primary source of information on Menkaure, tells us that"

"...of all the kings who ruled Egypt,...the greatest reputation for justice... and for this the Egyptians give him higher praise than any other monarch."

However, this angered the gods, because they had decreed that Egypt would suffer 150 years of hardship, which had in fact been evident during the reigns of his father and his grandfather, Khufu. Both are said to have been particularly harsh during the building of their greater pyramids. These legends record that Menkaure reopened temples which had been closed to provide labor for his predecessor's pyramid construction, and repealed many of the more oppressive measures of his predecessors, which therefore was an affront to the gods. Therefore, the deities decreed, through the oracle of Buto, the ancient capital in the Delta whose patron goddess was Wadjet, the sacred cobra (Uraeus that protected the pharaoh, that Menkaure would only reign for six years, after which the oppression would return.

Mendaure is said to have considered this an unwarranted stricture and was determined to overcome it. Hence, he ordered that as night feel, candles were to be lit, and he continued to live by day and night, theoretically expanding his reign from six to twelve years. However, the gods would have their way, and Menkaure died after the six stipulated calendar years.

Menkaure's Pyramid at Giza

In reality, while Manetho ascribes Menkaure with a reign of 63 years, Egyptologists believe that he actually ruled for about 28 years (or at least, 26 years). That should have been long enough to built a much more substantial pyramid then his so-called "Third Pyramid" at Giza. Perhaps, therefore, he was in fact benevolent, not pushing his subjects so hard. However, it would almost seem that Menkaure was blessed by the gods, because far more statues survive of Menkaure than of his 4th Dynasty predecessors.

Menkaure, with Hathor on his right, and a nome figure on his left

Menkaure with Hathor on his right and a much smaller nome figure on his left

Menkaure with, in both statues, Hathor on his right, and nome figures on his left

In 1899, a number of archaeologists drew lots for the excavation of the Giza Pyramids on the balcony of the Mena House Hotel. The concession for Menkaure was won by George Reisner, who, between 1905 and 1927, the led the Harvard University/Boston Museum expeditions. Working the pyramid site and clearing the valley and mortuary temples at Giza, they found some truly remarkable slate statues. Discovered in the valley temple, they included a splendid triad groups of Menkaure accompanied by the goddess Hathor, who was given the features of his queen, Khamerernebty II. There were also statues of the king standing with nome (province) deities, including a number of fragments that may suggest there was once such statuary for each nome. The workmanship of these statues, which are now in the Egyptian Antiquity Museum in Cairo, is very high, particularly considering the difficulty of this type of stone. However, many of the statues that were discovered were not completed, as was his pyramid, which was later finished by his son and successor, suggesting that Menkaure may indeed have met a sudden death. It has also been suggested that his valley temple, which was also not completed prior to this king's death and was also probably completed by his son, was expanded to during the 5th and 6th Dynasties, suggesting that his cult following was very important and enduring.

Menkaure with Hathor on his right and a nome figure on his left

See also:

Herodotus on Menkaure






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