Egypt: Neferirkare Kakai, Third King of the Old Kingdom 5th Dynasty

Neferirkare Kakai

by Jimmy Dunn

Neferirkare Kakai

Documenting kings of ancient Egypt can be daunting, particularly with those such as Neferirkara Kakai. We actually know more about one of his officials named Ty, who was the overseer of the pyramid complexes and sun temples under both Neferirkara and other kings, then we do about Neferirkara himself. Much more is known about Neferirkare's brother, Sahure, who ruled Egypt just prior to Neferirkare, and to Shepseskare, who ruled just after him. He was probably the son of Userkaf, the first king of the 5th Dynasty, and a Queen Khntkawes, who's pyramid is situated next to Neferirkara's at Abusir. His immediate successors were also buried at Abusir.

However, Neferirkare's pyramid complex remained unfinished, and its valley temple and causeway were later incorporated by Nyuserra into his own pyramid complex. We also know that he built a Sun Temple, a trend begun by Userkaf. However, no remains of this temple have so far been discovered.

His throne name was Nefer-ir-ka-re (Beautiful is the Soul of Re) while his birth name was Kakai. He was the third king of the Old Kingdom 5th dynasty, ruling from about 2477 until 2467 BC, obviously a very short reign, though Egyptologists argue both the dates for his reign as well as the length of his reign. Neferirkara is notable for two very specific reason. He was the first king to have employed both a prenomen and nomen (he had two names and two cartouches), a custom that later kings would follow. Also, papyrus found in his pyramid complex were written in ink and are the earliest known documents in hieratic script, a cursive form of hieroglyphics.

Neferirkare Kakai

The hieratic papyrus found at his pyramid complex are probably his most notable contributions to Egyptology. They were originally discovered in 1893 by local farmers and consist of 300 papyrus fragments. They remained unpublished for some seventy-five years, even as the first archaeologists were excavating Abusir. Only later did a Czech mission, which explored the site in 1976, take full advantage of these documents.

The Neferirkara archive reveals a world of detailed and very professional administration. Elaborate tables provide monthly rosters of duty: for guarding the temple, for fetching the daily income (or 'offerings') and for performing ceremonies including those on the statues, with a special roster for the important Feast of Seker. Similar tables list the temple equipment, item by item and grouped by materials, with details of damage noted at a monthly inspection. Other records of inspection relate to doors and rooms in the temple building. The presentation of monthly income is broken down by substance, source and daily amount. The commodities are primarily types of bread and beer, meat and fowl, corn and fruit. They also mention a mortuary temple of a little-known king, Raneferef, who's tomb was yet to be discovered but thanks to these papyrus, is now known and has yielded significant discoveries.