Egypt: Pepi I, 2nd Ruler of the 6th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt

Pepi I, 2nd Ruler of the 6th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt

by Jimmy Dunn

Pepi I, 2nd Ruler of the 6th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt

Pepi I was the second ruler of Egypt's 6th Dynasty, a period that would eventually fall into the abyss of the First Intermediate Period. Pepi I was this pharaoh's birth name, though we may also find him listed as Pepy I, Piopi I, Pipi and the Greek Phiops. His throne name was Mery-re, meaning "Beloved of Re", though he actually used the throne name, Nefersahor during the first half of his reign, later changing it to Mery-re. He ruled Egypt from about 2332 through 2283 BC. He probably ascended the throne as an early age, and appears to have ruled for some 50 years (or at least 40 years).

Pepi I, 2nd Ruler of the 6th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt

It is entirely possible that Pepi I did not follow his father to the throne. Kings Lists include the name of a King Userkara between that of Teti and Pepi I, and it may be that this king usurped the throne for a short time.

He was probably the son of Teti and his queen, Iput I. Though he may have had at least six, the wives of Pepi I that we know of were Ankhnesmerire I and II (Sometimes also found as Meryre-ankh-nas), who were the daughters of an influential official (Probably governor of the region) at Abydos named Khui. Pepi I made his brother-in-law, we believe a son of Khui named Djau, vizier. A woman named Were-Imtes may have been his first wife but some Egyptologists have suggested that she might not have been his wife at all.. It may have been Were-Imtes who plotted a conspiracy against her husband from the harem, but she was found out and punished. This happened in the twenty-first cattle census, or about year 42 of the king's rule. An accomplice in this plot might have been Rewer, a vizier of Pepi I who's name has been erased from his tomb. However, Callender has suggested that the conspiracy was not by one of Pepi's queens, but was instead a plot by perhaps the mother of the mysterious King Userkare. Basically, there is considerable confusion between the explanations provided by various Egyptologists about this conspiracy.

Pepi I, 2nd Ruler of the 6th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt

Ankhnesmerire II holds the infant Pepi II

Apparently, he married Ankhnesmerire I late in his rule, perhaps even after the harem conspiracy, and may have married her younger sister after the first sister's death, but this is by no means clear. His sons, Merenre (by Ankhnesmerire I) and Pepi II (by Ankhnesmerire II) would rule Egypt through the end of the 6th Dynasty. He also had a daughter by Ankhnesmerire I called Neith, who would later marry her half brother Pepi II. It appears that Pepi II was born either just before or soon after Pepi I's death. Pepi I may have had a number of other wives, including a Nebuunet (Nebwenet) and Inenek-Inti, who's small pyramids are near his at South Saqqara. An inscription has also been found documenting another queen, perhaps from Upper Egypt, named Nedjeftet. Other family members, though we are not so sure of their relationships, probably included a woman named Meretites, and another woman named Ankhesenpepi (or Ankhnesmerire) III. Very recently, (June 2000) we are told by Dr. Zahi Hawass of another pyramid that has been discovered by the French team near Pepi I's that appears to be that of Ankhnesmerire II, though in this report she is referred to as Ankhes-en Pepi.

At least four statues of the king have survived, including the earliest known life size sculpture in metal. This state cane from the temple of Hierakonpolis (Nikhen) in upper Egypt and is made of copper. Found with it was also a copper statue of his young son and future king, Merenre. Other statues include a small green statue of the king probably making offerings to gods, and a small alabaster statue of Pepi I holding the royal crossed flail and scepter (crook).

We know that the reign of Pepi saw the rising influence and wealth of nobles outside the royal court, a condition that perhaps had much to do with a decline into the First Intermediate Period. These nobles built fine tombs for themselves and often boasted of privileges resulting from friendship with Pepi I.

Pepi I, 2nd Ruler of the 6th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt

Copper statue of Pepi I and Merenre

We also know that Pepi I initiated a number of trading and other expeditions, often for fine stone to be used in his many building projects. One inscription found at the alabaster quarries at Hatnub is dated to year 50 of his reign. It refers to the 25th cattle count, which was a biennial event. He was also active at the Wadi Maghara turquoise and copper quarries in the Sinai, the greywacke and siltstone quarries of Wadi Hammamat, where his first Sed Festival is mentioned. We believe he also maintained diplomatic and commercial relations with Byblos and Ebla.

He may have also sent expeditions to the mines of Sinai and as far away as Palestine. The expedition into Palestine was led by a person named Weni the Welder (Uni?) and involved landing troops from the sea. A single inscription is the only document of the five campaigns led under Pepi I Palestine, the Land of the Sand Dwellers as the Egyptians called the regions east of Egypt.

His majesty sent me to lead this army 5 times to subdue the land of the Sand Dwellers, every time they rebelled, with these troops. I acted so that his majesty praised me for it. Told that there were rebels amongst these foreigners at the 'Nose-of-the-Gazelle's-head' I crossed in ships, together with these troops. I put to land at the back of the height of the mountain range to the north of the land of the Sand-Dwellers, while (the other) half of this army were travelling by land. I turned back, I obstructed all of them and slew every rebel amongst them.

From the autobiography of Weni the Elder

Pepi I, 2nd Ruler of the 6th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt

Pepi I probably did considerable building but little of it remains, as such. Some of his building projects were probably incorporated into later projects, but he did leave behind many inscriptions. Building projects of Pepi I include the remains of a chapel (Hwt-ka) at Bubastis, as well as projects at Elephantine and Abydos. He may have carried out work at Dendara too. He built his pyramid at South Saqqara and the Pyramid Text inscribed on the pyramid walls were the first to be found by Egyptologists, though not the first recorded in a pyramid. This pyramid was called Mn-nfr, meaning (Pepi is) established and good". The corruption of this name by classical writers provided our modern name for Egypt's ancient capital, Memphis. His palace may have been very near his pyramid in South Saqqara.

Pepi is further attested to by decrees found at Dahshure (now in Berlin) and Coptos. He was mentioned in biographies of Weni in his tomb at Abydos, Djaw from his tomb at Abydos, Ibi in his tomb at Deir el-Gabrawi, Meryankhptahmeryre in his tomb at Giza, Qar in hist tomb at Edfu and the biography on a tomb at Saqqara by an unknown person.

Author's Thoughts

Pepi I, 2nd Ruler of the 6th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt

There are a number of interesting questions to be answered about this period. Unas, the last king of the 5th Dynasty began to distance himself from the sun cult so closely connected to the earlier dynasty rulers. However, he did not seem to completely withdraw from this cult. But by the time of Teti, the first ruler of the 6th Dynasty, ties seem to have been severed. He was murdered, we are told and then we find perhaps a new king usurping the throne of Egypt named Userkare. His name means the "Ka of Ra is powerful", reflecting back on the old sun cult. When Pepi I does ascend the throne, perhaps only after a year of rule by Userkare, he has the name of Userkare removed wherever possible, as one might imagine he would under the circumstances. However, Pepe I himself is next the subject of a plot, who at least a few Egyptologists believe might have been initiated by the mother of Userkare. Most resources explain the murder of Teti, the ascension to the throne of Userkare and the plot against Pepi I as three different events, but could much of the trouble of this period have been the results of the pharaohs' abandonment of the sun cult? We also see Pepi I reaching out to the power structure of Abydos, perhaps as allies. This is all simply speculation, historical fiction if you will allow, but the point being is that there is much left to be learned about this period of Egypt's history.


Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Chronicle of the Pharaohs (The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt) Clayton, Peter A. 1994 Thames and Hudson Ltd ISBN 0-500-05074-0
History of Ancient Egypt, A Grimal, Nicolas 1988 Blackwell None Stated
Monarchs of the Nile Dodson, Aidan 1995 Rubicon Press ISBN 0-948695-20-x
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2