The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt

By W. Stevenson Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
DYNASTY V 2565-2420 B.C.

IF Weserkaf was the son of Radedef's daughter Nefer-hetep-s1 and married Khent- kaw-s, a descendant of the main line of kings, there would have been combined in this first reign of Dynasty V the two conflicting strains in the royal family of Dynasty IV.2 Certainly Khent-kaw-s formed the connexion between Dynasties IV and V, as had Queen Ny-maat-hap, the mother of Zoser, at the end of Dynasty II, and Hetep-heres I, the mother of Cheops, at the beginning of Dynasty IV, although the factors governing these changes in dynasty are still far from clear. It is likely that Khent-kaw-s was the mother of both Sahura and Neferirkara, who succeeded Weserkaf in that order. Some hint of this in folk tradition is to be found in the legend of the Westcar Papyrus, which makes the first three kings of Dynasty V the offspring of the sun god Ra and the wife of a priest of one of his sanctuaries.3 This story picturesquely stresses the dominant position of the priesthood of Heliopolis and the cult of Ra in Dynasty V, which is evident from the records of temple building and endowments and the introduction of Sun Temples into the Western Necropolis. The first of these was built by Weserkaf near Abusir, a little north of Saqqara.

It is evident in many ways that the royal house had been weakened through family strife, the expenditure of the resources of the country upon tremendous building projects, and the breaking up of the king's lands by the assignment of estates for funerary purposes to an ever-widening circle of dependants. The viziership was no longer held by a close relative of the king. In fact, the great official posts were seldom occupied by princes in Dynasty V. The tight personal control of the state by the king must have been considerably relaxed. A few rock-cut tombs began to appear in the provinces, built by men who preferred to be buried in their own districts rather than near the court. While negligible in number they provide a first hint of the dangerous decentralization which was to take place in Dynasty VI, leading to the independence of the various provincial districts, particularly in Upper Egypt, at the end of the Old Kingdom and in the First Intermediate Period. The royal pyramids were planned on a smaller scale and were less solidly built. However, work on the great buildings at Giza had trained such a large body of able craftsmen that the decoration of the temples of these monuments of Dynasty V was carried out in a fashion hitherto unequalled.

Accidents of preservation have blurred our impression of the use of sculpture in the royal temples. The huge granite head of Weserkaf from his pyramid temple4 testifies that the taste for the colossal, which was spectacularly displayed in the Giza Sphinx of Chephren, continued into the early part of Dynasty V. However, the large scale of the preceding period diminishes in sculpture, as in architecture, and the few other royal statues which have survived are smaller and less fine in quality. Some use was still made

-65-

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