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Sneferu, ruled 2613-2589 BC


Sneferu was the first king of the Fourth Dynasty and he was ancient Egypt's greatest pyramid builder and was held in the highest esteem by later generations. As the son and successor of King Huni and Meresankh I, he was the first king to use the oval cartouche, as opposed to the rectangular serekh, to frame his name when it was written down.

Sneferu sent out quarrying expeditions to the Sinai turquoise mines at Maghara, and also sent successful military expeditions against the Libyans and Nubians to secure Egypt's borders.

During his reign the final smooth-sided form of the pyramid was perfected, with the king responsible for no fewer than four such constructions. His first was a step pyramid at Medum, with a much smaller version built at Seila, near the Fayum.

When Sneferu moved his court to Dahshur in his 15th regnal year, work began on a new pyramid at the site. Its sides at first were very steep, and cracks appeared as the building grew - so its angle of incline was decreased for the higher sections of the construction. This gave it a strange outline - hence the modern name the Bent Pyramid.

A further pyramid was built for the king at the same site, and this is now known as the Red (or Northern) Pyramid. This was Egypt's first true pyramid, and the model on which the more famous structures at Giza were based. It is also thought to be the tomb in which Sneferu was finally buried.

Although it is most likely the king's wife, Hetepheres I, was also originally buried at Dahshur, no tomb for her has been found, and her golden treasures were found at Giza, close to the pyramid of the couple's eldest son Khufu, who succeeded his father. It is thought the treasures were reburied there after her original tomb was robbed. Sneferu's other children included Rahotep, High Priest of Heliopolis and commander of the army. Together with his wife Nofret, he was buried in a large mastaba at Medum, where their superb statues were discovered in 1871.

It was during Sneferu's reign that the standard proportions of Egyptian art took shape, and with his impressive building programme it is not surprising that he was deified during the Middle Kingdom. The king also appears in a famous Middle Kingdom story, in which he is rowed across a lake by a group of semi-naked women - an amusing image, but one which may also represent the king as the sun god Ra, being rowed across the heavens by women displaying the attributes of Ra's daughter, Hathor.

Whatever the basis of the story, Sneferu was an inspiration to the later 'sun king' Amenhotep III, who took an active interest in his ancestor's achievements. Excavations at Dahshur have also revealed that incense was still being offered to Sneferu's memory 2,000 years after his death.

Source: BBC History Sneferu;; 05-Jan-2006, 16:42

Related articles
Statue of Sneferu from a niche in his Valley temple in Dashsur - Cairo Museum
Relief with scenes from Snefru's 30 Year Sed Jubilee - Metropolitan Museum
Painted limestone statues of Ra-Hotep and Nofret from Meidum (4th Dynasty, son of Sneferu) - Cairo Museum

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