The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Fourth dynasty of Egypt

Nomen dates of reign
(in BC)
Sneferu 2613-2589
Khufu 2589-2566 Greek form Cheops
Djedefra 2566-2558 Sometimes transliterated Radjedef
Khafra 2558-2532 Greek form Chephren
here some authorities insert Bikheris, following Manetho
Menkaura 2532-2503 Greek form Mycerinus
Shepseskaf 2503-2498
here some authorities insert Thampthis, following Manetho

The Fourth dynasty of Egypt was the second of the four dynasties considered forming the Old Kingdom. The Pharaohs of this dynasty include some of the best-known kings of ancient Egypt, known for constructing pyramids, perhaps the hallmark of Egypt. All of the kings of this dynasty commissioned at least one pyramid to serve as a tomb or cenotaph. Like the Third dynasty, these kings maintained their capital at Memphis.

Sneferu, the dynasty's founder, is known to have commissioned three pyramids, and some believe he was responsible for a fourth. So although Khufu, his successor and son by Hetepheres, erected the largest pyramid in Egypt, Sneferu had more stone and brick moved than any other Pharaoh.

Khufu (Greek Cheops), his son Khafra (Greek Chephren), and his grandson Menkaura (Greek Mycerinus) all achieved lasting fame in the construction of their pyramids. To organize and feed the manpower needed to create these pyramids required a centralized government with extensive powers, and Egyptologists believe the Old Kingdom at this time demonstrated this level of sophistication. Although it was once believed that slaves built these monuments, study of the pyramids and their environs have shown that they were built by a corvee of peasants drawn from across Egypt, who apparently worked while the annual Nile flood covered their fields. While the pyramids suggest that Egypt enjoyed unparalleled prosperity during the Fourth dynasty, they survived as a reminder to the inhabitants of the forced labor that created them, and these kings -- Khufu in particular -- were remembered as tyrants: first in the Papyrus Westcar , and millennia later in legends recorded by Herodotus (Histories, 2.124-133).

The archetype of the Turin King List, which otherwise records all of the names of the kings of this dynasty, has two names missing, which the scribe indicated with the Egyptian word wsf ("missing"). Sextus Julius Africanus reports Manetho had the names Bikheris and Thamphthis in those positions, while Eusebius does not mention either. Some authorities (such as K.S.B. Ryholt) follow Africanus in adding a possible Egyptian version of these names to the list; others omit them entirely.

The eariest known records of Egypt's contact with her neighbors are dated to this dynasty. The Palermo stone records the arrival of 40 ships laden with timber from an unnamed foreign land in the reign of Sneferu. The names of Khufu and Djedefra were inscribed in gneiss quarries in the Western Desert 65 km. to the northwest of Abu Simbel; objects dated to the reigns of Khufu, Khafra and Menkaura have been uncovered at Byblos and to the reign of Khafra even further away at Ebla, evidence of diplomatic gifts or trade.

It is unclear how this dynasty came to an end. Our only clue is that a number of Fourth dynasty administrators are attested as remaining in office in the Fifth dynasty under Userkaf.

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04