Sneferu

King c.2613-2589 BC.
    Sneferu, the successor of *Huni, inaugurated the Fourth Dynasty and ushered in a new era. Later generations remembered his importance, and he was one of the few kings accorded a cult, receiving worship in particular at the turquoise mines in Sinai.
    Details of only six years of his reign (he ruled for over twenty-four years) are preserved on the Palermo Stone and on the large Cairo fragment: great ships were built of cedar and other coniferous wood, and forty shiploads of cedar were brought to Egypt, some of which was used to make the doors of a palace. The cedar probably came from *Byblos, the port on the Syrian coast with which the Egyptians had established sea-trade from early times.
    In a successful raid against the *Nubians, Sneferu claimed to have brought back seventy thousand captives and two hundred thousand head of cattle, and his activity probably helped to subdue *Nubia and to establish a situation which enabled his successors to obtain hard stone from the south for their monumental building projects. Sneferu was also active in Sinai and, in a rock-carving in Wadi Maghara, he is shown smiting a local chieftain. He and his successors followed a tradition of raids which allowed the Egyptians to gain control over the turquoise mines of this area. He also campaigned against the *Tjehnyu Libyans and brought back a large quantity of booty.
    Sneferu's claim to the throne was probably enhanced by his marriage to the princess *Hetepheres who became the mother of his heir, *Cheops. Sneferu's mother, Meresankh, was a minor queen of *Huni but she had sufficient influence to ensure her son's succession to the throne.
    Later generations remembered Sneferu as a liberal, well-intentioned and beneficent ruler, in contrast to his descendants, *Cheops and *Chephren. In the Westcar Papyrus, the story relates the ways in which magicians sought to entertain various rulers of the Old Kingdom, and Sneferu was portrayed as a good-humoured individual who was drawn out of his boredom when he was rowed on the palace lake by a team of beautiful girls. His most enduring monument is supplied by the two or possibly three pyramids that are attributed to him; more than anything else, these emphasise his great political and economic power.
    The pyramid at Medum (about thirty-three miles south of Saqqara) is the earliest of these, and in fact may have been started by *Huni but completed by Sneferu. It was first constructed as a Step Pyramid but subsequently the eight steps were filled in to attempt to achieve a smooth, four-sided structure. A short distance from Saqqara, at Dahshur, Sneferu built two substantial pyramids. The southern one is known as the Bent or Rhomboidal Pyramid because, at a point halfway along its height, the angle of the incline is suddenly reduced. In the associated Valley Building, excavations have revealed an important series of wall-reliefs which show female offering-bearers; these personified the king's funerary estates in the various districts of Egypt and indicate that the administrative system was already well-established.
    The northern monument is the first example of a true pyramid; it rises to over three hundred and ten feet in height but the angle of incline is approximately the same as that of the upper section of the Bent Pyramid. Although various suggestions have been offered, there is no conclusive explanation as to why one ruler built two or even three pyramids.
BIBL. Le Maystre, C. Les dates des pyramides de Sneferou. BIFAO 35 (1935) pp. 89 ff; Petrie, W.M.F. Meydum. London: 1892; Fakhry, A. The Bent Pyramid of Dahshur. Cairo: 1954; Mendelssohn, K. A building disaster at the Meidum Pyramid. JEA 59 (1973) pp. 60-71 ; Batrawi, A. The skeletal remains from the Northern Pyramid of Sneferu. Ann. Serv. 51 (1951) pp. 435-40.
Biographical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Rosalie and Antony E. David

Ancient Egypt. A Reference Guide. . 2011.

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