Merenre Nemtyemsaf I

Merenre Nemtyemsaf I (meaning "Beloved of Ra, Nemty is his protection") was an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh, the fourth king of the sixth dynasty. He ruled Egypt for six to 11 years in the 23rd century BC, succeeding his father Pepi I Meryre on the throne.


Merenre was the son of queen Ankhesenpepi I and king Pepi I,[note 2][3][15] who probably begot him in his old age.[16][6] Ankhesenpepi was a daughter of the nomarch of Abydos Khui and his wife Nebet[16][17] whom Pepi I made into a vizier during his reign, the sole women of the Old Kingdom period known to have held such a title.[18][19] Khui and Nebet's son, Merenre's uncle Djau served in the position of vizier under Merenre and Pepi II.[20] Merenre had a full sister in princess Neith.[20][21] Gustave Jéquier has proposed that Neith was married to Merenre, a possibility which Vivienne Callender observes is difficult to ascertain as Neith later remarried to Pepi II, explaining the absence of a tomb of her near Merenre's.[22]

Sixth dynasty royal seals and stone blocks found at Saqqara demonstrate that Merenre's aunt, queen Ankhesenpepi II[note 3] who married Pepy I was also married to Merenre. Since the South Saqqara Stone shows Merenre's reign intervened between Pepi I and Pepi II and lasted for a minimum of slightly over a decade, this indirectly indicates that Merenre I might have been Pepi II's father, rather than Pepi I as had been hitherto proposed.[24] Merenre had at least one daughter, Ankhesenpepi III, who became the wife of Pepi II,[25] and could also be the father of queen Iput II.[24]



The relative chronological position of Merenre Nemtyemsaf I within the sixth dynasty is secured. Historical sources and archaeological evidences agree that he succeeded Pepi I Meryre on the throne and was in turn succeeded by Pepi II Neferkare.

Merenre's reign is difficult to date precisely in absolute terms. An absolute chronology referring to dates in our modern calendar is estimated by Egyptologists working backwards by adding reign lengths—themselves uncertain and inferred from historical sources and archaeological evidence—and, in a few cases, using ancient astronomical observations and radiocarbon dates.[26] These methodologies do not agree perfectly and some uncertainty remains. As a result Merenre's rule is dated to some time around the early 23rd century BC.[note 1][27]


According to Egyptologists Jaromir Málek and Miroslav Verner, Merenre Nemtyemsaf I ascended the throne at an early age and died young.[28][2] According to Verner, he may have been appointed coregent by his father Pepy I Meryre who might have tried to make the succession of the throne more secure following an earlier conspiracy.[2] The hypothesis of a coregency is disputed by Vassil Dobrev and Michel Baud who analysed an heavily damaged contemporary royal annals, now known as the South Saqqara Stone. The annals strongly suggest that Merenre directly succeeded his father in power with no interregnum or coregency. More precisely, the document preserves the record of Pepi I's final year—his 25th count and proceeds immediately to the first year count of Merenre.[29]

Merenre's cartouche on the Abydos king list

He also began a process of royal consolidation, appointing Weni as the first governor of all of Upper Egypt and expanding the power of several other governors. While he was once assumed to have died at an early age, recent archaeological discoveries discount this theory. Two contemporary objects suggests that Merenre's reign lasted slightly more than a decade. The South Saqqara Stone Annals preserves his Year after the 2nd Count[30] whereas Merenre's Year after the 5th Count (Year 10 if the count was biennial) is attested in a quarry inscription from Hatnub Inscription No.6, according to Anthony Spalinger.[31]

The same South Saqqara Stone – which was created during Pepi II's reign – credits Merenre with a minimum reign of 11 to 13 years, however (based on a strictly biennial count), which would increase Merenre's reign length from the more traditional figure of 5 to 6 years.[32] The British Egyptologists Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson in a 1995 book raised Merenre I's reign from the traditional 6 year figure to 9 years.[33] However, they were unaware of the contents of the South Saqqara Stone which was published in the same year by Baud & Dobrev and shows that Merenre had a minimum reign of 11 years with no co-regency with his father, Pepi I. One must note that cattle counts were not always biennial; for example, 18 had been performed by the 30th year of Pepi I's reign. It is therefore entirely possible that Merenre ruled for fewer than 11 years.

Accession to the throne: coregencyEdit

Pepi's rule seem to have been troubled at times, with at least one conspiracy against him hatched by one of his harem consorts.[34] This may have given him the impetus to ally himself with Khui, the nomarch of Coptos, by marrying his daughters, queens Ankhesenpepi I and II.[note 4] Egyptologist Naguib Kanawati conjectures that Pepi faced another conspiracy toward the end of his reign, in which his vizier Rawer may have been involved. To support his theory, Kanawati observes that Rawer's image in his tomb has been desecrated, with his name, hands and feet chiselled off, while this same tomb is dated to the second half of Pepi's reign on stylistic grounds.[36] Kanawati further posits that the conspiracy may have aimed at having someone else made heir to the throne at the expense of the designated heir Merenre. Because of this failed conspiracy, Pepi I may have taken the drastic[note 5] step of crowning Merenre during his own reign,[40] thereby creating the earliest documented coregency in the history of Egypt.[36] That such a coregency took place was first proposed by Étienne Drioton who pointed to a gold pendant bearing the names of both Pepi I and Merenre I as living kings, implying that both ruled concurrently for some time.[41][42] In support of this hypothesis, Hans Goedicke mentions an inscription dated to Merenre's tenth year of reign from Hatnub, contradicting Manetho's figure of seven years for him. This could be evidence that Merenre dated the start of his reign before the end of his father's reign, as a coregency would permit.[43]

The smaller copper statue from Hierakonpolis, representing Merenre or a young Pepi I[44]

A possible further piece of evidence for a coregency[45] is given by two copper statues uncovered in an underground store beneath the floor of a Ka-chapel of Pepi in Hierakonpolis. There the Egyptologist James Quibell uncovered a statue of King Khasekhemwy of the Second Dynasty, a terracotta lion cub made during the Thinite era,[46] a golden mask representing Horus and two copper statues.[47] Originally fashioned by hammering plates of copper over a wooden base,[47][48] these statues had been disassembled, placed inside one another and then sealed with a thin layer of engraved copper bearing the titles and names of Pepi I "on the first day of the Heb Sed" feast.[46] The two statues were symbolically "trampling underfoot the Nine bows"—the enemies of Egypt—a stylized representation of Egypt's conquered foreign subjects.[49] While the identity of the larger adult figure as Pepi I is revealed by the inscription, the identity of the smaller statue showing a younger person remains unresolved.[46] The most common hypothesis among Egyptologists is that the young man shown is Merenre.[50] As Alessandro Bongioanni and Maria Croce write: "[Merenre] was publicly associated as his father's successor on the occasion of the Jubilee [the Heb Sed feast]. The placement of his copper effigy inside that of his father would therefore reflect the continuity of the royal succession and the passage of the royal sceptre from father to son before the death of the pharaoh could cause a dynastic split."[51] Alternatively, Bongioanni and Croce have also proposed the smaller statue may represent "a more youthful Pepy I, reinvigorated by the celebration of the Jubilee ceremonies".[52]

The existence of the coregency remains uncertain. The sixth dynasty royal annals bear no trace either for or against it, but the shape and size of the stone on which the annals are inscribed makes it more probable that Merenre did not start to count his years of reign until soon after the death of his father.[53][note 6] Furthermore, William J. Murnane writes that the gold pendant's context is unknown, making its significance regarding the coregency difficult to appraise. The copper statues are similarly inconclusive as the identity of the smaller one, and whether they originally formed a group, remains uncertain.[55]

Foreign relationsEdit

Drawing of a relief from Aswan showing Merenre receiving the submission of Lower Nubian chieftains

Merenre sent mining expeditions to Wadi Hammamat to collect greywacke and siltstone. Alabaster was extracted from Hatnub in the Eastern Desert,[34] a location where an expedition under the leadership of Weni was also tasked with quarrying of a very large travertine altar stone for the pyramid of Merenre.[56][57] In parallel, Egypt maintained diplomatic and trade relations with Byblos.[58]

Egyptian activities in Lower Nubia were sufficiently important during the later sixth dynasty that works were undertaken during Merenre's rule excavating a canal near modern-day Shellal[59] in order to facilitate the navigation of the first-cataract of the Nile.[58] At the time Nubian mercenaries were frequently employed as police force and in military campaigns.[58]

Toward the end of the Old Kingdom period, Nubia saw the arrival of the C-Group people from the south. Centered at Kerma they struggled intermittently with Egypt and its allies over the region[58] which was the source of incense, ebony, animal skins, ivory and exotic animals[58] brought back by caravans. Three Egyptian expeditions were sent by Merenre to procure luxury goods from Lower Nubia, were tribes had united to form a state,[60] into the land of Yam, possibly modern-day Dongola. These expeditions took place under the direction of the normach of Elephantine Harkhuf.[3] The first one lasted for seven months while the second took eight months.[3] On the third expedition Harkhuf encountered the king of Yam who was then warring against Tjemehu people, possibly Libyans, and joined his forces with those of Yam to defeat their adversaries, thereby gaining riches.[3] After these events, in his fifth year of reign, Merenre traveled south to Elephantine from his capital, probably to receive the submission of Nubian chieftains.[60] On the same occasion, he might also have visited the temple of Satet on Elephantine island to renew a granite shrine erected by Pepy I.[60]


Mummified head found in the sarcophagus of pharaoh Merenre I in his pyramid, possibly his

The pyramid of Merenre which the Ancient Egyptians named Khanefermerenre, variously translated as "Merenre appears in glory and his beautiful",[61] "The perfection of Merenre rises",[3] was built at South Saqqara. The pyramid is located some 450 metres (1,480 ft) to the south-west of the pyramid of Pepi I and a similar distance to the pyramid of Djedkare.[62]

The inner passages of the pyramid were inscribed with the pyramid texts.[63] A mummy was uncovered in the burial chamber. Forensic analyses indicated that it belonged to a young man, with possible traces of his sidelock of youth still visible.[64] The identity of the mummy remains uncertain as Elliott Smith, who performed the analyses, observed that the technique employed for the wrapping was typical of the eighteenth dynasty (fl. c. 1550–1292 BC) rather than the sixth.[21] Re-wrapping of older mummies are known to have occurred so that this observation does not necessarily preclude that the mummy be that of Merenre.[21]

For the remainder of the Old Kingdom period, the funerary cult of Merenre I had active priests even outside of his Saqqara mortuary temple, for example inscriptions in Elkab attest to the presence of priests of his cult officiating in or in the vicinity of the local temple of Nekhbet.[65]


  1. ^ a b Proposed dates for the reign of Merenre Nemtyemsaf I: 2361–2355 BC,[1] 2310–2300 BC,[2][3] 2287–2278 BC,[4][5][6] 2285–2279 BC,[7] 2283–2278 BC,[8] 2260–2254 BC,[9] 2255–2246 BC,[10][11] 2235–2229 BC,[7] 2227–2217 BC,[12] 2219–2212 BC.[13]
  2. ^ That Ankhesenpepi I was Merenre's mother is indicated by her titles, she notably bore the title of "mother of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt", title immediately followed by the name of Merenre's pyramid in her tomb inscriptions, a style which at the time indicated relation to the king.[14]
  3. ^ Ankhesenpepi II was either the full sister of the half sister of Ankhesenpepi I.[23]
  4. ^ The political importance of these marriages[35] is furthered by the fact that for the first and last time until the 26th Dynasty some 1800 years later, a woman, Khui's wife Nebet, bore the title of vizier of Upper Egypt. Egyptologists debate whether this title was purely honorific[18] or whether she really assumed the duties of a vizier.[19]
  5. ^ The drastic nature of Pepi's decision—if there was a coregency—is apparent on noting the Ancient Egyptians conception of the kingship as "rulership by a single individual holding a supreme office in a lifelong tenure, most often succeeding on a hereditary principle and wielding [...] great personal power".[37] The emphasis on a single individual holder follows from the Ancient Egyptians' perception of the king as a divine being, offspring of Ra, who upholds Egypt's unity and prosperity as well as the cosmic order preordained by the gods and playing the crucial role of mediator between the people and the gods, with the capacity of conveying the gods' messages and will.[38] The king not only had these unique roles but the institution of kingship was perceived as a divinely established order guarding Egypt against chaos.[39][38]
  6. ^ The royal annals mention the feast of the union of the two lands concerning Merenre, a feast normally celebrated once, shortly after the death of a king with the start of his successor's reign. Since it is very unlikely that this feast was celebrated twice for Merenre (that is once at the start of the coregency and once more at the death of his father), Baud and Dobrev deem it likely that the feast happened only once at Pepi's death (as would be normal) and hence everything written on the annals after the mention of the feast must have recorded Merenre's sole reign, had there been a coregency prior to that point or not. While almost all the inscriptions pertaining to Merenre's sole reign are now illegible, the space available for them on the royal annals shows that he may have been sole king for 11 to 14 years. This can be known because every occasion of a cattle count was written in a devoted and well-delimited case in the annals, and these cases are of roughly consistent sizes, allowing a good estimation of the maximum number of illegible cases. That Merenre reigned over a decade as sole king cannot easily be reconciled with Manetho's claim that he reigned only seven years by invoking seven years of sole reign plus an additional number of years as coregent as proponents of the coregency, including Goedicke, had done.[54]


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