fourth king of the fourth dynasty, Old Kingdom. The son of Khufu, Khafre (or Khephren to the ancient Greeks), is best known as the owner of the second pyramid at Giza. As with the other kings of that dynasty, written records that date to his reign are scarce; even information on family relationships and the lengths of individual reigns at that time may often be conjectural. Two of his wives are known: Meresankh II, the daughter of his brother Kawab, and his chief wife, Khamerernebty. His eldest son, Menkaure, builder of the third pyramid at Giza, succeeded him. Two other sons are recognized: Nikaure and Sekhemkare. His daughter Khamerernebty II became Menkaure's chief queen. Khafre succeeded his brother, Djedefre, who had ruled for eight years. Ideologically, Khafre continued Djedefre's promotion of the cult of the sun god Re by using the title “Son of the Sun” for himself and by incorporating the name of the god in his own.

Khafre

Khafre. Pyramid of Khafre at Giza. (Courtest Dieter Arnold)

Khafre built his pyramid at Giza next to that of his father. His pyramid complex has survived better than many others, in part because of the innovative construction method of using massive core blocks of limestone encased in fine lining slabs. The whole complex served as a temple for the resurrected god-king after his funeral, with statues incorporated into the design of both the mortuary and valley temples. There exist emplacements for more than fifty-four large statues of the king. None of the statues from the mortuary temple has survived, and it has been suggested that they were recycled in the New Kingdom. All the lining slabs were also removed in antiquity, and with them any inscriptions and reliefs; only the megalithic core blocks remain. Khafre's valley temple, however, is one of the best-preserved from ancient Egypt. Fragments of several statues of the king were discovered there, including the famous diorite statue of the king seated on a lion throne with the falcon of Horus behind his head, reflecting the belief that the king was a living incarnation of that god. Each of the two entrances to this temple were once flanked by a pair of sphinxes 8 meters (26 feet) long. The only remaining inscriptions in the building are around the entrance doorways; they list the king's names and titles, those of the goddess Bastet (north doorway), and those of Hathor (south doorway). Recent work in front of the valley temple has revealed the location of a ritual purification tent and two ramps with underground tunnels that extend toward the valley.

Next to the valley temple, the Great Sphinx lies inside its own enclosure. Its position next to Khafre's causeway and certain architectural details indicate that it was an integral part of the pyramid area; that colossal lion statue with the head of the king, carved out of a sandstone outcrop, represents Khafre as the god Horus presenting offerings to the sun god. From the eighteenth dynasty forward, the Sphinx was a symbol of kingship and a place of pilgrimage, and a small chapel was erected between its paws.

Political events of Khafre's reign can be deduced only from scant archaeological remains and rare inscriptions, which show that his workmen were exploiting the diorite quarries at Toshka in Nubia and that expeditions were sent to Sinai. His name was found on a list of other fourth dynasty kings at Byblos, implying diplomatic and commercial links.

Like his father Khufu, Khafre was depicted in folk tradition as a harsh, despotic ruler. His pyramid complex was used as a quarry in the late New Kingdom, and the lining slabs and statues were removed to adorn other temples and royal establishments. By the Late period, however, the cults of the fourth dynasty kings had been revived, and Giza had become a focus for pilgrimage.

Bibliography

  • Hawass, Z. “The Excavation in Front of the Valley Temple of Khafre: The ibw and the R-s'.” Mitteilungen des Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Abteilung Kairo.

Zahi Hawass