a king of the sixth dynasty, Old Kingdom. It is tempting to describe Pepy's reign as the zenith of the Old Kingdom, considering all his achievements, particularly the number of his architectural constructions and the quality of the works of art of his time. Despite some important recent discoveries, there are still many uncertainties regarding his reign. He was the son of Teti (r. 2374–2354 BCE) and of the queen Ipout. His titulature designated him as the Horus Meritawy (“beloved of the Two Lands”), “the son of Re, Pepy,” the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Meryre (“beloved of Re”), with the prenomen Nefersahor (“excellent is the protection of Horus”). This titulature is attested by diverse documents (such as vestiges of cartouches in his own tomb and inscriptions at Tomas, in Nubia). His reign was so long that historians disagree about its duration. A census of cattle was taken twenty-five times during his reign (meaning that he reigned for at least fifty years—and the Manethonian sources attribute fifty-three regnal years to him). [See MANETHO.]

Pepy I was a great builder. His name is found at Bubastis, Abydos, Dendera (confirming his attachment to the cult of the goddess Hathor), and in Elephantine; he sent expeditions to the Wadi Hammamat and the copper mines of the Sinai; his presence is known at Tomas, at Abydos, and throughout Nubia. As the great inscription of Unas at Abydos shows, the army of Pepy I intervened in the Palestinian confines. The provincial administration grew very powerful during his reign. His sed-festival was celebrated in his thirty-sixth year, as attested by a number of documents, some of which are beautiful calcite (Egyptian alabaster) vases. A small statue of the seated king, also in calcite (Egyptian alabaster), has been found, as has another in schist, in which he is kneeling in the pose of one making an offering. Especially notable are fragments of a metal statue found at Hierakonpolis, expressing a natural grandeur.

Pepy I's funerary complex, situated to the south of the middle part of the necropolis at Saqqara, has been the object of a long process of clearing. The French Archaeological Mission at Saqqara (MAFS) has gathered from the site many statues of kneeling prisoners, arms linked in front, their expressive faces presenting a striking ethnographical gallery of the peoples of Africa and the Near East. His pyramid was called Men-nefer-Pepy (“Pepy is stable and perfect”); this name, Men-nefer, is the origin of the designation of the nearby capital, transcribed by the ancient Greeks as Memphis. The pyramid was originally 50 meters (160 feet) in height, and so was easily visible from the valley. Today, however, it has been reduced to a mound only 10 meters (32 feet) high, since it was stripped away on all sides (each of which was 76 meters/240 feet long). During the clearing away of the funerary chamber, almost three thousand blocks and fragments of many dimensions were gathered, and by matching adjacent pieces the walls could therefore be put in place again. Their hieroglyphs are magnificently engraved, often retaining their painting, which is in an eternally fertile green. These reliefs furnish long sequences of the Pyramid Texts, the most ancient funerary compositions of humanity, intended for the resurrection of the pharaoh.

Pepy I

Pepy I. The rained mortnary temple of Pepy 1 at Saqqara. (Courtesy Dieter Arnold)

Several wives of Pepy I have been attested. There was a queen who was put aside after a harem conspiracy (and whose name has remained unknown). There were also two sisters from a noble family of Abydos, who were both named Ahkhesenpepy (or Ankhesenmerire). Through the excavations led by the MAFS to the immediate south of the king's pyramid, additional queens of Pepy I became known: Noubounet, Inenek/Inti (who carried the title of vizier), and Mehaa, the mother of a prince Horneterykhet. The continuing excavation should bring further discoveries.


  • Orientalia (Rome). Reports about the excavations of the MAFS in the funerary complexes of the king and his queens have been published regularly in the journal.
  • “Pepy I.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 6: 926–927. Wiesbaden, 1982.

Jean Leclant; Translated from French by Susan Romanosky