last important king of the sixth dynasty, Old Kingdom. According to traditional historiography, Pepy II was Horus Neter-Khâou (“deity of apparitions”), the “son of Re” Neferkare (“the ka of Re is perfect”), the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Pepy. After his reign, a poorly know period of Egyptian history began, leading into the First Intermediate Period. Possibly the increasing status of the governors of the nomes resulted from a weakening of the royal power brought about by the advanced age of Pepy II. Admittedly, though, many of the facts necessary to understand the fall of the Old Kingdom are missing.

Pepy II was only six years old when his predecessor Merenre Antyemsaf died; a magnificent statue in the Brooklyn Museum shows, in exceptional fashion, the very young king seated on the knees of his mother. He was traditionally thought to have reigned until his hundreth year, thereby enjoying the longest reign in world history. New readings of the documents, however, significantly lower the duration. In fact, only one date is known, the “thirty-third census year,” which would be the sixty-sixth year of his reign.

Pepy II

Pepy II.. The Pyramid of Pepy II at Saqqara. (Courtesy Dieter Arnold)

Many famous inscriptions date from this period. Horkhuf, in his rock-cut tomb at Aswan, tells the story of the trade missions that he led to the South, as far as the country of Yam, in order to bring back “all kinds of rare and excellent products”; he also brought back a pygmy (from the forests of Central Africa) for the pleasure of his sovereign. Soon, Egypt's relations with the countries to its south became difficult. The prince and chancellor Mehu was killed there; his remains were brought back by his son Sabni in the course of another mission. In another direction, to the northwest of Egypt, signs of Pepy II are present in the oasis of the Libyan desert. At Byblos, to the northeast in Syria-Palestine, vases with his name attest to the pursuit of active commercial exchanges there.

The funerary complex of Pepy II, situated at South Saqqara, was excavated in the 1930s and published by the Swiss archaeologist Gustave Jéquier; the sanctuary is decorated with some excellent bas-reliefs. The pyramid, called Men-ankh-Pepy (“Pepy endures and lives”), had concealed in its funerary chamber many passages of the Pyramid Texts, which are also present in the remains of the pyramids of three of his queens: Neith, Ipuit (Apuit), and Wedjebten.


  • Beckerath, Jürgen von “Pepy II.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 6: 927–929. Wiesbaden, 1982.
  • Jéquier, Gustave. Les pyramides des reines Neit et Apouit. Cairo, 1933.
  • Jéquier, Gustave. Le monument funéraire de Pépi II. 3 vol. Cairo, 1936–1940.

Jean Leclant; Translated from French by Susan Romanosky