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Slate statue of Neferefre.
Slate statue of Neferefre.

Neferefre may not be amongst the most high profile of Egyptian pharaohs, however, he is one of the most thoroughly documented kings of the Old Kingdom’s (c. 2613-2181 BCE) Fifth Dynasty.

Inscriptions, texts and artifacts discovered in his mortuary temple have given Egyptologists fresh insights into elements of life in ancient Egypt during the time of the Old Kingdom. From these sources, archaeologists have glimpsed a previously veiled world of ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, commercial transactions and trading relationships.

Facts About Neferefre

  • Known as Raneferef as a prince, he changed his name to Neferefre when he ascends the throne
  • Son of the Pharaoh Neferirkare and Queen Khentkaus II
  • Neferefre was on the throne for between two and seven years
  • Little is known about either his short reign, his life or his death
  • Neferefre appears to have died in his early 20s
  • The pyramid of Abusir has yield significant archaeological evidence about Egyptian life during the Fifth Dynasty but many mysteries remain to be solved.

Neferefre’s Royal Lineage

Neferefre was the first son and crown prince of the Pharaoh Neferirkare and his Queen Kehentkaus II. The list of kings that has come down to us in the Turin Kings list is unclear as to how long Neferefre reigned, however, his time on the throne is thought to have been brief at between two and seven years.

Since they first excavated Neferefre’s tomb, Egyptologists have been searching for evidence of his wives or children. It wasn’t until January 2015 that the discovery of a previously unknown tomb in Neferefre’s funeral complex was announced. In the tomb, the archaeologists found a mummy thought to belong to a Queen. The mummy was subsequently identified as Khentakawess III from an inscription giving her rank and name on her tomb’s walls.

Archaeologists have not unearthed any evidence pointing to Neferefre’s year of birth. However, there is a date corresponding with his assumption of the throne upon his father’s death around c. 2460 B.C.

What’s in a Name?

Known as Ranefer or Neferre, which translates, as “Re is beautiful,” when he was the crown prince, he later changed his name to Neferefre, which means “beautiful,” upon assuming the throne. During his short rule, Neferefre appeared to hold several names and titles, including the Lord of Stability, Izi, Ranefer, Netjer-nub-nefer, Neferre, Nefer-khau and Nefer-em-nebty.

A Reign Interrupted

Neferefre is thought to have died around c. 2458 B.C. Egyptologists suspect he was somewhere between 20 and 23 years old when he died.

Despite the wealth of information found in his tomb, Egyptologists still know comparatively little about Neferefre’s childhood years or his short reign as Pharaoh. At the time of his death, Neferefre had initiated the construction of his pyramid in Abusir near that his father and mother.

Surviving references also point to Neferefre beginning construction of an elaborate sun temple. Referred to by ancient Egyptians as Hotep-Re or “Re’s Offering Table,” the temple was built under the supervision of Neferefre’s overseer Ti. To date, the location of the temple remains unknown.

Unfinished Pyramid

Neferefre’s premature death caused problems for his construction projects. His pyramid remained unfinished and he was interred in a mastaba tomb. Rather than assuming a classical pyramid shape, it was abbreviated into a shortened pyramid with sides angled at around 78 degrees. Documents found in his temple explain that both its construction crew and the adherents in the pharaoh’s funerary cult knew the modified tomb unofficially as the “Mound.”

As is all too often the case, Neferefre’s tomb was plundered in antiquity. Its small size made for easy access. When the tomb was rediscovered, archaeologists unearthed very little in the way of valuable grave goods. The tomb itself was befitting a pharaoh. Pink granite was used to line Neferefre’s tomb. The remains of a mummy believed to be King Neferefre, together with the remnants of a pink sarcophagus, alabaster offering containers and Canopic jars were also in excavated in the tomb.

Neferefre’s Mortuary Temple

To Neferefre’s successor fell the task of building his mortuary temple and completing his tomb. While texts show Shepseskare a relative ruled briefly following on from Neferefre, construction of Neferefre’s mortuary temple is credited to the Pharaoh Niuserre. Rather than a traditional Fifth Dynasty site, Neferefre’s mortuary temple is set beside his incomplete pyramid. Known to the pharaoh’s mortuary cult as the “Divine are the souls of Neferefre,” the temple was home to the cult well through to the Old Kingdom’s Sixth Dynasty.

Archaeologists found numerous fragments of statues of Neferefre within the walls of the temple. Six statues while damaged were found almost complete. A large cache of papyri, faience ornaments and frit tables were unearthed in storage areas within the temple.

Reflecting on the Past

The Neferefre hoard effectively doubled the Old Kingdom texts available to Egyptologists. These exciting discoveries enabled Egyptologists to gradually piece together much of what we know about Egypt’s ancient history.

Header Image Courtesy: Juan R. Lazaro [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

David Rymer BA MBT

David is a freelance writer, non-fiction and fiction author and university lecturer in journalism, marketing and law. He has been based in the Middle East for over a decade travelling extensively in the region, including Egypt indulging in his passion for archaeology. He amuses himself in his down time by writing.

David can be found at @daviddoeswords and www.zaharablu.com

Cite this article

David Rymer BA MBT, "Neferefre," Give Me History, April 8, 2019, https://givemehistory.com/neferefre.

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