Pyramid of Pharaoh Menkaure

   Posted by: Keith Payne   

Categories: Old Kingdom, Lower Egypt, Pyramids, The Giza Plateau

man-tabPerhaps it would be a stretch to call Menkaure’s Pyramid modest, but it is significantly smaller than those of Khufu and Khafre.  He is recalled much more fondly than his autocratic grandfather and seems to have been less vain than his statue-happy father, although more of his statues survived intact and are of such exquisite craftsmanship as to suggest that maybe quality over quantity was Menkaure’s trademark. 


Pharaoh Menkaure

Pharaoh Menkaure

Pharaoh Menkaure (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Pharaoh Menkaure was known as Mykerinos by the Greeks, and his name, Men-Kau-Re, means “Eternal is the Spirit (Ka) of Ra.”  The fifth king of the Fourth Dynasty, he ascended to the throne around 2539 BC, although the length of his reign is debated.  The Turin King List puts the length of his rule at 18 years, although some sources record his rule as being as short as 12 years and as long as 63 years.

Herodotus claimed that Menkaure was a son of Khufu, however it is more widely accepted that he is the son of Khafre and grandson of Khufu.  Tradition holds that he was a munificent and fair ruler, unlike his grandfather.  Herodotus credits him with reverssing many of the oppressive policies put in place by Khufu and allowed to stand by Khafre.

He was succeeded by his son, Shepseskhaf, who had to finish Menkaure’s pyramid after his death.  His valley temple, which was also completed by Shepseskhaf, was expanded during the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties, which further attests to his reputation for benevolence. 


The Pyramid of Menkaure

The Pyramid of Menkaure is the smallest of the three Giza Pyramids, with an original height of 218 feet, and a current height of 204 feet.  It is estimated to have less than 1/10th the mass of Khufu’s Pyramid.  Its completion date is not exactly known.

Pyramid of Menkaure and his Queens' Pyramids

Pyramid of Menkaure and his Queens' Pyramids (Photo by Keith Payne)

The upper part of the pyramid was originally encased in limestone in a manner similar to the other pyramids, but the lower portions were encased in granite.  The granite casing around the entrance is in various stages of completion, providing a glimpse of how the blocks would have looked before and after being smooth-cut.

Entrance to Menkaure's Pyramid with facing stones

Entrance to Menkaure's Pyramid with facing stones (Photo by Keith Payne)

The original basalt sarcophagus was lost at sea in 1838 when an attempt was made to move it to Great Britain.  As with other pyramids, this sarcophagus was empty.  A second wooden sarcophagus was found bearing Menkaure’s name and which contained human bones, but carbon dating has shown this body to be less than 2000 years old, making it a rather macabre forgery.  This again raises questions as to whether or not anyone was ever buried in any of the pyramids of the Giza Plateau.  Their location within the Memphis Necropolis, and their obvious relation to funerary temples, indicates that the pyramids were associated with the death and afterlife of the pharaohs in some actual or symbolic manner, but exactly what this function may have been remains open to speculation.

Menkaure's Pyramid

Menkaure's Pyramid (Photo by Keith Payne)


Further Reading


Egyptian Monuments:

Pyramid of Menkaure





National Geographic:

Pyramid of Menkaure:  Last of the Great Pyramids


Tour Egypt:

Menkaure:   The Last Great Pyramid Builder On the Giza Plateau

The Great Pyramid of Menkaure at Giza



Photograph “WIKI – MenkauraCloseUpOfKingsFace_MuseumOfFineArtsBoston.png” by Keith Schengili-Roberts is provided courtesy of Wikimedia Commons  and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License. In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of the file under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it only under a license identical to this one. Official license 

ALL OTHER photographs and text are copyright by Keith Payne, 2009, all rights reserved.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, July 9th, 2009 at 7:06 pm and is filed under Old Kingdom, Lower Egypt, Pyramids, The Giza Plateau. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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