The Pyramid of Pharaoh Teti

   Posted by: Keith Payne   

Categories: Old Kingdom, Lower Egypt, Pyramids, Saqqara

tet-tabThe Sixth Dynasty rolled in like the thunderhead that portents a rising storm.  There had been tension between the royal line from which Teti descended and the one which had just vacated the throne.  Court officials had grown accustomed to wealth.  Provincial nobles were flexing their will to independence.  Famine.  Waves of refugees.  Ongoing religious reform.  Teti’s agenda could be summarized in two words–damage control.


Pharaoh Teti

Pharaoh Teti (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Pharaoh Teti (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Pharaoh Teti, also called Othoes, was the first king of the Sixth Dynasty, and ruled for about 11 – 20 years, between around 2347 – 2327 BC.  His mother was Queen Sesheshet, but his true claim to the throne probably stemmed from his marriage to Queen Iput I, the eldest daughter of Pharaoh Unas.  He had at least one other wife, named Khuit.  Evidence found within the queens’ pyramids suggest that Khuit may have actually been Teti’s primary wife.

Teti’s heir, Pepi I, was preceded on the throne by Userkare, whose short reign may indicate a co-regency or an usurpation.  Some believe Userkare had Teti assassinated by his own guards.

King Teti was an accomplished politician, which may be why his reign lasted as long as it did, given the political climate.  He wisely left much of Unas’ royal cabinet in place, and was not above handing out promotions and titles to curry favor.  He further consolidated power by marrying his daughter, Seshseshet, to Vizier Mereruka.

Political savvy was a prerequisite to being pharaoh during the tumultuous Sixth Dynasty, a time of social change.  The Cult of Ra based at Heliopolis had become an influential force to be appeased.  Famine combined with immigration was causing general unrest across the land.  And while not exactly a middle class in the strict sense, the rising wealth and power of high court officials and local nobility signaled a weakening of pharaonic hegemony.

Teti, and the pharaohs who would follow him in the Sixth Dynasty, would do a commendable job of preserving Egyptian ways and institutions.  But by the time of his reign, an irreversible gyre had been set in motion that would only continue to gain momentum until it spun the Two Kingdoms apart.


The Pyramid of Teti

The Pyramid of Teti (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Pyramid of Teti (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Teti’s Pyramid has a height of about 172 feet, and its external surface is mostly rubble.  Like other pyramids of the time, it consisted of a step pyramid-style core faced with dressed white limestone that gave it the appearance of a smooth-sided pyramid.  Also like many pyramids of the time, the facing stones were plundered, leaving the core to break down due to exposure.

The layout of Teti’s pyramid is similar to that of King Unas, although slightly larger.  Like that of Unas, the walls of the antechamber and burial chamber are inscribed with the Pyramid Text, rituals and incantations intended to guide the king through the afterlife.  The vaulted ceiling is a painted canopy of stars.  The basalt sarcophagus was left intact, and there were fragments of what may have been his mummy recovered inside.

Pyramid Text on the wall of Teti's Pyramid showing his Cartouche

Pyramid Text on the wall of Teti's Pyramid showing his Cartouche (Photo by Keith Payne)

Little remains of Teti’s mortuary temple, although there is enough to tell that there were a few differences from that of Unas, whose design he otherwise closely followed.  For one, Teti favored the plain square pillars common to pyramid complexes dating from the Fourth Dynasty, rather than the more modern round pillars.  He also changed the approach of the causeway to the mortuary temple so that rather than lining up with the center of the eastern wall of the pyramid it angles away from the south east.    

In another apparent nod to the traditions of the Fourth Dynasty, Teti had queens’ pyramids built for his wives within his pyramid complex, and in 2008 the pyramid of his mother, Sesheshet, was also discovered within his complex.  These excavations led to the discovery that Teti’s complex was later co-opted for other burials and related funerary chapels from the New Kingdom Period to the Roman Period.

Teti’s policies were clearly intended to maintain the authority of the Pharaoh, and his efforts may have forestalled the coming Intermediate Period.  It is apparent that a schism of some variety was thwarted after the death of Unas, although in the end court intrigue would catch up with this master of power politics.  His pyramid complex remains one of the most fruitful excavation sites in Egypt.


Further Reading


Al-Ahram Weekly Online

New pyramid found at Saqqara


Ancient Egypt – History and Chronology

Pyramid complex of Teti (VI Dynasty) in Sakkara

VIth Dynasty 2336 – 2175 ( Memphis ):  Teti


Egyptian Monuments

Pyramid and Mortuary Temple of Teti


Talking Pyramids

Pyramid of Teti


Tour Egypt

Teti, First Ruler of the Sixth Dynasty

The Pyramid of Teti at Saqqara in Egypt



Photograph “teti2.jpg” by unknown, and photograph “Pyramid_of_Teti.jpg” by Wiki User Flop Eared Mule are 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 2009, all rights reserved.


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This entry was posted on Friday, July 31st, 2009 at 8:12 am and is filed under Old Kingdom, Lower Egypt, Pyramids, Saqqara. 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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