Unas

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Unas (sometimes spelled Wenis, from the Egyptian wnis) was an Egyptian Pharaoh last ruler of the 5th Dynasty in Egypt's Old Kingdom. He is generally credited with a reign of approximately 30 years, around 2375-2345 BC.


Contents

Family Background

Little is known of Unas’ ancestry, and he doesn’t appear to be related to his predecessor, though there are no signs of dynastic upset at the start of his reign. We do, however, have a fair degree of information concerning his own family.

Unas took Nebet and Khenut as his principal wives, whom were buried in a double mastaba within his pyramid complex. He had a good number of children, with Hemetra, Unas-Ankh, Seseshet, and Khentkaues all attested as his children. In addition it is quite possibly that Neferkaues and Neferut were also from his line. However it would appear that, as Manetho claims, he left no surviving sons. For it would be another of his daughters, Iput, who would continue the royal line by marrying Teti, the founder of the 6th Dynasty.

Reign

Unas' reign seems to have been calm and, for the most part, uneventful. Scenes from his mortuary temple include trade with the Levant, and transport of granite columns from the Aswan quarries. Also depicted is a famine striking the desert nomads beyond Egypt's borders, though this did not seem to have led to them exerting any pressure on Egypt itself.

Following Unas, the transition to the 6th Dynasty was peaceful. There was no change in capital, and Unas' vizier, Kagemni, remained in office under Unas' sucessor, Teti.


Monuments and Archaeology

His reign is extremely significant for the modern understanding of Egyptian religion and the Pharaonic ideal of Divine Kingship. It was under Unas that the Pyramid Texts—the oldest of the Egyptian funerary texts—are first recorded, inscribed in the walls of the inner chambers in the King's pyramid.

Despite having a long reign, Unas opted for the smallest pyramid design of the Old Kingdom, charmingly named "Beautiful are the Places of Unas". Despite its modest dimensions, the complex itself was built to an extremely high quality, with a 700m long causeway decorated with detailed scenes, many of which have been removed to museums overseas.

These scenes are an innovation in depiction of events in the Old Kingdom: scenes of a famine, the transport of columns, trade with Asiatics, and the first depictions of a captive bear in Egypt as an exotic pet, shown with collar and a leash. The causeway itself is one of the best preserved in Egypt. While his pyramid still retains some of the fine limestone casing (particularly on the western and southern faces) on which inscriptions added in sunk relief by Ramesses II can be seen.


References

  • Malek, J (2000), The Old Kingdom in: Shaw, I (Ed.) The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, OUP, Oxford
  • Dodson, A and Hilton, D (2004), The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, Thames & Hudson, London
  • Montet, P (1964), Eternal Egypt: The Civilization of Ancient Egypt From Earliest Times to Conquest by Alexander the Great, Phoenix, London
  • Wilkinson, R (2000), The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, Thames & Hudson, London
  • Site visit by the author krysg, Feb. 2008
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