Sekhemkhet (“powerful in body”) was a rather obscure pharaoh of the third dynasty of Ancient Egypt. It is generally agreed that he is the pharaoh referred to as Tyris by Manetho. Nabil Swelim has proposed that Sekhemkhet is actually Manetho’s Tosertasis who may have reigned for 19 years, but his unfinished pyramid would seem to make this unlikely. A relief in the Wadi Maghara shows that the king engaged in military activity in Sinai, but other than that little is known about his reign. Manetho has little to say about him but he is mentioned in both the Saqqara Kings List and the Abydos Kings List.

His unfinished step pyramid was discovered at Saqqara, very close to Djoser’s huge edifice. It is now largely covered by sand and is known as the buried pyramid. Although only the first layer of the step pyramid was completed, the construction techniques in the pyramid and underground structures echo those used in Djoser’s step pyramid complex. Judging from the size of its base it would have been larger than that of Djoser if it had been completed.

Golden shell box from the tomb of Sekhemkhet (copyright

The name of Imhotep (the architect of Djoser’s pyramid) appears in graffiti on the enclosure wall of Sekhemkhet’s pyramid, implying that he also served Sekhemkhet and may also have designed his pyramid. The burial chamber, located dead centre under the pyramid, was also unfinished.

Although the pyramid was unfinished, archaeologists discovered a translucent alabaster sarcophagus with the original gypsum seal intact. Unfortunately, the sarcophagus was empty. However, a number of gold bracelets and armlets, and a beautiful golden box in the shape of a shell were discovered in a small chamber outside the burial chamber, along with clay jar sealings bearing Sekhemkhet’s name.

It is generally thought that Sekhemkhet’s wife was Queen Djeseretnebti, although some experts have suggested that the reference to her in Sekhemkhet’s pyramind is actually a reference to another nebti name of the pharaoh – Djeseti-ankh. However, most experts agree that he was the father of Khaba, his successor.

Pharaoh’s Names

Manetho; Tyreis

Nomen; Djoser Teti (Saqqara kings list)

Nomen; Djoser Teti (Saqqara Kings List)

Nomen; Teti (Abydos kings list)

Nomen; Djoser Teti (Abydos Kings List)

Nomen; Djoser Teti

Nomen; Djoser Teti

Nomen; Iteti

Nomen; Iteti

  • Bard, Kathryn (2008) An introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt
  • Dodson, A and Hilton, D. (2004) The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt
  • Kemp, Barry J (1991) Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilisation
  • Lehner, Mark (1997) The Complete Pyramids
  • Malek, J (2000) “The Old Kingdom”, in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt Ed I. Shaw
  • Rice, Michael (1999) Who’s Who in Ancient Egypt
  • Van De Mieroop, Marc (1999) A History of Ancient Egypt
  • Verner, Miroslav (1997)The Pyramids
  • Wilkinson, Toby A H (1999) Early Dynastic Egypt

Copyright J Hill 2008