Unas as depicted in a rock inscription in Elephantine, Flinders Petrie

Unas was the last king of the Fifth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. He succeeded Djedkare Isesi, who was probably his father, and ruled for between 15 and 30 years. Despite this long reign we know very little about him.

Unas was the first pharaoh to incorporate the Pyramid Texts in his pyramid. These texts include the famous “Cannibal Hymn” in which he is described as “the Slayer and Eater of Gods” but in reality he was not a particularly powerful king, and perhaps felt the need to assert his greatness, in part, because he was aware of his lack of power in comparison to his illustrious predecessors.

His Horus name was Wadj-tawy (“Horus, the flourishing one of the Two Lands”). Unas had at least two wives (Khenut and Nebit, who were buried in mastaba tombs close to his pyramid) but it seems that his son (Ptahshepses) died before him. As a result, there was a short period of political instability after his reign.

Stele featuring Unas name

It is possible that Teti (the first ruler of the Sixth Dynasty) married Unas’s daughter Iput to gain the right to the throne. There is evidence of construction in Elephantine and Saqqara, and an inscription on a vase shows battle scenes during his reign, but we know little else about his life.

Unas choose to build his pyramid near the southwest corner of the Step Pyramid of Djoser instead of at Abusir with the majority of the Fifth Dynasty Kings. It is the smallest pyramid from the Old Kingdom, but the finest in terms of bas reliefs. His funerary cult seems to have survived into the First Intermediate Period, but cannot have survived long into the Middle Kingdom, as both Amenemhat I and Senusret I used blocks from his mortuary temple to build their own monuments.

Inside the pyramid archaeologists discovered the oldest known religious text in the world, the Pyramid Texts. Although this is the first time the Pyramid Texts were inscribed inside a pyramid, there is evidence that the texts had been in use since around 3200 BCE.

Vase with Horus falcom and featuring Unas name on the reverse side

Unas’s pyramid also established the typical plan of the internal chambers for pyramids that would be used throughout the end of the Sixth Dynasty.

The causeway linking his mortuary and valley temple was illustrated with scenes depicting the arrival of huge granite columns from the quarries at Aswan, Asiatic traders arriving in Egypt by boat, thriving markets, and recreational hunting in the desert. However, any suggestion of a carefree opulent society is countered by scenes of starving people. The images suggest a famine which may have contributed to the downfall of the Old Kingdom, but the extent of the problem is unknown.

An inscription on the south face of the pyramid by Khaemwaset (the son of Ramesses II who was a High Priest at Memphis and possibly the world’s first archaeologist), recorded restoration work conducted during the Nineteenth Dynasty.

Pharaoh’s Names

Manetho: Onnos

Prenomen: Unis

Horus Name: Wadj-tawy (“the flourishing one of the Two Lands”)

Nebty Name: Wadjem (“the one who endures”)

Golden Horus Name: Bik Neb Wadj (“the enduring golden horus”)

  • 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

Copyright J Hill 2016