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This article is about the king of ancient Egypt. For the Stargate race, see Unas (Stargate). For the United Nations association, see United Nations Association of Singapore. For the village in Azerbaijan, see Ünəş.

Unas /ˈjnəs/ or Oenas (/ˈnəs/; also spelled Unis or Wenis) was a Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, and the last ruler of the Fifth dynasty from the Old Kingdom.[1] His reign has been dated between 2375 BC and 2345 BC.[2] Unas is believed to have had two queens, Nebet and Khenut, based on their burials near his tomb.[3]

With his death, the Fifth dynasty came to an end, according to Manetho; he probably had no sons. Furthermore, the Turin King List inserts a break at this point, which "gives us some food for thought," writes Jaromir Malek, "because the criterion for such divisions in the Turin Canon invariably was the change of location of the capital and royal residence."[4] However, there are several instances of uninterrupted continuity between the Fifth and the sixth dynasties: Kagemni, the vizer of Unas's successor Teti, began his career under Djedkare Isesi and Unas. Teti's queen, Iput, is believed to have been the daughter of Unas, which shows Teti, Nicolas Grimal argues, "made no conscious break with the preceding dynasty."[5] The break between the two dynasties may have been more as an official act than in fact.


Due to the scarcity of historical records of this period, little can be said with any certainty about the reign of pharaoh Unas. While Unas' pyramid is the smallest pyramid to have been built during the "Old Kingdom", the quality and innovation of the Pyramid Texts found within it, and of other artworks found on its inner walls were in fact the very finest pyramid bas reliefs surviving from the "Old Kingdom". Some have speculated that there may have been a famine during Unas' reign.[6] Unas was the last pharaoh of the fifth dynasty, and it is believed that there may have been a brief period of social instability after his death. He died without a male heir. It is believed that his daughter, Iput most probably became the queen/ wife of his successor, Teti.

The Pyramid Texts[edit]

View of the remains of Unas’ pyramid at Saqqara

He built a small pyramid at Saqqara, originally named "Beautiful are the places of Unas", close to the Step Pyramid of Djoser. It has been excavated by Vyse, Barsanti, Gaston Maspero, Firth, Selim Hassan, A. Husein, and Alexandre Piankoff.[7] Its interior is decorated with a number of reliefs detailing events during his reign as well as a number of inscriptions. However, Jaromir Malek considers "the main innovation of Unas' pyramid, and one that was to be characteristic of the remaining pyramids of the Old Kingdom (including some of the queens), was the first appearance of the Pyramid Texts",[8] the oldest religious text in all Egypt, and the second oldest known to exist anywhere,[9] surpassed in age only by the Kesh Temple Hymn of Sumer.

These same texts were later found represented in royal versions of the Sixth Dynasty, but Unas's Fifth Dynasty text contains verses and spells which were not included in the later copies.[10] The pyramid texts were intended to help the king in overcoming hostile forces and powers in the Underworld and thus join with the Sun God Ra, his divine father in the afterlife.[11] The king would then spend his days in eternity sailing with Ra across the sky in a solar boat.[12]

An example of one of the more 'straightforward' pyramid Texts here is given below:

Re-Atum, this Unas comes to you, A spirit indestructible...Your son comes to you, This Unas comes to you, May you cross the sky united in the dark. May you rise in lightland, the place in which you shine! (Utterance 217)[12]

Also included in the Pyramid Texts is a stylistic section of verse known as the Cannibal Hymn. The Cannibal Hymn portrays scenes in which the Pharaoh is described as eating both gods and men. While most historians believe that it is unlikely that Pharaoh Unas himself engaged in cannibalism, this section of stylistic verse may harken back to an earlier time in Egyptian history when cannibalism was in fact practiced.[13]


Syro-Canaanite sailors aboard a seagoing ship. A relief from the causeway of Unas at Saqqara. Lateral trusses are seen here supporting the tripod mast (on the right).

The causeway of Unas's pyramid complex includes a bas relief showing how they transported a palm column by boat on the Nile.[14]

In popular culture[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ King Unas (Digital Egypt)
  2. ^ Jaromir Malek, "The Old Kingdom (c.2160-2055 BC)" in Ian Shaw (editor), The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (Oxford: University Press, 2000), p. 112. The Digital Egypt website at the University College of London (link above) supplies the dates 2450-2300 BC.
  3. ^ "Unas, Last Ruler of the Fifth Dynasty". Touregypt.net. Retrieved 2012-01-02. 
  4. ^ Malek, "The Old Kingdom", p.113f
  5. ^ Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, translated by Ian Shaw (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), p.80
  6. ^ http://ancientegyptonline.co.uk/Unas.html Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt: Scenes of famine found on Unas' causeway.
  7. ^ Grimal, A History, pp. 118f
  8. ^ Malek, "The Old Kingdom", p.112f
  9. ^ http://ancientegyptonline.co.uk/Unas.html Antiquity of the Pyramid Text.
  10. ^ "The Complete Pyramid Texts of King Unas, Unis or Wenis". 
  11. ^ Lorna Oakes & Lucia Gahlin, Ancient Egypt: An Illustrated reference to the myths, religions, pyramids and temples of the Land of the Pharaohs, Hermes House: 2002, p.94
  12. ^ a b Oakes & Gahlin, p.94
  13. ^ From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, By E. A. Wallis Budge, Dover Publications, 1988, Pg. 323.
  14. ^ Lehner, Mark (1997). "The complete pyramids: solving the ancient mysteries" p.202 New York: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05084-8.