From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Userkare (also Woserkare, meaning "Powerful is the soul of Ra") was the second pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty, reigning briefly, 1 to 5 years, in the late 24th to early 23rd century BC. Userkare's relation to his predecessor Teti and successor Pepi I is unknown and his reign remains enigmatic. Although he is attested in historical sources, Userkare is completely absent from the tomb of the Egyptian officials who lived during his reign. In addition, the Egyptian priest Manetho reports that Userkare's predecessor Teti was murdered. Userkare is often considered to have been a short-lived usurper. Alternatively, he may have been a regent who ruled during Teti's son's childhood who later ascended the throne as Pepi I.


Historical sources[edit]

Userkare is present on the Abydos King List, a list of kings written during the reign of Seti I (1290–1279 BC) over 1000 years after the early Sixth Dynasty. Userkare's cartouche occupies the 35th entry of the list, between those of Teti and Pepi I,[12] making him the second pharaoh of the dynasty.[13] Userkare was possibly also listed on the Turin canon, a king list composed during the reign of Ramesses II (1279–1213 BC). Unfortunately, a large lacuna affects the second line of the fourth column of the papyrus on which the list was written, the place were Userkare's name might have been located.[14]

Contemporaneous sources[edit]

Secure attestations

Few artefacts dating to Userkare's lifetime have survived to this day, the only secure attestions contemporaneous with his reign being two cylinder seals[2][note 2] inscribed with his name and titles[18] and a copper mallet from the Michaelides collection.[19] The mallet bears a small inscription giving the name of a crew of workmen "Beloved ones of Userkare" who hailed from Wadjet, the 10th nome of Upper Egypt, located around Tjebu, south of Asyut.[20]

Possible attestations

The French Egyptologists Michel Baud and Vassil Dobrev have also proposed that a copper axe head discovered in Syria could belong to Userkare.[11] The axe bears the name of another crew of workmen called the "Beloved ones of the Two Golden Falcons", where "Two Golden Falcons" is the golden Horus name of a pharaoh. Although both Khufu and Sahure bore this name and either one of them may be the owner of the axe,[21] Baud and Dobrev note that Teti's and Pepi's golden horus names are "Golden Falcon who Unites" and "Three Golden Falcons", respectively. It is thus tempting to conclude that Userkare's was "Two Golden Falcons" and that the axe belongs to him.[11]

The English Egyptologist Flinders Petrie has tentatively identified Userkare with a king named Ity attested by a single rock inscription found in the Wadi Hammamat. The inscription, dated to the first year of reign of Ity, mentions a band of 200 sailors and 200 masons under the direction of the overseers Ihyemsaf and Irenakhet[22] sent to the Wadi Hammamat to collect stones for the construction of Ity's pyramid called "Bau Ity",[23] meaning "Glory of Ity".[24] Petrie's identification of Userkare with Ity relies solely on his estimation of the inscription to the Sixth Dynasty and the fact that Userkare is the only king of this period whose full titulary is not known.[23] This identification is nowadays deemed conjectural[25] and several First Intermediate Period dates have been proposed for Ity.[24]

South Saqqara Stone[edit]

In addition to historical and contemporaneous sources, details about Userkare's reign were once given on the nearly contemporaneous South Saqqara Stone, a royal annal of the Sixth Dynasty dating to the reign of Merenre Nemtyemsaf I or Pepi II.[26] Unfortunately, an estimated 92%[27] of the original text was lost when the stone was roughly polished to be reused as a sarcophagus lid, possibly in the late First Intermediate (c. 2160–2055 BC) to early Middle Kingdom period (c. 2055–1650 BC).[28] The presence of Userkare on the annal can nonetheless be inferred from a large space between the sections concerning the reigns of Teti and Pepi I[14] as well as from traces of a royal titulary in this space.[29] Although the text reporting Userkare's activities is lost, its length suggests that Userkare ruled Egypt for four or less likely two years.[30]


Given the scarcity of documents pertaining to Userkare, his relations to his predecessor and successor are largely uncertain and Egyptologists have proposed a number of hypotheses regarding his identity and reign. These fall broadly into two contradictory scenarios: one that sees Userkare as a legitimate ruler or regent,[31] while the other perceives Userkare as an usurper, possibly responsible for the murder of his predecessor Teti.[25]

As a legitimate ruler[edit]

The Egyptologists William Stevenson Smith,[32] William C. Hayes[33] and Nicolas Grimal[34] believe that Userkare briefly ruled Egypt either as a legitimate stopgap ruler or as a regent with queen Iput I. Indeed, Teti's son Pepi I reigned for circa 50 years, indicating that he was likely very young at the death of his father, likely too young to immediately assume the throne.[35] The theory that Userkare was merely a regent is rejected by many Egyptologists, including Naguib Kanawati, on the basis that Userkare is mentioned on the Turin and Abydos king lists and hold full royal titulary, something reserved exclusively to reigning pharaohs.[36]

In support of the hypothesis that Userkare was a legitimate stopgap ruler, Grimal stresses that he is well attested by historical and contemporaneous sources, in particular the Saqqara Stone. This seems in contradiction with the idea that, being illegitimate, he was victim of a Damnatio memoriae by his successor Pepi.[note 3] In addition, there is no direct evidence of difficulties associated with Pepi I's rise on throne in the archeological record, which one could expect had Userkare been an usurper.[34]

As an usurper to the throne[edit]

The Egyptian priest Manetho who wrote an history of Egypt, the Aegyptiaca, in the 3rd century BC during the reign of Ptolemy II (283–246 BC), mentions that Othoes –the hellenized name of Teti– was murdered by his bodyguards or attendants.[38] Based on this statement, Egyptologists have found it plausible that Userkare participated in or at least benefited from Teti's assassination, despite Userkare's absence from the Aegyptiaca.[38] Userkare's name is theophoric and incorporates the name of the sun god Ra, a naming fashion common during the preceding Fifth Dynasty. Since Teti was not a son of the last Fifth Dynasty king Unas, some Egyptologists have proposed that Userkare could have been a descendant of a lateral branch of the Fifth Dynasty royal family who briefly seized power in a coup.[31]

The Egyptian-Australian Egyptologist Naguib Kanawati also finds the hypothesis that Userkare was a short-lived legitimate ruler or regent "unconvincing".[39] Indeed, archeological evidence lends credence to the idea that Userkare was illegitimate in the eyes of his successor Pepi I. In particular, there is no mention of Userkare in the tombs and biographies of the many Egyptian officials who served under both Teti and Pepi I.[40] The viziers Inumin and Khentika, who served both Teti and Pepi I, are completely silent about Userkare and none of their activities during Userkare's time on the throne are reported in their tomb.[41] Furthermore, the tomb of Mehi, a guard who lived under Teti, Userkare and Pepi, yielded an inscription showing that the name of Teti was first erased to be replaced by that of another king, whose name was itself erased and replaced again by that of Teti.[42] Kanawati argues that the intervening name was that of Userkare to whom Mehi may have transferred his allegiance.[43] Mehi's attempt to switch back to Teti was seemingly unsuccessful, as there is evidence that work on his tomb stopped abruptly and that he was never buried there.[44]


The location of the tomb of Userkare has not yet been identified. The brevity of his reign implies that the tomb was probably unfinished at his death, making modern identification difficult.[31] Since Userkare was a Sixth Dynasty pharaoh, his tomb was presumably planned to be a pyramid. A possible vindication of this hypothesis is the copper mallet mentioning a team of paid workers from the nome of Wadjet. These workers were likely involved in an important building project, likely to be Userkare's pyramid.[34]

Two hypotheses for the location of Userkare's pyramid have been put forth. The Egyptologist Vassil Dobrev proposed that Userkare's pyramid is located in the area of Saqqara South known today as Tabbet al-Guesh, north-west of the mortuary complex of Pepi I. Indeed, a large necropolis of Sixth Dynasty administration officials is found there, which according to Dobrev, hints at the nearby presence of a royal pyramid.[45] The astrophysicist Giulio Magli believes instead that the pyramid of Userkare is to be found midway between those of Pepi I and Merenre Nemtyemsaf I, at a place that would make the three pyramids form a line parallel to the one formed by the pyramids of Sekhemkhet, Unas, Djoser, Userkaf and Teti to the North.[46]


  1. ^ Proposed dates for Userkare's reign: c. 2408–2404 BC,[1] 2358–2354 BC,[2] 2337–2335 BC,[3] 2323–2321 BC,[4] 2312–2310 BC,[5] 2291–2289 BC,[6][7] 2279–2276 BC,[8] 2270–2265 BC.[9]
  2. ^ The Swiss Egyptologist Peter Kaplony attributes three seals to Userkare[15] but one of these seals reads "Userka[...]" and could instead belong to Userkaf.[16] In addition, a number of seals bering the name "Userkare" have been attributed to him but are now believed to belong to the 13th Dynasty pharaoh Userkare Khendjer.[17]
  3. ^ Baud and Dobrev do not take Userkare's presence on the Saqqara Stone as direct evidence that he was legitimate in the eyes of his successors. However, if Userkare was an usurper, then this would mean that royal annals were not affected by damnatio memoriae and would rather systematically record all royal activities, regardless of their political context.[37]


  1. ^ Hayes 1978, p. 58.
  2. ^ a b Altenmüller 2001, p. 602.
  3. ^ Strudwick 2005, p. xxx.
  4. ^ Malek 2000, p. 104.
  5. ^ von Beckerath 1999, p. 283.
  6. ^ Arnold 1999.
  7. ^ Allen et al. 1999, p. xx.
  8. ^ Hornung 2012, p. 491.
  9. ^ Dodson & Hilton 2004, p. 288.
  10. ^ Allen et al. 1999, p. 10.
  11. ^ a b c Baud & Dobrev 1995, p. 59, footnote 92.
  12. ^ Goedicke 1986, p. 901.
  13. ^ von Beckerath 1999, pp. 62–63, king no. 2.
  14. ^ a b Baud & Dobrev 1995, p. 59.
  15. ^ Kaplony 1981, II.A pp. 361–362, no 1 and 2; II.B, pl. 98.
  16. ^ Baud & Dobrev 1995, p. 59, footnote 94.
  17. ^ Baud & Dobrev 1995, p. 59, footnote 93.
  18. ^ Hayes 1978, p. 125.
  19. ^ Kaplony 1965, p. 36, 38–39 and fig. 90.
  20. ^ Roth 1991, p. 122.
  21. ^ Roth 1991, pp. 122–123.
  22. ^ Strudwick 2005, p. 140, num. 63.
  23. ^ a b Petrie 1907, pp. 88–89.
  24. ^ a b Baker 2008, pp. 157–158.
  25. ^ a b Baud & Dobrev 1995, p. 60.
  26. ^ Baud & Dobrev 1995, p. 54.
  27. ^ Baud & Dobrev 1995, p. 25.
  28. ^ Baud & Dobrev 1995, pp. 54–55.
  29. ^ Baud & Dobrev 1995, p. 28.
  30. ^ Baud & Dobrev 1995, p. 53.
  31. ^ a b c Baker 2008, p. 487.
  32. ^ Stevenson Smith 1971, p. 191.
  33. ^ Hayes 1970, pp. 178–179.
  34. ^ a b c Grimal 1992, p. 81.
  35. ^ Grimal 1992, p. 82.
  36. ^ Kanawati 2003, p. 184.
  37. ^ Baud & Dobrev 1995, p. 62.
  38. ^ a b Waddell 1971, pp. 51–53.
  39. ^ Kanawati 2003, p. 4.
  40. ^ Kanawati 2003, p. 95.
  41. ^ Kanawati 2003, p. 89.
  42. ^ Kanawati 2003, pp. 94–95.
  43. ^ Kanawati 2003, p. 163.
  44. ^ Kanawati 2003, p. 164.
  45. ^ Dobrev 2006.
  46. ^ Magli 2010, p. 5.


  • Allen, James; Allen, Susan; Anderson, Julie; Arnold, Arnold; Arnold, Dorothea; Cherpion, Nadine; David, Élisabeth; Grimal, Nicolas; Grzymski, Krzysztof; Hawass, Zahi; Hill, Marsha; Jánosi, Peter; Labée-Toutée, Sophie; Labrousse, Audran; Lauer, Jean-Phillippe; Leclant, Jean; Der Manuelian, Peter; Millet, N. B.; Oppenheim, Adela; Craig Patch, Diana; Pischikova, Elena; Rigault, Patricia; Roehrig, Catharine H.; Wildung, Dietrich; Ziegler, Christiane (1999). Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 978-0-81-096543-0. OCLC 41431623.
  • Altenmüller, Hartwig (2001). "Old Kingdom: Sixth Dynasty". In Redford, Donald B. (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Volume 2. Oxford University Press. pp. 601–605. ISBN 978-0-19-510234-5.
  • Arnold, Dorothea (July 19, 1999). "Old Kingdom Chronology and List of Kings". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved March 31, 2015.
  • Baker, Darrell (2008). The Encyclopedia of the Pharaohs: Volume I - Predynastic to the Twentieth Dynasty 3300–1069 BC. Stacey International. ISBN 978-1-905299-37-9.
  • Baud, Michel; Dobrev, Vassil (1995). "De nouvelles annales de l'Ancien Empire Egyptien. Une "Pierre de Palerme" pour la VIe dynastie" (PDF). Bulletin de l'Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale (in French). 95: 23–92. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-04-02.
  • von Beckerath, Jürgen (1999). Handbuch der ägyptischen Königsnamen (in German). Münchner ägyptologische Studien, Heft 49, Mainz : Philip von Zabern. ISBN 978-3-8053-2591-2.
  • Dobrev, Vassil (2006). "Old Kingdom Tombs at Tabbet al-Guesh (South Saqqara)". In Bárta, Miroslav; Coppens, Filip; Krejci, Jaromir (eds.). Abusir and Saqqara in the Year 2005. Prague: Czech Institute of Egyptology, Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague. pp. 229–235. ISBN 978-8-07-308116-4.
  • Dodson, Aidan; Hilton, Dyan (2004). The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd. ISBN 978-0-50-005128-3.
  • Goedicke, Hans (1986). "Userkare". In Helck, Wolfgang; Otto, Eberhard; Westendorf, Wolfhart (eds.). Lexikon der Ägyptologie: Band VI. Stele-Zypresse (in German). Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. ISBN 978-3-44-702663-5.
  • Grimal, Nicolas (1992). A History of Ancient Egypt. Translated by Ian Shaw. Oxford: Blackwell publishing. ISBN 978-0-63-119396-8.
  • Hayes, William (1970). "The Old Kingdom in Egypt". In Edwards, I. E. S.; Gadd, C. J.; Hammond, N. G. L. (eds.). The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. 1, Part 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 178–179. ISBN 978-0-52-107051-5.
  • Hayes, William (1978). The Scepter of Egypt: A Background for the Study of the Egyptian Antiquities in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 1, From the Earliest Times to the End of the Middle Kingdom. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. OCLC 7427345.
  • Hornung, Erik; Krauss, Rolf; Warburton, David, eds. (2012). Ancient Egyptian Chronology. Handbook of Oriental Studies. Leiden, Boston: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-11385-5. ISSN 0169-9423.
  • Kanawati, Naguib (2003). Conspiracies in the Egyptian Palace: Unis to Pepy I. London; New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-20-316673-4.
  • Kaplony, Peter (1965). "Bemerkungen zu einigen Steingefäßen mit archaïschen Königsnamen". Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Abteilung Kairo (MDAIK) (in German). 20: 1–46.
  • Kaplony, Peter (1981). Die Rollsiegel des Alten Reiches. Band II; Text A: Katalog der Rollsiegel. Text B: Tafeln. Monumenta Aegyptiaca, 3B (in German). Bruxelles: Fondation Egyptologique Reine Élisabeth. OCLC 58642039.
  • Magli, Giulio (2010). "Archaeoastronomy and the archaeo=topography as tools in the search for a missing Egyptian pyramid". PalArch's Journal of Archaeology of Egypt/Egyptology. 7 (5): 1–9.
  • Malek, Jaromir (2000). "The Old Kingdom (c.2160-2055 BC)". In Shaw, Ian (ed.). The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-815034-3.
  • Petrie, William Matthew Flinders (1907). A History of Egypt. Volume 1: from the earliest times to the XVIth dynasty (6th ed.). London: Methuen & co. OCLC 1524193.
  • Roth, Ann Macy (1991). Egyptian Phyles in the Old Kingdom: The Evolution of a System of Social Organization. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 48. Chicago: The Oriental Institute. ISBN 978-0-91-898668-9.
  • Stevenson Smith, William (1971). "The Old Kingdom in Egypt". In Edwards, I. E. S.; Gadd, C. J.; Hammond, N. G. L. (eds.). The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. 1, Part 2: Early History of the Middle East. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 145–207. ISBN 978-0-52-107791-0.
  • Strudwick, Nigel (2005). Texts from the Pyramid Age (annotated ed.). Society of Biblical Literature. ISBN 978-1-58983-138-4.
  • Waddell, William Gillan (1971). Manetho. Loeb classical library, 350. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: Harvard University Press; W. Heinemann. OCLC 6246102.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Pharaoh of Egypt
Sixth Dynasty
Succeeded by
Pepi I