The 6th Dynasty is a succession of pharaohs who ruled during the old empire. Like their predecessors, they had pyramidal burials built, central parts of funeral complexes now standardized. But with the last pharaoh of the Fifth Dynasty comes a novelty that justifies the passage to a new era: The era of text pyramids.
The era of text pyramids follows the golden age of the pyramids, a period in history Egyptian during which the pharaohs had reached the climax in the art of building its tombs, and it precedes the period of renewal of the pyramids, those of the Middle Kingdom.
The reasons for the appearance of text pyramids
It is the pyramid of Ounas, at Saqqara, which inaugurates this new period in the Egyptian history. This king was the last of the fifth dynasty, he died without having a male heir. He had built a gigantic funerary complex in Saqqara that followed the design of the royal burials of his predecessors, namely a tomb dug under a pyramid (which was a different size of the previous pyramids, only 58m instead of the usual 78m), a low temple, a high and a roadway that connected the two temples. This pavement is besides the longest which exists: 750m, the record. But internally, the galleries were covered with hieroglyphs, a major change from previous generations.
Why? The answer is simple, it is related to the Egyptian society of the time.
It was under the reign of Ounas that the decline of the old empire began. Some first fruits were pierced during the 5th Dynasty, but the 6th Dynasty will be that of the fall of this empire, slow but inexorable fall, which will lead to the first intermediate period, an interval of 170 years during which there will be more power centralizer in Egypt. The reason is due to the state itself. By taking more and more powers, more and more territories, the pharaoh had to rely on an increasingly strong administration. He had to decentralize some of his power to "governors" of provinces, so-called "nomarchs". (They ran "nomes", the provinces) The latter took more and more power over the local population and gradually began to free themselves from the power of the pharaoh. It was slow, but at the end of the 6th dynasty some nomarchs had entrusted their powers to their children, effectively forming parallel dynasties.
A new social layer was created spontaneously: The middle class, which did not exist before. The power of the nomarchs had increased the provincial nobility, the latter had to rely on a strong local administration, especially to thwart that of the sovereign. The members of this local administration were well treated, forming this middle class between the powerful members of the nobility and the peasants and artisans of the population.
Different elements of royalty were less prominent in Egyptian society. For example, the population associated less the terrestrial objects that they used to the Gods, as it could be the case in previous centuries. The king himself, losing power, was more or less forced to lose some of his prerogatives. And one of these prerogatives was to be the only one to know how to go to the afterlife world and back, to help the people make the trip. From Ounas, the pharaoh decided to write in his tomb the explanations on how to make this great trip. It is a set of texts describing the afterlife, and the pitfalls to avoid coming back. This text is known as "Text of the Pyramids", it was written inside the pyramids of the 6th Dynasty, each time a little differently but with the same purpose.
As we can see, describing the journey of the pharaoh's soul in the pyramids is a loss of power.
If the texts of the pyramids appear under Ounas, during the 6th dynasty, they are considered today as part of an all encompassing addition to the texts of the sarcophagi and that is called the "Book of the dead."
These texts were written in galleries and antechambers inside the royal pyramid, never outside. They were not written in the burial chamber, nor on the sarcophagus. They were written from top to bottom, and from west to east. Nowadays it may seem odd as a bias, but in the Egyptian imagination of the time the West was associated with death (it was the side of the setting sun, the one towards which the necropolises were built) and the 'Is to life (on the side of the rising sun, where there were cities). To write the texts of the pyramids from West to East was symbolic, it was the direction in which to go to return from the realm of the dead to that of the living.
Pharaohs and their pyramids
The list of pharaohs having made a text pyramid spans the entire 6th Dynasty. In detail, it begins with Ounas, the last pharaoh of the 5th Dynasty, who died without posterity, it continues with that of Téti I, Pepi I, followed by Merenre I and Pepi II . It was the last pharaoh of the 6th dynasty. From that moment on, we are in -2200 and the central power of ancient Egypt falls, overwhelmed by the multiplication of local dynasties and the increase of the weakness of central power. Many nomarchs take their independence while a dynasty takes over the official royal lineage, but whose power is expressed war only on the capital Memphis and its region. It's the end of the old empire and the beginning of the first intermediate period.
There was another text pyramid built afterwards, that of Qakarê-Ibi, a Pharaoh of the 8th Dynasty. It was during the first intermediate period, before the beginning of the pyramids of the Middle Empire.
Architecturally, text pyramids are very similar. They are of identical size, with two exceptions (100 cubits high on 150 side, 78m side and 52 high). They are all Saqqara. That of Teti is accompanied by three satellite pyramids, one for his two wives and one for his mother. The successor of Téti I has no pyramid, but his brother Pepi I, yes. It is classic, with its high and low temples connected by a covered pavement accompanied by a satellite pyramid, but it is nowadays in a sad state. The funerary complex of Pepi I is no more than a small hill of sand and pebbles, it is far from the architectural ensemble that it used to be. Note the presence of seven tombs in the near vicinity, including five annex pyramids each with their own worship complex. The whole was surrounded by a high wall.
The next king who has his pyramid is Menrenre I. It is also in Saqqara, but it is nowadays only a pile of sand that has only been partially excavated. She seems to have never been finished. That of Pepi II has served as a career, so we understand why it is almost completely destroyed nowadays. But in the past, it was also a complete ensemble with two temples, a satellite pyramid, three queen pyramids, a rising road and a wall. It is the last text pyramid of the Old Kingdom, which collapses with the end of the reign of Pepi II.
The differents kinds of pyramids