Unas ruled ancient Egypt for approximately 30 years (2345 – 2315 BC) in the later part of the fifth dynasty. Scholars assumed that he had succeeded his father to the throne when Egypt was already struggling economically.
In this article, you will read about its role as a pharaoh at a time of great crisis and learn how he managed to lead the Old Kingdom for three decades despite the turmoil.
Who Was Unas?
Known as the last king of the fifth dynasty of Egypt (2465 – 2325 BC), Unas was enthroned in the midst of an economic crisis due to the increasing dissatisfaction of the people with the monarchy. Therefore, Unas led the country during the overly critical period in the history of ancient Egypt, when the decentralization of its government heralded the decline of its influence and later agitated the dissolution of the Old Kingdom.
He was poised to make a major revamp in economic policies, but most of his strategies failed, which brought forth the end of the dynasty. However, he was still capable of executing some reforms that helped the kingdom regain its economic security by trying to keep its trade relations with the coastal Levant, southern Canaan and Nubia.
It was a significant challenge for him, but you should know that he was the first pharaoh to start innovations in the construction of new pyramids. Noticeably, he inscribed the interior walls of his pyramid at Saqqara with religious and magical words, which eventually became known as the Pyramid Texts.
He was also famous for using blocks taken from the monuments of his predecessors to build new pyramids in his honor. This bold effort sealed his reign as d the end of the fifth dynasty and the start of the sixth.
The Pyramid of Unas
Pharaoh Unas was known to pioneer changes in his burial chamber and the rooms in his pyramid. Pyramid texts were found on the walls, which were described by archeologists as religious and magical leads to guide the departed pharaoh in his journey to the afterlife.
For instance, those chants written on pyramid walls were associated with antiquated rituals, presenting an invaluable collection of the venerable Egyptian traditions and beliefs.
You should also know Una’s causeway, a 800-yard enclosed causeway that connected his pyramid complex and the valley temple. The walls of this causeway were discovered to have brilliant inscriptions of stories of the early people’s everyday life. They also depicted symbols of his royalty, his writings, and stories affirming the events of his kingship that were carved on walls and monuments.
The Storied in the Pyramid Texts
The most prominent in the long array of stories printed on the walls of the pyramid of Unas was the building of his temple by using monument blocks from Aswan. He also unveiled the first battle in Egypt, covering the raid against the Bedouins of the northern region.
His rule was also documented and carefully inscribed on the walls of his pyramid, including Egypt’s trade with Syria and Palestine. This partnership with the country’s neighbors was instrumental in transporting people, who later stayed in Egypt as foreign residents. Another significant event printed on walls was the dramatic illustration of a famine that hit the country, depicting emaciated people aided by Unas.
Remarkably written in the pyramid of Unas was his association with gods Ra and Osiris, who came into popularity in the sixth dynasty. Believing that their spiritual power could guide him on his journey to the afterlife, Unas paid homage to the cult of these gods. You can now understand his legacy, as his life was anchored to the worship of gods Ra and Osiris.
The Family of Unas
A new king was needed after the death of King Djedkare Isesi, who was believed to be Unas’ father. Hence, he ascended to the throne, although there was insufficient evidence to support that the two pharaohs were related.
You might ask if there is any certainty about his queen. Indeed, archeologists claim that he had two wives, Nebet and Khenut.
Thus, he was gifted with several daughters and two sons, who died before him. It is assumed that Queen Nebet gave birth to a son named Unas-Ankh, who died 10 years earlier than the end of Unas’ reign. This marked the kingship of Unas without an heir.
He had five daughters, namely Hemetre Hemi, Khentkaues, Neferut, Nefertkaues Iku, and Sesheshet Idut. One of his daughters was married to Teti, his successor to the throne and acknowledged as the official pioneer of the sixth dynasty.
You must know that funerary cults were common at that time, and Unas also established his own. The influence of his cult was extended even during the later Middle Kingdom (2050 – 1650 BC), but this was unfortunately not spared from destruction by the succeeding dynasties of Egypt.
Historically, King Unas has left sources that prove his reign in Egypt 5th dynasty. You should know he was famous among kings of the New Kingdom and he was explicitly mentioned by three ancient pharaohs.
He also occupied a place in the Abydos King List recorded during the reign of Seti I (1290 – 1279 BC), the Saqqara Tablet, and the Turin Canon. It was mentioned in the canon that Unas ruled for 30 years.
Likewise, Unas appeared in Aegyptiaca — the history of Egypt — during the regime of Ptolemy II (283 – 246 BC). Manetho, a priest, testified about the rule of Unas in the fifth dynasty, as shown in his records.
Aside from the written records pertaining to the reign of Unas, his presence in history is attested by the inscription made on a rock on the island of Elephantine, in Nubia. You can add the classic alabaster vases with his name carved in them. Vessels, alabaster vases, ointment jars and calcite vases were all precise manifestations of the legacy of Unas.
Trade and Warfare During Unas Reign
It was clearly explained in several references that trade was strengthened during the reign of Unas, primarily because of the continued decline of Egyptian power during his time and the consequent need to import goods.
Egyptians used all possible resources to alleviate the economic scarcity, including the trade relations with neighboring countries, such as Byblos. Relief also arrived to help the nation from an expedition via the Levantine coast route.
As part of a trade partnership, Unas reportedly paid a visit to the king of Lower Nubia to forge a trade agreement with him. Later on, expeditions were depicted as relief efforts to help the country.
Despite this scenario, Egypt continued to import stones for the building of the king’s pyramid complex. Official records have shown the arrival of 34-foot palmiform columns of red granite from Elephantine to Saqqara. It took only four days to transport the stones, much to the king’s delight.
You could deduct that Unas had an ambitious dream of constructing his pyramid despite the economic difficulties of his time. Some historians even considered his regime a disastrous era because workers were asked to work despite hunger.
As a matter of fact, ancient depictions show that most of them looked emaciated as it was a time of food deprivation. As revealed by records, those hungry people were mostly nomads and desert vagabonds, not Egyptian citizens.
Religion During the Time of Unas
Djedkare Isesi and Unas were both charismatic rulers of Egypt. Hence, when they died, the people clamored for another solid leadership. However, there was confusion in the way religion was absorbed by the people.
For example, there were people who worshipped Horus. The people gradually learned about the value of sacrifice and perseverance, so that they were taught to share something with others.
Moving on, the people also worshiped Osiris, the sun god. His cult became significant during the time of Unas, while the popularity of Ra weakened. This twist in religion also paved the way toward the weakening of the royal power. Interestingly, the people were still propelled by their faith in gods, with Ra as the giver of life and Osiris as the sole guide to the afterlife.
In line with the ancient religion, Unas had built a pyramid for himself in Saqqara with lots of pyramid texts to illustrate the lifestyle of the people in the past. Built with a large mortuary complex, the pyramid of Unas was a comprehensive structure for the cult of the king with a causeway connecting the temple and the pyramid. With a tiny space in the roof of the causeway, lights could enter to shine on the wall.
The Death of Unas
Priest Manetho of Egypt wrote a vast manuscript about Unas, including his death without a son to succeed him in his throne. You could have suspected a dilemma in choosing his successor. Nevertheless, his son-in-law, Teti, claimed the throne as he was related to the king through his daughter, Iput.
Although there was an end to the fifth dynasty and a new dynasty was born, the people claimed that there was no discrepancy between the two. After the death of Unas, the government officials continued their service.
They didn’t worry about losing their titles, and in fact the vizier and the overseers of Egyptian provinces remained in place.
Pharaoh Unas reigned for 30 years in the last part of the fifth dynasty, which was recorded as one of the most crucial times in the history of Egypt because of the economic decline that affected it.
His leadership was widely acknowledged in the historical annals of Egypt, as evidenced by the recovered vases, cups and artifacts bearing his symbols and name. He, unfortunately, died without an heir to his throne, which was subsequently inherited by Teti, his son-in-law.
However, his reign also received criticism for his bold determination to build his pyramid with a long causeway featuring the daily activities of ancient Egyptians. The monumental construction was a point of discussion among the people because the pharaoh imported granite stones and expensive materials from overseas when most of the people were suffering from a famine.
It’s important for you to understand that the leadership of Unas was marred by distress due to the economic crisis. Nonetheless, he was known for his devotion to Ra and Osiris, the gods whose cults he revered all throughout his reign. Leading the nation in the middle of economic difficulty was a major setback for Unas. Although he tried to revive the economy, it nevertheless declined.