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Fourth Dynasty

 Of contemporary remains of Dynasty III, there is nothing more to record save some blocks of a temple built by Djoser at Heliopolis, so that we may now pass to the period which marked the apogee of Egyptian history. If its five great pyramids were all that the Fourth Dynasty had to show by way of accomplishment, these would still have to be viewed as a manifestation of purposeful power and technical genius unsurpassed in any age or clime. The excavations of the last sixty years have brought about an important modification in our conception of a pyramid. So far from this being merely a self-sufficient geometrically shaped tumulus of masonry raised above a royal burial, or, to define it more exactly, a gigantic tomb having a square base and four equal triangular sides meeting at the apex. It now appears rather as the culminating point of a vast funerary area comprising, apart from the pyramid itself, three distinct parts. First, near the desert edge and overlooking the cultivation so as to be accessible by boat in the Inundation season, there was regularly a Valley Chapel of modest, though none the less stately, proportions.

Thence a walled-in Causeway often exceeding a quarter of a mile in length led upwards to the Funerary Temple proper, this abutting directly on to the east side of the pyramid, where a 'false door' or stela recessed so as to imitate a doorway enabled the deceased monarch to emerge in order to partake of the lavish fare from the many estates attached to the funerary foundation. The walls of all three elements were apt to be adorned with reliefs and inscriptions illustrating the various activities of the estates, the achievements of the Pharaoh, and the daily and festival ritual celebrated in his honor. Smaller pyramids close to his own were the burial-places of his wives and daughters.

The pyramid shape was definitely the prerogative of royalty, both in size and in outward aspect contrasting vividly with the flat-topped mastabas of the related princes, courtiers, and officials which clustered around, and were apt to be laid out in orderly streets like those of a well-planned town. No visual symbol could have better conveyed the awe-inspiring relationship between an all-powerful monarch habitually described as ntr 'the great god' or ntr nfr 'the goodly god' and those who were at once his servants and his worshippers. A feature that has come into increasingly prominence of late is the presence on several sides of the pyramid of a full-sized wooden boat lying within a special roofed-over trench of its own. Examples of such boats have now been found as early as Dynasty I, and they have often been supposed to enable the king to travel across the sky in the train of the sun-god, but since they are found facing towards all four points of the compass, it is probable that they were intended simply to enable the pyramid-owner to voyage wherever he desired, even as he did while living upon earth.