Radjedef to the Eighth Dynasty
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Radjedef to the Eighth Dynasty


Our sources for the chronology of the Old Kingdom comprise a mere handful of contemporary written documents, supplemented by radiocarbon dates, some of which have recently been recalibrated by Oxford University. The bulk of historical evidence, deriving primarily from residential cemeteries of the ruling kings and the elite, as well as from provincial sites, shows that during large portions of the Old Kingdom Egypt represented a relatively centralized state with a well-structured administrative system. Until the end of the Fourth Dynasty Egypt’s royal family exercised a role of complete authority, exemplified in the monumental construction of pyramids, such as those on the Giza Plateau. Fourth-Dynasty king Radjedef broke with tradition, building his pyramid at Abu Rawash, nearer the major cult center of Heliopolis. Evident from the Fifth Dynasty onward is a steady decline in the royal family’s dominant role in the state administration, concomitant with the rising importance and authority of non-royal officials and provincial administrators. Tomb motifs accompanied by various proxy data, particularly from the reign of Niuserra, are suggestive of changing environmental conditions and climatic stress, supported today by scientific data. The so-called “status race” became yet more explicit in the Sixth Dynasty, which was marked by instability and court intrigue, the provincial nomarchs ultimately succeeding in combining powers of both the administration and priesthood. The Seventh Dynasty represents a fleeting period of political upheaval wherein, according to the historian Manetho, 70 kings reigned during a period of 70 days. By the Eighth Dynasty—the ultimate closing stage of the Old Kingdom—the powers of the formerly centralized government had become territorial and personal.

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