UNAS, LAST RULER OF THE FIFTH DYNASTY
by Jimmy Dunn.
Unas was the last king of the 5th Dynasty, and what some believe to be the end of the golden age of the Old Kingdom. The 6th Dynasty would
finally be the end of Egypt's grand beginning, as the country would then slip into the troubling First intermediate Period.
Unas had a long rule, but is not well attested and we really know very little about this king despite his fairly well preserved funerary
complex at the southwest corner of the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara. Unas was his Birth Name, but he is also referred to as Unis, Ounas
and Wenis. His Horus name was Wadj-tawy which means "Horus, the flourishing one of the Two Lands". He probably ruled Egypt between 2375 and
2345 BC and may have been married to two queens named Khenut and Nebit. They were buried in mastaba tombs near Unas' pyramid complex.
We find scenes from his causeway that links his mortuary temple and valley temple depicting the moving by barge of granite columns from the
quarries at Aswan to his mortuary temple, but we also find scenes of emaciated people. These latter scenes may show the effects of a famine
that might have been the cause of the political decline that ended the Old Kingdom. There are also scenes of Asiatic traders arriving in
Egypt by boat, perhaps from Byblos, as well as scenes of markets, hunting in the desert and a small vignette of desert life. We believe that
Unas probably pursued a policy of diplomatic contact both with Byblos and Nubia. He also apparently was also responsible for building
activities at Elephantine near modern Aswan, as well as Saqqara. At Elephantine, an inscription also shows a giraffe and other exotic animals
that were apparently bought to Egypt during his reign. Another drawing found on a discovered vase shows battle scenes during his reign.
Significantly, while Unas' pyramid is the smallest of the royal pyramids build during the Old Kingdom, it was the first that we know of to
have its internal walls inscribed with the various (128) spells making up the Pyramid Text. The texts, meant to aid the pharaoh's soul on
its journey to the next world, would adorn the walls of many future pyramids and tombs and is the earliest large religious composition known
from ancient Egypt. Unas' pyramid also established the typical plan of the internal chambers for pyramids that would be used through the end
of the 6th Dynasty.
In death, King Unas is identified with the gods Ra and Osiris, and referred to as Osiris Unas. E. A. Wallis Budge, in his "The Gods of the
Egyptians", also tells us that he was called Unas, the Slayer and Eater of Gods. He was apparently worshipped around Saqqara for many years
after his death. Osiris was originally a local deity of the Eastern delta, but sometime around the reign of Unas his worship became much more
widespread. We believe Maspero discovered parts of Unas' mummy in 1880, which are now in the Cairo Museum.
We do not believe Unas left an heir, though he may have one time had a son named Ptahshepses, and therefore there was a short period of
political instability prior to Teti, the first ruler of the 6th Dynasty, ascent to the throne. Teti's wife, Iput, was possibly a daughter of
Unas, and his vizier Kagemni probably also worked under Unas. Furthermore, a pink granite gateway in Unas' mortuary temple bears the
inscription of the names and titles of Teti, indicating that part of the temple was completed after Unas's death. This evidence suggests
that there may not have been a true break between the 5th and 6th Dynasties.
Unas (also Oenas, Unis, Wenis, or Ounas) was a Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, and the last ruler of the Fifth dynasty from the Old
Kingdom. His reign has been dated as falling between 2375 BC and 2345 BC. Unas is believed to have had two queens, Khenut and
Nebit, based on their burials near his tomb.
With his death, the Fifth dynasty came to an end, according to Manetho; he probably had no sons. Furthermore, the Turin King List
inserts a break at this point, which "gives us some food for thought," writes Jaromir Malek, "because the criterion for such divisions
in the Turin Canon invariably was the change of location of the capital and royal residence." However, there are several instances of
uninterrupted continuity between the Fifth and the sixth dynasties: Kagemni, the vizer of Unas's successor Teti, began his career under
Djedkare Isesi and Unas. Teti's queen, Iput, is believed to have been the daughter of Unas, which shows Teti, Nicolas Grimal argues,
"made no conscious break with the preceding dynasty." Jimmy Dunn adds that "a pink granite gateway in Unas' mortuary temple bears
the inscription of the names and titles of Teti, indicating that part of the temple was completed after Unas's death." The break
between the two dynasties may have been more as an official act than in fact.
The causeway of Unas's pyramid complex includes a bas relief showing how they transported a palm column by boat on the Nile.
The Pyramid Texts
View of the remains of Unas pyramid at Saqqara
He built a small pyramid at Saqqara, originally named "Beautiful are the places of Unas", close to the Step Pyramid of Djoser. It has
been excavated by Vyse, Barsanti, Gaston Maspero, Firth, Selim Hassan, A. Husein, and Alexandre Piankoff. Its interior is decorated
with a number of reliefs detailing events during his reign as well as a number of inscriptions. However, Jaromir Malek considers "the
main innovation of Unas' pyramid, and one that was to be characteristic of the remaining pyramids of the Old Kingdom (including some of
the queens), was the first appearance of the Pyramid Texts". These texts were inscribed in Sixth Dynasty royal versions, but Unas's
texts contains verses and spells which were not included in the later 6th dynasty copies. The pyramid texts were intended to help
the king in overcoming hostile forces and powers in the Underworld and thus join with the Sun God Ra, his divine father in the
afterlife. The king would then spend his days in eternity sailing with Ra across the sky in a solar boat.
An example of a pyramid Text here is given below:
Re-Atum, this Unas comes to you, A spirit indestructible...Your son comes to you, This Unas comes to you, May you cross the sky united
in the dark. May you rise in lightland, the place in which you shine! (Utterance 217)
In popular culture
The American death metal band Nile have a 12-minute song named "Unas, Slayer of the Gods" based on a myth about how Unas killed and ate
the gods in order to achieve immortality. It appears on their 2002 album In Their Darkened Shrines.
In the Sci-Fi TV series Stargate SG1, Unas is a species of sentient homonid and original host to the parasitic goa'uld - the main
antagonist species throughout the story arc.