In the first years of the reign of Teti, first king of the 6th Dynasty (c. 2321-2290 B.C.), an official named Kagemni-Memi was appointed to the rank of Chief Justice and Vizier, the highest post in the bureaucracy of Old Kingdom Egypt.
Teti had good reason to trust his new vizier because Kagemni was a son-in-law of the king through marriage to
"The king's daughter, his beloved, [issue] of his body, Nebty-nebu-khet" .
Thanks to his new position and his royal connections, Kagemni was able to organise in the necropolis of Saqqara the construction of a sumptuous tomb for himself, situated close to his king's pyramid. For it, he would have the best workshops and workers of the country, which explains the extraordinary quality of the decor which decorates the walls of his mastaba.
The monument is located to the north of the pyramid of Pharaoh Teti, and to the northeast of the step pyramid of Djoser (3rd Dynasty). It testifies to the power reached by the highest commissioners at the time where the decline of royal authority began. This decadence will be more obvious in the following generation, as will be seen in the magnificent mastaba of the successor of Kagemni, .
The mastaba was discovered in 1843 by Richard Lepsius. It had to wait until 1905 before von Bissing would begin his publication of rooms IV to VIII, which wasn't completed until 1911. Even though Firth re-excavated the monument in the year 1925, he didn't publish a detailed report of rooms I to III, which thus remain (academically) unpublished to date.
The lower registers of the walls of the mastaba are well preserved, having preserved in many places the vibrant colours, alas the upper registers are nearly all lost, except toward the rear of the tomb. The monument has never been published in its entirety.
The titles found dispersed throughout the tomb are about 50 in number (see ), of which some are significantly imprecise, probably merely honorary, while others correspond to actual functions.
On the facade of the mastaba, can still be found a long biography of Kagemni, who was a very great character of his time ( and see actual text below).
It can be seen that his brilliant career began under the pharaoh Isesi. Then, during the reign of pharaoh Unas (last pharaoh of Vth Dynasty), he was promoted to the level of judge and nomarch.
The apotheosis of Kagemni's career took place under the VIth dynasty ruler Teti (2321-2290 B.C.), when he became vizier and head of all the judges of the country.
Among his other functions, several can be noted which relate to the cult of Teti in his pyramid, which could relate to the overseeing of the construction of this building. He was also inspector of the city of the pyramid "The-Places-of-Teti-are-Enduring". For this reason he managed the attribution of the funerary concessions allotted by the king, including their cleansing.
Kagemni also had important religious functions: Ritualistic priest in chief, he was also the Great Priest of Heliopolis.
Kagemni is also famous from a literary view point. Indeed, the famous "Teachings of Kagemni", the celebrated didactic text which dates to the VIth Dynasty seems related to him, even though it makes reference to a vizier having served king Snefru (which is to say, the father of Kheops) of the IVth Dynasty. You will find the hieroglyphic text and a translation in German and an English translation .
The prestige which Kagemni himself enjoyed was great for this period and traces have been found close to his tomb of worship to Kagemni in person.
The family of Kagemni remains difficult to locate. His wife Nebty-nebu-khet is easily identified. It could be that this was the only one. Her name has, however, only survived on one free-standing stone. There is a certain confusion, on the other hand, to the number of progeny, some characters are not named. Only the eldest son Teti-Ankh is positively mentioned.
The tomb is a mastaba type with 32 metre long sides. Within this solid structure, the various chambers take the form of an "L" shape, located primarily towards the south-east corner; a large portion therefore being a solid structure. The southern arm of the L (along the entry axis) is oriented east-west, the other arm is south-north.
The plan (seen left) gives a good idea of the complexity of this vast building, of which some rooms are still unpublished. It also shows that the lack of use of such valuable space.
The mastaba was created in limestone, local limestone for the main body and for the door and its doorposts, white Turah limestone for the rest and notably the external facing. The external face of the building must have presented a white brightness when the limestone had not yet been damaged by time. In any case, it was torn off the building a long time ago.
The blocks used measure up to two meters in length with a width and thickness not exceeding around fifty centimetres. The blocks were very carefully cut, so that the mortared joints are sometimes almost invisible.
The entry is through a doorway () on the left-hand side of the front facade, into a small-sized first room (I). To the right is located a long room (II) which leads, at its rear, to a staircase which gave access to the roof.
From room I, a small opening gives access to room III, which has three central pillars along its long axis. At its western extremity an opening was created to a set of 5 storerooms. A new stepped doorway, to the right (north) on entering room III, leads to room IV and beyond.
To the west of room IV, and buried in the masonry with no openings, is the serdab. In this room one usually finds a statue of the deceased, who comes out to eat the offerings. In some mastabas, an opening is preserved in the wall so that the dead can "see" what happens in his tomb, but not here. At the time of the initial excavation, the room was empty.
Room V has the curious particularity to include a bench, intended for the people who came to participate in the funeral cult.
Room VI includes a funeral shaft of a later period.
Room VII was the one intended for the offerings, since it includes at its western extremity the false stela doorway, which assures the point of contact between the world on earth and the beyond. It also includes an offering table on the floor.
Room VIII seems to have no other function than to extend further into the monument, probably to come closer of the vizier's terrestrial dwelling. In fact, it represents just an offset extension to the offering chamber. Here are preserved the most vivid colours.
In the solid structure of the masonry situated at the northwest corner of the mastaba, and therefore close to the offering room, through an opening in the roof and down through the ground, is the funerary shaft. This leads to an underground funerary structure, strictly intended for the deceased, to which no one had access after funeral ceremony. This construction takes the form of a rotated "T" shape and includes the sarcophagus of Kagemni.
To the west of the serdab and room VI (but actually located on the roof) are preserved two boat-shaped pits, which would have been intended for the barques, but which remained empty. Note that these barques were originally supposed to come solely with royal pyramids, as with the one recovered at the foot of the pyramid of Kheops, or the two boat pits belonging to the pyramid of Unas, here at Saqqara.
In addition to plundering, dating from Pharaonic times, the monument suffered a lot when it was transformed into a stone quarry. This is how the original slabs from roof disappeared completely. In the same way the upper part of the walls, especially in the first rooms, went missing. The remaining scenes, carried out in raised relief, are of a great quality; these are situated between the upper empty area and the dado at the bottom of the wall, which measures about 1m in height. This is surmounted here by two yellow and one red band, each outlined in black.
Remembering that - contrary to what we sometimes suppose - the wall representations of an Egyptian tomb has only superficial affinities with the modern comic strip, because its syntactic organisation is a lot more complex and by no means creates any intended narrative: the deceased, the only real spectator of the images, finds the totality of a real world idealised in them, figuratively reflecting bursts of reality, these are organised collectively (in antithesis, chiasmus, etc.) which involve the space of one or several rooms, even that of the whole chapel.
The set of the scenes, chiselled in raised relief, have been achieved on a blue-grey background, which is well preserved only in room VIII. Elsewhere the early disappearance of the flagstones of the roof have exposed paintings to the air and the sun, thus making them disappear more or less completely. Empty spaces, as those which were spared behind the doors, were painted in red pique on black in order to imitate granite, THE hard and noble stone, par excellence.
Note that certain scenes, seem to have been neglected, with awkward and hasty sculptures. There are in fact unfinished areas, which are found in the parts nearer the entrance, normally the last to be decorated ().
In the Old Kingdom it was not the custom to represent divine scenes nor even ones of a God, as can be seen in later times.
The themes which Kagemni chose are stereotypical of the time, relating entirely to his terrestrial activities and his cult, intended to show the abundance of goods which he enjoyed, the fertility of his livestock, the wealth of his fields… This is why the agricultural scenes, of hunting and fishing, as well as those of transportation of various riches constitute the main part of the tomb's artistic itinery.
By chance, the very precise layout of the scenes enables us to apprehend many details. Sometimes they are scientific details, like the techniques of hunting and fishing, or the identification of species of birds or fish. Elsewhere they are details of movement, like the small calf which a herdsman carries on his back whilst crossing the water, and which turns its head as if to call its mother. Some very lively festive scenes are also found.
The outdoor scenes occupy the first rooms, whilst the scenes relating to the funeral meal are concentrated in the most remote part of the tomb. The inscriptions contain the title of the scenes, the description of the offerings and their source, as well as the titles of Kagemni.
They are visually punctuated by the conversations or interjections exchanged by the master's servants. So it is necessary to imagine the chapel as being magically alive, busy with the activities of daily life, in which Kagemni participates as if he were alive. It is important to know how to hear, in the silence of the rooms, the men who challenge and respond to each other, it is necessary to "see" them not as figures in the stone, but really DOING what is represented. A whole world is then opened to our eyes.