Khufu's Akhet


Khufu's pyramid was named 'Khufu's Akhet' (Axt-xwfw).

Akhet, the 'Place of Becoming Akh', "the latter half of the Duat, lying between the Duat's center, where the Sun unites with Osiris in the middle of the night, and the visible horizon, above which the Sun rises at dawn...."  (J.P. Allen, 2005: 425)

According to the Pyramid Texts, the king became akh (Axtj) in the akhet (Axt) (T 187), and akhs were the northern Imperishable Stars (P 467)

'Stars', written AxAx.w in a Pyramid Text inscribed in the Dynasty 6 pyramids of Pepi I, and Merenre, has similarities with the way Akhet (Axt) is written:

Meryre will acquire the sky, its pillars (jwn.w) and its stars (AxAx.w), and the gods will come to him in obseisance.  The akhs are following Meryre because of his ba....... (Allen P 449)

I take possession of the sky, its pillars and its stars.  The gods come to me bowing, the spirits serve me because of my power........ (Faulkner PT 510)

Sethe Vol 2: 139; §1143b

that you may become akh at the fore of the akhs.......that you may go to the Akhet at the fore of the Imperishable Stars....  Nt 244

Bestrew the sky as a star, shining to them as a god, permanent at the fore of the sky as Horus.  Nt 243

As early as Dyn 4, Khufu's sarcophagus chamber may have represented the Duat, from which the king's ba ascended through the Akhet, the pyramid's superstructure, to the sky.

A reused block from Khufu's cult complex has an inscription that reads, "[royal offering] for the shrine of Upper and Lower Egypt, the house of the Great God [in] the Akhet."

'Re-Used Blocks from the Pyramid of Amenemhet I at Lisht', Hans Goedicke 1972: 13-16 (no.2: Boston MFA 58.322)

‘Khufu’s Akhet’ with N18 ‘strip of sand’ determinative is inscribed on a block found at the site of Khufu’s cult complex, probably “….from the walls of the great court where they would have been protected by the roof of the surrounding colonnade.” (Reisner/Smith 1955: 4) The inscription was published by Lauer in Annales du Service, 49 (1949), pp. 111ff. A drawing of the inscription is included in ‘A History of the Giza Necropolis’ Vol. 2. 1955: Fig. 6a. with the caption:  “Relief with inscription and figures of Cheops from his funerary temple”:

Detail of a fragment from Khufu's cult complex - "above a border with stars are shown ropes which suggest the rigging of a ship;  below, a hieroglyph which may be Ssp;  from area between G1-a and G1-b":

'A History of the Giza Necropolis' Reisner / Smith 1955: 5; fig.7


The name of Khufu's pyramid on a cylinder seal (basalt):  "The Good God, Lord of the Two Lands, Khufu, the Great God, the Golden Horus, the pyramid town, Akhet."  (nTr nfr nb tAwi xwfw nTr aA Hrw n nbw Axt-xwfw)

'Scarabs and Cylinders with Names' Petrie 1915: 11; pl. VIII, 4.2.5


Dyn 6 examples of 'Khufu's Akhet'.

Senedjemib Inti, G 2370   "The sarcophagus and its lid were brought from Tura right to the town of the pyramid of Khufu and placed in his tomb, having been ferried over from Tura and placed on its allocated place in five days of transit." (GM7 2000: 108; fig.21):




Qar, G 2170:


Nyhahap, G 2352  "....priest of Khufu who presides over Akhet Khufu...." (Hm nTr xwfw xnti Axt xwfw)  (GM4 1980: 34):

 Tjety, G 2001, north false door (GM4 1980: 9; fig.16):


The idea that the two largest pyramids at Giza represent two 'mountains' either side of the setting sun at the summer solstice as viewed from the eastern niche of the Sphinx temple, similar to the N27 ideogram of the sun between two mountains, is problematic.  The N27 sign was not used in the name, 'Khufu's Akhet' - it was most often written Axt + 'sandy tract' det. N18 + 'pyramid' det. O24.

In the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts, Akhet (Axt) is written with the 'strip of sand' determinative N18, not with 'sun rising over mountain' ideogram N27.

An example from the Pyramid Texts in the late Dyn 5 pyramid of Unis (J.P. Allen's translation):

Sun Atum. this Unis has come to you - an imperishable akh. lord of the property of the place of the four papyrus-columns.  Your son has come to you, this Unis has come to you.  You shall both traverse the above, after gathering in the netherworld, and rise from the Akhet (Axt), from the place in which you have both become akh.  W 150 (Sethe Vol 1: 87; §154d)

(Akhet (Axt) §154d:  G25 (Ax) Aa1 (x) X1 (t) + N18 'sandy tract' det.

'Akhet' - left side of south wall of Unis's sarcophagus chamber:

This same text also occurs over 300 years later in Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts, but with the ideogram 'sun rising over mountain', N27, replacing the 'strip of sand' determinative, N18, although, in at least one coffin, the PT form is retained but with the addition of O1 ('house' / 'place').


An Old Kingdom example of Akhet written with N27, is from the mid Dyn 5 false door of Ptahshepses, and is associated with Neferirkare's Dyn 5 sun-temple, Setibra.  An inscription on the left door-jamb reads:  " priest of 'Sun, Horus of the Akhet' in Setibra" (Hm nTr ra Hrw Axt m st-ib-ra).

Ptahshepses, false door (James 1961: 17; pl. XVII):

detail of 'Akhet' showing the sun sign as a small circle inside a larger circle:


In Ptahshepses inscription, the use of N27 rather than N18 in 'Sun, Horus of the Akhet', is perhaps highlighting the emergence of the Sun from the Akhet, as this is from Neferirkare's sun-temple.

Akhet, written with either N27 or N18 may have essentially the same meaning.  'Sun, Horus of the Akhet' is also mention in the Dyn 6 Pyramid Texts of Pepi: " Travel the sky and course the Cool Waters in the goings of the 'Sun, Horus of the Akhet'."  P 340 (MN) (Sethe Vol 2: 85  §1049a), but here the N18 determinative is used, not N27.

'Sun of the Akhet' (Axt-ra), the name of the last sun-temple, built by Menkauhor, is written with the 'strip of sand' sign, N18

Egyptian Dictionary I, Hannig 2003: 1542


Tjetu was, ‘Overseer of the pyramid town Akhet-Khufu, and ‘Supervisor of funerary priests of Akhet-Khufu’ - Tjetu G2001 western cemetery, late Dyn 6 (GM4 1980: 8, fig.12)

‘Pyramid town Akhet Khufu’ may refer to a separate community that served the cult of Khufu at Akhet Khufu.  As ‘Supervisor of funerary priests of Akhet-Khufu’, Tjetu was serving in Khufu’s cult complex located on the east side of his pyramid.

Hagy was ‘Overseer of the milk herd of Akhet Khufu’, ‘Overseer of the cattle’, and ‘Overseer of the fields of Khufu’ - Hagy G2352, north false door, Dyn 6 (GM4 1980: 34, fig. 45)

The dairy herds and fields of Khufu belonged to his agricultural estates that supplied the royal cult complex.


The caption to this scene reads:  "Going downstream in peace to Akhet-Khufu, to the tomb" (xd m Htp r Axt-xwfw r iz) - Djaty G2337X Dyn 6 (GM4 1980: 30 fig. 41):





The name of Khufu’s mortuary complex, 'Khufu's Akhet' (Axt-xwfw), is not explicitly stellar, as is ‘Djedefre is a Shining Star’ (Strudwick 2005: xxix), the name of the mortuary complex of Khufu’s son.  However, ‘Khufu’s Akhet’, clearly associated with ‘Horus of the Akhet’ / ‘Horus in the Akhet’ and the emergence of the sun, may also have an underlying stellar aspect.

Khufu’s ‘Akhet’ (Axt) is written with the ‘crested ibis’ sign (G25), phonetic value, Ax, and the 'loaf' sign (X1), phonetic value, t. The ‘placenta’? sign, Aa1 (x), was often included as a phonetic complement.

The determinative is the ‘strip of sand’ sign (N18), a horizontal ‘bar’ with rounded ends.  N18 is also the determinative / ideogram in ‘island’, ‘desert’ and ‘foreign country’, possible clues as to the meaning of Axt – an island, a foreign place - perhaps in the sense of an otherworld, set apart from their normal familiar world?  However, apart from speculation, the hieroglyphs and contemporary texts tell us very little about the meaning of Akhet.

J.P. Allen’s definition of Akhet, is based on later texts:  “Akhet (Axt) – ‘Place of Becoming Akh’ – the latter half of the Duat, lying between the Duat’s center, where the Sun unites with Osiris in the middle of the night, and the visible horizon, above which the Sun rises at dawn.”

A restored text from a block from Lisht, attributed by Goedicke tentatively to the Valley Temple of Khufu reads:  "royal offering for the shrine of Upper and Lower Egypt, the house of the Great God in the Akhet."   The Great God in the Akhet is Horus.

As there are no other contemporary texts that shed light on the meaning of Axt, it is necessary to refer to later texts.

In the Middle Kingdom, the whole area of the Giza plateau with it’s three royal mortuary complexes and associated cemeteries may have been known as the Akhet, and in the New Kingdom, the Sphinx had the name, ‘Horus in the Akhet’ that gave it an explicit designation in the Akhet. (see C. Zivie-Coche 2002: 69)

In the Old Kingdom 'Pyramid Texts', Orion, Sirius, and the king, were encircled by the Duat, as the Sun became clean in the Akhet:  

“Sah (sAH, 'Orion') / Sopdet (spdt, 'Sirius') / Unis has become encircled by the Duat (dAt), as the Living One (the sun) became clean in the Akhet (Axt).  He (the king) has become akh for them, he has grown cool for them, inside the arms of his father, inside the arms of Atum.”  W 149-50  (PT 216) Sethe Vol 1: 86  §151abc.

The king was given title as the greatest controlling power by Orion, the father of the gods, and was crowned ‘Lord of the Akhet’:

“Unis's proper place is in front of all the privileged ones in the Akhet.  Unis is the senior god who is senior to the senior ones, for thousands serve him and hundreds present offerings to him;  for he has been given title as the greatest controlling power (sxm wr) by Orion (sAH) the father of the gods;  for Unis has reappeared in the sky and is crowned as lord of the Akhet;........Continuity is the lifetime of Unis, eternity is his limit, in his privilege of "When He Likes He Acts, When He Dislikes He Does Not Act," which is in the Akhet's limits forever continually.  W 180b (PT 274)

The king became akh in the Akhet / Duat:

"Teti cannot truly die, having become akh in the Akhet and stable in Djedut."  T 187  (PT 264 §342) Sethe Vol. 1: 183.

“Become clean;  occupy your seat in the Sun's boat and row the above and elevate those who are far off.  You shall row with the Imperishable Stars, sail with the unwearying ones (stars), and receive the Nightboat's (msktt) cargo.  You shall become akh in the Duat and live in that pleasant life in which the lord of the Akhet lives, the great flood in Nut.”  P 453 (PT 513)

The king became akh in the Akhet / Duat, and the determinative for Duat (dAt, dwAt) is the ideogram, ‘star within a circle’ (N15) - ideograms represent the things they actually depict, and the ‘star in circle’ ideogram, obviously has a stellar aspect.

The Pyramid Texts identify akhs as the northern Imperishable Stars (circumpolar stars), the gods at the sky's north:

“When this Pepi has gone to the big island in the midst of the Marsh of Rest on which the gods and the swallows land – the Imperishable Stars are the swallows……………Thus, you shall put this Pepi as the greatest official of the akhs, the northern Imperishable Stars of the sky, who rule contentment, guard deposited offerings, and let those (benefits) descend to those at the fore of the kas of the sky.”  P 467 (PT 519 §1216…1220)

I shall be anointed with first-class oil and clothed in top linen, and I shall sit on that which makes Maat live, with his back to the back of those gods at the sky's north - the Imperishable Stars, and he shall not perish;  the unpassing ones, and he shall not pass;  the unwaning ones, and Pepi will not wane."  P 457

Khufu’s mortuary complex was Khufu's Akhet - the king became akh in the Akhet / Duat - the ideogram for Duat is a ‘star within a circle’, and akhs are identified in the PTs as the northern Imperishable Stars, all of which, strongly imply an underlying stellar aspect to the Akhet, an aspect also supported by the enigmatic shafts in Khufu’s Akhet.

The top end of the upper north shaft (connected to Khufu’s sarcophagus chamber), was facing an area of the sky where the then Pole / North Star, Thuban, appeared at its highest point in the sky due north during Khufu’s reign (2613 - 2589 ± 50 years ).  This area of the sky was the centre of what may have been the ‘Big Island in the midst of the Marsh of Rest’ on which the gods and swallows / ‘Imperishable Stars’ landed, and where the king was the greatest official of the akhs, the northern ‘Imperishable Stars.’ The ‘Big Island’ (iw aA), is written with the same ideogram used for the determinative in Akhet, the ‘sandy tract’ sign (N18).

The top end of the upper south shaft was facing an area of the sky where (depending on the season) the distinctive 3-star asterism in the centre of Orion appeared at its highest point in the sky due south, again during Khufu's reign.  Orion is associated with the ancient Egyptian god, Sah (sAH) who in the earliest Pyramid Texts, was the ‘Father of the Gods,’ who gave the king his title as greatest controlling power (sxm wr).

Chris Tedder - August 2007 (updated December 2009)