The Eighth Dynasty of ancient Egypt (Dynasty VIII) is a poorly known and short-lived line of pharaohs reigning in rapid succession in the early 22nd century BC, likely with their seat of power in Memphis. The Eighth Dynasty held sway at a time referred to as the very end of the Old Kingdom or the beginning of the First Intermediate Period. The power of the pharaohs was waning while that of the provincial governors, known as nomarchs, was increasingly important, the Egyptian state having by then effectively turned into a feudal system. In spite of close relations between the Memphite kings and powerful nomarchs, notably in Coptos, the Eighth Dynasty was eventually overthrown by the nomarchs of Heracleopolis Magna, who founded the Ninth Dynasty. The Eighth Dynasty is sometimes combined with the preceding Seventh Dynasty, owing to the lack of archeological evidence for the latter which may be fictitious.
Two historical sources dating to the New Kingdom list kings belonging to the Eighth Dynasty. The earliest of the two and main historical source on the Eighth Dynasty is the Abydos king list, written during the reign of Seti I. The kings listed on the entries 40 to 56 of the Abydos king list are placed between the end of the Sixth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom period and the beginning of the Eleventh Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom. Furthermore, the names of these kings are different from those known from the Ninth and Tenth Dynasties, none of which are on the Abydos list. As a consequence, entries 40 to 56 of the list are assigned to the Seventh and Eighth Dynasties.
The other New Kingdom source on the Eighth Dynasty is the Turin canon, written during the reign of Ramses II. The Turin papyrus was copied from an earlier source which, as the Egyptologist Kim Ryholt has shown, was itself riddled with lacunae and must have been in a poor state. In addition, the Turin papyrus is itself heavily damaged and cannot be read without much difficulty. In total three names are present on papyrus fragments which might be allocated to Eighth Dynasty kings. These are Netjerkare Siptah, another hard to read name and finally, that of Qakare Ibi, the fifty-third king on the Abydos king list. There seems to be room for two or three more kings before the end of the dynasty as recorded on the list. This would indicate that the missing parts of the Turin canon probably contained the kings in the fifty-first to fifty-fifth registers of the Abydos King List. Because the Turin papyrus omits the first nine kings on the Abydos list, W.C. Hayes thinks it reasonable that the Egyptians may have divided Dynasties VII and VIII at this point.
The Egyptian priest Manetho wrote a history of Egypt during the 3rd century BC known as the Aegyptiaca. Manetho's work has not survived to this day and is only known to us via three later writers who quoted from it. Unfortunately, these three sources are exceedingly difficult to work with. For example, they often contradict each other, as is the case for the two ancient historians — Sextus Julius Africanus and Eusebius of Caesarea — who quote from the section of the Aegyptiaca regarding the Seventh and Eighth Dynasties. Africanus claims that Dynasty VII consisted of 70 kings that ruled during a period of seventy days in Memphis, and Dynasty VIII consisted of 27 kings who reigned for 146 years. However, Eusebius records that during Dynasty VII five kings ruled over seventy five days, and Dynasty VIII includes five kings who ruled for 100 years. Seventy kings in seventy days is usually considered the correct version of Manetho concerning the Seventh Dynasty, but likely not a factual account of history. Rather, this is interpreted to mean that the pharaohs of this period were extremely ephemeral, and the use of seventy may be a pun on the fact that this was Manetho's Seventh Dynasty. Because Manetho does not provide actual historical data on this period and no archeological evidence for the Seventh Dynasty has emerged, many Egyptologists have argued that this dynasty is fictitious. Concerning the Eighth Dynasty, it is now widely agreed that Manetho's estimate for its duration is a very substantial overestimation of the reality.
The main archaeological evidence for kings of the Eighth Dynasty are royal decrees discovered in Coptos, which name some of the last pharaohs of the dynasty. Further tentative evidence for the early kings of the dynasty comes from tombs in Saqqara, in particular the pyramid of Qakare Ibi in Saqqara. Beyond that, there are royal inscriptions found in the Wadi Hammamat and in Upper Egypt, as well as non-royal ones from Upper Egypt as well.
The Eighth Dynasty has traditionally been classified as the first dynasty of the First Intermediate Period owing to the ephemeral nature of its kings' reigns as well as the sparsity of contemporary evidence, hinting at a decline of the state into chaos. Recent re-appraisal of the archaeological evidence has shown a strong continuity between the Sixth and Eighth Dynasties, so that Egyptologist Hratch Papazian has proposed that the Eighth Dynasty rather than the Sixth should be seen as the last of the Old Kingdom period.
Given that five Eighth Dynasty kings bore Pepi II's throne name Neferkare as part of their own names, they may have been descendants of Dynasty VI, who were trying to hold on to some sort of power. Some of the acts of the final four Dynasty VIII kings are recorded in their decrees to Shemay, a vizier during this period, although only Qakare Ibi can be connected to any monumental construction. His pyramid has been found at Saqqara near that of Pepi II and, like its predecessors, had the Pyramid Texts written on the walls.
However many kings there actually were, it is clear that during this time period a breakdown of the central authority of Egypt was underway. The rulers of these dynasties were based in Memphis and seem to have relied on the power of the nomarchs of Coptos, on whom they bestowed titles and honours. This must have been to no avail as the Eighth Dynasty was eventually overthrown by a rival group based in Herakleopolis Magna.
|Netjerkare Siptah||Sometimes classified as the last king of the 6th Dynasty. Possibly identical with Nitocris.|
|Menkare||Possibly attested by a relief from the tomb of queen Neit.|
|Neferkare Neby||Planned or started a pyramid "Neferkare Neby is Enduring of Life", possibly at Saqqara.|
|Nikare||Possibly attested by a cylinder seal.|
|Neferkahor||Attested by a cylinder seal.|
|Neferkare Pepiseneb||Turin Canon gives at least one year.|
|Qakare Ibi||Turin Canon gives rule of two years, one month, one day. Attested by his pyramid at Saqqara.|
|Neferkaure||Turin Canon gives rule of 4 years and 2 months, attested by a decree concerning the temple of Min.|
|Khwiwihepu Neferkauhor||Turin Canon gives rule of 2 years, 1 month and 1 day, attested by eight decrees concerning the temple of Min, and an inscription in the tomb of vizier Shemay.|
|Neferirkare||Turin Canon gives a reign of 1 and a half years. Maybe identical to either or both of Horus Demedjibtawy and Wadjkare. If so, he is attested by a decree concerning the temple of Min.|
The Egyptologist Hracht Papazian believes that such a reconstruction gives too much weight to Manetho's account, according to which the Seventh Dynasty is essentially fictitious and a metaphor of chaos. Instead Papazian proposes that the earliest of the above kings are immediate successors of Pepi II and should be attributed to the Sixth Dynasty, while those just after them belong to a short-lived Seventh Dynasty. Then the Eighth Dynasty would only start with the well-attested Qakare-Ibi: