ALRI Ancient Egypt Course
Unit 6: Pyramids
internet site owned by the Association of Egyptian Travel
the Internet (AETBI) and is
one of the best internet sights on ancient Egypt.
more information on pyramids than anyone ever wanted to
the links on the left side of the page.
on images or
links for larger versions of the images.
The Khafre pyramid, center, looks taller because it's on
than that of his father, Khufu, left.
Does size count?
As far as we know, Pharaoh Djoser of the 3rd Dynasty and his
architect, Imhotep, started the long running pyramid fad
All of the big pyramid Egyptian areas are on the west side of
near the beginning of the delta.
compound at Saqqara was multi-purpose. It was the site of his
Heb Sed festival as well as his tomb.
of Djoser's complex
have been re-erected, and the main gate has been given a new
protect the pillars but also to make the area more hospitable
tourists. The pyramid itself was built in at least three
and the serdab,
which would have been inside a traditional mastaba to
see ceremonies in the room at the top of the tomb shaft, was
outside the main structure to see ceremonies at an outside
Seneferu, the first pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty, had to try
before he got a pyramid that was neither broken or bent.
third pyramid, which finally satified him, was later denuded
outer casing showing its pink limestone core.
Seneferu's first pyramid at Maidum was what is now known as
pyramid. Its main problem -- the reason that it broke --
either he or his architect tried to expand a perfectly good
pyramid without expanding its foundation. It fell
or shortly after the expansion was completed.
The images show what fell and what stayed in place when their was subsidence
sand, on which the outer
step pyramid stood.
Seneferu tried a second time at Dahshur. They began at a
angle, but the underlying stone wasn't strong enough th
had been built and it began to collapse. They expanded
and decreased the slope angle, but halfway up it became
the pyramid would fall if they continued. Another
decrease in slope allowed the builders to complete the
less weight, but it produced the squashed pyramid now called
The Bent Pyramid retains more of its outer casing than any
pyramid in Egypt. Apparently nobody wanted the casing
stone. The second image shows the decreased slopes that
the defective structure. It should be remembered that
all of this
was experimental: no one had ever built a true pyramid
this. It's not known whether a there is a step pyramid
trying to get out.
Seneferu's third try, now known as the Red Pyramid, was the
pyramid. It has a shallow slope, but it proved the
Some pictures of the Red Pyramid that are taken from a low
emphasize the shallowness of its slope. The inside features a
corbelled antechamber, at the top of which is the entrance to
Khufu, the son of Seneferu got it all right the first time
Great Pyramid at Giza. It was the highest free standing
structure in the world untill some of the Gothic cathedrals of
were built, and it's still the most massive free standing
The purpose of some of the internal structures in this pyramid
unknown and may heve resulted from simple changes of
purpose of the "shafts" from the Queen's and King's chambers
being investigated in a series of, thus far, pointless
"documentaries" (in quotes because they don't seem to really
anything). The pyramid's owner was unknown until Vyse
way into the relieving chambers above the King's chamber and
graffiti that connected it with Khufu. (Some say the
fake, but it's accepted by most scholars.)
Several pyramid complexes included pits in which boats were
entombed. There are various theories about why they were
but none of them have been proven. Among the theories:
were actualy used to transport bodies to their tombs, or that
intended for post burial mystic voyages in the afterlife,
either to the
pole star or as part of the daily voyage through light and
Regardless of their use or intended use, one of
Khufu's boats was found completely disassembled and in
condition. It has been put back together -- all joints
with rope -- and is now in a special
museum south of Khufu's pyramid. The boat will
to the new GEM (Great
Egyptian Museum) when it is opened in a few years at the
of the Giza Plateau. Another of Khufu's boats was
the same time as this one, but it has, unfortunately, been
damaged by insects that got into the pit where it was
discoverers inadvertently broke the seal on the pit and
bugs a way in.
Kyafre's pyramid is smaller than that of his father, Khufu,
looks bigger because it's built on higher ground. There
explanation for why Khufu built his pyramid on a lower terrace
Giza Plateau, but one could speculate that it would be easier
stone to the lower level. To review the illusion
height, return to http://www.mmdtkw.org/EGtkw0601aaGizaPlateau.jpg which was the
image in this presentation.
Although the ancient "kings lists" caused some confusion, it's
generally held that Khafre was the brother of his pharoanic
Djedefra and that both brothers were sons of Khufu.
also now generally held to be the builder of the Great Sphinx
lies to the side of the causeway between his valley temple and
When Giovanni Belzoni forced entry into the Pyramid of Khafre
in 1818, he dispelled the view that it was just a solid pile
masonry. He reasoned that if there was an entrance to
tomb it should be in the same relative location as the one
Khufu's. After digging through some rubble at the base
Kyafre's pyramid, he found its entrance just where he had
would be. He had to break through some ancint security
precautions, but did so with relative ease. Once
Belzoni found all of the passages and rooms that are visible
today, including a lower passageway that leads out of the
complex -- although he was not able to explore that passage to
due to large blocks of stone that had been slid down its
ramp. The last image shows an artists rendering of
the pyramid with its water-side valley temple. The water
canal that connects to the Nile River.
Menkaure's pyramid at Giza is considerably smaller than those
father Khafre and his grandfather Khufu. But the
and passages are much more complex than those in either of its
predecessors. This is apparently because a smaller
all of its interior structures is hidden inside the present
19th century archeologists Vyse and Perring used high
blast their way into this pyramid (and other Egyptian
Although this may seem extreme in our day of careful and
digging, they did no real damage to anything of archeological
and their methods did lead to some interesting
the pyramid was penetrated, the builders' passages were
cleared and the
pyramid's complex interior structure was revealed.
Menkaure's sarcophagus was found in the burial chamber, but
no trace of the body. Once again, ancient tomb robbers
in long before the modern ones arrived. The sarcophagus
aboard a ship for Emgland, but both ship and box went to the
a storm. Only drawings remain.
The image shows how the Giza Plateau would have looked when
pyramids and their subsitiary structures were still in their
limestone casings. The best white stone came from Tura, but
many different quarries in historic Egypt. For more
inset in the image shows the valley temples of Khafre and
served by the same canal connected with the Nile.
Although pharoanic pyramids continued to be produced up until
of the second intermediate period, the really big ones died
out in the
6th Dynasty of the old Kingdom. The last Pharaoh of the
Dynasty, Unas, produced a pyramid that was about 55 meters
Pepi II of the 6th Dynasty produced the last big pyramid built
old tradition. By his time, "pyramid texts" were popular
later were written on scrolls as "books of the dead"), and all
chambers and passages of Pepi's pyramid were covered with
carvings of the texts. The valley and pyramid temples of
were of a more complex plan than was usual.
When the New Kingdom pharaohs abandoned the pyramid for for
tombs, that made the form available for commoners. The
examples are in the workers' and bureaucrats' villages in the
necropolis. The one in the image has been heavily
restored as an
The last Egyptian gasp of the pyramid builders took place away
south above the 5th Cataract in Nubia. The Nubians took
of Egypt in the 25th Dynasty, and to prove that they were
Egyptians" and not foreigners they adopted everything
including, of course, pyramids. Soon any Nubian who
to build a pyramnid, and so there are now actually more
northern Sudan (ancient Nubia) than there are in Egypt.
biggest Nubian pyramid belonged to Taharqa, one of those 25th
pharaohs, who ruled from 690 to 656 BC. It sits in the
one of several Nubian pyramid fields in and around
pyramids had a much steeper slope than those of the earlier
and that worked for the smaller ones. The larger ones,
Taharqa's could not support their own weight, and the results
in the second image.
This pyramid was incorporated into the southern side of the
walls of Rome next to Porta Ostiensis between 271 and 275
pyramid itself dates from 14 BC, according to its inscription,
built as a tomb for Gaius Cestius Epulo, a magistrate and
member of one
of the four great religious corporations at Rome, the
epulonum. By this time, Egypt had been conquerred
and, technically, was a personal fief of Augustus, who had
proclaimed Pharaoh after the death of Cleopatra and of her son
Julius Caesar, Ptolemy Caesar. Egyptian
themes, which had become unpopular at the time of Antony and
were now again safe to pursue in Rome.
Some more recent pyramids. The pyramid shape is
popular, in part because of its historical connections and its
permanency. It still appears in architecture and, of
every US $1 bill.