Why Were the Pyramids Built?

The pyramids of Egypt were built as tombs for ancient pharaohs. Because they were considered both human and divine, pharaohs were believed to become mediators between gods and humans after death. Since a part of the spirit supposedly remained with the body, the entombed body was mummified and surrounded with objects needed in the afterlife, including furniture, food and gold.

Though earlier kings built rectangular tombs called mastabas that were precursors to the pyramids, the first real pyramid was built around 2630 B.C. for a pharaoh named Djoser. Located at Saqqara, it was known as the step pyramid, as it consisted of mastabas of decreasing size stacked on top of each other.

The most famous pyramids are the pyramids of Giza, the largest of which is known as the Great Pyramid. It was built for the pharaoh Khufu, or Cheops, and was originally over 480 feet high, which makes it the largest pyramid in the world. Smaller pyramids nearby were built for Khufu’s sons and queens. Many thousands of laborers had to move the millions of stones necessary to build these structures. As the power of pharaohs and belief in their divinity waned, pyramids dwindled in size. The last known pyramid builder was Pepy II, who reigned from 2278 to 2184 B.C.

Robbers, both ancient and modern, removed many of the bodies and implements from the pyramids over the years. However, what remained, as well as the hieroglyphics in the tombs, provided a wealth of information about the culture, religion and customs of ancient Egypt.