Do you want to understand the role of these colossal buildings in ancient Egypt? To understand how the pyramids were linked to the Egyptian mythology? And also to discover the theories on the other presumed roles of the pyramids?
Our team of enthusiasts will be delighted to enlighten you on these three questions!
What were the pyramids used for? The Egyptian pyramids are the tombs of the pharaohs of the IVth dynasty. Thanks to their square funnel shape, the pyramids allow the souls of pharaohs to concentrate at the monuments' summits in order to ascend easily to the sky to the gods of Egypt.
In this article, we will discover together:
- How the pyramids allowed the pharaohs to find rest in the Afterlife according to the religion of the ancient Egyptians.
- What did the pyramids contain in their large galleries and burial chambers.
- How the pyramids fulfilled their role of protecting the earthly bodies of the deceased pharaohs.
After reading the following few paragraphs, you will fully understand what the giant pyramids of the Nile country are for.
Let's get started without further ado!
1) The functions of pyramids
Pyramids are today as much the reference symbols of ancient Egypt as they are of modern Egypt.
Nevertheless, during the course of Egyptian civilization, the pyramids were much more than that: their role was to authorize the kings of Upper and Lower Egypt, the pharaohs, to lead splendid and uninterrupted lives in the Afterlife alongside the gods.
So let's look at the two main roles of the pyramids.
A) Their role linked to Egyptian mythology
According to Egyptian mythology, life after death takes place in three locations. These locations are: the Underworld (below the surface of the earth), the Afterlife (the paradise of normal Egyptians located on an island far from Egypt) and in the Celestial World (the world of the gods). Pharaohs aspire to reach the Celestial World with the aim of living in joy and prosperity alongside the gods.
Thus, in a somewhat counter-intuitive way, the pyramids are a means for pharaohs to ascend to join the Sun god Ra and the other gods in the heavens after their earthly deaths.
For this purpose, the very shape of these monuments (an inverted pyramid-shaped funnel with an opening towards the top) allows the soul of the pharaoh to come out of his body and concentrate in a single point to ascend little by little towards the sky.
In addition, to ensure that the pharaoh would be well received in his "next life", many valuables were placed in the pyramids. Most of these objects were intended to be useful to the pharaoh in his second life. Thus, it was not uncommon to find objects such as beds, chairs and even boats (having the function of allowing the pharaoh to navigate in the heavens alongside Ra) placed in the different rooms of the pyramid.
Yet, functional objects were not enough: the pyramids also contained objects of inestimable value that a pharaoh would have to offer to the gods in order to reign at their side. Jewelry, masks, sarcophagi and statues of luxurious deities were stored in the various funerary chambers of the pyramid, forming a veritable treasure trove.
Of course, the Egyptians quickly understood that this wealth would quickly attract tomb robbers who would not hesitate to desecrate the pyramids of their owners for the sake of gain. This brings us to the second role of the pyramids: the protection of the bodies of the pharaohs.
As demonstrated by the size of this ancient funerary barge found in one of the ascending corridors of the pharaoh Khafre's pyramid, the Egyptian pyramids were built to be well-filled!
B) Tombs of pharaohs
The pyramids have nothing to envy the castles of the Middle Ages: they are places designed to be inviolable.
Indeed, according to Egyptian beliefs, damage or outrage inflicted on the body of the pharaoh could have serious repercussions in his "second eternal life".
Thus, numerous traps and hieroglyphs bearing divine curses were laid out in such a way as to dissuade the desecration of grave robbers. Moreover, in addition to traps such as "trapped slabs", "trapped doors" and "snake pits", the architecture almost always provided for an easy to find "false king's chamber" in order to protect the pharaoh's real chamber.
However, despite all these carefully considered and costly precautions, it is estimated that all the treasures of the pyramids disappeared a little before the year 1000 BC.
On this diagram revealing the secrets of the Pyramid of Khufu, one can clearly see the part in the ground containing the false chamber of the pharaoh. This room is very easy to discover since a visitor only has to walk in a straight line from the main entrance of the building to get there!
2) The most famous pyramids
When you arrive here, you know all about the main roles of the pyramids. However, one thing may be missing: the story of three pyramids which made all the others known for their size and resistance to time.
Indeed, although the history of all Egyptian pyramids begins with the Pyramid of Djoser, a so-called step pyramid (i.e. a pyramid with a stepped pyramidal shape and not a smooth surface), it is the three Pyramids of the Giza Plateau, much more impressive in terms of size, that have marked history.
Let's discover without further ado, one by one, these three pyramids located near the ancient city of Memphis, south of Cairo
A) The Pyramid of Khufu
Pharaoh builder: Khufu (who reigned for 63 years)
Date: around 2560 BC
Size of the pyramid: 230 meters long | 146 meters high
The first of the pyramids listed among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is the pyramid of Khufu. The pharaoh Khufu was remembered by history as the pharaoh who built the largest pyramid in Egypt and the world.
This was made possible by his very long reign (63 years) which allowed him to work on the construction of a building made up of 2 million of limestone blocks. This construction required the work of a permanent force of 15,000 workers (a number of men needed to build a building which has never been reached again in history).
Originally 146 meters high, it is now only 137 meters high due to the progressive subsidence of its stones over the centuries. However, if we look at the resilience of this square-based pyramid against time, it's not so bad for a pyramid around 4,500 years old!
B) The Pyramid of Khafre
Pharaoh builder: Khafre (who reigned for 26 years)
Date: around 2500 BC
Size of the pyramid: 215 meters long | 143.5 meters high
The second of the most famous pyramids in the world is that of Khafre, the son of Khufu. Almost as high as the previous pyramid, however, the pyramidal funerary complex of Khafre was built in much less time (thanks to the architectural experience gained from the construction of the Pyramid of Khafre).
The Pyramid of Khafre is surprisingly much less famous than its eternal guardian: the Sphinx of Giza. The latter built at the same time as it represents a being half-lion half-pharaoh whose mission is to impress the grave robbers by its characteristics which are both superanimal (by its lion side) and superhuman (by its pharaoh side).
In the effigy of Khafre, the Sphinx has become a legend through the mystery of the loss of his nose.
C) The Pyramid of Menkaure
Pharaoh builder: Menkaure (who reigned for 18 years)
Date: around 2480 BC
Size of the pyramid: 105 meters long | 65.5 meters high
The last pyramid of Giza to be built on the left bank of the Nile is the one built by pharaoh Menkaure.
This last building is the smallest of the Giza site. Indeed, Menkaure having reigned for a period about three times shorter than that of Khufu, it is quite normal that his pyramid is three times smaller than that of the first pharaoh of the site.
Monuments of Egypt!
That's it, you now know absolutely all about the different roles of the pyramids.
You know the three pyramids that made all the others known (those of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure) and what their two main roles were (mythological/religious and funerary).
If you liked the meaning behind these pyramids, you should know that Egyptian History is very happy to offer its readers interested in ancient Egypt a beautiful selection of rings and necklaces inspired by ancient Egypt.
To discover them, simply click on the image below!