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Pyramids

Pyramids

Historians have said that most of what humans know about ancient cultures is based on funerary artifacts. Certainly no other example of mortuary culture stands out in modern consciousness than the Egyptian pyramids. The first large-scale stone construction in Egypt was the funerary complex of the Third Dynasty king, Netjerikhet Djoser at Saqqara, demonstrating already at this point in history the strong connection between the pyramid and the royal afterlife. This monument was designed by the king's famous vizier and overseer of works: Imhotep. At its center stood a step-pyramid rising in seven stages to approximately 240 feet in height. Pyramid building reached its climax during the Fourth Dynasty. The first king of the dynasty, Snofru, constructed the first true pyramid, but it was his son Khufu (Kheops) who built the first and largest of all the pyramids at Giza. Over 2.3 million blocks of stone averaging around 2.5 tons apiece were used to erect this enormous structure, which attained a height of about 481 feet and whose square base was 756 feet at each side.

These enormous constructions must have placed a considerable strain on the nation's resources, so it is not surprising that after the Fourth Dynasty both pyramids and royal mortuary complexes and their pyramids dramatically decreased in scale and their construction was shoddier. After some rather small monuments at the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty, pyramids ceased to be used for royal burials. Nevertheless, the Egyptians continued to consider pyramids as the most preferable tomb form so that small versions were occasionally incorporated into the superstructure of private tombs during the New Kingdom and Ramesside periods.

The fact that such an inconceivable amount of energy would be expended on these massive funerary structures has given rise to many fantastical alternative explanations as to their origin and purpose. Even though texts explain little specifically about the meaning of the pyramids and say virtually nothing about how they were built, the preponderance of evidence clearly shows that they were intended as the kings' funerary monuments. A combination of archaeological evidence from the sites along with some sparse textual material clearly demonstrates a connection between these monuments and the royal mortuary cult. However, there was a strong association with worship of the sun god Re, the chief religious belief during the Old Kingdom. The pyramids' shape reminds some of a staircase, but a similarity with a sunburst seems a more probable intent.

Normally the pyramid was the largest part of a vast, tripartite temple enclosure whose purpose was to maintain the king's cult, theoretically in perpetuity. The design details changed constantly, but retained essentially the same pattern. The main access to the pyramid complex was at the valley temple at the edge of the cultivation in the Nile valley, usually affording access to a canal. The valley temple was connected to the high desert plateau by a covered causeway. Finally, the pyramid precinct itself was surrounded by an enclosure wall behind which were subsidiary temples and satellite pyramids intended for the king's soul or family members.

The very fact that the pyramids were intended for the king meant that they had a much broader connection with religion. In Egyptian religious and political ideology, the kingwho was both the earthly incarnation of the god Horus and the son of the sun god Rawas always the nexus between humanity and the realm of the gods. Therefore the pyramids were not merely royal tombs but national endeavors that could help all Egyptians in terms of the gods and the afterlife, reminiscent of the spirit that one can sense behind the great European cathedrals. Interestingly, they did provide at least symbolic immortality to their occupants.

See also: Egyptian Book of the Dead; Immortality; Mummification; Tombs

Bibliography

Edwards, I. E. S. The Pyramids of Egypt. Harmondsworth: 1985.

Lehner, Mark. The Complete Pyramids. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997.

OGDEN GOELET JR.

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pyramid (structure)

pyramid: The true pyramid exists only in Egypt, though the term has also been applied to similar structures in other countries. Egyptian pyramids are square in plan and their triangular sides, which directly face the points of the compass, slope upwards at approximately a 50° angle from the ground and meet at an apex. The prototype for the pyramid are the mastabas of the Old Kingdom (2680–2565 BC), which are rectangular in plan and have only two sloping sides. After these came the step-pyramid at Sakkara, built c.2620 BC, which soon evolved into the straight-sided true pyramid. This monumental structure was developed around the IV dynasty and continued to be the favored form for royal burial through the VI dynasty.

Each monarch built his own pyramid in which his mummified body might be preserved for eternity away from human view and sacrilege. As a result of the lack of sophisticated machinery, the construction of each pyramid took many years and required measureless amounts of building materials and labor. Entrance into a pyramid is through an opening in the northern wall. A small passage, traversing lesser chambers, leads to the sepulchral room deep beneath the surface. Stone blocks forming a gable divert the weight of the great masonry masses over these chambers. Though the pyramids were usually built of rough stone blocks laid up in horizontal courses, many were constructed of mud bricks with a stone casing.

The three pyramids of Giza near Cairo, all of the IV dynasty, are the largest and finest of their kind. The Great Pyramid of Khufu or Cheops (begun c.2680 BC) was designated one of the Seven Wonders of the World and is the largest pyramid ever built. A solid mass of limestone blocks covering 13 acres (5.3 hectares), it was originally 756 ft (230 m) along each side of its base and 482 ft (147 m) high. It has several passages, two large chambers in addition to one beneath the ground level, and two small air chambers for ventilation.

Although not true pyramids, pyramidical structures were also built by the Mesopotamians and by the Maya of Mexico and Central America. Mesopotamian ziggurat was square in plan and built up in receding terraces. Mayan pyramids, built in steep, receding blocks, also were topped by ritual chambers, and in some cases, possessed an interior crypt. Stepped funeral pyramids dating from the 4th cent. BC were discovered in the 1990s in the Altai region of Siberia. The Romans built small pyramidical tombs of which the most famous was the Pyramid of Cestius (62 BC–12 BC) in Rome. Built of concrete faced with marble, it has an interior tomb vault and is 116 ft (35 m) high. Many modern architects have admired pyramids for their pure geometry. In the reconstruction of the Louvre in Paris, architect I. M. Pei added a pyramidal entrance pavilion (1987–89).

See I. E. S. Edwards, The Pyramids of Egypt (rev. ed. 1961); P. Tompkins, Secrets of the Great Pyramid (1971); K. Mendelssohn, The Riddle of the Pyramids (1974).

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Pyramids

PYRAMIDS

Burial monuments for ancient Egyptian kings.

For over a thousand years, from the Step Pyramid of King Djoser (r. 26542635 b.c.e.) to the beginning of the New Kingdom with the Eighteenth Dynasty (1549 b.c.e.), Egyptian kings were buried in pyramid tombs. There may be as many as one hundred; remains of some that are mentioned in texts have not yet been discovered. The ruler's pyramid was the center of a pyramid complex, which generally included a mortuary temple on the east side, a causeway leading down to a valley temple on the edge of the flood plain, and subsidiary pyramids for queens. All were plundered long ago. The three major pyramids of Giza (Fourth dynasty, c. 25472475 b.c.e.), the largest of which is that of Khufu (Cheops), are the most famous. Easily visible from Cairo, they are central objectives of archaeological research and tourism. Khufu's Great Pyramid is unusual in containing three burial chambers, probably reflecting changes in plan, with the king buried in the uppermost. The interior walls of the pyramid of Unas, the last ruler of the 5th Dynasty (23752345 b.c.e), and those of the 6th Dynasty (23452181 b.c.e) at Saqqara are elaborately inscribed with religious passages known as Pyramid Texts. After Egyptian rulers stopped building pyramids, nonroyal funerary chapels sometimes included small pyramid-shaped structures. Centuries later in what is now northern Sudan, the Nubian kings of Meroe and Napata built steep-sided pyramids on a smaller scale than those of their Egyptian predecessors. First depicted on postage stamps in 1867 and giving their name to al-Ahram (Egypt's leading newspaper), they have become national symbols of Egypt.

see also giza.

Bibliography


Edwards, I. E. S. Pyramids of Egypt. New York: Penguin Putnam, 1986.

Lehner, Mark. The Complete Pyramids: Solving the Ancient Mysteries. London: Thames and Hudson, 1997.


donald malcolm reid

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Pyramids

Pyramids Monuments on a square base with sloping sides rising to a point. They are associated particularly with ancient Egypt, where some of the largest survive almost intact. They served as burial chambers for pharaohs. The earliest Egyptian pyramid was a step pyramid (ziggurat), built c.2700 bc for Zoser. Pyramid building in Egypt reached its peak during the 4th dynasty, the time of the Great Pyramid at Giza. The largest pyramid in the world, it was built for Khufu c.2500 bc, and stands 146m (480ft) high with sides 231m (758ft) long at the base. The largest New World ziggurat pyramid was built at Teotihuacán, Mexico, in the 1st century ad; it was 66m (216ft) high with a surface area of 50,600sq m (547,200sq ft).

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pyramid

pyramid a monumental structure with a square or triangular base and sloping sides that meet in a point at the top, especially one built of stone as a royal tomb in ancient Egypt.

Pyramids were built as tombs for Egyptian pharaohs from the 3rd dynasty (c.2649 bc) until c.1640 bc. The early step pyramid, with several levels and a flat top, developed into the true pyramid, such as the three largest at Giza near Cairo (the Pyramids, including the Great Pyramid of Cheops) which were one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Monuments of similar shape are associated with the Aztec and Maya civilizations of c.1200 bc–ad 750, and, like those in Egypt, were part of large ritual complexes.

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"pyramid." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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pyramid

pyramid monumental (esp. Egyptian) structure with polygonal base and sloping sides meeting in an apex; pile of this shape. XVI. — (orig. used in L. nom. form) L. pyramis, -id- — Gr. puramís, -id-.
So pyramidal XVI. — medL.

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