Pyramid Building in the Old and Middle Kingdoms
With the Third Dynasty, Egypt entered into the five centuries
of high culture known as the Pyramid Age. The age is associated
with Chancellor Imhotep, the adviser, administrator, and
architect of Pharaoh Djoser. He built the pharaoh's funerary
complex, including his tomb, the Step Pyramid, at Saqqarah.
Imhotep is famed as the inventor of building in dressed stone.
His architectural genius lay in his use of durable, fine-quality
limestone to imitate the brick, wood, and reed structures that
have since disappeared.
The first true pyramid was built by Snoferu, the first king
of the Fourth Dynasty. His son and successor, Kheops, built the
Great Pyramid at Giza (Al Jizah); this, with its two companions
on the same site, was considered one of the wonders of the
ancient world. It contained well over 2 million blocks of
limestone, some weighing fifteen tons apiece. The casing stones
of the Great Pyramid were stripped off to build medieval Cairo
The building and equipping of funerary monuments represented
the single largest industry through the Old Kingdom and, after a
break, the Middle Kingdom as well. The channeling of so much of
the country's resources into building and equipping funerary
monuments may seem unproductive by modern standards, but pyramid
building seems to have been essential for the growth of pharaonic
As Egyptologists have pointed out, in ancient societies
innovations in technology arose not so much from deliberate
research as from the consequences of developing lavish court
projects. Equally important, the continued consumption of so
great a quantity of wealth and of the products of artisanship
sustained the machinery that produced them by creating fresh
demand as reign succeeded reign.
The pyramids of the pharaohs, the tombs of the elite, and the
burial practices of the poorer classes are related to ancient
Egyptian religious beliefs, particularly belief in the afterlife.
The Egyptian belief that life would continue after death in a
form similar to that experienced on earth was an important
element in the development of art and architecture that was not
present in other cultures. Thus, in Egypt, a dwelling place was
provided for the dead in the form of a pyramid or a rock tomb.
Life was magically recreated in pictures on the walls of the
tombs, and a substitute in stone was provided for the perishable
body of the deceased.
Data as of December 1990