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Flourished Circa 2585-2560 b.c.e.

King, dynasty 4


Great Pyramid. Khufu or Cheops ruled Egypt from circa 2585-2560 b.c.e. and built the Great Pyramid at Giza, the only remaining building described as one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. In addition to his architectural projects, he was an innovator who associated the king with the sun-god Re.

Family. Multiple marriages with siblings and half siblings complicated Khufu’s family tree. Yet, many details of his family connections have been deduced from names found in tombs. His full name was Khuefwi-Khnum, “May (the god) Khnum protect me.” He was the son of the previous king, Sneferu, and Queen Hetepheres I. He had brothers and sisters who were buried near their father’s pyramid in Dahshur. These princes include Ii-nofer, Netjeraperef, and Kanofer. Khufu’s chief wife was Meritites, who bore his son Kawab, who died before coming to the throne. Henutsen, a second queen, was mother of at least two other sons, the kings Djedefre and Khafre. Djedefre ruled for four years after Khufu. Khafre built the second pyramid at Giza while he was king and was succeeded by his son Menkaure, builder of the third pyramid at Giza. Khufu’s fourth known son, Hordjedef, was a famous philosopher whose writing was well known through the New Kingdom (circa 1539-1075 b.c.e.). Khufu’s most famous daughter was Hetepheres II, named after her grandmother. She first married her (half?) brother Kawab and then her (half?) brother Djedefre. No kings resulted from these unions. Her daughter Meresankh III, from her marriage to Kawab, became the wife of her uncle Khafre. Meresankh III was not, however, the mother of Menkaure, the following king. This complicated genealogy perhaps suggests that some of the marriages among siblings were more ceremonial than actual marriages.

Feuds? In every generation of Dynasty 4 (circa 2625-2500 b.c.e.), the new king moved his royal residence. Some scholars have interpreted these moves as evidence of a family feud or even competition over the royal throne. Since every king of the dynasty founded a new royal residence, however, other explanations for the moves are equally possible.

Residences. None of the Dynasty 4 residences were more than one day’s travel from the previous residence. Today all of these sites are in view of each other across the desert. Khufu moved the royal court from his father’s capital at Dahshur to Giza. Khufu’s move followed a custom established at least by the time of his father Sneferu. Sneferu had moved the capital away from his father Huni’s residence at Saqqara. Khufu’s son and immediate successor Djedefre moved the residence to Abu Rowash. The next king, Khufu’s son Khafre, moved the residence back to Giza and built the second pyramid. Khafre’s immediate successor, the little-known Baka, moved the residence to Saqqara. Menkaure followed Baka on the throne; he established his residence at Giza and built the third pyramid. Finally, Menkaure’s son Shepseskaf established his residence at Saqqara South.

Another Explanation. There are many possible interpretations of these moves other than intrafamily hostility. Each residence was also the site of the previous king’s burial. Younger sons and daughters of the previous Icing were normally buried near him and had official functions in the continuing cult of the deceased king. The purpose of the site must have shifted from living residence to funeral cult after the king died. A new residence was then built to honor the living king. The new king also could supervise the construction of his pyramid. Each succeeding king supported his predecessor’s cult with offerings. These offerings clearly demonstrated the lack of official hostility from one generation to the next.

Designing the Pyramids. When Khufu moved to Giza, it was uninhabited. Khufu’s architect, his nephew Hemiunu, might have trained when his grandfather Sneferu built his pyramids at Dahshur. He designed the pyramid and two associated temples and a causeway that led from the Nile Valley up to the desert plateau. Some scholars associate the Great Sphinx at Giza with Khufu’s pyramid, though traditionally the Sphinx has been interpreted as an image of Khafre, Khufu’s son.

Mastaba Tombs. Hemiunu also designed rows of mastaba tombs for the bureaucrats who ran the government and the family members who were mostly priests of Khufu’s cult. There were at least fifty tombs neatly arranged in rows on streets around the Great Pyramid. They were built of stone and contained delicate relief carving. In general these tombs lacked large-scale sculpture of the deceased. Only the king’s direct descendents or the highest officials had three-dimensional sculptures representing them. Some scholars have interpreted the lack of sculpture as part of Khufu’s religious program to associate himself with the sun god Re.

Politics and Religion. The restrictions on sculpture suggest part of Khufu’s religious program. In addition, Khufu’s son Djedefre was the first Egyptian king to call himself by the title Son of Re. This title implied that Khufu was more strongly associated with the god Re than previous kings had claimed. Children with royal blood, the blood of Re, were restricted from government positions outside the priesthood. In contrast, Sneferu’s children in the previous reign had held government positions of real power.

Length of Reign. The length of Khufu’s reign is unclear. The Turin Canon, a king list from the New Kingdom, listed Khufu with twenty-three years. The highest year date contemporary with his reign is Year 22. Yet, many scholars believe that twenty-three years would not have been sufficient time to build the Great Pyramid. Rainer Stadelmann has suggested that 23 is an inversion of 32, an amount of time that would have permitted the completion of Khufu’s building projects.

Memory of Khufu. The Egyptians remembered Khufu as a cruel man, though he was honored as a god as late as the first millennium. A papyrus from the Hyksos Period (circa 1630-1539 b.c.e.) that probably was originally composed in the Middle Kingdom (circa 1980-1630 b.c.e.) described Khufu’s indifference to human life. Khufu ordered a magician to demonstrate his claim that he could sever and rejoin a head and its body with human prisoners. The magician was forced to warn the king that such tricks were only safe with animals. The Greeks also remembered Khufu as cruel and impious. This opinion was probably based on the size of the Great Pyramids. The Greeks could only see it as an example of overweening pride. In reality, little can be known of the king’s personality. His success as an administrator who could organize and command large groups of people, however, cannot be denied.


George Hart, Pharaohs and Pyramids: A Guide through Old Kingdom Egypt (London: Herbert, 1991).

Zahi Hawass, “Khufu,” in Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, volume II, edited by Donald B. Redford (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 234.

Jaromir Malek, In the Shadow of the Pyramids: Egypt During the Old Kingdom (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986).

Peter Tompkins, Secrets of the Great Pyramid (New York: Harper & Row, 1971).


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Khufu (reigned 2590-2568 B.C.), or Cheops, was an Egyptian king who built the Great Pyramid at Giza and ruled as the second king of the Fourth Dynasty.

The son and immediate successor of Queen Hetepheres and King Snefru, the founder of the Fourth Dynasty (ca. 2613-2494 B.C.), Khufu is perhaps better known by his Greek name, Cheops. His Great Pyramid at Giza marks the climax in pyramid building in respect to both size and quality of construction. No monument in Egypt has been surveyed and measured so often and so carefully. Its base covers an area of 13.1 acres, and a survey undertaken in 1925 showed that the difference between the longest and shortest sides was only 7.9 inches. When complete, it rose to a height of 481.4 feet, the top 31 feet of which are now missing.

It has been estimated that the core of local stone and the outer facing of the completed pyramid were composed of about 2,300,000 separate blocks, each averaging about 2 1/2 tons. The outer facing was originally of Tura limestone, but with the exception of a few pieces at the base, all this has been stripped off the sides. The capstone, which was possibly of granite, has also been removed.

The original entrance was in the north face at a height of about 55 feet measured vertically above ground level. According to a Moslem tradition, a large opening a little below it was made during the 9th century A.D. at the command of the caliph al-Mamun, who mistakenly believed that the pyramid contained hidden treasure.

The internal arrangements show two changes of plan, the latter of which involved the construction of the famous Grand Gallery, which slopes upward to the burial place, now known as the King's Chamber. Adjoining the east face of the pyramid was the Mortuary Temple.

Little is known of the events of this King's reign, but some indication of the extent of Egypt's power and influence at this time is afforded by the occurrence of his name on monuments ranging from Nubia to Sinai and even farther afield. A stele bearing his name was found in the diorite quarries northwest of Toshka in the Nubian Desert, and a relief at Wadi Maghara in Sinai depicts him smiting the local Bedouin.

Further Reading

What is known of the events of Khufu's reign is discussed by William Stevenson Smith in The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 1 (2d ed. 1962). For information on the Great Pyramid at Giza see lowerth Eiddon Stephen Edwards, The Pyramids of Egypt (rev. ed. 1961), and on the tomb of Khufu's mother, Hetepheres, see "The Tomb of Hetep-heres" in volume 2 of George Andrew Reisner and William Stevenson Smith, A History of the Giza Necropolis (2 vols., 1942-1955). A background work is Sir A. H. Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs (1961). □


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Cheops (fl. early 26th century bc), Egyptian pharaoh of the 4th dynasty; Egyptian name Khufu. He commissioned the building of the Great Pyramid at Giza.