A glance backwards shows a stark contrast between the still murky, though intriguing evidence from the Predynastic era and the much clearer foreshadowing of later Egyptian culture in the Early Dynastic. From the often small, often almost insignificant objects of the period, we get important information. But we must not exaggerate the importance of what we find, and skepticism is required with regard to some claims.
Let us take the institution of kingship. For a long time Henri Frankfort’s 1948 book “Kingship and the Gods” seemed to be the last word. In essence Frankfort took the royal propaganda at face value: the reigning king was simply a god, like all the other gods--maybe even superior in some respects. Further reflection suggests a need for nuance.
What do we really know of Early Dynastic kingship? The Narmer Palette shows the king as a killer, though ostensibly in a good cause: the unity of the land. He also promotes public works (the macehead). He enjoys a special relationship with Horus (and sometimes with Seth). He can renew himself by performing the Heb-Sed ritual.
Yet here some questions intrude. What god needs the tonic of a Heb-Sed to keep going? Moreover, if the pharaohs were gods, why couldn’t they keep their tombs from being pillaged? Clearly, we must separate hype from reality.
Later European regalia imagery suggests a fundamental distinction between head and hand items. Crowns seem to stem from helmets, and are protective, not aggressive. As a rule hand items--in Egypt the mace, crook, and flail--are assertive tokens, suggesting the ruler’s capacity to correct and quell by violence.
Our term “pharaoh” stems from the ancient Egyptian per-aa, meaning “Great House.” Compare our own synecdoche: the White House (when the president is meant).
Another light is cast on the matter by the Egyptian formulas for the ROYAL TITULARY. This sequence did not achieve full standardization until the Middle Kingdom, but the process of accretion can already be witnessed in the Early Dynastic era.
In the early reigns of the first dynasty, royal nomenclature was restricted to the Horus name, shown in a serekh surmounted by the falcon (occasionally the Seth animal appeared instead). Den was the first to add “he of the sedge and the bee” (nesw-bit, which later became a standard feature). Later Huni (end of third dynasty) introduced the cartouche to frame his nesw-bit name, while Djedefre (fourth dynasty) was the first to use the “son of Ra” title, introducing the birth name.
Here is the standard sequence:
1) The Horus name was originally written in a serekh (cf. the beautiful Wadji stele). At least one Egyptian ruler, Peribsen (second dynasty), substituted an image of the god Seth for Horus, perhaps signifying an internal religious division within the country. He was succeeded by Khasekhemwy, who placed the symbols of both Seth and Horus above his name. This variation proved transitory, and the Horus form became standard.
2) The Nebty, or Two Ladies name, was associated with the so-called “heraldic” goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt: Nekhbet, a vulture deity, and Wadjet, a cobra deity.
3) The Golden Horus name typically featured the image of a Horus falcon perched above or beside the hieroglyph for gold. The meaning of this particular title remains unclear. One suggestion is that it alludes to the triumph of Horus over his uncle Seth, as the symbol for gold can be taken to mean that Horus was "superior to his foes." Gold also was strongly associated in the ancient Egyptian mind with eternity, so this may have been intended to convey the pharaoh's eternal Horus name.
4) The Praenomen is the throne name. It usually has the title nesw-bit, “he of the sedge and the bee.”
5 The personal name, or Nomen was the name given at birth. The name itself was preceded by the title "Son of Ra," written with the hieroglyph of a duck (za), a homonym for the word meaning "son" (za), adjacent to an image of the sun, a hieroglyph for the chief solar deity Ra. It was first introduced to the set of royal titles during the fourth dynasty and emphasizes the king's role as a representative of the solar god Ra.
What can we glean from this quintet? Four deities are mentioned, Horus (twice), Nekhbet, Wadjet, and Ra. Items 2 and 4 incorporate the Egyptian idea of complementary duality.
We then turned to the select roster of early royal STATUES. The little ivory figure in the British Museum (apparently first dynasty), shows the stooped figure of the aging monarch bearing the white crown and apparently wearing the Heb-sed robe.
At the end of the second dynasty, with the two Khasekhem images (we looked at the better preserved one in Cairo), we see the emergence of the paradigm of the seated monarch--a formula that is to last throughout Egyptian history. At 22 inches high, the Cairo figure does not reach the realm of life-size images. However, at 55 in. the awesome Djoser image (from his serdab) does. So this sequence of three royal figures seems to display a decisive developmental trajectory.
The third dynasty has provided some other important figures. The standing figures of Sepa and Noset (Louvre) suggest that private sculture in the round had not yet achieved the authority displayed by the royal figures. The Hesyre reliefs in wood show an impressive mastery of the bas relief form. The standing figure of the scribe is in proper fractional representation. (Whether it was laid out using the grid remains uncertain). The splendid figure of Radyzen, the “king’s daughter,” seems to be from the same workshop as the Djoser (though her relation to him is uncertain).
We turn to the question of the origin of the PYRAMID. Is the step pyramid the immediate ancestor? That is, does it constitute a protopyramid? We returned to the mysterious landmark of Saqqara 3038; why was the nine-step pyramid encased in a palace facade enclosure? Compare the Merneith example. The Djoser enclosure and step pyramid could be regarded as an enormous enlargement of the 3038 paradigm: a step pyramid surrounded by a palace-facade perimeter.
We returned to the Djoser precinct at Saqqara, noting the basic outline of stages of erection: first a square mastaba, which was then enlarged; then a four-stage step pyramid; then the final enlargement (some have discerned some other manipulations along the way, but these are the main stages of construction). It is oriented, but is three degrees off true N-S. Egyptian geometry was, as far as we know, ad hoc without the benefit of a “Euclidian” treatise, but it worked well enough.
The monument shows two main types of masonry: one in pyramid itself, and more refined type in walls, especially in the Heb-Sed court. The North Palace facade with its wonderful courses of ashlar masonry shows an application of the principle of modularity aka deployment of standard parts. (Contrast Mycenae’s Lion Gate.). The principle of skeuomorphism, transfer from one medium to another, finds various applications, including the papyrus columns, imitation of brick courses in ashlar masonry, and mimicry of the blue tiles in the vault containing the running Djoser.
The following is an excursus on STONES. Egypt offers abundant stone of various types so that there was no need to import. Generally speaking, one can distinguish between soft (sandstone, limestone) and hard (siltstone aka slate, diorite) stones. Although copper tools were available, in general the Egyptians preferred stone tools--stone cutting stone. Unlike the pyramids themselves, the quarries were staffed by criminals and prisoners of war. The roughly shaped stones were brought to the site by water, using sledges and human labor for shorter distances. They were then carefully dressed. (On this subject, see the monograph of Dieter Arnold, “Building in Egypt.”)
We then turned to the stages of the emergence of the true PYRAMID.
This accomplishment is due to the extraordinary exertions orchestrated by Sneferu, founder of the fourth dynasty. (Apparently the son of Huni, Sneferu was married to Hetepheres I who is thought to have been the daughter of his father Huni, and therefore, his father-in-law may also have been his father.)
As a builder, Sneferu was actually more prolific than his more famous son Khufu, being responsible for constructing three pyramids. During the first fifteen years of his reign he completed a step pyramid at Meidum, following the example of his predecessors in the third dynasty. So far so good. But then he moved his residence to the Dahshur area, about 25 miles north, and resolved to create the first true pyramid. In the execution of the structure subsidence developed and the angle of the incline had to be changed: hence the term Bent Pyramid. He finally got it right, so the reasoning goes, by constructing the North or Red Pyramid, also at Dahshur.
Near the end of his life, it seems that Sneferu pushed his luck by seeking to encasing the old-fashioned step pyramid at Meidum so that it too would become a true pyramid. The casing collapsed, and today one only sees a melancholy three-stepped tower rising among a sloping mound of debris.
Sneferu may be said to have practiced “experimental” pyramid building, with all the risks that such an endeavor implies. His successors profited from his mistakes. While the pyramids built under Sneferu are individually smaller than the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the total volume of stone used in Sneferu's monuments surpasses that of any other pharaoh.
The GREAT PYRAMID is the oldest and largest of the Giza trio. Thanks to a discovery of payment graffiti at the Red Pyramid of Sneferu, it has been possible to calculate by analogy the rate of construction as about 11 and 1/2 years. The heaviest work crews were required for the first 2-3 years, when the foundations and lowest courses were laid. Then the work could proceed at a comparatively leisurely pace. Most scholars agree that the stones were hauled up huge earthen ramps, later dismantled.
The masonry was not uniform, for originally the Great Pyramid was covered by casing stones in fine Turah limestone that formed a smooth outer surface. What we see today is the underlying core structure. Some of the casing stones that once covered the structure are scattered around the base.
There are three known chambers inside the Great Pyramid. The lowest chamber is cut into the bedrock upon which the pyramid was built and was unfinished. The so-called “Queen's Chamber” and King's Chamber are higher up, being embedded within the pyramid structure. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the main part of a complex setting of buildings that included two mortuary temples in honor of Khufu (one close to the pyramid and one near the Nile), three smaller pyramids for Khufu's wives, an even smaller "satellite" pyramid, a raised causeway connecting the two temples, and small mastabas surrounding the pyramid for nobles.
Some have speculated that Hemiunu, the king’s vizier, was the architect of the Great Pyramid.
The Great Pyramid commands superlatives. It is thought that, when complete, the monument was 280 Egyptian royal cubits high, 480.97 feet, but with erosion and pillaging of the casing, its current height is considerably less. Each base side was 440 royal cubits. The Great Pyramid contains about 2,300,00 blocks of stone. The size of the courses diminishes towards the top. Many of the casing stones and interior chamber blocks of the great pyramid were fit together with extremely high precision. Based on measurements taken on the northeastern casing stones, the mean opening of the joints are only 1/50th of an inch wide. The accuracy of the pyramid's workmanship is such that the four sides of the base have a mean error of only 58 millimeters in length, and 1 minute in angle from a perfect square. The base is horizontal and flat to within 15 mm. The sides of the square are closely aligned to the four cardinal compass points.
As noted above, there has been much speculation as to whether the Egyptians knew such principles as pi and the Pythagorean triangle. It seems likely that they proceeded empirically, by trial and error, incorporating basic geometrical principles without formulating them theoretically.
The base of the Great Pyramid of Giza is not a perfect square. The base is a four-pointed star, each side of the pyramid being slightly concave, i.e. each face of the pyramid is indented from the corner to the midpoint of the base. This design feature can only be seen from the air, at certain times of the day. It was first photographed in 1940.
This concavity divides each of the apparent four sides in half, creating a very special and unusual eight-sided pyramid; and it is executed to such an extraordinary degree of precision as to enter the realm of the uncanny. For, viewed from any ground position or distance, this concavity is invisible to the naked eye. This subtlety foreshadows the “optical corrections” of later Greek architecture.
In AD 1301 a massive earthquake loosened many of the outer casing stones, which were then carted away by the Mamluke Sultan An-Nasir Nasir-ad-Din al-Hasan in 1356 in order to build mosques and fortifications in Cairo.
One of the mysteries of the pyramid's construction is how they planned its construction. John Romer (author of a recent major monograph on the Great Pyramid) suggests that they used the same method that had been used for earlier and later constructions, laying out parts of the plan on the ground at a 1 to 1 scale. He writes that "such a working diagram would also serve to generate the architecture of the pyramid with a precision unmatched by any other means."
The Great Pyramid is remarkable for containing both ascending and descending passages. As noted above, there are three known chambers inside the Great Pyramid. These are arranged centrally, on the vertical axis of the pyramid. From the entrance, an 18-meter corridor leads down and splits in two directions. One way leads to the lowest and unfinished chamber. This chamber is cut into the bedrock upon which the pyramid was built. It is the largest of the three, but totally unfinished, only rough-cut into the rock. The other passage leads to the Grand Gallery (49 m x 3 m x 11 m), where it splits again. One tunnel leads to the Queen's Chamber, a misnomer, while the other winds to intersect with the descending corridor. The Grand Gallery itself features a corbel haloed design. An antechamber leads from the Grand Gallery to the King's Chamber.
The sarcophagus of the King's Chamber was hewn out of a single piece of Red Aswan granite and has been found to be too large to fit through the passageway leading to the chamber. Whether the sarcophagus was ever intended to house a body is unknown. It is too short to accommodate a medium height individual without the bending of the knees, a technique not practiced in Egyptian burial, and no lid was ever found. The King's Chamber contains two small shafts that ascend out of the pyramid. These shafts were once thought to have been used for ventilation, but this idea was eventually abandoned, which left Egyptologists to conclude they were instead used for ceremonial purposes. Some now think that they were to allow the Pharaoh's spirit to rise up and out to the heavens.
The so-called “Queen's Chamber” is the middle and the smallest, measuring approximately 5.74 by 5.23 meters, and 4.57 meters in height. Its eastern wall has a large angular doorway or niche. Mark Lehner believes that the Queen's chamber was intended as a serdab, a structure found in several other Egyptian pyramids, and that the niche would have contained a statue of the interred.
The Queens Chamber has a pair of shafts similar to those in the King's Chamber, which were explored using a robot, Upuaut 2, created by the German engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink. In 1992, Upuaut 2 discovered that these shafts were blocked by limestone "doors" with two eroded copper handles. In a film often seen on TV, the National Geographic Society recorded the drilling of a small hole in the southern door, only to find another larger door behind it. The northern passage, which was harder to navigate due to twists and turns, was also found to be blocked by a door.
The "unfinished chamber" lies 27.5 meters below ground level and is rough-hewn, lacking the precision of the other chambers. Egyptologists suggest that the chamber was intended to be the original burial chamber, but that King Khufu later changed his mind and wanted to be interred higher up in the pyramid.
KHAFRE’s pyramid is the second largest of the Giza group. The pyramid has a base length of 215.25 m (707 ft) and originally rose to a height of 143.5 m (471 ft). The slope of the pyramid rises at an 53° 10' angle, steeper than its neighbor, Khufu’s pyramid, which has an angle of 51°50'40". The pyramid sits on bedrock 10 m (33 ft) higher than Khufu’s pyramid, a situation that makes it appear to be taller
The pyramid is built of horizontal courses. The stones used at the bottom are very large, but as the pyramid rises, the stones become smaller, becoming only 50 cm (20 in) thick at the apex. The courses are rough and irregular for the first half of its height but a narrow band of regular masonry is clear in the midsection of the pyramid. Casing stones cover the top third of the pyramid, but the little pyramidion is missing.
Two entrances lead to the burial chamber, one that opens 11.54 m (38 ft) up the face of the pyramid and one that opens at the base of the pyramid.
One theory as to why there are two entrances is that the pyramid was intended to be much larger with the northern base shifted 30 m (98 ft) further to the north which would make the Khafre’s pyramid much larger than his father’s pyramid. This would place the entrance to lower descending passage within the masonry of the pyramid. While the bedrock is cut away farther from the pyramid on the north side than on the west side, it is not clear that there is enough room on the plateau for the enclosure wall and pyramid terrace. An alternative theory is that, as with many earlier pyramids, plans were changed and the entrance was moved midway through construction.
The pyramid was surrounded by a terrace 10 m (33 ft) wide paved with irregular limestone slabs behind a large perimeter wall.
To the east of the Pyramid sat the mortuary temple. It is larger than previous temples and is the first to include all five standard elements of later mortuary temples: an entrance hall, a columned court, five niches for statues of the pharaoh, five storage chambers, and an inner sanctuary. There were over 52 life-size statues of Khafre, but these were removed and recycled, possibly by Ramesses II. The temple was built of megalithic blocks (the largest is an estimated 400 tonnes, but it is now largely in ruins.
A causeway runs 494.6 meters to the valley temple. The valley temple is similar to the mortuary temple, but much better preserved. The valley temple is built of megalithic blocks sheathed in red granite. The square pillars of the T -haped hallway were made of solid granite and the floor was paved in alabaster. The exterior was built of huge blocks some weighing over 100 tonnes. There are sockets in the floor that would have fixed 23 statues of Khafre, but except for one magnificent specimen these have since been plundered.