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Template:Infobox pharaoh

"Cheops" redirects here. For other uses, see Cheops (disambiguation).

Khufu (/ˈkf/ KOO-foo), originally Khnum-Khufu (/ˈknmˈkf/ KNOOM-koo-foo), is the birth name of a Fourth Dynasty ancient Egyptian pharaoh, who ruled in the first half of the Old Kingdom period (26th century BC). Khufu was the second pharaoh of the 4th dynasty; he followed his possible father, king Sneferu, on the throne. He is generally accepted as having commissioned the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but many other aspects of his reign are rather poorly documented.[1][2]

Khufu is well known under his Hellenized name Khêops or Cheops (/ˈkɒps/, KEE-ops; Greek: Χέοψ, by Diodorus and Herodotus) and less well known under another Hellenized name, Súphis (/ˈsfs/ SOO-fis; Greek: Σοῦφις, by Manetho).[1][2] A rare version of the name of Khufu, used by Josephus, is Sofe (/ˈsɒf/ SO-fe; Greek: Σοφε).[3] Arab historians, who wrote mystic stories about Khufu and the Giza pyramids, called him Saurid or Salhuk.[4]

The only completely preserved portrait of the king is a three-inch high ivory figurine found in a temple ruin of later period at Abydos in 1903. All other reliefs and statues were found in fragments and many buildings of Khufu are lost. Everything known about Khufu comes from inscriptions in his necropolis at Giza and later documents. For example, Khufu is the main actor of the famous Papyrus Westcar from the 13th dynasty.[1][2]

Most documents that mention king Khufu were written by ancient Egyptian and Greek historians around 300 BC. Khufu's obituary is presented there in a conflicting way: While the king enjoyed a long lasting cultural heritage preservation during the period of the Old Kingdom and the New Kingdom, the ancient historians Manetho, Diodorus and Herodotus hand down a very negative depiction of Khufu's character. Thanks to these documents, an obscure and critical picture of Khufu's personality persists.[1][2]


Khufu's origin

Portrait of Sneferu, Khufu's father or stepfather

The royal family of Khufu was quite large. It is uncertain if Khufu was actually the biological son of Sneferu. Mainstream Egyptologists believe Sneferu was Khufu's father, but only because it was handed down by later historians that the eldest son or a selected descendant would inherit the throne.[5] In 1925 the tomb of queen Hetepheres I, G 7000x, was found east of Khufu's pyramid. It contained many precious grave goods, and several inscriptions give her the title Mut-nesut (meaning "mother of a king"), together with the name of king Sneferu. Therefore, it seemed clear at first that Hetepheres was the wife of Sneferu, and that they were Khufu's parents. More recently, however, some have doubted this theory, because Hetepheres is not known to have borne the title Hemet-nesut (meaning "king's wife"), a title indispensable to confirm a queen's royal status.[5][6] Instead of the spouse's title, Hetepheres bore only the title Sat-netjer-khetef (verbatim: "daughter of his divine body"; symbolically: "king's bodily daughter"), a title mentioned for the first time.[6] As a result, researchers now think Khufu may not have been Sneferu's biological son, but that Sneferu legitimised Khufu's rank and familial position by marriage. By apotheosizing his mother as the daughter of a living god, Khufu's new rank was secured. This theory may be supported by the circumstance that Khufu's mother was buried close to her son and not in the necropolis of her husband, as it was to be expected.[5][6][7]

Family tree

The following list presents family members, which can be assigned to Khufu with certainty.

  • Sneferu: Most possibly his father, maybe just stepfather. Famous pharaoh and builder of three pyramids.
  • Hetepheres I: Most possibly his mother. Wife of king Snefru and well known for her precious grave goods found at Giza.
Portrait of prince Rahotep.
Slab stela of princess Nefertiabet.


Brothers and Sisters:[5][6][7]

  • Hetepheres: Wife of Ankhaf.
  • Ankhhaf: The eldest brother. His nephiew would later become pharao Khafra.
  • Nefermaat: Half-brother; buried at Meidum and owner of the famous "mastaba of the geese".
  • Rahotep: Elder brother or half-brother. Owner of a life-size double statue portraying him and his wife Nofret.

Sons of Khufu:[5][6][7]



Nephews and nieces:[5][6][7]

  • Hemiunu: Director of the building of Khufu's great pyramid.
  • Nefertkau III: Daughter of Meresankh II.


Granite fragment with Khufu's horus name Medjedu on it.

Length of reign

It is still unclear how long Khufu ruled over Egypt, because historically later documents contradict each other and contemporary sources are scarce. The Royal Canon of Turin from 19th dynasty however, gives 23 years of rulership for Khufu.[1][9] The ancient historian Herodotus gives 50 years and the ancient historian Manetho even credits him 63 years of reign. These figures are now considered an exaggeration or a misinterpretation of antiquated sources.[1]

Sources contemporary to Khufu's time give three key pieces of information: One of them was found at the Dakhla Oasis in the Libyan Desert. Khufu's serekh name is carved in a rock inscription reporting the "Mefat-travelling in the year after the 13th cattle count under Hor-Medjedu".[10] The second source can be found in the relieving chambers inside Khufu's pyramid above the burial chamber. One of these inscriptions mentions a workmen's crew named "friends of Khufu" alongside the note "in the year of the 17th cattle count", but it is questioned, if the number of years points to an biennial cattle count, or if the number must be taken verbatim.[1][9] Newer evidence from Wadi al-Jarf however, give a third clue about the true length of reign: Several papyrus fragments contain handwritten reports from a royal harbour at today Wadi al-Jarf. The inscription describes the arrival of royal boats with precious ore and turquoise in the "year after the 13th cattle count under Hor-Medjedw".[11][12] Therefore, Khufu's highest known and certain preserved date is the "Year after the 13th cattle count".[1][9]

In attempt to solve the riddle around Khufu's true length of rulership, modern Egyptologists point to Sneferu's reign, when the cattle count was held every second year of a king's rulership. The cattle count as an economic event served the tax collection in the whole of Egypt. Newer evaluation of contemporary documents and the Palermo stone inscription strengthen the theory that the cattle count under Khufu was still performed biennial, not annual, as thought earlier.[1][9]

Egyptologists such as Thomas Schneider, Michael Haase and Rainer Stadelmann, wonder if the compiler of the Turin Canon actually took into account, that the cattle count was performed biennial during the first half of the Old Kingdom period, whilst tax collection during the 19th dynasty was held every year. In sum, all these documents would prove that Khufu ruled for at least 26 or 27 years, and possibly for over 34 years, if the inscription in the relieving chambers point to a biennial cattle count. And if the compiler of the Turin Canon did not take into account a biannual cattle count, it could even mean that Khufu ruled for 46 years.[1][11]

Political activities

There are only few hints about Khufu's political activities within and outside Egypt. Within Egypt, Khufu is documented in several building inscriptions and statues. Khufu's name appears in inscriptions at Elkab and Elephantine and in local quarries at Hatnub and Wadi Hammamat. At Saqqara two terracotta figures of the goddess Bastet were found, at their bases the horus name of Khufu is incised. They were deposited at Saqqara during the Middle Kingdom, but their creation can be dated back to Khufu's reign.[13]

Wadi Maghareh

Drawing of the relief of Khufu from Wadi Maghareh.[14]

At the Wadi Maghareh in Sinai a rock inscription depicts Khufu with the double crown. Khufu sent several expeditions in an attempt to find turquoise and copper mines. Like other kings, such as Sekhemkhet, Sneferu and Sahure, which are also depicted in impressive reliefs there, he was looking for those two precious materials.[15] Khufu also entertained contacts with Byblos. He sent several expeditions to Byblos in an attempt to trade copper tools and weapons for precious Lebanese Cedar wood. This kind of wood was essential for building large and stable funerary boats and indeed the boats discovered at the Great Pyramid were made of it.[16]

Wadi al-Jarf

New evidence regarding political activities under Khufu's reign has recently been found at the site of the ancient port of Wadi al-Jarf on the Red Sea coast east of Egypt. First traces of such an harbour were already excavated in 1823 by John Gardner Wilkinson and James Burton, but the site was quickly abandoned and then forgotten in time. In 1954, French scholars François Bissey and René Chabot-Morisseau re-excavated the harbour, but their works were stopped soon, too. The reason for this was the Suez Crisis. In June 2011, an archaeological team led by French egyptologist Pierre Tallét and Gregory Marouard, organized by the French Institute of Oriental Archeology (IFAO), restarted work at the same place. Among other material, a collection of hundreds of papyrus fragments were found at the site.[11][12]

Ten of these papyri are very well preserved. The majority of these documents date to the 27th year of Khufu's reign and describe how the central administration sent food and supplies to the sailors and wharf workers. The datation of these important documents is secured by phrases typical for the Old Kingdom period, alongside the fact, that the letters are addressed to the king himself and Khufu is addressed by his Horus name. This was a typical behaviour when an addressed king was still alive, when the ruler was already dead, he was addressed by his cartouche name or birth name. One document is of special interest: the diary of Mererer, an official involved in the building of the Great Pyramid. Using the diary, researchers were able to reconstruct three months of his life, providing new insight into everyday lives of people of the Fourth Dynasty. These papyri are the earliest examples of imprinted papyri ever found in Egypt. Another inscription, found at limestone walls of the harbor, mention the head of the royal scribes controlling the ware exchanges: Idu.[11][12]

Khufu's cartouche name is also inscribed on some of the heavy limestone blocks at the site. The harbor was of strategic and economic importance to Khufu, because ships delivered precious materials, such as turquoise, copper and ore from the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula. The papyri fragments show several storage lists naming the delivery goods. The papyri also mention a certain harbour at the opposite coast of Wadi al-Jarf, on the western shore of the Sinai Peninsula, where the ancient fortress Tell Ras Budran was excavated in 1960 by Gregory Mumford. The papyri and the fortress reveal together an explicit sailing route across the Red Sea for the very first time in history. It is the oldest archaeologically detected sailing route of Ancient Egypt. According to Tallét, the harbor could also have been one of the legendary high sea harbours of Ancient Egypt, from where expeditions to the infamous goldland Punt had started.[11][12]

Monuments and statues

Ivory idol of Khufu in detail


The only three-dimensional depiction of Khufu, that has survived time nearly completely, is a small and well restored ivory figurine known as Khufu Statuette. It shows the king with the Red Crown of Lower Egypt.[17] The king is seated on a throne with a short backrest, at the left side of his knees the Horus-name Medjedu is preserved, at the right side the very scarce rest of the lower part of the cartouche name Khnum-Khuf is visible. Khufu holds a flail in his left hand, his right hand rests together with the lower arm on his right upper leg. The artifact was found in 1903 by Flinders Petrie at Kom el-Sultan near Abydos. The figurine was found headless, according to Petrie it was caused by an accident while digging. When Petrie recognized the importance of the find, he made all workings stop and offered a reward to any workman who could find the head. Three weeks later the head was found after intense sifting in a deeper level of the room rubble.[18] Today the little statue is restored and on display in the Egyptian Museum of Cairo in room 32 under its inventory number JE 36143.[19] Most Egyptologists believe the statuette is contemporary, but some scholars, such as Zahi Hawass, think that it was an artistic reproduction of the 26th dynasty. He argues, that no building that surely dates to the 4th dynasty was ever excavated at Kom el-Sultan or Abydos. Furthermore, he points out that the face of Khufu is unusually squat and chubby and shows no emotional expression. Hawass compared the facial stylistics with statues of contemporary kings, such as Sneferu, Khaefra and Menkaura. The faces of these three kings are of even beauty, slender and with a kindly expression – the clear result of idealistic motivations; they are not based on reality. The appearance of Khufu on the ivory statue instead looks like the artist did not care very much about professionalism or diligence. And Khufu himself would have never allowed the display of such a comparatively sloppy work. And finally, Hawass also argues that the sort of throne the figurine sits on does not match the artistic styles of any Old Kingdom artifact. Old Kingdom thrones had a backrest that reached up to the neck of a king. But the ultimate proof that convinces Hawass about the statue being a reproduction of much later time is the Nehenekh-flail in Khufu's left hand. Depictions of a king with such a flail as a ceremonial insignia appear no earlier than during the Middle Kingdom. Zahi Hawass therefore concludes that the figurine was possibly made as an amulet or lucky charm to sell to pious citizens.[17][19]

Head in ivory of Khufu exposed in Altes Museum

It is often said that the small figurine was the only preserved statue of Khufu. This is not quite correct. Excavations at Saqqara in 2001 and 2003 revealed a pair of terracotta statues depicting a lion goddess (possibly Bastet or Sakhmet). On her feet two figures of childlike kings are preserved. While the right figurine can be identified as king Khufu by his Horus name, the left one depicts king Pepy I of 6th dynasty, called by his birth name. It is obvious that the figurines of Pepy were added to the statue groups in later times, because they were placed separately and at a distance from the deity. This is inconsistent with a typical statue group of the Old Kingdom, normally all statue groups were built as an artistic unit. Both statue groups are worked out similar to each other (both have the same size and scale), the only difference is that one lion goddess holds a scepter. The excavators point out, that the statues were restored during the Middle Kingdom, after they were broken apart. But it seems that the reason for a restoration lay in an interest for the goddess, more than for a royal cult around the king figures: their names were covered with gypsum.[20]

The Palermo Stone reports on its fragment C-2 the creation of two oversize standing statues for the king, one is said to have been made of copper, the other one made of pure gold.[1][17]

Furthermore, several alabaster and travertine fragments of seated statues, which were found by George Reisner during his excavations at Giza, were once inscribed with Khufu's full royal titulary, today the complete or partial preserved cartouches with the name Khufu or Khnum-Khuf are left over. One of the fragments, that of a small seated statue, shows feet of a sitting king from their knuckles downward. To the right of them the name ...fu in a cartouche is visible, and it can easily be reconstructed as the cartouche name Khufu.[17][21]

Two further objects are on display at the Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum Hildesheim, these are also made of alabaster. One of them shows the head of a cat goddess (most possibly Bastet or Sakhmet). The position of her right arm suggests that the bust once belonged to a statue group similar to the well known triad of Mycerinus.[22]

Several statue heads might have belonged to Khufu. One of them is the so-called "Brooklyn head" of the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. It is 54,3 cm large and made of pink granite. Because of its chubby cheeks the head is assigned to Khufu as well as to king Huni.[23] A similar object is on display at the state collection of Egyptian art in Munich. The head is made of limestone and with only 5,7 cm comparatively small.[24]

Relief fragment depicting Khufu with the Red Crown


Khufu is depicted in several relief fragments found scattered in his necropolis and elsewhere. All reliefs were made of finely polished limestone. Some of them originate from the ruined pyramid temple and the destroyed causeway, where they once covered the walls completely. Others were found re-used in the pyramid necropolis of king Amenemhet I at Lisht and at Tanis and Bubastis.[1][17] One of the relief fragments show the cartouche of Khufu with the phrase: "Building of the sanctuaries of the gods". Another one shows a row of fat oxen decorated with flowers – they were obviously prepared as sacrifices during an offering procession. The guiding inscription calls them "the surroundings of Tefef serve Khufu", "beautiful bulls of Khufu" and "bawling for Khufu".[25] A third one shows the earliest known depicting of royal warfare: the scene is called "archer's prepare", since it shows archers drawing their bows. And a fourth example shows the king with the double crown and impaling a hippopotamus.[26][27]

At the Wadi Maghareh in Sinai a rock inscription contains Khufu's names and titles and reports: "Hor-Medjedu, Khnum-Khuf, Bikuj-Nebu, the great god and smiter of the troglodytes, all protection and life are with him". The work-off of the relief is likewise to that of king Snefru. In one scene king Khufu wears the double-crown, nearby the depiction of the god Thoth is visible. In another scene, close by, Khufu wears the Atef-crown while smiting an enemy. In this scene the god Wepwawet is present.[15][28]

Interestingly, none of the numerous relief fragments shows king Khufu offering to a god. This is remarkable, since reliefs of Sneferu and those of all kings from Menkaura onward show the king offering to a deity. It is possible, that the lack of this special depicting program influenced later ancient Greek historians in their assumptions, that Khufu could have actually closed all temples and prohibited any sacrifice.[17][29]


Map of Khufu's necropolis
Seal impression of Khufu with the name of his necropolis Akhet-Khufu.
The great sphinx

The pyramid necropolis of Khufu was erected at the north-east section of the plateau of Giza. It is possible that the lack of building space, the lack of local limestone quarries and the loosened ground at Dahshur forced Khufu to move north, away from the necropolis of his predecessor Sneferu. Khufu chose the high end of a natural plateau, so that his future pyramid would be widely visible. Khufu decided to call his necropolis Akhet-Khufu (meaning "horizon of Khufu").[30][31][32][33]

The Great Pyramid has a base measurement of ca. 750 ft x 750 ft (~230m) and today a height of 455.2 ft (~140m). Once it had been 481 ft high, but the pyramidion and the limestone casing are completely lost due to stone robbery. The lack of the casing allows a full view to the inner core of the pyramid. It was erected in small steps by more or less roughly hewn blocks of dark limestone. The casing was made of nearly white limestone. The prisms for the casing were finely polished at their displaying site. The complete freshly set casing made the pyramid shimmer in bright natural lime white. The pyramidion could have been covered with electrum, but up to this day there is no archaeological proof for that. The inner corridors and chambers have walls and ceilings made of polished granite, one of the hardest stone known at Khufu's time. The used mortar was a mixture of gypsum, sand, pulverized limestone and water.[30][31][32]

The monument has its original entrance at the northern side and contains three chambers: at the top, the burial chamber of the king (king's chamber), in the middle, the statue chamber (erroneously called queen's chamber), and an unfinished subterranean chamber (underworld chamber) under the foundation of the pyramid. Whilst the burial chamber is identified by its large sarcophagus made of granite, the use of the "queen's chamber" is still disputed – it might have been the serdab of the Ka-statue of Khufu. The subterranean chamber remains mysterious. It was left unfinished; a tight corridor heading south at the western end of the chamber and an unfinished shaft at the eastern middle might point out that the subterranean chamber was the eldest of the three chambers and that the original building plan contained a simple chamber complex with several rooms and corridors. But for some unknown reasons the works were stopped and two further chambers had been built inside the pyramid. Remarkable is the so-called Great Gallery leading to the king's chamber: It has a niched ceiling and measures 28.7 ft in height and 151.3 ft in length. The gallery has an important static function, it diverts the weight of the stone masses above the king's chamber into the surrounding pyramid core.[30][31][32]

Khufu's pyramid was surrounded by an enclosure wall, each wall 33 ft in distance from the pyramid. At the eastern site, directly in front of the pyramid, the mortuary temple was built. Its foundation was made of black basalt, a great part of which is still preserved. Pillars and portals were made of red granite, the ceiling stones made of white limestone. Today nothing is left over from the temple. From the mortuary temple a 0.43 miles long causeway once headed to the valley temple. The valley temple was possibly made of the same stones as the mortuary temple, but since even the foundation is not preserved, the original form and size of the valley temple remain unknown.[30][31][32][33]

At the eastern site lies the East Cemetery of the Khufu-necropolis, containing the mastabas of princes and princesses. Three small satellite pyramids, belonging to the queens Hetepheres (G1-a), Meritites I (G1-b) and possibly Henutsen (G1-c) were erected at the south-east corner of Khufu's pyramid. Close behind the queen's pyramids G1-b and G1-c the cult pyramid of Khufu was found in 2005. At the southern site lie some further mastabas and the pits of the funerary boats of Khufu. At the western site lies the West Cemetery, where the highest officials and priests were interred.[30][31][32][33]

A possible part of the necropolis of Khufu is the famous Great Sphinx of Giza. It's a 241 ft x 66.6 ft large limestone statue in shape of a recumbent lion with the head of a human, decorated with a royal Nemes-headdress. The sphinx was directly hewn out of the plateau of Giza and originally painted with red, ocher, green and black. Up to this day it is passionately disputed who exactly gave the order to build it: the most possible candidates are Khufu, his elder son Djedefra and his younger son Khaefra. The difficulties for a correct allocation lie within the total lack of any perfectly preserved portrait of Khufu. The faces of Djedefre and Khaefra are both pretty similar to that of the sphinx, but they also do not perfectly fit. Another riddle is the original cultic and symbolic function of the sphinx. Much later it was called Heru-im-Akhet (Hârmachís; "horus at the horizon") by the Egyptians and Abu el-Hὀl ("father of terror") by the Arabians. It might be that the sphinx -as an allegoric and mystified representation of the king- simply guarded the sacred cemetery of Giza.[30][31][32][33]

Khufu in later Egyptian traditions

Cartouche name Chefu in the Abydos King List

Old Kingdom

Khufu enjoyed an extensive mortuary cult during the Old Kingdom. At the end of 6th dynasty at least 67 mortuary priests and 6 independent high officials serving at the necropolis are archaeologically attested. Ten of them were already serving during the late 4th dynasty (seven of them were royal family members), 28 were serving during the 5th dynasty and 29 during the 6th dynasty. This is remarkable: Khufu's famous (step-)father Sneferu enjoyed "only" 18 mortuary priesthoods during the same period of time, Djedefra enjoyed even only 8 and Khaefra enjoyed 28. Such mortuary cults were very important for the state's economy, because for the oblations special domains had to be established. A huge amount of domain's names is attested for the time of Khufu's reign. But already at the end of the 6th dynasty the sum of domains abated quickly. With the beginning of the 7th dynasty no domain's name is handed down anymore.[1][2][34]

Middle Kingdom

At Wadi Hammamat a rock inscription dates back to the 12th dynasty. It lists five cartouche names: Khufu, Djedefra, Khafra, Baufra and Djedefhor. Because all royal names are written inside cartouches, it was often believed that Baufra and Djedefhor once had ruled for short time, but contemporary sources entitle them as mere princes. Khufu's attendance roll call in this list might indicate that he (and his followers) was worshipped as a patron saint. This theory is promoted by findings such as alabaster vessels with Khufu's name found at Koptos, the pilgrimage destination of Wadi Hammamat travellers.[5][6][7]

A literary masterpiece from 13th dynasty talking about Khufu is the famous Papyrus Westcar, where king Khufu witnesses a magical wonder and receives a prophecy from a magician named Dedi. Within the story, Khufu is characterised in a difficult-to-assess way. At one side he is depicted as ruthless when deciding to have a condemned prisoner become decapitated to test the alleged magical powers of Dedi. At the other side Khufu is depicted as inquisitive, reasonable and generous: He accepts the outrage and following alternative offer of Dedi for the prisoner, questions the circumstances and contents of Dedi's prophecy and rewards the magician generously after all. The contradictory depiction of Khufu is object of great disputes between Egyptologists and historians up to this day. Especially earlier Egyptologists and historians such as Adolf Erman, Kurt Heinrich Sethe and Wolfgang Helck evaluated Khufu's character as heartless and sacrilegious. They lean on the ancient Greek traditions of Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus, who described an exaggerated negative character image of Khufu, ignoring the paradoxical (because positive) traditions the Egyptians themselves had always taught.[34][35][36][37][38]

Close-up of the dream stele

But other Egyptologists such as Dietrich Wildung see Khufu's order as an act of mercy: the prisoner would have received his life back if Dedi actually had performed his magical trick. Wildung thinks that Dedi's refusal was an allusion to the respect Egyptians showed to human life. The ancient Egyptians were of the opinion that human life should not be misused for dark magic or similar evil things. Verena Lepper and Miriam Lichtheim suspect that a difficult-to-assess depiction of Khufu was exactly what the author had planned. He wanted to create a mysterious character.[34][35][36][37][38]

New Kingdom

During the New Kingdom the necropolis of Khufu and the local mortuary cults were newly organized and Giza became an important economic and cultic place to go again. During the 18th dynasty king Amenhotep II erected a memorial temple and a royal fame stela close to the Great Sphinx. His son and throne follower Thutmose IV freed the sphinx from sand and placed a memorial stela – known as the "Dream Stele" – between her frontal paws. Both stela inscriptions are similar in their narrative contents, but none of them gives closer and more plausible information about the true builder of the sphinx.[1][2][34]

Golden sealing ring with the cartouche name of Khufu (26th Dynasty).

At the end of the 18th dynasty a temple for the goddess Isis were built at the satellite pyramid G-I-c (that of queen Henutsen) at Khufu's necropolis. During the 21st dynasty the temple got extended, during the 26th dynasty the extensions continued. From this period of time several priests of Isis, which were also priests of Khufu, worked here. The so-called Inventory Stela, created at the end of 26th dynasty, tells the story about the founding of the Great Pyramid and that Khufu was the builder. From the same dynasty a golden sealing ring with the name of a priest Neferibrê was found at Giza.[1][2][34]

Late Period

During the Late Period huge numbers of scarabs with the name of Khufu were sold to the citizens, possibly as some kind of lucky charms. More than 30 scarabs are preserved. At the Isis' temple a family tree of the Isis-priests is on display, which lists the name of priests from 670 to 488 BC.. But modern egyptologists question Khufu's role as a still personally adored royal ancestor, they think it more likely that Khufu was already seen as a mere symbolic foundation figure for the history of the Isis-temple.[1][2][34][39]

Khufu in ancient Greek traditions

Bust of Herodotus


The later Egyptian historian Manetho called Khufu "Sûphis" and credited him with a rulership of 63 years. He also mentions that Khufu built the Great Pyramid, then he claims that his contemporary Herodotus says that the pyramid was built by a king "Khéops". Obviously, Manetho thought "Khéops" and "Sûphis" to be two different kings. Manetho also says that Khufu received a contempt against the gods and that he had written a sacred book about that and that he (Manetho) received that book during his travel through Egypt. The story about the alleged "Sacred Book" is questioned by modern Egyptologists, for it would be highly unusual that a pharaoh wrote books and that such a precious document could be sold away so easily.[40][41][42]


The Greek historian Herodotus instead depicts Khufu as a heretic and cruel tyrant. In his literary work Historiae, Book II, chapter 124–126, he writes: "As long as Rhámpsinîtos was king, as they told me, there was nothing but orderly rule in Egypt, and the land prospered greatly. But after him Khéops became king over them and brought them to every kind of suffering: He closed all the temples; after this he kept the priests from sacrificing there and then he forced all the Egyptians to work for him. So some were ordered to draw stones from the stone quarries in the Arabian mountains to the Nile, and others he forced to receive the stones after they had been carried over the river in boats, and to draw them to those called the Libyan mountains. And they worked by 100,000 men at a time, for each three months continually. Of this oppression there passed ten years while the causeway was made by which they drew the stones, which causeway they built, and it is a work not much less, as it appears to me, than the pyramid. For the length of it is 5 furlongs and the breadth 10 fathoms and the height, where it is highest, 8 fathoms, and it is made of polished stone and with figures carved upon it. For this, they said, 10 years were spent, and for the underground chambers on the hill upon which the pyramids stand, which he caused to be made as sepulchral chambers for himself in an island, having conducted thither a channel from the Nile. For the making of the pyramid itself there passed a period of 20 years; and the pyramid is square, each side measuring 800 feet, and the height of it is the same. It is built of stone smoothed and fitted together in the most perfect manner, not one of the stones being less than 30 feet in length. This pyramid was made after the manner of steps, which some call 'rows' and others 'bases': When they had first made it thus, they raised the remaining stones with devices made of short pieces of timber, lifting them first from the ground to the first stage of the steps, and when the stone got up to this it was placed upon another machine standing on the first stage, and so from this it was drawn to the second upon another machine; for as many as were the courses of the steps, so many machines there were also, or perhaps they transferred one and the same machine, made so as easily to be carried, to each stage successively, in order that they might take up the stones; for let it be told in both ways, according as it is reported. However that may be, the highest parts of it were finished first, and afterwards they proceeded to finish that which came next to them, and lastly they finished the parts of it near the ground and the lowest ranges. On the pyramid it is declared in Egyptian writing how much was spent on radishes and onions and leeks for the workmen, and if I remember correctly what the interpreter said while reading this inscription for me, a sum of 1600 silver talents was spent. Kheops moreover came to such a pitch of evilness, that being in want of money he sent his own daughter to a brothel and ordered her to obtain from those who came a certain amount of money (how much it was they did not tell me). But she not only obtained the sum that was appointed by her father, but she also formed a design for herself privately to leave behind her a memorial: She requested each man who came in to her to give her one stone for her building project. And of these stones, they told me, the pyramid was built which stands in front of the great pyramid in the middle of the three, each side being 150 feet in length."[34][41][42]

The same goes for the story about king Khafre. He is depicted as the direct follower of Khufu and as likewise evil and that he ruled for 56 years. In chapter 127–128 Herodotus writes: "After Khéops was dead his brother Khéphrên succeeded to the royal throne. This king followed the same manner as the other ... and ruled for 56 years. Here they reckon altogether 106 years, during which they say that there was nothing but evil for the Egyptians, and the temples were kept closed and not opened during all that time".[34][41][42]

Herodotus closes the story of the evil kings in chapter 128 with the words: "These kings the Egyptians -because of their hate against them- are not very willing to say their names. What's more, they even call the pyramids after the name of Philítîs the shepherd, who at that time pastured flocks in those regions."[34][41][42]

Diodorus of Sicily

The ancient historian Diodorus claims that Khufu was so much abhorred within his own folks in later times, that the mortuary priests secretly brought the royal sarcophagus, together with the corpse of Khufu, to another, hidden grave. With this narration he strengthens and confirms the view of the Greek scholars, that Khufu's pyramid (and the other two, too) must have been the result of slavery. But at the same time Diodorus distances himself from Herodotus and argues, that Herodotus "only tells fairy tales and entertaining fiction". Diodorus claims, that the Egyptians at his lifetime were unable to tell him with certainty, who actually built the pyramids. He also states that he didn't really trust the interpreters and that the true builder might have been someone different: the Khufu pyramid was -according to him- built by a king named Harmais, the Khafre pyramid was thought to be built by king Amasis II and the Menkaura pyramid was allegedly the work of king Inaros I.[9]

Diodorus states that the Khufu pyramid was beautifully white covered, but the top was said to be capped, the pyramid therefore already had no pyramidion anymore. He also thinks that the pyramid was built with ramps, which were removed during the finishing of the lime stone shell. Diodorus estimates, that the sum of workers was of 300.000 and the building works lasted for 20 years.[9]

Khufu in Arabic traditions

In 642 A.C. the Arabs conquered Egypt. When arriving the Giza pyramids, they searched for explanations as who could have built these monuments. At the Arabian times, no inhabitant of Egypt was able to tell and no one could translate the Egyptian hieroglyphs anymore. As a consequence, the Arabian historians wrote down their own theories and stories.[4][43]

The best known story about Khufu and his pyramid can be found in the book Hitat (completely: al-Mawāʿiẓ wa-’l-iʿtibār fī ḏikr al-ḫiṭaṭ wa-’l-ʾāṯār), written in 1430 by Muhammad al-Maqrizi (1364-1442). This book contains several collected theories and myths about Khufu, especially about the Great Pyramid. Though King Khufu himself is seldom mentioned, many Arab writers are convinced that the Great Pyramid (and the others, too) were built by the god Hermes (named Idris by the Arabs).[4][43]

Al-Maqrizi notes, that Khufu was named Saurid, Salhuk and/or Sarjak by the biblical Amalekites. Then he writes, that Khufu built the pyramids after repeating nightmares, in which the earth turned upside-down, the stars fell down and people were screaming in terror. Another nightmare showed the stars falling down from heaven and kidnapping humans, then putting these beneath two large mountains. King Khufu then received a warning by his prophets about a devastating deluge, that would come and destroy Egypt. To protect his treasures and books of wisdom, Khufu built the three pyramids of Giza.[4][43]

Modern egyptological evaluations

Over time, Egyptologists examined possible motives and reasons as to how Khufu's reputation changed over time. Closer examinations of and comparisons between contemporary documents, later documents and Greek and Coptic readings reveal that Khufu's reputation changed slowly, and that the positive views about the king still prevailed during the Greek and Ptolemaic era.[44] Alan B. Lloyd, for example, points to documents and inscriptions from the 6th dynasty listing an important town called Menat-Khufu, meaning "nurse of Khufu". This town was still held in high esteem during the Middle Kingdom period. Lloyd is convinced that such a heart-warming name wouldn't have been chosen to honour a king with a bad (or, at least, questionable) reputation. Furthermore, he points to the overwhelming amount of places where mortuary cults for Khufu were practiced, even outside Giza. These mortuary cults were still practiced even in Saitic and Persian periods.[44]

The famous Lamentation Texts from the First Intermediate Period reveal some interesting views about the monumental tombs from the past; they were now seen as a proof of vanity. But, however, they give no hint about a negative reputation of the kings themselves, thus they do not judge Khufu in a negative way.[44]

Today Egyptologists evaluate especially Herodotus's and Diodorus's story as some sort of defamation, based on both authors' contemporary philosophy. They also call for caution against the credibility of the ancient traditions. They argue that the classical authors lived around 2000 years after Khufu and their sources that were available in their lifetimes surely were antiquated.[34][41] Additionally the Egyptologists point out that the philosophies of the ancient Egyptians had completely changed since the Old Kingdom. Over-sized tombs such as the Giza pyramids must have appalled the Greeks and even the later priests of the New Kingdom, because they surely remembered the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten and his megalomaniac building projects.[41][42] This extremely negative picture was obviously projected onto Khufu and his pyramid. The view was possibly promoted by the fact that during Khufu's lifetime, permission for the creation of oversized statues made of precious stone and their displaying in public was limited to the king only.[2][34] In their era, the Greek authors, mortuary priests, and temple priests couldn't explain the impressive monuments and statues of Khufu other than the result of a megalomaniac character. These views and resulting stories were avidly snapped up by the Greek historians and so they also made negative evaluations of Khufu, since scandalous stories were easier to sell than positive tales.[41][42]

Furthermore, several Egyptologists point out that Roman historians such as Pliny the Elder and Frontinus (both around 70 A.D.) equally do not hesitate to ridicule the pyramids of Giza: Frontinus calls them "idle pyramids, containing the indispensable structures likewise to some of our abandoned aqueducts at Rome" and Pliny describes them as "the idle and foolish ostentation of royal wealth". Egyptologists clearly see politically and socially motivated intentions in these criticisms and it seems paradoxical that the use of these monuments was forgotten, but the names of their builders remained immortalized.[45]

Another hint to Khufu's bad reputation within the Greek and Roman folk might be hidden in the Coptic reading of Khufu's name. The Egyptian hieroglyphs forming the name "Khufu" are read in Coptic as "Shêfet", which actually would mean "bad luck" or "sinful" in their language. The Coptic reading derives from a later pronunciation of Khufu as "Shufu", which in turn led to the Greek reading "Suphis". Maybe the bad meaning of the Coptic reading of "Khufu" was unconsciously copied by the Greek and Roman authors.[44]

On the other hand, some Egyptologists think that the ancient historians received their material for their stories not only from priests, but from the citizens living close to the time of the building of the necropolis.[46] Among the "simple folk", also, negative or critical views about the pyramids might have been handed down, and the mortuary cult of the priests was surely part of tradition. Additionally a long-standing literary tradition does not prove popularity. Even if Khufu's name survived within the literary traditions for so long, different cultural circles surely fostered different views about Khufu's character and historical deeds.[41][46] The narrations of Diodorus, for example, are credited with more trust than those of Herodotus, because Diodorus obviously collected the tales with much more scepsis. The fact that Diodorus credits the Giza pyramid to Greek kings, might be reasoned in legends of his lifetimes and that the pyramids were demonstrably reused in late periods by Greek and Roman kings and noblemen.[9]

Modern Egyptologists and Historians also call for caution about the credibility of the Arabian stories. They point out that the ancient Arabs were guided by their strict religious belief that only one god exists, and therefore no other gods were allowed to be mentioned. As a consequence, they transferred Egyptian kings and gods into biblical prophets and kings. The Egyptian god Thoth, named Hermes by the Greeks, for example, was named after the prophet Henoch. King Khufu, as already mentioned, was named "Saurid", "Salhuk" and/or "Sarjak", and often replaced in other stories by a prophet named Šaddād bīn 'Âd. Furthermore, scholars point to several contradictions which can be found in Al-Maqrizis book. For example, in the first chapter of the Hitat, the Copts are said to have denied any intrusion of the Amalekites in Egypt and the pyramids were erected as the tomb of Šaddād bīn 'Âd. But some chapters later, Al-Maqrizi claims that the Copts call Saurid the builder of the pyramids.[4][43]

Khufu in popular culture

Because of his fame, Khufu is the subject of several modern references, similar to kings and queens such as Akhenaten, Nefertiti and Tutankhamen. His historical figure appears in movies, novels and documentaries. Already in 1827, female Sci-Fi author Jane C. Loudon wrote the novel The Mummy! A Tale of the 22nd Century. The story describes the citizens of the 22nd century, which became technically high advanced at one side, but totally immoral on the other side. Only the mummy of Khufu can save them.[47] In 1939, Nagib Mahfuz wrote the novel Khufu's Wisdom, which leans on the stories of Papyrus Westcar.[48] In 1997, French author Guy Brachet composed the novel series Le roman des pyramides, including five volumes, of which the first two (Le temple soleil and Rêve de pierre) use Khufu and his tomb as a theme.[49] In 2004, Page Bryant wrote the Si-Fi story The Second Coming of the Star Gods, which deals with Khufu's alleged celestial origin.[50] The novel The Legend of The Vampire Khufu, written by Raymond Mayotte in 2010, deals with king Khufu awakening in his pyramid as a vampire.[51]

Well known cinematic movies, which deal with Khufu or at least have the Great Pyramid as a theme, are Howard Hawks' Land of the Pharaohs from 1955, a fictional account of the building of the Great Pyramid of Khufu,[52] and Roland Emmerich's Stargate from 1994, in which an extraterrestrial device is found near the pyramids.

Khufu and his pyramid are furthermore the objects of pseudoscientific theories which deal with the idea that Khufu's pyramid was built with the help of extraterrestrials and that Khufu simply seized and re-used the monument,[53] ignoring archaeological evidence or even falsifying it.[54]

A close-to-orbit asteroid bears Khufu's name: 3362 Khufu.[55][56]

Khufu and his pyramid are referenced in several computer games such as Tomb Raider – The Last Revelation, in which the player must enter Khufu's pyramid and face the god Seth as the final boss.[57] Another example is Duck Tales 2 for the Game Boy. In this game the player must guide Uncle Scrooge through a trap-loaded Khufu's pyramid.[58]

See also


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  53. cf. Erich von Däniken: Erinnerungen an die Zukunft (memories to the future). page 118.
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  55. 3362 Khufu in the internet-database of Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) (English).
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  57. Information about Khufu's pyramid in Tomb Raider IV (English).
  58. Information about Khufu's pyramid in Duck Tales 2 (English).

External links

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