The construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza has been a great mystery for many centuries. Recently, archaeologists believe that they have found evidence that suggests that it was not slaves, under the order of King Khufu, who were responsible for building the pyramid. With the discovery of nearby mastabas, there is now substantial evidence suggesting that normal villagers would periodically help construct the Great Pyramid, and they were motivated by their religious beliefs.1
King Khufu is considered one of the greatest rulers of his time, largely due to the elaborate pyramid he was able to create during his lifetime. He was known as a cruel and tyrannical leader, but was evidently powerful by being able to gather a large workforce and enough materials to construct the Great Pyramid, most of which is still intact today. According to Greek historian Herodotus, there had been around one hundred thousand slaves working through King Khufu’s reign. This was proved false in 1990 when the archaeologist Zahi Hawass discovered a town of mastabas near Giza.
These mastabas were rectangular mounds made of mud bricks. Eventually, they would stack some of them together to form pyramids, giving them the idea of the modern pyramid. The findings of many mastabas suggests that the workers were not slaves but were actually compensated in some form for their labor. They also discovered two miniature pyramids that held the remains of officials, such as supervisors, technicians, and craftsmen on the upper level, and other laborers on the lower level.2 The workforce consisted mainly of peasant farmers who would work during the fall and winter seasons. During that time period they were unable to work on their farms due to the seasonal overflow of the Nile River. This gave them an opportunity to continue working throughout the year. It was also a great way for the peasant farmers to get food, clothing, and shelter.3 Some laborers took part in a group called a phyle, which was a rotating group of workers who would work for a month. The king would collect surplus crops as well as other clothing to distribute to these workers, which he levied as a form of tax. Egyptologist such as Zahi Hawass and Mark Lehner now estimate that only about twenty to thirty thousand men were needed to build the Great Pyramid.
The construction of the pyramid was a communal project in which all Egyptians took part, including women as well as men. At the time, there were no machines or animals to help carry the loads of limestone and granite to the pyramids.4 Every block was handmade and crafted to fit perfectly alongside the other pieces. They cared greatly in their work and took pride in their accomplishments. Not only were they building the burial site for their king, but they were also taking part in the construction of a new and elaborate Egypt.
During Egypt’s Old Kingdom, when these pyramids were built, the kings were associated religiously to gods. They were seen as the living manifestation of the god Horus, the god of the sky. The god Horus was also the son of Osiris, who was the king of the underworld. Once the king would pass away he would become one with Horus.5 This helped motivate the laborers to continue building the pyramids. Most Egyptians at that time were very religious and spent their life preparing for what would come after death. They believed that by building the pyramid for their king, a descendant of Osiris, they would assure both their king and themselves a good afterlife. Because of this, they did not see their work as a continuous strain, but rather viewed it as an honor.
Overall, it was a very organized and coherent system that allowed everyone to partake in. It was beneficial not only to King Khufu, but to the entire Egyptian society as well. Jobs were created and many peasants received benefits of clothing and shelter from the enterprise. It united the Egyptian civilization and created magnificent pyramids that we can still visit today.