Purpose of The Pyramids of Egypt
Ancient Egypt History The Old Kingdom
Their purpose was not architectural but religious; the Pyramids of Egypt were tombs, lineally descended from the most primitive of burial mounds.
Apparently the Pharaoh believed, like any commoner among his people, that every living body was inhabited by a double, or ka, which need not die with the breath; and that the ka would survive all the more completely if the flesh were preserved against hunger, violence and decay.
The pyramids of Egypt, by its height, its form and its position, sought stability as a means to deathlessness; and except for its square corners it took the natural form that any homogeneous group of solids would take if allowed to fall unimpeded to the earth.
Again, it was to have permanence and strength; therefore stones were piled up here with mad patience as if they had grown by the wayside and had not been carried from quarries hundreds of miles away.
In Khufu's pyramid there are two and a half million blocks, some of them weighing one hundred and fifty tons,30 all of them averaging two and a half tons; they cover half a million square feet, and rise 481 feet into the air.
And the mass is solid; only a few blocks were omitted, to leave a secret passage way for the carcass of the King.
A guide leads the trembling visitor on all fours into the cavernous mausoleum, up a hundred crouching steps to the very heart of the pyramid; there in the damp, still center, buried in darkness and secrecy, once rested the bones of Khufu and his queen.
The marble sarcophagus of the Pharaoh is still in place, but broken and empty. Even these stones could not deter human thievery, nor all the curses of the gods.
Since the ka was conceived as the minute image of the body, it had to be fed, clothed and served after the death of the frame.
Lavatories were provided in some royal tombs for the convenience of the departed soul; and a funerary text expresses some anxiety lest the ka, for want of food, should feed upon its own excreta.
One suspects that Egyptian burial customs, if traced to their source, would lead to the primitive interment of a warrior's weapons with his corpse, or to some institution like the Hindu suttee the burial of a man's wives and slaves with him that they may attend to his needs.
This having proved irksome to the wives and slaves, painters and sculptors were engaged to draw pictures, carve bas reliefs, and make statuettes resembling these aides; by a magic formula, usually inscribed upon them, the carved or painted objects would be quite as effective as the real ones.
A man's descendants were inclined to be lazy and economical, and even if he had left an endowment to covei the costs they were apt to neglect the rule that religion originally put upon them of supplying the dead with provender.
Hence pictorial substitutes were in any case a wise precaution: they could provide the ka of the deceased with fertile fields, plump oxen, innumerable servants and busy artisans, at an attractively reduced rate.
Having discovered this principle, the artist accomplished marvels with it.
One tomb picture shows a field being ploughed, the next shows the grain being reaped or threshed, another the bread being baked; one shows the bull copulating with the cow, another the calf being born, another the grown cattle being slaughtered, another the meat served hot on the dish.
A fine limestone basrelief in the tomb of Prince Rahotep portrays the dead man enjoying the varied victuals on the table before him.
Never since has art done so much for men.
You may also be interested in...
Return to Ancient Egypt History
From Pyramids of Egypt Return Home