second king of the fourth dynasty, Old Kingdom. Very little is known about Khufu (called Cheops in Greek), although he built the most famous tomb in pharaonic Egypt—the Great Pyramid at Giza, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. His full name was Khnum-Khufwy, which means “[the god] Khnum protects me,” Khufu being the short form or nickname. The Turin Canon ascribes to him a reign of twenty-three years, but it may have been much longer. He succeeded his father, Sneferu; his mother was Queen Hetepheres I; and he had three wives. Only one statue of Khufu—a small figurine found at Abydos—has survived, but his name is preserved in inscriptions from various sites in Egypt, Sinai, and Byblos. Khufu may have intended that his son Kawab follow him, but the successor was in fact Djedefre.
Khufu's most important achievement was the building of the Great Pyramid (“The Horizon of Khufu”) at a new site, the Giza plateau. Members of the royal family were buried in small pyramids and tombs to the east of the Great Pyramid and officials of the reign to the west. A cult pyramid was discovered to the southeast of Khufu's tomb. The design program of the entire pyramid complex continued to be used until the end of the Old Kingdom.
The construction of the Great Pyramid provides some important insights into the reign of Khufu, notably his ability to command the material and human resources necessary to build his tomb. He organized households and estates from various parts of Egypt to supply the labor, as well as the food, clothing, and housing for the workers. In essence, the building of the Great Pyramid was a national project that must have had a significant socializing effect on the conscripted labor brought to Giza from the hamlets and villages of Egypt. The discovery of the workers' town revealed support facilities, residential areas, and cemeteries for those who constructed and maintained the pyramid complex. In the popular imagination, the Khufu pyramid was built by slaves, but that was not the case; the full-time and the conscripted workers built their own tombs near the pyramid of Khufu and prepared them for eternity, like those of the nobles and officials nearby. From an architectural point of view, the pyramid reveals not only the brilliance and skills of the “Overseer of All the King's Works” and his architects but also the ancient Egyptian achievements in engineering, astronomy, mathematics, and art.
Khufu was remembered by the Egyptians throughout subsequent pharaonic history, and many tales were told about him. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus reported Khufu's character as cruel and impious; the former attribute is perhaps based on traditions about the exactions necessary for the building of the pyramid, and the latter hints that Khufu presented himself as the sun god Re during his own lifetime. The Westcar Papyrus (of Middle Kingdom date) describes Khufu listening to stories about his ancestors and miracles that happened in the past. Khufu sends for the magician Djedi, hoping that he might know about a mysterious document of the god Thoth that could aid in constructing a pyramid. In the twenty-sixth dynasty of the Late period, however, Khufu was worshiped as a god; his name appears on scarabs, and the names are known of two priests of that era who were in charge of maintaining his cult.
See also OLD KINGDOM, article on the Fourth Dynasty.
- Grimal, Nicolas. A History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford, 1992.
- Hawass, Zahi. “The Khufu Statuette: Is It an Old Kingdom Sculpture?” Bulletin de l'Institut français d'archéologie orientale Extraite des Mélanges Gamal Eddin Mokhtar, T. XCU 1/2. Cairo, 1985.
- Hawass, Zahi. The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt. Washington, D.C., 1990.
- Lehner, Mark. The Pyramid Tomb of Queen Hetep-heres and the Satellite Pyramid of Khufu. Mainz, 1985.
- Lehner, Mark. The Complete Pyramids. London and New York, 1997.
- Reisner, G., and W. S. Smith. A History of the Giza Necropolis. vol. 2: The tomb of Hetep-heres, the Mother of Cheops. Cambridge, 1955.
- Trigger, B. G., et al. Ancient Egypt: A Social History. Cambridge, 1983.