was the second king of Dynasty 4 of the Old Kingdom. We know very little about him, in
spite of the fact that he built the most famous tomb in the ancient world, "The Great
Pyramid", one of the seven wonders of the world.
The Turin Papyrus mentioned that he ruled for 23 years after the reign of his
father Snefru. His real name was Khnum-Khufwy, which means "the god Khnum protects
me", and Khufu was his nickname.
Khufu planned that his son Kawab would be his heir. Kawab was a scribe and he
wanted to be like his grandfather Senefru who was described by the Egyptians as a cultured
and wise king. But Kawab died during the reign of his father.
Khufu's mother was Queen Hetep-heres I, who according to Reisner's
was buried at Dahshur and her equipment moved by her son to a shaft at Giza. But Lehner
and the author suggest that she was originally buried in the subsidiary pyramid G1a while
her funerary equipment was moved during the First Intermediate Period by loyal priests to
the nearby shaft. Khufu married Queen Merey-it-es, who was buried in G1b. He also married
Queen Henutsen who is buried in G1c.
According to Reisner and Smith, after the death of Khufu, the royal family
was divided into three branches. The first was headed by Khufu's main queen who was the
mother of DjedefHor and Buefre, who never succeeded to the throne. The second was headed
by the mother of DjedefRe who took the throne after his father and ruled for eight years.
The third branch was headed by the mother of Khafre.
The most important achievement of Khufu was building the great pyramid at
Giza plateau. There were 13 architectural components attached to his pyramid. The royal
family was buried in tombs and pyramids to the east and the officials were buried to the
west of the pyramid. Recently the cult pyramid was discovered to the south-east of Khufu's
tomb. The program of the pyramid complex was designed in his reign and continued to be
used until the end of the Old Kingdom.
The building of the Great Pyramid can provide us with important insights into
the reign of Khufu. From the political side, it shows how Khufu controlled the wealth and
the population of the country. He organized households all over Egypt into participating
in the building of the pyramid, and providing the king with food (grain and beer), and
with laborers. This organization reveals that the pyramid was the national project of the
From the architectural point of view, the pyramid shows the skills and the
brilliance of the overseer of all the king's work along with his architects. It also
demonstrates the Egyptian achievements in science, astronomy, art, and mathematics which
were necessary for the building of that great tomb.
The pyramid project must have been a tremendous socializing force in the
early Egyptian kingdom, with young conscripts from hamlets and villages far and wide
departing for Giza. There, they would enter their respective gangs, phyles and divisions
in scenes reminiscent of the most dramatic cinematic spectacles of Cecil B. De Mille.
The pyramid project involved tremendous organization of the work-force,
and food, water, and beer supplies. It shows the social organization and the
administration skills necessary for organizing such a work force. Recently, we discovered
the site of the town of the pyramid builders. The discovery includes the support
facilities, residential areas and cemeteries of the workers who created and maintained the
The name of Khufu and his pyramid is always attached to a popular notion that
the pyramid was built by slaves. But that was not the case, because the workers built
their own tombs near the pyramid of Khufu, and prepared their tombs for eternity like
nobles and officials. They were also paid by the king, or worked instead of paying tax.
Finally, slaves could have built a building larger than Khufu's pyramid, but could never
created such an innovative work like the Great Pyramid. This pyramid indicates that they
were proud to build the tomb of their great god.
Khufu used the granite quarry in Aswan, basalt from the oasis, and white fine
limestone from Tura. The name of Khufu has been found written in the alabaster quarry at
Hatnub. Two tablets bearing his name have been found in the Sinai. His name has also been
found in Bubastis. It has also been inscribed on a temple at Byblos (Lebanon), which might
imply that he sent an expedition there to bring back cedar wood that was used in the
construction of his boats which were found in 1945 on the south side of his pyramid.
Finally, his name was found written in the western desert to the north of Abu Simbel and
northwest of Toshka, where they took the diorite to be used in the statues.
There is very little evidence of Khufu in connection with other
gods, except his small statuette found in building K in the temple of Khentiulmentiu at
Abydos, and his name was also found on vessels in the temple of Horus at Nekhen.
The Westcar Papyrus that dates to the Middle Kingdom consists of popular
tales about Khufu. The Egyptians described him sitting with his family listening to
stories about their ancestors and the miracles that happened in the past. They also
depicted him sending his son to bring the magician Djedi and relate to us a beautiful
dialogue between a common man and a king. The most important point in these tales is that
Khufu could not obtain information from Djedi about the mysterious document of Thoth that
could help him to build his sepulchral chambers in the pyramid.
It the late period (26th Dynasty), Khufu was worshipped as a god - his name
was found written on scarabs and names of two 26th Dynasty priest have been found who
were, at that time, in charge of maintaining his cult.
To the east of the pyramid of Queen Henutsen the inventory stela was found,
which mentions that Khufu found the temple of Isis beside the sphinx. Based on the writing
style and scenes of gods, Egyptologists have dated the text to the Late Period.
Herodotus also said that Khufu closed the temples of the gods and forbade the
Egyptians to present offering to gods other than himself, and was generally considered an
unpopular king for the Egyptians. Manetho also relates that Khufu did not respect the gods
and that he wrote a sacred book and that he (Manetho) obtained a copy of it. The Late
Period tales and stories describe the king's reputation and reveal how the Egyptians
transferred stories and news about him throughout the pharaonic period.
There is a new theory that might explain the reason for all these stories. It
seems that Khufu appointed himself as Re during his lifetime. There is much evidence to
support this theory (Hawass: 1994). This would explain the reason for all the bad
publicity about Khufu both in terms of cruelty and impiety.
The most remarkable points in his reign are the king's office becoming divine
kingship, and the complex family relationship can be deduced through the large tombs
located near the king.
Khufu was remembered by the Egyptians throughout pharaonic history, and many
tales were told about him. Even today the spiritual aspect of the pyramid and its builder
touches our hearts and causes us to make a plaintive futile cry for immortality.
1. Zahi Hawass. The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt. The Carnegie Museum
2. Z. Hawass. "The great sphinx: Date and function," Sixth International
Egypt, vol. II. Turin, Italy: 1994
3. Z. Hawass. "The Khufu statuette: Is it an Old Kingdom sculpture?". BIFAO.
des M61anges Gamal Eddin Mokhtar, T. XCU 1/2: 1985.
4. B.G. Trigger, et al. Ancient Egypt: A Social History. Cambridge University Press: 1983.
5. N. Grimal. A History of Ancient Egypt. Blackwell: 1992.
6. G. Reisner and W.S. Smith. A History of the Giza Necropolis, vol. II: The tomb of
Hetep-heres, the mother of Cheops. Cambridge, Mass.: 1955.
7. M. Lehner. The Pyramid Tomb of Queen Hetep-heres and the Satellite Pyramid of
Khufu. Mainz: 1985.