Khufu was the second pharaoh in the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of ancient Egypt. His full name was Khnum Khufu (“protected by Khnum“). Manetho called him Suphis, although he was known to the Greeks as Cheops.
According to the Turin Kings list Khufu reigned for about twenty three years. However, Herodotus claims that he reigned for fifty years and Manetho credits him with a massive sixty-three year reign! The highest recorded regnal year from inscription is the seventeenth year.
There is some evidence that Khufu extended the borders of Egypt to include the Sinai and then maintained a military presence in the Sinai and Nubia. However, there do not seem to have been any real military threats to the kingdom during his reign. He mined turquoise at Wadi Maghara, diorite in the Nubian desert, and red granite near Aswan, but we know little else of his reign except for his association with the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Khufu is often described as a cruel leader. Contemporary documents suggest that, unlike his father, he was not seen as a beneficent ruler and by the Middle Kingdom he is generally described as heartless ruler. In the Westcar Papyrus he is depicted as being keen to increase his own power and ensure the continued rule of his family, but is not a particularly cruel monarch, although he does offer the life of a criminal to test the skills in resurrection of a magician (which is often quoted as evidence that he was evil).
Manetho states that Khufu was contemptuous of the Gods in the early years of his rule, but later repented and composed a series of sacred books. Although there is no mention of these books in later works on the pharaohs of the pyramid age, the idea that Khufu was not a kind ruler is repeated by a number of sources. It is sometimes suggested that so few representations of the king remain because they were destroyed after his death.
The allegation that Khufu used slaves to build the Great Pyramid first appears in Herodotus and is often repeated despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary. It is clear that the pyramid was built by skilled craftsmen and that the heavy manual work was undertaken by farmers who provided seasonal labour when the fields were submerged during the inundation. These manual labourers were well recompensed for their work and seem to have been well looked after.
Herodotus also claims that Khufu closed all of the temples (there is no evidence at all of this) and that the daughter of Khufu was prostituted in order to help pay for the construction of the Great Pyramid (again this rather unlikely claim is not supported by any evidence).
It is worth noting that there is no indication left by any of the workers, artisans or nobles during his lifetime that Khufu was despised. Herodotus states that the Egyptians could not even bear to speak his name, yet he was worshipped as a god after his death and his cult continued well into the Late Period and was very popular in the Roman Period. The “Ring of Khufu” (pictured) was originally thought to have belonged to him but it is now agreed that it belonged to a priest in his mortuary cult.
Sons of Khufu
- Crown Prince Kawab
- Djedefre (successor of Khufu)
- Khafre (successor of Djedefre)
- Khufukhaef I
Daughters of Khufu
- Hetepheres II
- Meresankh II
- Khamerernebty I
Monuments and artefacts
Khufu is best known as the builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza. There was an empty sarcophagus in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid and no evidence that the pyramid was ever used for an actual burial. However, no other burial site has been discovered and his mummy has never been found.
There are a number of satellite burials around the Great Pyramid, including that of his mother, Hetepheres, and two of his wives. There are also a series of mastabas belonging to some of his sons and their wives in the vicinity. Beside the Great Pyramid, two large “boat pits” containing huge cedar ships were discovered.
Despite the size of the pyramid built by Khufu, only one tiny ivory sculpture has been definitively confirmed as depicting him. His master builder, Hemon, left a larger statue behind! A large granite head has also been found, but, although its features resemble those of Khufu, some experts argue that it may represent Huni of the third dynasty instead. There is also a fragment of a small limestone head which may represent Khufu wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt.
Nebty: r Medjed (the one who strikes)
Nebty: Medjed (the one who strikes)
Golden Horus: bikui nebui (The two golden falcons)
Nomen: Khufu (Abydos Kings list)
Nomen: Khufu (Saqqara Kings list)
Prenomen and Nomen: Khnum Khufu
Copyright J Hill 2010