King Khufu | 10 Facts On The Builder of The Great Pyramid


Khufu, also known by his Greek name Cheops, was a pharaoh of ancient Egypt who is famous all over the world as the person who built perhaps the most famous structure in history. Khufu’s ship is also well known and he is the central character of literary masterpiece Papyrus Westcar. Here are 10 interesting facts about the life and legacy of King Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid.


#1 His full name means that ‘God Khnum is my protector’

His birth name is Khnum-Khufu. In ancient Egypt Khnum was the God of creation and the waters and the name Khnum-Khufu means ‘Khnum is my Protector’. His Horus name was Medjedu. Khufu is also well known by his Greek name Cheops. Another Greek name of Khufu is Súphis while the Arab historians referred to him as Saurid or Salhuk.

God Khnum
Portrait of the ram headed God Khnum – based on New Kingdom tomb paintings


#2 Khufu was the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty

Khufu’s mother was queen Hetepheres I and although some contradictory evidence exists, mainstream Egyptologists believe that King Sneferu was Khufu’s father. King Sneferu was the founder of the Fourth Dynasty during the Old Kingdom. Khufu succeeded him which makes him the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty.

Khufu's father Sneferu
Limestone statue of Sneferu, Khufu’s probable father


#3 King Khufu ruled Egypt about 4600 years ago

Khufu ruled during the first half of 26th century BC. The exact duration of his reign is uncertain but in all probability he ruled for at least 26 years. This can be estimated because of the inscription which says “Year after the 13th cattle count” under King Khufu. Cattle count was an economic event during which tax was collected in entire ancient Egypt and it was held every two years.

Drawing of a rock inscription of Khufu
Drawing of a rock inscription of Khufu


#4 The Great Pyramid of Giza was built during Khufu’s reign

Khufu ascended the throne when he was probably in his twenties. Soon he started the work on the structure which is now known as the Great Pyramid of Giza. An estimated 2.3 million blocks weighing an average of 2.5 tons each were used in its construction. It took Khufu around 23 years to complete the massive project. When it was completed, the pyramid was 481 feet (146 m) high, which would approximate to the height of a modern 30-story office building.

Khufu's Pyramid
Khufu’s Pyramid or The Great Pyramid


#5 Khufu’s Pyramid remained the tallest man-made structure for over 3800 years

The Great Pyramid remained the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years until Lincoln Cathedral was built in the 14th century. Considering that the pyramid was built in 26th century BC and the sheer size of the project point to Khufu’s extraordinary skills in commanding the human and material resources available to him. The Pyramid of Khufu is the oldest of the Seven Ancient Wonders and the only one that remains largely intact.

Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral – which surpassed Khufu’s Pyramid as the tallest structure


#6 Khufu is the main character of the literary masterpiece Papyrus Westcar

Papyrus Westcar is an ancient Egyptian text from 13th dynasty which is considered a literary masterpiece. King Khufu is the main actor of the story in which he witnesses a magical wonder and receives a prophecy from a magician named Dedi. In the story Khufu’s character is sometimes depicted as ruthless and heartless while at other times he is depicted as inquisitive, reasonable and generous. This has led to great disputes among historians while accessing the character of Khufu in real life.

Papyrus Westcar
Papyrus Westcar on show at Berlin Museum


#7 Herodotus’ description of Khufu is disregarded by modern Egyptologists

Greek Historian Herodotus describes Khufu as a tyrannical and wicked ruler. He says that Khufu forced people into slavery to build his pyramid and even prostituted his own daughter when he ran short of money for the project. Modern Egyptologists however disregard the account of Herodotus. They argue that Herodotus lived around 2000 years after the reign of Khufu and hence his sources were antiquated. Also archaeological evidence suggests that the Great Pyramid was built by skilled employees who were paid and this puts other details of Herodotus’ account in doubt as well.


#8 His only surviving complete 3D depiction is a 7.5 cm high statue

The only surviving complete 3D depiction of Khufu is a 7.5 cm high, 2.9 cm long and 2.6 cm wide figurine. It is famous as Khufu Statuette and can be seen at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. When it was found during excavation it was initially headless. English Egyptologist Flinders Petrie realized the importance of the find and offered a reward to anyone who would find its head. It was three weeks later that its head was found. Though it is claimed that it is the only surviving statue of Khufu, this is not true as other fragments depicting him have been found. Khufu Statuette, however, is the only complete statue of the pharaoh.

Khufu Statuette at Egyptian Museum in Cairo
Khufu Statuette – the only complete surviving 3D depiction of Khufu


#9 A large ship was probably built for him to use in his afterlife

In 1954, a large ship was rediscovered which was sealed into a pit in the Giza pyramid complex at the foot of the Great Pyramid. Now famous as the Khufu Ship, it was most probably meant to be used by the pharaoh in his afterlife. The Khufu ship, with a length of 143 feet (43.6 m) and breadth of 19.5 feet (5.9m), is one of the oldest, largest, and best-preserved vessels from antiquity. Its rediscovery was ranked one of Egypt’s Ten Greatest Discoveries by famous Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass.

Reconstruction of Khufu Ship
Reconstruction of Khufu Ship


#10 An asteroid has been named after him

Khufu is one of the most popular pharaohs of ancient Egypt and features on numerous occasions in popular culture. He appears in several novels including Khufu’s Wisdom and The Second Coming of the Star Gods. There are references to him in certain movies and his pyramid is also referenced in popular computer games like Tomb Raider – The Last Revelation. Also, a near-Earth asteroid has been named 3362 Khufu after him.

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