How did the Ancient Egyptians build the Pyramids?

The construction of the pyramids, particularly the grand pyramids of Giza, is a topic that has intrigued scholars, historians, and the general public for centuries. While many aspects of pyramid construction remain subjects of debate, a consensus exists on some key elements.

Ancient Egypt

Egyptian Pyramids


Contrary to a popular misconception, the pyramids weren’t built by slaves. Instead, they were constructed by a rotating workforce of well-fed skilled laborers and farmers during the inundation season when the Nile’s floods made farming impossible. These workers were organized into teams and lived in nearby temporary villages.


The bulk of the pyramid was made from limestone blocks quarried nearby. For the inner chambers and passages, higher quality limestone or granite from Aswan was used.


Large blocks were transported using sleds, rollers, and water. Recent discoveries suggest that water was poured in front of the sled to reduce friction and ease movement.

Alignment and Measurement

The ancient Egyptians used simple tools like plumb bobs, leveling instruments, and sighting rods to ensure the pyramids were aligned accurately and the corners were right angles. The pyramids were aligned with incredible precision to the cardinal points of the compass, likely using the pole star or the sun as a reference.

Construction Techniques

Several theories exist about how the massive stones were put into place:

  • Straight Ramp: A straight or linear ramp made of mudbrick and limestone chippings was built leading up to the pyramid. Blocks were dragged up this ramp.
  • Spiral Ramp: As the pyramid grew, a spiral ramp was built around its exterior, which was gradually increased in width and height.
  • Internal Spiral Ramp: Some theories suggest an internal spiral ramp, supported by evidence from microgravimetry studies.
  • Counterweight Systems: Large counterweight systems, like those used with a “shadoof” to lift water, could have been employed to lift blocks.


The primary purpose of a pyramid was to serve as a tomb for the pharaoh during the Old Kingdom. The ancient Egyptians believed that the pharaoh was a god on earth, and his pyramid was a means of ensuring his safe passage to the afterlife.

The pyramid shape was symbolic, possibly representing the primordial mound from which the Egyptians believed the earth was created. Its sloping sides may also have been designed to help the deceased pharaoh’s soul ascend to the heavens.

READ MORE: Most Famous Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs

The Giza pyramid complex – the site includes the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure, along with their associated pyramid complexes and the Great Sphinx of Giza.

The construction of a grand pyramid was a testament to the pharaoh’s power and wealth. By building monumental structures, the pharaoh showcased the strength and capabilities of his kingdom.

The pyramids, especially those at Giza, have astronomical alignments. For instance, the pyramids of Giza are aligned with incredible precision to the cardinal points of the compass, and the three pyramids mimic the alignment of the three stars in Orion’s Belt.

Pyramids were often part of a larger funerary complex that included temples, smaller satellite pyramids, causeways, and boat pits.

Step Pyramid of Djoser

Step Pyramid of Djoser

The Step Pyramid of Djoser is one of the most iconic structures from ancient Egypt and represents a seminal point in the architectural evolution of pyramid construction. Originally, the pyramid stood at about 62 meters (203 ft) tall. Image: Step Pyramid of Djoser

The Step Pyramid is located in Saqqara, an ancient burial ground serving as the necropolis for the ancient capital city of Memphis. The pyramid was built for Pharaoh Djoser by his architect and physician, Imhotep. Djoser ruled during the Third Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, around 2670 BC.

Djoser’s Pyramid is regarded as the earliest colossal stone building and the first large-scale cut-stone construction in Egypt. Instead of a smooth surface, the pyramid has six mastabas (a type of ancient Egyptian tomb) of decreasing size, placed one on top of the other. This step-like structure gave it its name.


Image: Limestone Ka statue of Djoser from his pyramid serdab

The pyramid was constructed as a tomb for the Pharaoh Djoser. The complex around it was vast and included courtyards, temples, and chapels, symbolizing the king’s absolute dominion over both Upper and Lower Egypt.

The construction marked a significant shift from the traditional mud-brick tombs (mastabas) to stone-built pyramids. The innovation and skills developed during the Step Pyramid’s construction laid the foundation for future pyramid developments, culminating in the famous Giza pyramids.

READ MORE: The Egyptian Sultan Who Tried To Destroy The Pyramids

Did you know…?

Imhotep, the architect of the pyramid, was deified after his death and worshipped as a god of medicine and architecture. His innovative design not only set the stage for future pyramid constructions but also solidified his legacy as one of ancient Egypt’s most brilliant minds.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *