The pyramids of Egypt are among the most recognizable and enduring monuments of the ancient world. Long after they were built, other ancient peoples, such as the Greeks and Romans, wrote about them with as much awe as people do today. The Greeks included the Giza Pyramids among the Seven Wonders of the World, which brought an appreciation of the structures to people who would not otherwise see them. The Greco-Roman admiration of the pyramids was transferred to medieval and early modern Europe, where early attempts to uncover the mysteries of the pyramids were made. Influenced by the Bible, Europeans of these periods believed that the pyramids were the famed granaries of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Around the same time, Arab and Persian writers postulated that the pyramids of Egypt were actually vessels of esoteric knowledge of a previous age. Although these early writers erred in their judgement of the pyramids’ functions, they were correct to assume that they were important structures.
During the nineteenth century, when the discipline known as Egyptology was emerging, scholars discovered that the pyramids were in fact tombs for the Egyptian kings. This in itself was important, but it became even more so when scholars learned more about ancient Egyptian religion and discovered that Egyptian kings were also viewed as gods. The pyramids were more than just tombs, though, they were part of often expansive temple complexes that played an integral role in the religious life of Old Kingdom Egypt. Pyramid construction also evolved considerably during the Old Kingdom, demonstrating the Egyptians’ ability to tackle complex architectural problems at an early point in human civilization.
Unfortunately, no manual has been discovered that details the mechanics of how the pyramids were built or what they were meant to represent. Although that certainly presents some problems to the modern scholar, some conclusions can be drawn concerning the symbolism of the pyramids. Any discussion or examination of what the pyramids were meant to symbolize must begin with the ancient Egyptian concept of divine kingship and how that related to Egyptian religion.