Almost nothing is known for certain about the pharaoh Khufu other than the fact that he was the son of the pharaoh Sneferu and Sneferu's queen Hetepheres and that the Great Pyramid at Giza was built as his tomb. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Khufu was a tyrant and an oppressor of his own people. However, the archaeological record does not support Herodutus' version of history.

Two Khufus

Khufu, also known as Khnum-Khufwy and Cheops, was the second pharaoh of ancient Egypt's Fourth Dynasty. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus describes Khufu or Cheops as a tyrannical and vicious ruler who suppressed the Egyptian temples, forced thousands of people into slavery to build his pyramid and even commanded his own daughter to become a prostitute to raise money for the project. Another ancient source, the Westcar Papyrus, describes Khufu in much more benevolent terms as an easygoing but intellectually curious ruler.

Skilled Workers

The Great Pyramid was built around 2551 BC, while Khufu was still alive and ruling Egypt. There is no question that the project required hard and dangerous labor by tens of thousands of people. Until recently, it was assumed that these people must have been slaves. However, the construction of the pyramid required skilled labor by highly educated designers. The Great Pyramid is larger than a 40-story building and covers 13 acres of land, yet this massive structure is almost perfectly level.

No Slave Labor

It isn't hard to imagine the pyramids being built by an army of slaves commanded by a despotic tyrant, but that doesn't appear to have actually been the case. According to an interview with Craig Smith, author of "How the Great Pyramid Was Built" in "Stanford Magazine", archaeological excavations show that the Great Pyramid was actually built by paid employees. They worked under difficult and dangerous conditions hauling huge stone blocks that weighed several tons each, but they were paid wages in the form of bread, beer or grain. Generations of pyramid builders sometimes lived and worked together at the same site, and when they died they were given an honorable burial on the sacred ground of the pyramid. The workers may have been conscripted into service, but were not outright slaves.

The Problem of History

If Herodotus was wrong about slave labor being used to build the pyramids, there is reason to doubt the other details in his account such as the claim that Khufu had the temples shut down or that he forced his daughter to become a prostitute. Herodotus wrote his history in 440 BC, 2000 years after the reign of Khufu. He may have have been writing down oral traditions with no basis in fact, or he may simply have recorded his own speculations.