The Ancient History Encyclopedia defines pyramids as structures that rise from a quadrilateral bottom to three-sided point. Although usually associated with Egypt, pyramids were built by many ancient peoples, including the Mesopotamians and Mayans. Studies of these structures have produced many facts about pyramids, including those touching on their creators and purpose.
Egyptians Called Them “Mer”
Egyptians referred to their pyramids as "Mer," according to the Ancient History Encyclopedia. Greeks actually called the Egyptian structures "pyramids" after "pyramis," a type of wheat cake with a pointed top.
The Last Remaining Wonder
Ancient writers including Philo of Byzantium and Greek historian Herodotus wrote of the Seven Wonders found throughout what is today Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and the Middle East. Of the seven, only the Great Pyramid at Giza built for the pharaoh known as Khufu remains. The pyramid was built over two decades, more than 4,000 years ago.
Early Egyptian Pyramids Were Not Smooth-Sided
While the smooth-sided pyramids standing in Giza today may be the most well-known version of these structures, the first Egyptian pyramid had stepped layers instead of smooth sides. Built for the pharaoh Djoser at Saqqara around 2630 BCE, the pyramid's six layers reached 204 feet high making it the tallest structure in existence in Egypt at the time.
Egyptian Pyramid Workers Were Not Foreign Slaves
A common belief about the construction of the Egyptian pyramids is they were built by foreign slaves. Excavations of the area around the Great Pyramid suggest the workers were Egyptian farmers who worked on the projects when the land was covered in water due to the annual flooding of the Nile River.
Pyramids Can Be Found Throughout Mesoamerica
In Mexico, Guatemala, and other parts of Mesoamerica, Mayan and Aztec pyramids still stand. In northeastern Guatemala, for example, five pyramids topped with temples can be found in the Mayan city of Tikal, which thrived as the religious center of the civilization 1200 to 1400 years ago. They Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun can be found in Teotihuacan, an Aztec city located in present day Mexico.
Downsized Pyramids in Sudan
Centuries after pharaohs were buried in massive pyramids in Egypt, the area was invaded and ruled by armies from Nubia, which is an area located in Sudan. After the armies lost control of Egypt, they returned to their home and built smaller versions of the pyramids for their own burials. More than 220 of these small pyramids have been found in Sudan. They were built between 1,700 and 2,300 years ago.
Pharaoh Snefru's Three Pyramids
Pharaoh Snefru can be credited with designing the traditional smooth-sided appearance of Egyptian pyramids. His first pyramid was a stepped structure built at Maidum around 2600 BCE. When he moved his seat of power, he also decided to build a new pyramid and to give it steep, smooth sides. Because the design did not provide enough stability, builders added a bend to the sides partway through construction. This design change led the pyramid to be called the Bent Pyramid. Finally, he succeeded in building a smooth-sided pyramid in Dahshur. Known as the Red Pyramid, the structure most likely inspired Snefru's son's own pyramid construction. His son, Khufu, built the Great Pyramid, the largest pyramid on Earth.
In the early 20th century, C. Leonard Woolley excavated the site around one of the largest Meopotamian pyramids. Mesopotamia, the home of one of the earliest civilizations in the world and located in modern Iraq, had built their stepped, flat-topped pyramids throughout their region. However, Woolley was excavating the Ziggurat of UR, a structure originally created by Ur-nammu, a Sumerian king, around 2100 BCE. This ziggurat is one of the most well-preserved structures of its type.
The Great Sphinx of Giza
Although Khufu's Great Pyramid may be the largest of trio of pyramids found at Giza, his son is responsible for the site's other well-known feature: the Great Sphinx. The limestone statue was created during Khafre's reign and is part of the complex that accompanied his own pyramid which is located in the middle of these the Giza trio. While Khafre's pyramid could not compare to his father's, the Great Sphinx was the ancient world's largest statue.
The Hidden Pyramid of Mexico
Before the Aztecs built their own pyramids throughout Mexico, pre-Columbian people had already started constructing their own. Located in the Mexican city of Puebla, Tlachihualtepetl is considered the largest ancient monument in the world. According to the smithsonian.com, the pyramid is more than 170 feet high and covers 45 acres of ground. However, the pyramid is covered in grass and actually looks like an ordinary hill. Today, a Catholic church sits on top of the ancient structure.
- Ancient History Encyclopedia: Pyramid
- British Museum: Pyramids
- Ancient History Encyclopedia: The Seven Wonders
- History Channel: Egyptian Pyramids
- History Channel: Pyramids of Latin America
- Archaeology: Miniature Pyramids of Sudan
- National Geographic: Secrets of an Ancient World
- British Museum: The Ziggurat of Ur
- Smithsonian.com: Ancient Pyramids Around the World