The Fascinating Legacy of Cheops: Mastermind Behind the Great Pyramid

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5 min readSep 8, 2023

Cheops (Khufu) was one of the most powerful rulers of ancient Egypt. Despite building the largest Egyptian pyramid, only a single figurine representing him has survived to our time.

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Pharaoh Cheops ruled Egypt 4,500 years ago. Cheops is the Greek form of his name, which in Egyptian was Chufu, but it became popular through ancient historians. When we hear his name, we immediately think of one of the most famous structures in the world, the Great Pyramid of Giza. This was his final resting place.

Only a small ivory figurine depicting the ruler has survived to our time, but his images are also known from fragments of reliefs from the temples near his pyramid. What do we know about this mighty pharaoh?

Cheops (Khufu) and His Family

Cheops was raised at the court of his father, Pharaoh Snofru. Snofru was likely the first king of Egypt to build true pyramids with smooth, uniform sides, as opposed to the earlier step pyramids. Under his father’s influence, Cheops decided to build a pyramid for himself in a shape similar to his predecessor’s.

Cheops likely had several siblings, although the exact number is unknown because there is no surviving record of Snofru’s children. Archaeologists have discovered the tombs of the royal family, which provide some insight into Cheops’ family. It is known that Cheops had three older brothers who died early, paving the way for him to ascend the throne.

Cheops’ mother was Queen Hetepheres, whose tomb was found near the Great Pyramid. Her burial was richly equipped with items such as a bed, furniture, jewelry, and numerous ceramic vessels. Cheops had several wives, with Meritites being his principal spouse and possibly his sister or half-sister. His second partner was Henutsen, who was also likely closely related to Cheops.

Statue of Cheops — [Photo: Olaf Tausch, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Egypt Under Cheops’ Rule

Like all rulers during the Old Kingdom period (2686–2181 BCE), Cheops began his reign by selecting a location for his pyramid, his future tomb.