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Pyramids and Pharaohs

Continuing our journey up the Nile beyond the delta, we reach the mysterious land of the Pyramids, near the ancient royal town of Memphis. These famous monuments are the huge tombs in which the early kings of Egypt were buried, and near them are other tombs of the queens and lords who helped to govern the land.

The Pyramids were sacred to the great gods of Egypt -- the Sun (Ra), and the Fertile Nile (Osiris). The Egyptians believed that the welfare of the soul, in the life after death, depended upon preserving the body. So they embalmed the dead and kept them as mummies. Near the tombs are temples, where food and drink were stored for the use of the departed.

The greatest of these royal tombs is the Great Pyramid of King Cheops. Hard by is his colossal monument, with a human face and the body of a lion, sculptured in stone, which we call the Great Sphinx. These huge monuments, of about 3000 B.C., show the astounding progress made by the first civilized men, probably with copper tools. The Great Pyramid covers thirteen acres of land. It is in itself an enduring witness of the wholesale slavery which existed in all the ancient empires of the East.

The story of the building of the Great Pyramid was learnt and written some 2,500 years ago by Herodotus, the Greek traveller and historian.

After Cheops ascended the throne, says Herodotus, "he brought the country into every manner of evil. First closing all the temples, he forbade the Egyptians sacrificing there, and ordered all to work for him. Some he bade drag stones to the Nile from the quarries in the Arabian mountains; others were ordered to receive them after they had been carried over the river in boats, and to draw them to the African mountains. They worked in groups of 100,000 men, each group for three months continually. Ten years' oppression of the people were required for making the causeway by which they dragged the stones. This causeway was scarcely an inferior work to the Pyramid itself; it is built of polished stones, and engraved with the figures of living beings. Ten years were required for this, and for the works on the mound where the Pyramids stand, and for the underground chambers, which Cheops intended as burial vaults for his own use, and, lastly, for the canal which he dug from the Nile. The Pyramid was twenty years building; it is square; the stones are polished and fitted together with the utmost exactness. Not one of them is less than 30 feet in length.

"The Pyramid was built in steps, battlement-wise, or, as some say, altar-wise. After laying the base, they lifted the remaining stones to their places by means of machines, made of short wooden planks. The first machine raised them from the ground to the top of the first step; and when the stone had been lifted thus far, it was drawn to the top of the second step by another machine; for they had as many machines as steps, or they lifted the same machine, which was made so as to be easily carried, from one step to the other for the purpose of elevating the stones; for I give both methods as they were told me. At any rate, the highest parts were finished first, then the next, and so on till they came to the parts resting on the ground, namely, the base.

"It is inscribed in Egyptian writing on the Pyramid how much was spent on radishes and leeks and onions for the workmen: and I remember well the interpreter read the sum of 1,600 talents of silver. Now if these figures are correct, what a vast sum must have been spent on the metal with which they worked, and on the food and clothing of the workmen, considering the length of time which the work lasted, and an additional period, during which they cut and brought the stones, and made the underground vaults."

Near this Great Pyramid was the royal city, with its low, sun-baked brick huts. Some of these huts were occupied by the king's clerks, who, with their reed pens, kept his accounts and records on rolls of papyrus. The king, with his nobles, governed his millions of busy people, and they called him by the title of "Pharaoh," which really means the" Great House" in which he lived.

The tombs and temples are themselves great histories written in stone. On their walls are numerous scenes from the daily life of the people, carved in stone and richly painted. Here we see the first sea-going ships sailing along the shores of the Red Sea and of the Mediterranean; the oxen drawing the wooden plough, the portrait sculptor at his work; the goldsmith making beautiful jewellery; the potter at his wheel; the first glass-makers; weavers with hand-looms making almost finer linen than we can make even Today with our machinery; the smith working the new metal. Here, too, are already the various classes of society -- the great landowners, the free men, the hordes of slaves who work the estates and build the Pyramids.