By the beginning of the Ptolemaic dynasty, the Pyramids of Giza were already some 2200 years old. Significant cultural differences separated the Hellenistic Ptolemies from the Old Kingdom.

Were the Ptolemies still able to accurately date the Pyramids (did they even know who built them)? That is, would Ptolemy I have been able to say that the Great Pyramid was completed by Pharaoh Khufu, 2237 years before he himself became king?


In Greek times the authority on the pyramids was Herodotus who visited Egypt about 100 years before Ptolemaic rule began. Even at that time the pyramids were a tourist attraction surrounded by a lot of mythology. According to Herodotus the Great Pyramid was built by "Cheops" about 600 years previously (circa 1000 BC).

Modern scholars presume that by Cheops, Herodotus is referring to "Khufu", but there is no proof of this.

I think that if there had been a desire by a Ptolemaic king to know the history of the pyramids, it is possible they would have received a more accurate answer than what information is available to us now, however, in that time the Macedonians occupying Egypt were not interested in such things.

(If I were you, I would not assume, as you apparently have, that the dates and builders of the pyramids are so well established as you apparently think.)

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    What about Manetho? His writings date from the early Ptolmaic period. He certainly knew more about Egypt than Herodotus. Apr 11 '16 at 0:00
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    Manetho is only known from epitomes and his mention of the pyramids is very brief, saying that that the great pyramid was built by Suphis and the lesser one by Nitocris (a queen). He dates their construction to the 4th dynasty and that conforms to the modern view. Apr 11 '16 at 0:06
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    @Tyler Durden: On my opinion, your last remark really answers the question. Consider incorporating it to your answer. What Hellenistic Greeks knew about Egyptian history really comes from Manetho.
    – Alex
    Apr 11 '16 at 2:02

Just for completeness:

Peter Diehr is correct, Manetho, who lived during the Ptolemeic era (which has several kings named Ptolemy) wrote a book about the royal dynasties of Egypt. His sources must have been royal annals, which would record the name of the pharaohs and how long they reigned.

The original book is lost, and only shortened and inaccurate transcripts of transcripts have survived, but those are the source of the division of the pharaohs into dynasties which are used in Egyptology today.

Manetho assigns the Great Pyramid to the 2nd king of the 4th dynasty, who he names Suphis. The overwhelming majority of the available evidence today seem to confirm that and point to Khufu.

So yes, one of the Ptolemaic kings could have known who built the pyramid. And since the Egyptians, including Manetho, counted the length of the reign of each pharaoh, he could have added those together and would have had an idea when they were built.

There where many possible sources of errors of course: Some pharaohs have been excluded from the royal annals for political reasons ("damnation of memory"), the way the reigning years have been counted could have changed ("cattle counts"), scribes made copying errors, having completely accurate lists was not the primary purpose of the annals and there were two long periods of unrest and chaos, during which several pharaohs appeared and vanished in a short time and the royal annals had trouble counting those.

In summary, a learned one could have told a Ptolemy (after studying the archives) a number like "2337 years" as an answer, but that number would likely be not 100% correct, although it might have been close.

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