Types of Pyramids in Egypt

Updated July 20, 2017

The ancient Egyptian burial rituals were elaborate and complicated. Pharaohs and lesser officials constructed pyramids for their eternal resting places. Over time, pyramids grew larger and more complex with rooms for daily items necessary for the occupant to use in the afterlife. The development of pyramids was an evolutionary process and changed from one type to another.


The earliest type burial complex the Egyptians used was mastabas. They are rectangular mounds of dirt with burial chambers often dug into the ground. Around 3500 B.C., the earliest mastabas were made of mud brick with inward sloping sides. These often had niches to make an offering. Construction became more elaborate, and the shafts became lined with stone and the walls decorated. By building more chambers, they allowed the deceased to take more items to the afterlife. The mastabas became more elaborate and enclosed by temples made of stone. Ordinary people still used mastabas for burials after pyramid construction began. Few of these burial chambers survive because the mud bricks deteriorated. While this type of tomb was not considered a pyramid, they were the precursor to the step pyramid with sloped sides and steps. The pyramids kept the chambers and shaft concept for the body and accessories buried with it.

Step pyramids

The first type of pyramid was a step design built for the Pharaoh Djoser at Saqqara. Djoser died in approximately 2649 during the third dynasty. There are indications the pyramid started out as a stepped mastaba that grew into a pyramid. The pyramid is square with sloped sides. A successively smaller square centred on top of a lower one, which gives the impression of steps. There are six steps and the pyramid is approximately 200 feet high. The top is a small flat area. The burial chamber is about 28 meters underground and made of granite. Inside is a complex system of decorated passageways. It is the first funeral building made of stone.

True Pyramids

Snefru built the first type of classically shaped pyramid in the fourth dynasty about 2600 at Dahshur. Because the sides were too steep, they changed the angle about half way to the top. Because of the bend in the middle, its name is the Bent Pyramid. Snefru started another pyramid called the red pyramid that became the first type of classic pyramid without steps. The pyramids that followed used the same general design. The sides are straight at inward angles between approximately 45 and 55 degrees. The materials are limestone and granite. The insides have shafts and passageways that lead to the tomb and auxiliary rooms that hold the artefacts needed so the occupant could continue his journey to the afterlife. The last great pyramid was Menkaure constructed about 2490 B.C. After that, the Pharaoh's burials were in Valley of the Kings.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Now living in Arizona, Les Moore has written reports of motorcycle races for "Cycle News" and "Midwest Motorcycling" since 1969. He has provided technical and procedural data for the Intra and Internet. Moore received a Certificate of Drafting from San Jose Community College in 1982.