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Giza’s 2.3 Million Blocks Broke Egyptian Spirit: Lewis Lapham

The cover jacket of
The cover jacket of "The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt" by Toby Wilkinson. Source: Random House via Bloomberg

March 5 (Bloomberg) -- Sole survivor of the seven ancient wonders of the world, the Great Pyramid of Giza stands 481 feet high. For 44 centuries it was the tallest building in the world and the ultimate symbol of absolute power.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

Covering 13 acres, the pyramid consists of 2.3 million stone blocks each weighing more than a ton.

Limestone dust and swarms of flies tortured the sweaty conscripts laboring in the blazing quarry. The blocks had to be put on wooden sledges and then pulled by ropes until they could be moved into position at the rate of one every two minutes over a 10-hour day.

To get the job done, teams of 20 men were organized into larger and larger divisions, ending with 2,000-member crews. Skeletons show broken bones, back pain and arthritic disease.

Uniting heaven and earth in service to the divine king, the pyramid embodied the idea of untrammeled authority. So deeply did this belief enter the fabric of life there, the recent uprising is the first time in history that Egyptian people have collectively expressed their own voice.

I spoke with Toby Wilkinson, author of “The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt,” on the following topics:

1. The Importance of the Army

2. Ramesses II

3. Dissent Repressed

4. Opulence vs. Penury

5. Too Slow to Respond

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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