Did the ancient Greeks build pyramids at the same time as the Egyptians?

When we hear the word pyramid, our minds immediately think of Egypt; however, there are pyramids scattered around the world: America, Europe, Asia, and India. What many people don’t realize is that the ancient Greeks built the pyramids at the same time or even earlier than the Egyptians.

Known as the Pyramids of Argolis, the ancient structures can be found in the Argolid plain in Greece and date back 5,000 years. The most famous pyramid is called the Hellinikon Pyramid.

Hellinikon Pyramid
The Hellinikon Pyramid is mentioned by the ancient Greek traveler and geographer Pausanias in his Description of Greece. He mentioned two pyramid-like buildings, one for soldiers who died in the battle for the throne of Argos, and another which he said was the tomb of Argives killed in the battle. war around 669 BC. He wrote:

On the road from Argos to Epidauria, on the right there is a building made very much like a pyramid, and on it are shields carved with Argive figures. Here the struggle for the throne took place between Proetus and Acrisius; They said the contest ended in a draw and then a tie as neither was able to claim a decisive victory. The story goes that they and their hosts were armed with shields that were first used in this battle. For those who fell on both sides, a common grave was built here, because they were compatriots and relatives. Pausanias: 2.25

Pausanias’s ‘Description of Greece’ manuscript at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana. (Public domain)

In 1938, an American archaeological expedition firmly established the construction of the pyramid around 300-400 BC; However, in 1991, a scientific team led by Professor Lyritzis used a new method to calculate the age of the pyramid and placed it around 3000 BC. Subsequent research carried out by the Academy of Athens and the University of Edinburgh changed the date to 2720 BC.

If those numbers are correct, the pyramid is older than the Zoser (Djoser) pyramid in Egypt, currently considered the oldest Egyptian pyramid – despite the age of the Egyptian pyramids is a controversial topic.

Djoser’s Step Pyramid in Saqqara, Egypt. (Charles J. Sharp/ CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Although not comparable to the scale of the Egyptian pyramids – the Helllinkon Pyramid measures 23 x 30 feet (7 x 9 m) – the structure is of utmost importance for understanding our about the beginnings of civilization in Greece. However, the excavation of this relic was strangely abandoned.

In 2017, the Greek Ministry of Culture questioned whether the Hellinikon structure was a pyramid. In an official statement addressing the controversy, they said it was a fort or monument and not prehistoric. Previous excavations were ignored.

Ruins of the Hellinikon Pyramid near Kefalari on the Peloponnese in Greece. ( siete_vidas1 /Adobe stock)

Lygourio Pyramid
Located northwest of the town of Lygourio, at the foot of Mount Arachnaion, is another important Greek pyramid. Built in the 4th century BC of limestone blocks, it is larger than the Helllinkon Pyramid, measuring 46 by 39 feet (14 by 12 m).

The interior of the pyramid is divided into four areas separated by walls built from smaller, irregular stones. On the outside wall there used to be a stone bench surrounded on all sides. Today, only the base of the pyramid remains.

Remains of the Lygourio Pyramid, southern section at Lygourio, Argolis, Greece. (Schuppi/ CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Researchers believe that the pyramid, believed to have been used as a memorial to the warriors who died in the battle between Proitos and Akrisios, was originally built as a military fortress as it was built near the ancient Argos-Epidaurus road, where there were many military fortresses. Forts were built along the route.

Archaeological excavations were carried out in 1937, yielding pottery shards dating from the 5th – 4th centuries BC. A coin from Epidaurus dated 323-300 BC was also found in the ruins. A fire damaged the pyramid in the 1st century BC and its final destruction is believed to have occurred in the 4th or 5th century AD.
​Egypt connection?
Some historians have attempted to draw comparisons with the ancient Egyptian pyramids, even suggesting that the pyramids in Greece were built as guard houses for Egyptian mercenaries, or that the construction tradition Pyramids for burial purposes were introduced to Greece from Egypt. However, to date there is no significant evidence supporting these theories. Other, more conservative theories suggest that these structures were simply places to store agricultural products or provide refuge for people during times of conflict. No human remains have been found in the pyramids although Pausanius’ descriptions describe them as tombs.

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