From the towering pyramids of Egypt to the mysterious stone pillars of Easter Island, ancient civilizations built some of the world’s most impressive structures. But which ancient structures were the tallest, and just how did these civilizations manage to build such monumental creations?
Ancient civilizations all over the globe built massive structures. There’s been evidence of tall earthen structures in North America, Central America, Africa, the Middle East, and even East Asia.
Their purposes varied, but typically involved a religious or spiritual purpose.
Scholars are still unsure as to how these people built many of these buildings given the technology, population and societal structures at the time. The materials to build the structures often had to be hauled in from miles away requiring extensive coordination. In addition, the manpower involved required a society with central leadership that could unify the population towards a single purpose.
Several of these buildings will be familiar as they have been discussed at length in the history books. Ultimately though, many of these buildings did not last the test of time.
List of the Tallest Ancient Structures
The list of the tallest noted ancient structures begins with the Tower of Jericho at ~28 ft in ~8000 BCE, and extends to the Great Pyramid of Giza at ~481 ft in 2570 BCE.1
- 8000 BCE – Tower of Jericho – 28 ft
- 4000 BCE – Anu Ziggurat – 40 ft
- 2648 BCE – Step Pyramid of Djoser – 205 ft
- 2610 BCE – Meidum Pyramid – 307 ft
- 2605 BCE – Bent Pyramid – 332 ft
- 2600 BCE – Red Pyramid of Dashur – 344 ft
- 2570 BCE – Great Pyramid of Giza – 481 ft
The tallest known building dating back to the furthest date in recorded history is the Tower of Jericho. The Natufians who constructed the tower around 8000 BCE at a height of about 28 ft and utilized the tower and walls for defense of their town as well as potentially for cultural purposes.2
You need to fast forward another 4,000 years to get to the next significant structure built. Historians refer to this one as the Anu Ziggurat. Built in Uruk, a city in ancient Sumer, the structure stood 40 ft high and visitors could even see the temple from outside the city walls.
After this, the ancient pyramids of Egypt began their reign of tallest buildings. Starting in 2648 BCE with the Step Pyramid of Djoser, Egyptian pharoahs built many more in rapid succession. Each pyramid topped the previous record and were built within a 50 year period.
Finally, in 2570 BCE the Pharoah Khufu built the biggest of them all: the Great Pyramid of Giza. Standing at a massive 481 ft the building could be seen for miles as it was originally fully encased in white limestone and featured a gilded cap.
This structure stood alone as tallest building in the world for over 3,800 years and is still intact today. Not even the architectural marvels of the Roman Empire could match the Great Pyramid in terms of height.3
2) Bar-Yosef, O. “The Walls of Jericho: An Alternative Interpretation.” Current Anthropology, vol. 27, no. 2, 1986, pp. 157–62. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2742981.
3) Zorich, Zach. “The Pyramid Effect.” Scientific American, vol. 313, no. 5, 2015, pp. 32–39. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26046458.