King Amenemhet III was a pharaoh of ancient Egypt and the sixth king of the Twelfth Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom. BC Ancient African kingdoms

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
June 1, 2024

Artistic expression, although still employed for the glory of the king or the gods, found new themes during the Middle Kingdom. Even a cursory examination of Old Kingdom texts shows that they were largely of a type such as monument inscriptions, pyramid texts, and theological works. In the Middle Kingdom, although these types of inscriptions are still seen, a true literature developed that dealt not only with kings or gods but also with the lives of common people and human experience. Works such as The Lay of the Harper question whether there is life after death, as does the Dispute between a man and his Ba (his soul). The most well-known and popular prose works such as The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor and The Tale of Sinuhé also come from this period.

King Amenemhet III was a pharaoh of ancient Egypt and the sixth king of the Twelfth Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom. BC Ancient African kingdoms

Tale of Sinuhe (Berlin 10499)L. Baylis (Copyright)

Sculpture and painting also often focus on everyday life and the common environment. Paintings of streams and fields, of people fishing or walking, are more common at this time. Images of daily life and activities were painted on the tombs so that the soul would remember the life it had left behind on earth and advance towards the Field of Reeds, the paradise of the afterlife, which was a reflection of what had been left behind. . behind. Statues became more realistic and new techniques were developed to create sharper, more realistic creations.

The construction of the temple, following the great mortuary complex of Mentuhotep II at Thebes, worked to create a perfect relationship between the structure and the surrounding landscape, resulting in almost all temples built in the 12th Dynasty mirroring that of Mentuhotep II in greater or lesser degree. The kings of the 12th Dynasty encouraged this type of expression, and their cordial relationship with the local nomarchs made the 12th Dynasty one of the largest in Egyptian history.

The king and the nomarchs

Senusret I was succeeded by Amenemhat II (c. 1929-1895 BC), who may have ruled alongside him. A distinctive feature of the Middle Kingdom is the practice of coregency whereby a younger man, the king’s chosen successor (usually a son), would rule with the king to learn the position and ensure a smooth transition of power. Scholars are divided over whether this practice was actually observed, although at points such as that of Amenemhat II and his successor Senusret II (c. 1897-1878 BC) there is no doubt. The practice of coregency is suggested by double dates for two rulers in the official cartouches, but the meaning of these double dates is unclear.

Little is known of Amenemhat II’s reign, but Senusret II is known for his good relations with the regional nomarchs and the greater prosperity of the country. It is interesting to note that, especially under the reign of Senusret II, local officials prospered just as they had done towards the end of the Old Kingdom, and yet this did not cause the crown the problems it had before. Van de Mieroop writes:

The kings of the 12th Dynasty in Itj-tawi were powerful, but they were not the only ones who possessed wealth and social position. For a long time during the Middle Kingdom, the provincial elites who had been more or less independent in the First Intermediate Period maintained their local authority, although within an environment in which one king ruled the entire country. (103)

These local officials were extremely devoted to their kings, as evidenced by their biographies carved on tombs such as those at Beni Hassan (although they are probably idealized). All of these tombs are large and well designed, attesting to the wealth of their owners, and all were for nomarchs or other regional administrators, not royalty.

Senusret III and the Golden Age of Egypt

Senusret II was succeeded by Senusret III (c. 1878-1860 BC), the most powerful king of the time whose reign was so prosperous that he was deified during his lifetime. Senusret III is considered the model for the legend of Sesostris, the great Egyptian pharaoh who, according to Herodotus, campaigned and colonized Europe and, according to Diodorus Siculus, conquered the entire known world. Senusret III is the best candidate as a base for Sesostris as his reign is marked by military expansion in Nubia and an increase in the wealth and power of Egypt.

The prestige of the nomarchs declines during the reign of Senusret III and the title disappears from official records, suggesting that the position was absorbed into the crown. This interpretation is supported by the institution of larger districts under the control of the central government. However, the individual families who held the position do not appear to have lost their status, as the Beni Hassan tombs mentioned above attest. Many of the inscribed biographies tell the story of a former nomarch who became a devoted royal administrator to the king.

Senusret III was the epitome of the warrior king and embodied the Egyptian cultural value of military skill and decisive action. At the head of his army, he was considered invincible. His campaigns in Nubia expanded Egypt’s borders and the fortifications he built along the border encouraged trade. He also led an expedition to Palestine and subsequently increased trade relations with that region.

King Amenemhet III was a pharaoh of ancient Egypt and the sixth king of the Twelfth Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom. BC Ancient African kingdoms

Head of Senusret IIIOsama Shukir Muhammed Amin (Copyright)

Although the Middle Kingdom was a stable time of great prosperity, evidence of uncertainty is still found in the literature and other inscriptions of the period. The aforementioned Ballad of the Harper , for example, questions the existence of an afterlife and encourages a more existential view. Texts of Execration, objects upon which spells were written to destroy enemies, are more numerous during the Middle Kingdom than at any other period in Egyptian history. The Egyptians believed in sympathetic magic by which one could elevate a friend or destroy an enemy by working with an object that represented them.

Texts of Execration were clay objects, sometimes statues, with the names of enemies written on them and a verse that one recited before breaking the object. Just as the piece was destroyed, so would the enemies. The campaigns and military success of Senusret III ensured the safety of the Egyptians, but the number of these objects found during this period indicates that, as Egypt became safer and wealthier, the people became more fearful of losing them. The realism of New Kingdom literature could be interpreted as reflecting people’s growing concern for the present, rather than an idealized afterlife, as their daily lives became more comfortable and they discovered they had more to lose than before. .

An example of this type of fear can be read in the Ipuwer Papyrus ( The Admonitions of Ipuwer ) in which a scribe bitterly laments the loss of a golden age and the terrible conditions of the present. Although the Ipuwer Papyrus has been interpreted as a story relating to the First Intermediate Period, it is actually literature that expresses the common human experience of a longing for a golden age, a time when everything was beautiful, in contrast to a present of uncertainty and fear.

The vivid imagery of the Ipuwer Papyrus clearly conveys how times have changed for the worse, which has encouraged a literal reading of it as a reference to the First Intermediate Period, but the work makes more sense when read as an expression of the fear of loss in the present. , in the Middle Kingdom, and the kind of chaos one should expect. The writer goes to great lengths to ensure that the reader deeply experiences the reality of such a loss.

King Amenemhet III was a pharaoh of ancient Egypt and the sixth king of the Twelfth Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom. BC Ancient African kingdoms

Papyrus from IpuwerRijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden (CC BY)

This fear of the loss of material goods, of social stability (even of everything one knew) could explain the rise in popularity of the cult of Osiris in Abydos and the growing veneration of Amun in Thebes. Amun combined the previous aspects of the sun god Ra and the creator god Atum into an all-powerful god whose priests (like those of Ra in the past) would eventually amass more land and wealth than the pharaohs of the New Kingdom and, in fact, eventually overthrow the Kingdom. New. Osiris, originally a fertility god, would become known as Lord and Judge of the Dead, the deity who determined where the soul would spend eternity, and his cult would become the most popular, eventually merging with that of his wife Isis.

Both gods promised stability in the earthly journey and an eternal life beyond the grave. Senusret III paid special attention to the city of Abydos, where the head of Osiris was thought to be buried, and sent representatives there with gifts for the statue of Osiris. Abydos became a wealthy city during this time, the most popular pilgrimage site in all of Egypt, with the most coveted necropolis. People wanted to be buried near Osiris so they would have a better chance of impressing him when the time came to appear before him at trial.

At the same time, the temple of Amun at Karnak was continually expanded. This temple was dedicated to Amun, Lord of Heaven and Earth, who would be known as Amun-Ra, King of the Gods of Egypt. Amun assured the believers of his constant care during their lives and the continuation of harmony. The realism of the literary and artistic works of the time can be seen reflected in religious developments that promised an uninterrupted continuation of current life.

Since the afterlife, presided over by Osiris, was seen as a direct reflection of the present life, and the present life was protected by Amun, there was no reason to fear change because there would be none. Death was just another change in the course of life, not the end of it. Depictions of the afterlife at this time became as vivid and realistic as those of common scenes from everyday life.

The end of the 12th Dynasty

This realism even extends to the way Senusret III is artistically depicted. While previous kings of Egypt are always depicted in statues as young and strong, those of Senusret III are realistic and show him at his actual age and looking worn and tired from the responsibilities of government. This same realism is evident in the statues of his son and successor Amenemhat III (c. 1860-1815 BC), who is ideally and realistically represented in statues. Amenemhat III did not boast of great military victories, but he built almost as many monuments as his father and was responsible for the great mortuary temple at Hawara known as “The Labyrinth,” which Herodotus claimed was more impressive than any of the ancient wonders of the world.

He was succeeded by Amenemhat IV (c. 1815-1807 BC), who continued his policies. He finished his father’s construction projects and started many of his own. Military and trading expeditions were launched on numerous occasions during his reign and trade flourished with cities in the Levant, especially Byblos, and elsewhere. The policy of coregency, if indeed followed, which had ensured a smooth transition of power from one ruler to another, now failed in the case of Amenemhat IV, who had no male heir to groom for success.

On his death, the throne passed to his sister (or wife) Sobekneferu (c. 1807-1802 BC), of whose reign little is known. Sobekneferu is the first woman to rule Egypt since the Early Dynastic Period, unless Queen Nitiqret (Nitocris) of the 6th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom is accepted as historical. The debate over the historicity of Nitocris has raged for decades and is no closer to a resolution, but many scholars (Toby Wilkinson and Barbara Watterson among them) now accept her as a real person and not a myth created by Herodotus.

Aside from that, Sobekneferu reigned centuries before Hatshepsut, the woman often cited as the first female monarch of Egypt, and who ruled with full royal powers as a man. A woman named Neithhotep (c. 3150 BC) and another, Merneith (c. 3000 BC), are believed to have ruled in their own names and with their own authority in the Early Dynastic Period, but these claims are questioned. Merneith may have only been regent for her son Den, and Neithhotep, whose reputation as a reigning monarch rests largely on the grandeur of her tomb and its inscriptions, may have simply been honored as the wife and mother of a great king.

Unlike Hatshepsut, whose statues increasingly portray her as a man, Sobekneferu is clearly depicted as a monarch. She restored or founded the city of Crocodilopolis south of Hawara in honor of her patron god Sobek and commissioned other building projects in the grand tradition of the other rulers of the 12th Dynasty.

When he died without an heir, the 12th Dynasty ended and the 13th began with the reign of Sobekhotep I (c. 1802-1800 BC). The 12th Dynasty was the strongest and most prosperous in the Middle Kingdom. As van de Mieroop notes, “All but the last two rulers of the Twelfth Dynasty built pyramids and mortuary complexes in the surrounding area and filled them with royal statues, relief sculptures, and the like” (102). The 13th Dynasty would inherit the wealth and policies, but would not be able to make much use of them.

The end of the Middle Kingdom

The 13th Dynasty is traditionally considered weaker than the 12th, and it was, but it is unclear exactly when it began to decline because historical records are fragmentary. Certain kings, such as Sobekhotep I, are well attested, but less so as the 13th Dynasty progresses. Some kings are only mentioned in the Turin king list and nowhere else, some are mentioned in inscriptions but not in lists. Manetho’s king list, which Egyptologists consult regularly, fails in the 13th Dynasty when it lists 60 kings who ruled for 453 years, an impossible length, which scholars interpret as an error for 153 years (Van de Mieroop, 107). The claim that the dynasty lasted 150 years after Sobekhotep I is probably also erroneous in the sense that the Hyksos were firmly established as a power in Lower Egypt by c. 1720 BC C. and they had control of that region by c. 1782 BC c.

King Amenemhet III was a pharaoh of ancient Egypt and the sixth king of the Twelfth Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom. BC Ancient African kingdoms

Statue of SobekhotepOsama Shukir Muhammed Amin (Copyright)

The 13th Dynasty appears to have continued the policies of the kings of the 12th and kept the country unified but, from what fragmentary records indicate, none of them had the personal strength of the previous kings. Separate political entities began to emerge in Lower Egypt, the Hyksos being the most important, and the capital of Itj-tawi does not appear to have had the resources to control any of them. Mortuary complexes, temples and stelae were still erected during this time and documents show that the efficient bureaucracy of the 12th Dynasty was still in place, but the momentum that propelled Egypt through the 12th Dynasty was lost.

As with the transition from the Old Kingdom period to the First Intermediate Period, the change from the Middle Kingdom to the Second Intermediate Period is often characterized as chaotic decline. None of these characterizations are accurate. The 13th Dynasty faltered and a stronger power arose to take its place. Although later Egyptian histories would characterize the Hyksos era as a dark period for the country, the archaeological record maintains otherwise. The Hyksos, although foreigners, continued to respect the religion and culture of Egypt and appear to have benefited the country more than later historians give them credit for.

The Second Intermediate Period, during which the Hyksos ruled Egypt, may not have been the chaos it is portrayed as, but it still could not approach the heights of the Middle Kingdom. In fact, there was some loss of culture, such as that of hieroglyphic writing and the emergence of hieratic writing. There is also evidence that artistic achievements were of lower quality during the Second Intermediate Period. Scholars Bob Brier and Hoyt Hobbs write about the Middle Kingdom: