MIDDLE KINGDOM (2030–1640 B.C.)

The period between the Old Kingdom and the New Kingdom — the 1st Intermediate Period (2150 to 2030 B.C.), the Middle Kingdom (2030 to 1640 B.C.) and the 2nd Intermediate Period (1640 to 1540 B.C.) — does not receive that much attention from historians and is largely unknown to the general public. Not that much new or of interest happened. There were some pyramids but no great ones. Art and culture were not all that different that what preceded and came after it. There were some great kings but none that were famous like King Tut or Ramesses II.

The 1st Intermediate Period consisted of dynasties 8, 9, 10, and the first half of 11, with a half dozen or so rulers. The Middle Kingdom consisted of the second half Dynasty 11 and dynasties 12 and 13, with 29 rulers. The 2nd Intermediate Period consisted of dynasties 14, 15, 16 and 17, with a dozen rulers.

During the Middle Kingdom and the First and Second Intermediate Periods, Egypt became a group of states headed by warlords grouped loosely in confederations of north and south. This schism lasted for 700 years. At the beginning of this period one scholar wrote, "All the pyramids were looted, not secretly at night but by organized bands of thieves in broad daylight...The temples were burned. There was widespread violence. And a desperate famine took hold of the land."

Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt fought against one another. Poverty and hunger became widespread. Inscriptions show droughts, sandstorms and women forced to eat fleas to survive. One inscription read: "I gave bread to those who were hungry and clothes to those who were naked...All of Upper Egypt was dying of hunger, to the point where children were eating their own children." Another read, "The entire country had become like a starved locust."

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Ancient Egypt Magazine ancientegyptmagazine.co.uk; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Egyptian Study Society, Denver egyptianstudysociety.com; The Ancient Egypt Site ancient-egypt.org; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk

First Intermediate Period (7th, 8th, 9th 10th Dynasties, 2181-2125 B.C.)

During the First Intermediate Period Egypt became a group of states headed by warlords grouped loosely in confederations of north and south. This schism lasted for 700 years. At the beginning of this period one scholar wrote, "All the pyramids were looted, not secretly at night but by organized bands of thieves in broad daylight...The temples were burned. There was widespread violence. And a desperate famine took hold of the land."

Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt fought against one another. Poverty and hunger became widespread. Inscriptions show droughts, sandstorms and women forced to eat fleas to survive. One inscription read: "I gave bread to those who were hungry and clothes to those who were naked...All of Upper Egypt was dying of hunger, to the point where children were eating their own children." Another read, "The entire country had become like a starved locust.”

Mentuhotep II

The Old Kingdom collapsed during a time of political fragmentation, civil disorder, environmental disaster and famine. The climate of Northeast Africa becoming dryer, the flow of the Nile decreased and death rate increased. For a time petty warlords ruled the provinces. Then some unity occurred a ruling family led by a ruler named Khety emerged from the city of Herakleopolis and briefly controlled the whole country. Soon after Egypt was divided with the North, ruled from Herakleopolis and the South ruled from Thebes. The Theban dynasty was relatively stable while the Herakleopolis Dynasty was characterized by a rapid succession of kings. The North and South fought off and on through the period, with the conflict finally being resolved in the 11th dynasty. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]

Renate Mueller-Wollermann of the University of Tuebingen wrote: “Dynasties 6 and 8 are combined in the Canon of Turin; the 7th Dynasty is fictive. Thus, anciently the Old Kingdom was considered to have ended after the 8th Dynasty. It seems to have been marked by the transfer of the royal residence from Memphis to Herakleopolis. [Source: Renate, Mueller-Wollermann, University of Tuebingen, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2014, escholarship.org ]

According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “The Intermediate Period I begins with the death of Pepi II. Scientists are not completely positive but somewhere either directly after or shortly before he died, a climatic change occurred which caused crops to fail and led to hunger across Egypt. As a result, there was famine, poverty, social upheaval and anarchy. Local governors tried to maintain control by placing the needs of their people above that of the neighbors, but it was difficult to say how widespread the famine and social upheaval was. It is certain that it engulfed Memphis which was the capital at that time. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com +]

After more than 20 years there appears to have been a line of kings which made up the 9th and 10th Dynasties. These kings resided at Herakleopolis and managed to stabilize their power over their neighboring regions and then they took control of Delta. Their attempt to take control of Upper Egypt failed when they encountered resistance from the princes of Upper Egypt somewhere around Thebes. Thebes became "the door of the South." Later on Thebes would start a rebellion against Herakleopolis and managed to set-up their own independent kingdom. This is likely to have extended down to the first cataract and up to just south of Abydos. Later, there was another war between Herakleopolis and Thebes which was over the control of Egypt. Thebes, which was led by Nebhetepre Mentuhotep I, conquered Herakleopolis after a period of a few years. This marked the beginning of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt.” +\

“The Herakleopolitans expelled Asiatic immigrants from the Nile delta and fortified the eastern border of Egypt. This dynasty was responsible for establishing the importance of Memphis. The Herakleopolitans improved irrigation works, reopened trade with Byblos, and began the "Coffin Texts". One of the kings wrote the "Instruction to Merikara." They also had frequent outbreaks of fighting against the Thebans north of Abydos. Eventually they were conquered by the Thebans and this marked the end of the Herakleopolis Dynasty and the beginning of the Middle Kingdom.” +\

List of Rulers from the Middle Kingdom and Intermediate Periods

Turin King List

First Intermediate Period
(ca. 2150–2030 B.C.)
Dynasty 8–Dynasty 10, (ca. 2150–2030 B.C.)
Dynasty 11, first half, (ca. 2124–2030 B.C.)
Mentuhotep I (ca. 2124–2120 B.C.)
Intef I (ca. 2120–2108 B.C.)
Intef III (ca. 2059–2051 B.C.)
Mentuhotep II (ca. 2051–2030 B.C.)
[Source: Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2002]

Middle Kingdom
(ca. 2030–1640 B.C.)
Dynasty 11, second half, (ca. 2030–1981 B.C.)
Mentuhotep II (cont.) (ca. 2030–2000 B.C.)
Mentuhotep III (ca. 2000–1988 B.C.)
Qakare Intef (ca. 1985 B.C.)
Sekhentibre (ca. 1985 B.C.)
Menekhkare (ca. 1985 B.C.)
Mentuhotep IV (ca. 1988–1981 B.C.)

Dynasty 12, (ca. 1981–1802 B.C.)
Senusret I7 (ca. 1961–1917 B.C.)
Amenemhat II (ca. 1919–1885 B.C.)
Senusret II (ca. 1887–1878 B.C.)
Senusret III (ca. 1878–1840 B.C.)
Amenemhat III (ca. 1859–1813 B.C.)
Amenemhat IV (ca. 1814–1805 B.C.)
Dynasty 13, (ca. 1802–1640 B.C.)

Second Intermediate Period
(ca. 1640–1540 B.C.)
Dynasty 14–Dynasty 16, (ca. 1640–1635 B.C.)
Dynasty 17, (ca. 1635–1550 B.C.)
Tao I (ca. 1560 B.C.)
Tao II (ca. 1560 B.C.)
Kamose (ca. 1552–1550 B.C.)

Food Shortages and Famine in the First Intermediate Period and the Early Middle Kingdom

Sally Katary of Laurentian University wrote: “There are frequent allusions to low Nile levels that led to drought and famine in texts of the First Intermediate Period and the early Middle Kingdom. Autobiographical inscriptions of nomarchs of the First Intermediate Period and early Twelfth Dynasty depict these high officials as the saviors of their people in times of crisis, using rhetoric that goes back to Old Kingdom recitals of virtue in mortuary texts. Khety I, nomarch of Assiut during the First Intermediate Period, claims credit for a ten-meter-wide canal, providing irrigation to drought-stricken plowlands through planned water management. In his Beni Hassan tomb-autobiography, Amenemhet (Ameny), nomarch under Senusret I, claims that he preserved his nome in “years of hunger” through wise and fair policies of land management. There is also mention of a food shortage in the Hekanakht Papers. [Source: Sally Katary, Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2012, escholarship.org ]

“These texts suggest that abrupt climate change led to frequent famines, and that nomarchs took a leading role in saving their people because of their access to emergency food supplies, control over the management and conservation of existing food supplies, and access to the engineering skills needed for effective land and water management. Food shortages certainly occurred at times of drought or spoiled harvests, as stored commodities were used up and the new harvest was not yet ready or fit for consumption. What is not clear is whether the texts refer to true famines or temporary shortages in the food supply.

“There is no evidence that any action was taken on the part of the central government to intervene in local affairs; solutions presumably were left to the local officials, water management and the distribution of food being controlled locally. The piety typical of autobiographical inscriptions led officials to boast of virtuous acts that they may not have actually performed. Thus, there is probably much exaggeration in their claims of having saved the populace in times of disaster. While there were certainly occasional food shortages, there is no evidence for the dire conditions described in these autobiographies. There is also no evidence that drought and famine were unique to this period or were of such magnitude that they played a significant role in destabilizing the government at the end of the Old Kingdom. Climate change toward drier conditions at the end of the third millennium B.C. was likely gradual rather than catastrophic.”

Middle Kingdom (2030–1640 B.C.) of Ancient Egypt

Amenemhet III

The Middle Kingdom (2030 to 1640 B.C.) was a period of decline and then prosperity and economic and political expansion. It consisted of the second part of the 11th dynasty and the 12 and 13 dynasties, with 29 rulers. The Middle Kingdom ended with the invasion of a people called the Hyksos. The Middle Kingdom pharaohs established their capital first at Lisht near Memphis. Later the capital was moved further south along the Nile to Thebes (Luxor) after a family from Thebes outmaneuvered its rivals and reunified the country around 2000 B.C. and promoted their gods. Egyptian territory expanded during the Middle Kingdom. Nubia was reconquered, forts were built in the south and foreigners from all over the Mediterranean came to live in Egypt.

According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “The Middle Kingdom is considered to have started with Nebhepetre Mentuhotep I uniting all of Egypt. He ruled for 51 years and his reign brought much stability to Egypt. His conquest of much of Egypt meant draining the nonarchs of their armies and subsequently their power. This put Nebhepetre Mentuhotep I in such a position as king that had not been realized since Phiops II. His son ruled for some time but eventually Amenemhet I overthrew his grandson, Mentuhotep IV, marking the end of the 11th Dynasty. This apparently required assistance from the nomarchs. Some nomarchs would continue to hold king-like powers until Senusret III stripped them of it. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com +]

“During this time trade picked up dramatically and many resources which before had been unused were now being exploited. The Faiyum was exploited for the cultivation of crops, mines which produced gold and quarries were dug for building projects. During the entire Middle Kingdom many building projects were conducted. Mentuhotep I built his mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahari. The 12th Dynasty re-established the pyramid building and every Pharaoh of that dynasty was buried in their own pyramid. +\

“Many other structures were also built during this time. This included the building of fortresses. Amenemhet I built the series of fortresses that came to be known as the Wall of the Princes. Senusret I, built a series of 13 fortresses from the Second Cataract up along the west coast of the Nile to protect against invaders. +\

“The Middle Kingdom was a generally peaceful time. However, expeditions were sent during some phases of the Middle Kingdom to push the borders of Egypt outward. Only during Senusret III do we see numerous campaigns of this type. Senusret III also regained the power that was enjoyed by Mentuhotep I by instituting several internal reforms. +\

Art and Culture During Middle Kingdom (2030–1640 B.C.)

Pectoral of Amenemhat III

During the Middle Kingdom there was a Renaissance of Egyptian culture. Temples were restored and new pyramids were built. Artists and craftsmen produced elaborate gold jewelry and painted wooden sculptures of everyday life. Writers produced some of ancient Egypt's best literature.

Catharine H. Roehrig of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: "The Middle Kingdom (mid-Dynasty 11–Dynasty 13, ca. 2030–1640 B.C.) began when Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II reunited Upper and Lower Egypt, setting the stage for a second great flowering of Egyptian culture. Thebes came into prominence for the first time, serving as capital and artistic center during Dynasty 11. [Source: Catharine H. Roehrig, Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2000 metmuseum.org/ \^/]

“The outstanding monument of this dynasty was Mentuhotep's mortuary complex, loosely modeled on the funerary monuments of his Theban ancestors. Built on a grand scale against the spectacular sheer cliffs of western Thebes, Mentuhotep's complex centered on a terraced temple with pillared porticoes. The masterful design, representing a perfect union of architecture and landscape unique for its time, included painted reliefs of ceremonial scenes and hieroglyphic texts. Carved in a distinctive Theban style also seen in the tombs of Mentuhotep's officials, these now-fragmentary reliefs are among the finest ever produced in Egypt. \^/

“At the end of Dynasty 11, the throne passed to a new family with the accession of Amenemhat I, who moved the capital north to Itj-tawy, near modern Lisht. Strongly influenced by the statuary and reliefs from nearby Old Kingdom monuments in the Memphite region, the artists of Dynasty 12 created a new aesthetic style. The distinctive works of this period are a series of royal statues that reflect a subtle change in the Egyptian concept of kingship.” \^/

Middle Kingdom Pyramids

Amenemhet I's pyramid complex

Dieter Arnold of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote : “The pyramid field of Dahshur is located along the western desert edge, 30 kilometers south of Cairo. The site includes two huge stone pyramids built by the Dynasty 4 king Snefru and three smaller Dynasty 12 brick pyramids that belonged to Amenemhat II, Senusret III, and Amenemhat III. The five pyramids are separated by vast areas of desert that contain private mastaba tombs and burials, stone quarries, pyramid construction ramps, causeways, workers' settlements, and other installations. [Source: Arnold, Dieter. "The Pyramid Complex of Senusret III in the Cemeteries of Dahshur", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, metmuseum.org \^/]

“The Dahshur complex was constructed in two phases. The original complex, which more closely followed Old Kingdom prototypes, included the pyramid, a small pyramid temple to the east, and a stone inner enclosure wall. A second, outer enclosure wall made of brick surrounded six smaller pyramids built for the royal women and a seventh pyramid that served as the king's subsidiary or ka pyramid. Later in the reign of Senusret III, the pyramid complex was enlarged to the north and south, transforming the originally square ground plan into an elongated rectangle. The larger southern extension contained the huge South Temple that seems to have marked the appearance of a new building type in a royal pyramid complex, perhaps replacing or broadening the function of the traditional pyramid temple. \^/

“The plan of Senusret III's apartments under the pyramid closely follows those built by the kings of late Dynasty 5 and Dynasty 6. Senusret III's construction had a long entrance passage, antechamber, crypt, and a room to the side of the antechamber called a serdab by Egyptologists. An unusual feature is the placement of the pyramid entrance, which was not positioned in the north, as was traditional, but in the west. The walls of Senusret III's burial chambers were lined with beautifully finished white limestone, while the crypt was constructed of red granite that was whitewashed. Unlike some Old Kingdom pyramids, the walls were not inscribed with pyramid texts. The crypt contains a finely carved red granite sarcophagus embellished at the base with a pattern that replicates the form of an enclosure wall with palace facade paneling. The absence of any human remains in the tomb, as well as the cleanliness of the interior of the sarcophagus, suggests that Senusret III was not buried in his tomb at Dahshur; instead, the king may have been interred in Abydos, where the king built another mortuary complex. \^/

“The king's pyramid, the burial places of the royal women, and the private tombs surrounding the pyramid complex were plundered during the unstable period of Hyksos rule (ca. 1600 B.C.). The main destruction of the area occurred in the later Ramesside Period (ca. 1295–1186 B.C.), when the pyramids and mastabas were quarried down to their foundations. From the Late Period (712–332 B.C.) onward, the ruined site was used for lower-and middle-class private burials; most of the tombs belong to the late Roman period (ca. 200–350), though Christian burials have also been uncovered. The first large-scale excavation of Senusret III's complex was carried out by the French archaeologist Jacques de Morgan (1857–1924) between 1894 and 1895. The Metropolitan Museum resumed excavation work at the site in 1990 and continues its work in yearly, three-month campaigns.” \^/

Books: Arnold, Dieter The Pyramid Complex of Senusret III at Dahshur: Architectural Studies. With contributions and an appendix by Adela Oppenheim and contributions by James P. Allen. Publications of The Metropolitan Museum of Art Egyptian Expedition, vol. 26.. New York: n/a, 2002.

Eleventh Dynasty 2125 – 1985 B.C.

Amenemhet I's pyramid today

The Middle Kingdom begins with the reunification of Egypt under Mentuhotep I who ousted the kings of Herakleopolis. Initially he adopted the Horus name Divine of the White Crown, highlighting his conquest of all of Upper Egypt. This was later changed to Uniter of the Two Lands. His outstanding mortuary complex at Dayr al-Bahri inspired the famous temple of Hatshepsut built nearby 500 years later. Kings of the Middle Kingdom: Intef I 2125-2112 B.C.; Intef II 2112-2063 B.C.; Intef III 2063-2055 B.C.; Mentuhotep I 2055-2004 B.C.; Mentuhotep II 2004-1992 B.C.; Mentuhotep III 1992-1985 B.C. . [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]

On the 11th Dynasty, Dr Aidan Dodson of the University of Bristol wrote: “After around 2190 B.C., Egypt fell to pieces, the various provinces eventually coalescing around the cities of Thebes and Herakleopolis. The resulting civil war was won by the Thebans of the 11th Dynasty, led by King Mentuhotep II. He kept the capital in the south, and there he built the tomb shown above, at a site now called Deir el-Bahari. It was a terraced temple of an unusual form, perhaps once topped by a pyramid. The burial chamber was at the end of a long tunnel beginning in the courtyard at the rear of the temple.” [Source: Dr Aidan Dodson, Egyptologist, University of Bristol, BBC, February 17, 2011]

According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “This dynasty began in Thebes with Intef who was a nomarch and a priest. After gaining control, they began to get into small, frequent fights with the Herakleopolitans during the 9th and 10th Dynasties. The skirmishes took place generally north of Abydos. Eventually the Thebans conquered the Herakleopolitans under Mentuhotep I(or II) Nebhetepre. Mentuhotep ruled Upper and Lower Egypt from Thebes. He ordered the building of several temples including the mortuary complex at Deir el-Bahari. The dynasty is noted for building statues and temples and marks the beginning of the Middle Kingdom. The 11th Dynasty sent trading and other expeditions to acquire raw materials and trade items. Amenemhet, vizier and Governor of the region south of Mentuhotep III, overthrew the king and established the 12th Dynasty. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com]

Twelfth Dynasty 1991 – 1782 B.C.

The 12th Dynasty began with the removal of Mentuhotep IV from the throne and Amenemhet I's ascension. Amenemhet I moved the capital back to the Memphis. He later took his son, Senusret as his co-regent. During the 10 years of joint rule Senusret led succesful military campaigns in Lower Nubia that claimed the region. Amenemhet was murdered while Senusret’ was on a campaign in Libya, but Senusret was able to hold on to power.Senusret III reorganised Egypt into four regions the northern and southern halves of the Nile Valley and the eastern and western Delta. Queen Sobeknefru, the first female monarch marked the end of the dynastic line. Twelfth Dynasty rulers: Amenemhet I 1985-1955 B.C.; Senusret I 1965-1920 B.C.; Amenemhet II 1922-1878 B.C.; Senusret II 1880-1874 B.C.; Senusret III 1874-1855 B.C.; Amenemhet III 1855-1808 B.C.; Amenemhet IV 1808-1799 B.C.; Queen Sobeknefru 1799-1795 B.C. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com ^^^]

Amenemhet III's pyramid

During the 12th Dynasty there was a revival of Old Kingdom artistic styles. Senusret III and his successor Amenemhet III left a striking statuary of themselves as old, haggard rulers. The Egyptian written language was standardized into classical Middle Egyptian form. The earliest known literary texts were composed in this form, although several are attributed to figures from The most well-known of these is the “Instruction for Merikare,” a discourse on leadership and ethics.

According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “The kings of this dynasty built pyramids similar to the ones built during the Old Kingdom; however, they were a bit smaller. The Faiyum was exploited for the cultivation of crops and much building went on during this dynasty's rule. The second king of this dynasty, Senusret I, built a series of 13 forts down to the Second Cataract to help protect Egypt from invaders. Although generally a peaceful time, there were several expeditions sent out to increase the borders of Egypt and in some cases to subdue rebellions. There was a significant amount of trading during this time as is evident by artifacts that originate outside of Egypt. Also there were a number of artifacts that originated from Egypt recovered from the tombs of princes outside of Egypt. This indicates that there was a peaceful foreign policy during much of the 12th Dynasty. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com]

On the 12th Dynasty, Dr Aidan Dodson of the University of Bristol wrote: “The new line of pharaohs moved the capital back north from Thebes and resumed the building of pyramids for their tombs. The 12th Dynasty was one of great prosperity, which also re-established Egyptian control of Nubia, an area that straddled what is today the border of Egypt and Sudan. It was an important source of raw materials-especially gold-and was a crucial conduit of trade from central Africa. |Another thriving area during the period was the Fayum, an oasis area 100km (62 miles) south of Cairo, which saw major irrigation and other public works. Amongst these were two king's pyramids, one of them being the monument shown here, of Amenemhat III at Hawara. Unusually, it was built of mud-brick rather than stone, and it had a gargantuan temple built on the south side. This temple, known as the 'Labyrinth', was destroyed 2,000 years ago, leaving only the fragments visible in the foreground.” [Source: Dr Aidan Dodson, Egyptologist, University of Bristol, BBC, February 17, 2011]

Late Middle Kingdom (Mid-12th to the 13th Dynasty)

Wolfram Grajetzki of University College London wrote: “In the Egyptian late Middle Kingdom (from Senusret III in the mid 12th to the 13th Dynasty), innovations are visible at all levels of Egyptian culture and administration. At this time, the country was heavily centralized, and there are several indications of a wish for tighter control in administration, while local governors lost much of their power. Royal activities were mainly focused on the Memphis-Fayum region, with Abydos and Thebes being two other important centers. At Avaris in the east Delta, the population grew substantially, also due to the influx of many foreigners from the Near East. Senusret III launched military campaigns against Nubia and Palestine, on a scale not attested before. In addition to his pyramid at Dahshur, he had a great funerary complex at Abydos. Amenemhat III is mainly known for his huge funerary complex at Hawara, later called the “Labyrinth” by the ancient Greeks. [Source: Wolfram Grajetzki, University College London, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]

“In sculpture, a new style of portraiture for both kings shows them at an advanced age, rather than the usual idealized young ruler. The 12th Dynasty ends with the little known ruling queen Neferusobek. The transition to the following dynasty remains enigmatic. In stark contrast to the 12th Dynasty, the 13th Dynasty consisted of about 50 kings ruling for just 150 years. Culture and administration went on without any major break. Many kings still built pyramids in the Memphite region. Neferhotep I and Sobekhotep IV belong to the better attested kings of the dynasty: production of Abydos stelae seems to peak under them, and a dense network of officials is attested on the stelae. Far fewer sources survive for later rulers, but a stark decline on all levels is visible, perhaps related to the takeover of the east Delta fringe by foreigners living there.

“In terms of culture, administration, and to some extent politics, the Middle Kingdom burial customs. However, earlier works treat the whole Middle Kingdom into two main periods. The early Middle Kingdom comprised the late 11th Dynasty to approximately the middle of the 12th Dynasty. The late Middle Kingdom was the time after Senusret II and included the 13th Dynasty when Egypt was most likely still a unified country ruled by one king.

“Under the reign of Senusret III (1887 - 1848 B.C.), changes in art, administration, and religious beliefs are visible. They justify separating the late 12th Dynasty to 13th Dynasty from the early Middle Kingdom as new cultural and also political phase. The change has long been recognized because the governors in Middle Egypt no longer built impressive tombs and royal sculpture was introduced that no longer period. Only more recently one has recognized that the late Middle Kingdom is in many ways totally different from the early Middle Kingdom. This division into two phases is now accepted by most scholars working on the period. [Source: Wolfram Grajetzki, University College London, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]

“The 13th Dynasty is treated by several authors as still belonging to the Middle Kingdom , while others regard it as belonging to the Second Intermediate Period. The different approaches are easily explained by the authors’ different foci. Studies on Middle Kingdom arts and culture include the 13th Dynasty as there is no break visible after the 12th Dynasty. Studies focusing on the political history incorporate the 13 Dynasty into the Second Intermediate Period as the dynasty consisted of many short-ruling kings, in stark contrast to the long-ruling kings of the 12th Dynasty.”

Administration and Government in the Late Middle Kingdom

Senusret II

Wolfram Grajetzki of University College London wrote: “The early Middle Kingdom was one of the most decentralized periods of Egyptian history, with many flourishing local centers. In the late Middle Kingdom, these local centers still existed, but the big governors’ tombs and the well-equipped burials of the officials working for them have disappeared. In the late Middle Kingdom, the focus of the royal activities within the country was the Memphite-Fayum region, where all of the royal pyramids were built. Abydos was an important religious center. Especially in the 13th Dynasty, Thebes became the second royal residence of the country. Furthermore, an important population center developed at Avaris (modern Tell el-Dabaa) at the edge of the eastern Delta, where many people coming from the Near East settled. [Source: Wolfram Grajetzki, University College London, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]

“The typical titles of Middle Kingdom local governors are still well attested in the late Middle Kingdom, signifying that the general administrative structures continued and it is unclear what really changed. However, under Senusret III the last bigger tombs for local governors were built, but they are no longer securely attested under Amenemhat III. In the administration new titles appeared, while the long strings of titles for high officials common in almost all other periods of ancient Egyptian history are often just reduced to one title, the function title. Only highest state officials could bear additional ranking titles announcing their social position at the royal court. Titles became more precise: while the title “steward” was common in the other periods, now it often had an extension, such as “steward who counts the ships” or “steward who counts the cattle”. The largest number of scarab seals with name and titles of officials can be dated to the late Middle Kingdom, especially to the 13th Dynasty. Seal impressions of scarabs appear from that time on in great quantities at settlement sites. This seems to reflect a demand for tighter control of commodities.

“From the late Middle Kingdom, a significant number of administrative documents survive, providing valuable insights into parts of the administration. The large number of papyri found at el-Lahun (the pyramid town of Senusret II) also includes religious, mathematical, medical, and literary papyri. From administrative documents, but also from contemporary monuments, it becomes clear that having double names was common in this period. This may be seen in relation to the general trend of this period toward greater control, already visible in the more precise titles and the larger number of sealings used in administration.”

Religion, Culture and Life in the Late Middle Kingdom

Wolfram Grajetzki of University College London wrote: “Royal and private sculpture often no longer show an idealized image of young men (or women), but depict people of advanced age, maturity, and wisdom. Burial customs underwent a change presumably reflecting development in religious beliefs. Coffins were no longer provided with inner decoration or coffin texts. No wooden models showing food and craft production were placed into the burials, while magical objects used in daily life (magical wands, faience figures) were now included as burial goods. Other objects placed into tombs, such as papyri or gaming boards, were taken from work and leisure in daily life. The first shabtis in mummy form and heart scarabs are attested. In contrast, at the highest social level the deceased were equipped with royal insignia otherwise best known from the context of the underworld god Osiris . Mainly from the texts included in these tombs (but also from New Kingdom finds), several literary compositions are known. A number of them were most likely composed in the late Middle Kingdom. Especially several works of “pessimistic” literature, such as the Dialogue Between a Man and His Ba or the Admonitions of Ipuwer, should be mentioned. [Source: Wolfram Grajetzki, University College London, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]

“In private inscriptions mainly on stelae, biographical inscriptions became rare. Now the stela owner is often shown together with colleagues including officials on the same social level, but also socially inferior colleagues working in lower ranks of the administration under the stela owner, while the core family— typical for the early Middle Kingdom— appears less often. Depictions of deities in private context are rare in the early Middle Kingdom. In the late Middle Kingdom, they can appear in the roundel in the uppermost part of private stelae or are depicted in front of the stela owner. The latter stela type often bears hymns to gods. These new features do not appear at exactly the same time; instead, they are a general development over several reigns, from about Senusret III (or even earlier) to the end of the 12th Dynasty and peaking in the early 13th Dynasty.

“Several late Middle Kingdom town sites have been at least partly excavated and provide valuable information on the living conditions of the population. HetepSenusret (el-Lahun) and Wahsut (at Abydos) were planned towns on a grid pattern with large houses for the ruling class in one quarter and smaller ones in others. For the rulers of the late 12th Dynasty, expeditions to the Eastern Desert including Sinai and the Red Sea are well attested. These enterprises left many inscriptions. For the 13th Dynasty, there is less evidence. Expeditions to Sinai are unattested. Only at Wadi el-Hudi, there are a number of inscriptions datable to Sobekhotep IV. There is also some evidence for ongoing activity at Gebel Zeit on the Red Sea coast, covering the late 12th and 13th Dynasties.”

Thirteenth Dynasty 1782 – 1650 BC: End of the Middle Kingdom

There are few surviving monuments from the Thirteenth Dynasty and little is known about it. Many kings reigned for a short time. They did not come from a single family and some were born commoners. The last fifty years or was a period of gradual decline. After the death of Ay, the eastern Delta broke away under its own petty kings and they established the 14th dynasty — of which even less is known than about the 13th Dynasty — this dynasty marked the beginning of the Second Intermediate Period. Immigration from the Middle East picked up. Successive waves of immigrant from Palestine and the Levant moved into the northeastern Nile Delta area. Thirteenth Dynasty rulers: Wegaf B.C.; Intef IV B.C.; Hor B.C.; Sobekhotep II B.C.; Khendjer B.C.; Sobekhotep III B.C.; Neferhotep I B.C.; Sobekhotep IV Around 1725 B.C.; Ay B.C.; Neferhotep II B.C. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]

According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “During this period, there were 10 kings which lasted for approximately 70 years. They ruled from It-tawy near the Faiyum. Near the end of the dynasty another dynasty, the 14th Dynasty, emerged and appears to have controlled the western delta. This dynasty eventually collapsed when the Hyksos invaded from the east. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com +]

The Middle Kingdom came to a close during the 13th Dynasty. “There appears to have been a smooth transition between the 12th and 13th Dynasties. But for some reason the 13th lost more and more control as the later kings of that dynasty came to power. The close of the Middle Kingdom is sketchy. It is believed to have occurred when the 14th Dynasty took control of the western Delta and the 15th Dynasty took control of the eastern Delta. So began the 2nd Intermediate Period.” +\

Middle of the 13th Dynasty: Stabilization and End

13th dynasty stela

Wolfram Grajetzki of University College London wrote: “ The core of the 13th Dynasty starts with some well-attested kings with brief reigns, known from their temple building activities (Amenemhat Sobekhotep II at Medamud) or pyramids.. The vizier Ankhu and the treasurer Senebsumai were in office under these kings. These officials are well known from many monuments and were most likely in office under several rulers. With over 30 scarab seals mentioning his name and title, Senebsumai is one of the best attested Egyptian officials on this type of source. He also appears on more than ten Abydos stelae making him the best attested Middle Kingdom official mentioned on this object type. Papyrus Boulaq 18 belongs to this approximate period. It is an account of the Theban palace written on the occasion of the king’s visit to Thebes and lists the court officials, headed by the vizier Ankhu, and the rations they receive. Under the vizier was a small group of other leading officials with the ranking title “royal sealer,” and the bulk of middle and lower officials working at the royal palace appears in the papyrus. The king’s wife and family are mentioned, but not the king himself. [Source: Wolfram Grajetzki, University College London, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ] “Another important document from about this time is Brooklyn Papyrus 35.1446 also from Thebes, dealing with the “great enclosure”, the name of the institution that organized corvée. This document is one of the main attestations for corvée, i.e., labor. It seems that most Egyptians had to work for a certain time span in different types of state projects. The back of the document lists about ninety serfs including a large number of textile weavers. The great amount of Asiatic names in that list is remarkable and demonstrates how many foreigners from that region seem to have lived at Thebes. Although one has to be careful with concluding ethnic identity from a list of names only, the large number of foreigners in late Middle Kingdom Egypt is also attested by other sources.

“Four long-reigning kings followed, with two or three short-reigning kings in between. Neferhotep I, Sobekhotep IV, Ibia, and Aye ruled a total of about 50 years. While the first two kings are well known from monuments throughout the country, the two others are mainly known from a large number of scarab seals. Neferhotep I and Sobekhotep IV, who reigned together for about 20 years, were brothers coming from a family of officials. Their grandfather Nehy was “soldier of the town regiment,” a military official from a mid level of command. A copious amount of private stelae is datable under these two kings. They no longer bear the king’s name in the roundel of the stelae or a date, but some officials are featured in rock inscriptions together with the kings under which they served, and that enables the reconstruction of a dense network of officials.

“No such evidence is available for the reigns of Wahibra Ibia and Merneferra Aye. The latter king is the last attested on monuments from Upper and Lower Egypt. The pyramidion of his pyramid was found in Tell el-Dabaa. All following kings assigned to the 13th Dynasty are only known from monuments found in Upper Egypt. Parts of the eastern Delta with Tell el-Dabaa as center were taken over by local kings—perhaps of Near Eastern origin—and the unity of the country ended. However, the timing of the development is uncertain. The end of the 13th Dynasty and its relation to the following dynasties remains highly enigmatic. It can only be said with certainty that at one point the court moved from Itytawy in the north to Thebes in the south, while the Hyksos seem to have ruled in the north.”

Hyksos Invade Ancient Egypt

Around 1700 B.C., the Hyksos — a mysterious Semitic tribe from Caucasia in the northeast — invaded Egypt from Canaan and routed the Egyptians. The Hyksos were a chariot people. They and the Hittites were the first people to use chariots in the Middle East, an advancement that gave them an advantage over the people they conquered. The Hyksos introduced the horse and chariot to the Egyptians, who later used them to expand their empire. In Egyptian the word Hyksos means “ruler of foreign lands”.

Hyksos rule over Egypt was relatively brief. They established themselves for a while in Memphis and exactly how they came to power is not clear. Later they established a capital in Avaris, along the Mediterranean in the Nile Delta. During the Second Intermediate Period they ruled northern Egypt while Thebes-based Egyptians ruled southern Egypt. In the 2nd Intermediate Period, the four rulers during 15 and 16 dynasties were Hyksos. The Hyksos were thrown out of Egypt in 1567 B.C.

Hyksos invasion by 19th-century artist Hermann Vogel

The Hyksos are sometimes referred to as the Shepherd Kings or Desert Princes. In the A.D. 1st century The Roman-Jewish historian Josephus described the Hyksos as sacrilegious invaders who despoiled the land. One ancient text on the Hyksos reads: “Hear ye all people and the folk as many as they may be, I have done these things through the counsel of my heart. I have not slept forgetfully, (but) I have restored that which has been ruined. I have raise up that which has gone to pieces formerly, since the Asiatics were in the midst of Avaris of the Northland, and vagabonds were in the midst of them, overthrowing that which had been made. They ruled without Re, and he did not act by divine command down to (the reign of) my majesty. (Now) I am established upon the thrones of Re....” [Source: James B. Pritchard, “Ancient Near Eastern Texts,” Princeton, 1969, web.archive.org, p. 231]

Chronicles that portray Hyksos rule as cruel and repressive were probably Egyptian propaganda. More likely they came to power within the existing system rather than conquering it and ruled by respecting the local culture and keeping political and administrative systems intact. Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “The Hyksos presented themselves as Egyptian kings and appear to have been accepted as such. They tolerated other lines of kings within the country, both those of the 17th dynasty and the various minor Hyksos who made up the 16th dynasty.” [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]

“The Hyksos brought many innovations to the Egyptians: looms, new methods of bronze working, irrigation and pottery as well as new musical instruments and musical styles. New breeds of animals and crops were introduced. But the most important changes were in the area of warfare; composite bows, new types of daggers and scimitars, and above all the horse and chariot were all introduced by the Hyksos. It has been said that the Hyksos modernized Egypt and ultimately the Egyptians themselves benefited from their rule. [Sources: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com, Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]

Second Intermediate Period 1650 – 1550 B.C.

Asiatic official with a mushroom-shaped hairdo

The Middle Kingdom collapsed at least in part because of the weaknesses of its later kings, which opened it up to conquest from the Hyksos. According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “This period begins with the waning power of the Memphite kings during the 13th Dynasty. Asiatic immigrants who had been settling in Egypt for some time began to rise to power in the eastern Delta and began pacifying their neighboring regions. These Asiatics came to be known as the Hyksos. The regions either allied themselves to the Hyksos or were besieged by them. The Hyksos made their way down the Nile and took Memphis about 1600 B.C.(B.C.) which marked the end of the 13th Dynasty. It is unclear how much of Egypt the Hyksos controlled, but some experts believe they may have controlled the entire country for awhile. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com +]

“The Hyksos revitalized the dying culture of the Egyptians, while keeping major institutions alive. Trade with the Near East brought new ideas and technologies to the Egyptian people. The art of bronze working made for better weapons for foot soldiers. The chariot improved the effectiveness of the army while scale armor protected soldiers in battle. Other weapons like the composite bow and new shapes of scimitar were introduced. +\

“Improvements to society included a new potter's wheel, the vertical loom and new musical instruments. Some of the musical instruments included the lyre, the long-necked lute, the oboe and the tambourine. Besides these things, the Hyksos introduced new vegetable and fruit crops and humped-backed cattle called zebu. +\

“Sometime around 1570 B.C.(B.C.), the Hyksos King, Apophis, sent the ruler of Thebes, Seqenenre, a message. The message was, in essence, an insult. This set off a war between the Thebans and Hyksos which would end some years later when Kamose, the Theban king, cornered the Hyksos in Avaris. The Thebans then drove the Hyksos from Egypt and chased them into Palestine. This, too, marked the beginning of the New Kingdom and the 18th Dynasty as well. +\

Second Intermediate Period Dynasties: the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th Dynasties

The 14th Dynasty — also known as the Xios Dynasty — lasted for around 57 years and ruled from the western Nile Delta. It produced two known kings and had just begun its existance at the end of the 13th dynasty. Little is known about it. It might have been contemporary of the 13th Dynasty. The Delta was settled by successive waves of nomadic people from Palestine. [Sources: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com, Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com] The 15th Dynasty was the Hyksos Dynasty which ruled from Avaris in the eastern delta. This dynasty was started when an Asiatic group invaded Egypt and began pacifying Lower Egypt. They were held up by the city of Thebes which would not ally with the Hyksos. The Hyksos, sacked the old capital of Memphis and built their capital at Avaris, in the Delta. The dynasty consisted of five possibly six kings, the best-known being Apepi I, who reigned for up to 40 years. Peaceful relations existed for some time until the Hyksos King Apophis I insulted Seqenenre Tao and started a full-scale war. The war ended when Kamose defeated the Hyksos by capturing Avaris and sent the Hyksos fleeing into Palestine. 15th Dynasty rulers: Sheshi, Yakubher, Khyan, Apepi I, Apepi II.

The 16th dynasty is characterized by minor kings who ruled in the shadow of the 15th Dynasty and produced two known rulers: Anather and Yakobaam. These rulers are known from the scarabs found in northern Egypt and southern Palestine. At the outset of the 17th Dynasty, while the Hyksos ruled northern Egypt a new line of native rulers was developing in Thebes. They controlled the area from Elephantine in the south, to Abydos in the middle of the country. Mark Millmore wrote: “The early rulers made no attempt to challenge the Hyksos but an uneasy truce existed between them. However, the later rulers rose against the Hyksos and a number of battles were fought. King Tao II, also know as Seqenenre, was probably killed in one of these battles since his mummy shows evidence of terrible head wounds. It was to be one of his sons Ahmose, the founder of the Eighteenth dynasty, who was to expel the Hyksos from Egypt.”

The 17th Dynasty was a Theban Dynasty that continued the culture of the Middle Kingdom. It coexisted with the 15th Dynasty until Seqenenre Tao began to fight against the Hyksos. Kamose, the son of Seqenenre Tao, eventually drove out the Hyksos which marks the end of the 17th Dynasty. Kamose's younger brother, Ahmose I, becomes King of Upper and Lower Egypt and begins the 18th Dynasty, the New Kingdom. 17th Dynasty rulers: Sobekemsaf, Intef VII, Tao I, Tao II (around 1560 B.C.) and Kamose (1555-1550 B.C.).

Expulsion of the Hyksos

The Hyksos were thrown out of Egypt in 1567 B.C. One ancient text on an episode from this event reads: “The commander of a crew, Ah-mose, son of Eben, the triumphant, says: I speak to you, all mankind, that I may let you know the favors which have come to me. I have been awarded gold seven times in the presence of the entire land, and male and female slaves in like manner, and I have been vested with very many fields. The reputation of a valiant man is from what he has done, not being destroyed in this land forever. [Source: James B. Pritchard, “Ancient Near Eastern Texts,” Princeton, 1969, web.archive.org, p. 233-234].

“He speaks thus: I had my upbringing in the town of el-Kab, my father being a soldier of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt: Seqnen-Re, the triumphant, his name being Bebe, (5) the son of (the woman) Ro-onet. Then I served as soldier in his place in the ship, "The Wild Bull," in the time of the Lord of the Two Lands: Neb-pehti-Re, the triumphant, when I was (still) a boy, before I had taken a wife, (but) while I was (still) sleeping in a net hammock.

20120211-Chariot Hyksos.jpg
Hyksos chariot
“But after I had set up a household, then I was taken on the ship, "Northern," because I was valiant. Thus I used to accompany the Sovereign Ñlife, prosperity, health! Ñon foot, following his excursions in his chariot. When the town of Avaris was besieged, then I showed valor on foot in the presence of his majesty. Thereupon I was appointed to the ship, "Appearing in Memphis." Then there was fighting on the water in the canal PaDjedku of Avaris. Thereupon I made a capture, (10) and I carried away a hand.R It was reported to the king's herald. Then the Gold of Valor was given to me. Thereupon there was fighting again in this place. Then I made a capture again there and brought away a hand. Then the Gold of Valor was given to me over again.

“Then there was fighting in the Egypt which is south of this town. Thereupon I carried off a man (as) living prisoner. I went down into the waterÑnow he was taken captive on the side of the town Ñand crossed over the water carrying him. Report was made to the king's herald. Thereupon I was awarded gold another time. Then Avaris was despoiled. Then I carried off spoil from there: one man, three women, a total of four persons. Then his majesty gave them to me to be slaves. Then Sharuhen was besieged for three years. Then his majesty despoiled it. Thereupon I carried off spoil from there: two women and a hand. Then the Gold of Valor was given to me, and my spoil was given to me to be slaves. Now after his majesty had killed the Asiatics, then he saile southward to Khenti-hen-nefer, to destroy the Nubian nomads ....

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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