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Middle Kingdom of Egypt

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The Middle Kingdom is the period in the history of ancient Egypt stretching from the establishment of the Eleventh Dynasty to the end of the Fourteenth Dynasty, roughly between 2040 BCE and 1640 BCE.

The period comprises two phases, the 11th Dynasty, which ruled from Thebes and the 12th Dynasty onwards which was centred around el-Lisht. These two dynasties were originally considered to be the full extent of this unified kingdom, but historians now [1] consider the 13th Dynasty to at least partially belong to the Middle Kingdom.

Eleventh Dynasty

The Eleventh dynasty of ancient Egypt was a group of pharaohs whose earlier members are grouped with the four preceding dynasties to form the First Intermediate Period, while the later members from Mentuhotep II onwards are considered part of the Middle Kingdom.[2] They all ruled from Thebes.

An inscription carved during the reign of Wanka Intef II shows that he was the first of this dynasty to claim to rule over the whole of Egypt, a claim which brought the Thebeans into conflict with the rulers of Herakleopolis Magna, the Tenth Dynasty. Intef undertook several campaigns northwards, and captured the important nome of Abydos.

Warfare continued intermittently between the Thebean and Herakleopolitan dynasts until the 14th regnal year of Nebhetepra Mentuhotep II, when the Herakleopolitans were defeated, and the Theban dynasty began to consolidate their rule. Mentuhotep II is known to have commanded military campaigns south into Nubia, which had gained its independence during the First Intermediate Period. There is also evidence for military actions against Palestine. The king reorganized the country and placed a vizier at the head of civil administration for the country.

Mentuhotep IV was the final pharaoh of this dynasty, and despite being absent from various lists of pharaohs, his reign is attested from a few inscriptions in Wadi Hammamat that record expeditions to the Red Sea coast and to quarry stone for the royal monuments. The leader of this expedition was his vizier Amenemhat, who is widely assumed to be the future pharaoh Amenemhet I, the first king of the 12th Dynasty. Amenemhet is widely assumed by some Egyptologists to have either usurped the throne or assumed power after Mentuhotep IV died childless.

Twelfth Dynasty

After the reigns of his successors (Mentuhotep III) and (Mentuhotep IV) of the Eleventh Dynasty ended, there was a smooth transition into the illustrious Twelfth Dynasty. The first pharaoh of the Twelfth Dynasty, (Amenemhat I), is, according to some sources, the same man as Amenemhat, the Vizier of Upper Egypt, under the reign of Mentuhotep IV. This explains the smooth transition of power in which Amenemhat easily assumed the reins of power after the death of Mentuhotep IV.

Amenemhat I built a new capital for Egypt, known as Itjtawy. The location of this capital is unknown, but is presumably the present-day el-Lisht, although Manetho claims the capital remained at Thebes. Amenemhat pacified unrest in Egypt by force and curtailed the rights of the nomarchs. He is known to have at least launched one campaign into Nubia. In 1971 BCE Amenemhat established his son Senusret I as his junior co-regent. In 1962 BCE, he was presumably murdered by a royal bodyguard. Senuseret, campaigning against Libyan invaders, rushed home to Itjtawy to prevent a takeover of the government. This proved the worth of the institution of the coregency since the new king had acquired useful experience by the time he would start his sole reign. The co-regency system lasted throughout the Twelfth Dynasty and provided great stability.

Senusret I (1971 BCE – 1926 BCE) continued the policy of his father to recapture Nubia and other territories lost during the First Intermediate Period. The Libyans were subdued under his forty-five year reign and Egypt's prosperity and security were secured.

Senusret's successor Amenemhat II (1929 BCE – 1895 BCE) made the position of the nomarchs hereditary again (thus weakening the centralized government) and established trade connections with Nubia. A war seems to have been conducted in the Levant.

Senusret II (1897 BCE – 1878 BCE) improved trade connections with Nubia, Palestine and the Levant.

His successor Senusret III (1878 BCE – 1839 BCE) was a warrior-king, often taking to the field himself. He led his troops deep into Nubia, and built a series of massive forts throughout the country to establish Egypt's formal boundary with the unconquered areas of the territory. On the domestic front, he built a fine religious temple at Abydos; while it is now destroyed, surviving reliefs show the high quality of the decorations. He was deified at the end of the Middle Kingdom and worshipped by the pharaohs of the New Kingdom. He gave the Crown to his son in his twentieth Year, according to evidence from Papyrus Berlin 10056, but remained the senior coregent.

Amenemhat III (1860 BCE – 1815 BCE) was the last great pharaoh of the Middle Kingdom. Egypt's population began to exceed food production levels and Amenemhat III ordered the exploitation of the Fayyum and increased mining operations in the Sinaï desert. He made sure that nomarchs could no longer inherit their nomes as Amenemhat II had permitted. He also invited Asiatic settlers to Egypt to labor on Egypt's monuments. However, late in his reign the annual floods began to fail and his successor Amenemhat IV ruled Egypt for just nine full years (1816 BCE – 1807 BCE) before dying prematurely.

The sister of Amenemhat IV briefly reigned as Queen Sobekneferu (1807 BCE – 1803 BCE). As she apparently had no heirs, the Twelfth Dynasty came to a sudden end as did the Golden Age of the Middle Kingdom.

Pharaohs of the Twelfth through Eighteenth Dynasty are credited with preserving for us some of the most fabulous of Egyptian papyri:

  • 1800 BCE – Berlin papyrus
  • 1800 BCE – Moscow Mathematical Papyrus
  • 1650 BCE – Rhind Mathematical Papyrus
  • 1600 BCE – Edwin Smith papyrus
  • 1550 BCE – Ebers papyrus'

Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dynasties

Thirteenth Dynasty

The Thirteenth Dynasty ruled for approximately 453 Years, according to Manetho, but this is presumably an error for 153 Years since the digit 4 and 1 were very similar in Greek from surviving copies of his work. A few of the kings and their possible dates include:

  • Neferhotep I 1696–1685 BCE
  • Sihathor 1685–1685 BCE
  • Sobekhotep IV 1685–1678 BCE
  • Sobekhotep V 1678–1674 BCE
  • Iaib 1674–1664 BCE
  • Merneferre Ai 1664–1641 BCE (not to be confused with Pharaoh Ay of the Eighteenth Dynasty)

Fourteenth dynasty

These kings appear to have gradually lost their grasp over Egypt. A Fourteenth Dynasty appeared in the Delta region, but the pharaohs of this dynasty seem to have been minor monarchs in the Delta region.

The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dynasties witnessed the slow decline of Egypt into the Second Intermediate Period in which some of the Asiatic settlers of Amenemhat III would grasp power over Egypt as the Hyksos.


  1. Gae Callender, The Middle Kingdom Renasissance in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford, 2000
  2. Labib Habachi: King Nebhepetre Menthuhotep: his monuments, place in history, deification and unusual representations in form of gods. Annales du Service des Antiquités de l'Égypte 19 (1963), p. 16-52

Further Reading

  • W. Grajetzki, The Middle Kingdom of Ancient Egypt: History,Archaeology and Society, Duckworth, London 2006 ISBN 0-7156-3435-6
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Middle Kingdom of Egypt. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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