First Intermediate Period

The First Intermediate Period (around 2180–2040 BCE) began after the collapse of the Old Kingdom.

Several written sources describe it as a time of great political unrest.

A literary piece called the Admonitions of Ipuwer or simply the Ipuwer Papyrus, tell us how hit by famine and disease, the poor rose up against the rulers, and many people lived in fear for their lives.

Because of that, the first intermediate period is sometimes called a “dark period.”

Other sources, however, state that everyday life, art, culture, and administration did not change a lot when this period began, and that famine, poverty, regional turmoil, and tomb robbing occurred in other periods as well.

Various “king lists” tell us that there were many kings who ruled Egypt during this period, but they left no contemporary trace.

It seems that royal monuments such as pyramids were not built at all.

That doesn’t mean there was no building activity; it is just that they had little to do with royal families.

For about one hundred years, two kings from two separate dynasties ruled different parts of Egypt.

One dynasty ruled the North of the country (Lower Egypt) from Heracleopolis, and another – founded by the nomarch of Thebes who named himself King Antef I – was located in Thebes in the South (Upper Egypt).

Eventually, the northern king Montuhotep I managed to unite Egypt under his sole kingship.

The dynasties and pharaohs of the First Intermediate Period

  • The seventh dynasty may not have really existed. The Egyptian historian Manetho mentions 70 pharaohs who ruled for 70 days.However, it is more likely that those pharaohs were actually high officials who had gained considerable power during the sixth dynasty.One way or another, their capital was Memphis.
  • The eighth dynasty kings, such as King Neferkare II and King Ibi, claimed they were the real descendants of the sixth dynasty rulers.They, too, ruled from Memphis.
  • The ninth and tenth dynasty emerged in Heracleopolis in Lower Egypt.Its founder was Akhtoes or Akhtoy, whom Manetho describes as a cruel and even mad ruler, who ended up killed by a crocodile.Another ruler who belonged to either ninth or tenth dynasty was Wahkare Khety. He was described similarly, as an evil, violent ruler.
  • During the reign of the ninth and tenth dynasty pharaohs in Lower Egypt, this region was also under a great influence of nomarchs in Siut and various warlords, such as Ankhtifi.Ankhtifi was a provincial governor and military commander who tried to capture the city of Thebes but wasn’t able to.
  • The eleventh dynasty arose in Thebes, possibly at the same time when the ninth and tenth dynasty rulers took power in Heracleopolis.These kings were the successors of Intef, the powerful nomarch of Thebes, and the first three rulers in this line were also named Intef.After Intef III, who invaded Middle Egypt and captured Abydos, the next few rulers of the eleventh dynasty were named Mentuhotep.
  • In 2040 BC, Mentuhotep II of the eleventh, Thebean dynasty of Egyptian kings, defeated the kings of Heracleopolis and reunited Egypt under his sole rule.This event marks the end of the First Intermediate Period.

What did you learn?

When did the First Intermediate Period begin?
It began around 2181 BCE, when the Old Kingdom collapsed.

What was the main characteristic of the First Intermediate Period?
Egypt was not unified and different lines of kings ruled from different cities.

Which cities were the capitals of the dynasties who ruled during the First Intermediate Period?
Those were Memphis, Heracleopolis, and Thebes.

When and how the First Intermediate Period Ended?
It ended when Mentuhotep II conquered Heracleopolis and reunited Egypt, around 2040 BCE.