Middle Kingdom

The Middle Kingdom (around 2000-1650 BCE) is among the least known periods of ancient Egyptian history.

The Old Kingdom is known by its pyramids, the New Kingdom by colossal temples and the golden mask of Tutankhamun.

The remains from the Middle Kingdom are less impressive because they are different.Our knowledge of this period is shaped by its writers and sculptors.

Literary texts from the Middle Kingdom offer deep meaning, while the sculpture depicts people’s faces and expresses concern and intent.

This period started with the reunification of Egypt under the Theban king Mentuhotep (also known as Nebhepetre) in about 2040 BCE, after more than a hundred years of disunity.

One of the main characteristics of this period was the increased importance of gods and temples.

Temples were made of stone, and many buildings, such as fortresses, were made of bricks.

The most important deity during this period was Osiris – the god of the Afterlife and the underworld.

A recurring theme in literary works, such as the Loyalist Teaching and the Instructions of a Man for his Son, which were created during the Middle Kingdom, was the ideology of ruling a harmonious society.

The cult of the pharaoh is reinforced by stone temples, written word, rewards, and threats. Everyone had to demonstrate loyalty to the pharaoh and to do so actively.

The pharaoh was at the top of ancient Egyptian society. The rest of the population was divided into two sharply separated classes:

  • Nobles (pat) – a nonproductive managerial class that included viziers, the chief treasurer, the local elite, priests, and medium- and low-ranking government officials, such as scribes.
  • Common people (rekhyt) – dependent workers and servants.

However, these classes were not restricted, and common people could advance at the Egyptian court, in the army, or the administration.

Social stratification existed in the afterlife too. Not everyone could be mummified and buy a coffin.

Also, most people did not have sufficient knowledge and could not perform appropriate rites.

The Dynasties and Pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom

  • Mentuhotep II of the eleventh dynasty was the founder of the Middle Kingdom.He ascended the Theban throne in 2055 BCE.Some fifteen years later, he crushed the army of the rival tenth dynasty from Heracleopolis and reunified Egypt. He ruled for 51 years.During that time, he brought parts of Nubia and the Sinai region under Egyptian hegemony. Mentuhotep II was depicted as a god during his lifetime.
  • Mentuhotep III continued securing the rule of his dynasty over the whole of Egypt.He built a number of forts to secure the kingdom against threats from the east.This pharaoh also constructed a navy and sent the first naval expedition to Punt.
  • Mentuhotep IV was the last ruler of the eleventh dynasty. His name is often omitted from the “king lists.”His vizier Amenemhet later usurped his throne.
  • Amenemhet I, previously the vizier of Mentuhotep IV, was the founder of the twelfth dynasty.He built many fortifications and established a standing army.However, he never held the absolute power, and he was dependent on the nomarchs.
  • Amenemhet I appointed his son Senusret as junior co-regent.After Amenemhet’s death, Senusret appointed his son Amenemhet II as coregent, who later did the same with his son Senusret II – and this practice was then used very often in the Middle and the New Kingdom.
  • Senusret III was the most powerful pharaoh of the Middle Kingdom.He was a warrior-king who gained huge victories in Nubia and Palestine.This pharaoh reorganised the administration and made the central government considerably more powerful compared to the local authorities.He no longer needed the support of nomarchs to raise an army.

    The time of his reign was a time of great economic prosperity in Egypt – which persisted during the reign of his son, Amenemhat III.

  • Amenemhat III ruled Egypt during the “golden age” of the Middle Kingdom.He contributed to the economic prosperity of the country by expanding the exploitation of the natural resources.There were several successful mining expeditions in the Sinai and Wadi Hammamat. He ruled for 45 years and was succeeded by Amenemhet IV.
  • Amenemhet IV’s rule was short, and because he had no hairs, he was succeeded by his sister, Sobekneferu, who was childless as well. After her death, the twelfth dynasty ended.
  • The thirteenth dynasty consisted of a large number of pharaohs who were often unrelated and who only ruled for a short time.They were considerably weaker than those of the previous dynasty, and they were unable to control the entire territory of Egypt.This lead to the disintegration of the unity of Egypt and the beginning out the Second Intermediate Period.

Q&A

  • Who was the pharaoh who reunified Egypt and established the Middle Kingdom?
    It was Mentuhotep II.
  • Who were the most powerful pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom?
    They were Senusret III and his son, Amenemhet III.
  • What was the title of powerful local governors who sometimes obstructed the power of the pharaohs?
    They were nomarchs – the governors of the nomes (regions).
  • What was the Middle Kingdom culture most famous for?
    It is famous for its literature, sculpture, and the cult of Osiris.