Middle Kingdom (Twelfth-Thirteenth Dynasties)

The Middle Kingdom splendor started with king Sehetepibre Amenemhat I (1985-1956 BC), who was positioned as king due to the lack of a male heir succeeding Mentuhotep IV. Amenemhat I would have accumulated several important posts, among them, the office of vizier. He was the son of Senwosret and Nefret, a man and a woman from outside the royal family. According to the Prophecy of Neferty, Egypt was involved in chaos and Amenemhat I was presented as a king who could solve the problems of Egypt, once again, emphasizing the power of Kingship. Under his reign, military campaigns were developed in the Near East, but one of the most important changes was the transference of the capital, from Thebes to Itj-tawy, a place located somewhere in the Faiyum region, probably nearby the necropolis of Lisht. Amenemhat I started a series of modifications, including the promotion of the worship of the ruler, trying to re-enact models from the Old Kingdom. Similarly, the foundation of Itj-tawy was strategically appropriate to control Asiatic incursions. During his reign, these changes resulted in rising living standards. In fact, Amenemhat I used feudal armies against Asiatics in the Delta region. Indeed, he ordered the building of a fortress known as the Walls-of-the-Ruler and in a very similarly way the constructions of other various fortresses in Nubia (Semna and Quban). He also strengthened the conquest and colonization of Nubia for obtaining raw materials, especially gold.

Expeditions to Nubia continued under the king Kheperkara Senwosret I (1956-1911 BCE), resulting in the extension of the Egyptian frontiers to the southern border of Buhen, where a victory stela was set up and a fort built to transform Lower Nubia into a province of Egypt. Under this reign, such military/exploratory campaigns derived in the exploitation of Upper Nubia (Kush) because of its gold. Other materials such as amethyst, turquoise and copper were used for jewelry and sculpture; Egypt also exchanged goods with Syria such as cedar and ivory. Numerous monuments were built from Lower Nubia to Heliopolis and Tanis, but with no doubt the foundation of the Ipet-swt at Thebes, with the alabaster bark shrine for celebrating the Sed-Festival, was one of his major contributions. Within his building program, Senwosret I promoted many cult sites throughout the Egyptian land. He remodeled the temple of Osiris-Khentimentiu at Abydos and built memorial stelae and small shrines. As a result, Osirian practices and beliefs (re)flourished in Egypt.

Senwsret I’s son, Nubkaura Amenemhat II (1911-1877 BCE) continued his father’s policy of trading with the Asiatics, making several donations to temples, but the Royal Annals of Amenemhat II refer to a more warlike contact with the Asiatics. Indeed, they mentioned the Aamu as captive war prisoners. Amenemhat II conceived his burial project at Dahshur, the White pyramid, in which forecourt his daughters were buried. The following reigns of Senwsret II (1877-1870 BCE) and Senwosret III (1870-1831 BCE) were prolific in terms of prosperity. Under Senwosret II, a whole new irrigation system was established at the Faiyum, and apparently there are no record of military campaigns during his reign. Under Senwosret III, in contrast, violent military campaigns in Nubia are described by Manetho and Herodotus. In fact, he would have undertaken at least one military campaign into Palestine. It was under Nimaatra Amenemhat III (1871-1786 BCE) when the Middle Kingdom reached its cultural peak. He started numerous monumental constructions at Nubia (fortresses in Semna), and also constructed religious buildings at Biahmu (Faiyum), a large temple of Sobek at Crocodilopolis (Kiman Faras) and expanded the temple of Ptah at Memphis. There are numerous inscriptions attesting mining activities by his officials at Sinai, Wadi Hammamat, Tura, Aswan and several Nubian sites. He started a pyramid complex at Dahshur and was finally buried at Hawara.


About the last rulers of the Twelfth Dynasty, king Amenemhat IV (1786-1777 BCE) and queen Sobekkare Sobekneferu (his wife/sister; 1777-1773 BCE), very little is known because just a few of their monuments have been preserved, perhaps they continued their predecessor’s building program at Faiyum (like in the case of Medinet Maadi, with a shrine to goddess Renenutet). In the Thirteenth Dynasty, a series of rulers who continued the same politics as those from the Twelfth Dynasty ascended the throne. Different lineages were suceeded as follows: Wegaf, Sobekhotep II, Iykhernefert Neferhotep, Ameny-Intef-Amenemhat, Hor, Khendejr, Sobekhotep III, Neferhotep I, Sahator, Sobekhotep IV, Sobekhotep V and Ay-Merneferre. These kings maintained the capital at Ittj-tawy and their ending will start, in part, with revolts in the Nubian territory.

Sociopolitical, religious and cultural changes during the Middle Kingdom

During the Middle Kingdom, bureaucracy and the crown were both supported by taxation. The fiscal system was based on assessment of yields from lands and paid in kind. Similarly, there was an enforced labour system whereby men and women must undertake physical tasks; such system was organized through town officials. In fact, Middle Kingdom officials’ titles were the same as those held by Old Kingdom officials but with some additional posts; actually, one of the features of the period was refining the duties and more specific functions of the officials stated through these titles. An exception is the title of the “royal seal-bearer” who included a wider spectrum of supervisory duties. Other political change was that central government was more pervasive in regional areas than during the Old Kingdom; there was more control over individuals and their obligations, and one of the main objectives of the king was fighting against the independence of the nomarchy by minimizing its influence.

Other manifestation of the Middle Kingdom that is a good example of the cultural and political development and shed light on the nature and function of Kingship is literature. The Teachings of Merikare, The Teaching of Amenemhat I or the Hymns to Senwosret III together with private records and the Thirteenth Dynasty Papyrus Bulaq 18, that provides a sense of the social hierarchy of the royal family, are some of such examples.

Finally, changes in religious beliefs and practices in funerary, temple and domestic contexts are another realm that experienced modifications and innovations during the Middle Kingdom, manifested in very different forms of art (funerary architecture, sculpture, painting, jewelry…). Some of them had to do with the emphasis on Osirian beliefs that achieved its climax under Senwosret III; it is believed that this cult to Osiris would have implied the so-called and debated “democratization of the afterlife”, the extension of funerary privileges to ordinary people. Similarly, another religious development was the idea that every individual has a ba. These changes were accompanied by the physical expression of the religious beliefs manifested in funerary architecture such as the terraced ambulatories of Mentuhotep II at Deir el-Bahari or the galleries of Senwosret II in his pyramid at Lahun. In addition, during the apogee of the Middle Kingdom, mummification was a widespread practice and other funerary practices introduced in this period are exemplified in the use of ushabti, together with other attestations of material culture such as paddles dolls, birth tusks and soul-houses.

In this context, the Middle Kingdom Theban Project includes among its main objectives the study and documentation of the Middle Kingdom official tombs, the reconstruction of the funerary beliefs and changes in Art and iconography, the research of the Theban landscape and the analysis of the interactions between this landscape and the tombs together with the study of their specific features. In sum, the project intends to address the significance of the Middle Kingdom within the history of ancient Egypt. Similarly, the Middle Kingdom Theban Project research interests are also focused on analyzing the archaeological remains and on looking at the epigraphic sources to recreate the identity of the officials of the period and the place where they were buried, as well as to trace aspects of daily life in the urban landscape.