Egypt: Amenemhat I, 1st King of the 12th Dynasty

Amenemhet I, 1st King of the 12th Dynasty

by Jimmy Dunn

Amenemhet I was the first ruler of the 12th Dynasty, and some Egyptologists believe that recovery from the First Intermediate Period into the Middle Kingdom only really began with his rule. He was almost certainly not of royal blood, at least if he is the same Vizier that functioned under his predecessor, Mentuhotep IV. Perhaps either Mentuhotep IV had no heir, or he was simply a weak leader. This vizier, named Amenemhet, recorded an inscription when Mentuhotep IV sent him to Wadi Hammamt. The inscription records two omens. The first tells us of a gazelle that gave birth to her calf atop the stone that had been chosen for the lid of the King's sarcophagus. the second was of a ferocious rainstorm that, when subsided, disclosed a well 10 cubits square and full of water. Of course that was a very good omen in this barren landscape.

Many Egyptologists believe that Amenemhet's inscription implies that a great ruler will come to the throne of Egypt upon the death of Mentuhotep IV, who will lead the country into prosperity. It is fairly certain that Amenemhet the vizier was predicting his own rise to the throne as Amenemhet I. However, we are told that he had at least two other competitors to the throne. One was called Inyotef, and the other a Segerseni from Nubia. It would appear that he quickly dealt with these obstacles. We believe that he ruled Egypt for almost 30 years. Peter A. Clayton places his reign between the years of 1991 and 1962 BC while the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt gives him a reign lasting from 1985 through 1956 BC. Dodson has his reign lasting from 1994 until 1964 BC.

Image of Amenemhet I from his mortuary complex at el-lisht

Amenemhet I's Horus name, Wehem-mesut, means "he who repeats births", and almost certainly was chosen to commemorate the new dynasty and a return to the values and prosperity of a united Egypt. Amenemhet (Amenemhat) was his birth name and means "Amun is at the Head". He was called Ammenemes I by the Greeks. His throne name was Sehetep-ib-re, which means "Satisfied is the Heart of Re".

Neferu, who was the principal wife of Senwosret I, the kings mother, Nefret, and a principal wife, Nefrytatenen

Amenemhet was probably the son of a woman named Nofret (Nefret), from Elephantine near modern Aswan, and a priest called Senusret, according to an inscription at Thebes. So his origins are probably southern Egypt. We know of three possible wives including Neferytotenen (Nefrutoteen, Nefrytatenen), who may have been the mother of Amenemhet I's successor, Senusret I, Dedyet, who was may also have been his sister, and Sobek'neferu, Neferu). It is fairly clear that Amenemhet established Egypt's first co-regency with his son, Senusret I, in about the older kings 20th year of rule. He was not only seeking to assure the succession of his proper heir, but also providing the young prince valuable training under his tutelage. Senusret was given several active roles in Amenemhet I's government, specifically including matters related to the military matters.

We know of several pieces of literature that probably date from his reign, some of which appears to support his reign with fables of kingship. One, the Discourse of Neferty, has a ruler emerging named Ameny, who was foretold by a prophet in the Old Kingdom (Neferty). Neferti was a Heliopolis sage who seems familiar to us from Djedi in the Papyrus Westcar. He is summoned to the court of Snofru, during who's reign the story is suppose to have taken place. This tale has Ameny delivering Egypt from chaos, but it should be noted that it is the chaos of the late 11th Dynasty, not the First Intermediate Period.

Then a king will come from the South,
Ameny, the justified, my name,
Son of a woman of Ta-Seti, child of Upper Egypt,
He will take the white crown,
he willjoin the Two Mighty Ones (the two crowns)

Asiatics will fall to his sword,
Libyans will fall to his flame,
Rebels to his wrath, traitors to his might,
As the serpent on his brow subdues the rebels for him,
One will build the Walls-of-the-Ruler,
To bar Asiatics from entering Egypt...

We do not know what year this literature dates to within Amenemhet I's reign. But while there are other text that refer to the chaos before the arrival of new kings, the references to Asiatics and the Walls-of-the-Ruler are new.

Amenemhet I set about consolidating the country in a very purposeful manner. He moved his capital north to the capital he apparently established named Amenemhet-itj-tawy, which means, "Amenemhet the Seizer of the Two lands". It was located south of Memphis, on the edge of the Fayoum Oasis, though the city ruins have not yet been discovered. This gave him a more central control of Egypt, as well as placing him nearer to problem areas in the Delta. It also signaled the end of an old era and new beginnings. This move was perhaps only carried out a short time after he took the throne.

Many Egyptologists believe that the move was made at the very beginning of his reign, while a few believe it may have been much later, around the time of his twentieth year as ruler. However, he did begin a tomb at Thebes, and then abandoned it for a pyramid at el-Lisht, near the new capital. It appears that the work on the tomb at Thebes may have taken between three and five years to complete. Also, there are very few of his monuments located near Thebes, suggesting that he soon moved away.

His pyramid at el Lisht is instructional, for it seems to portray a return to some of the values of the Old Kingdom, while still embracing the Theban concepts of the region of his birth. Egyptologists who believe Amenemhet I may have waited until his twentieth year to make the move to his new city base their evidence on an inscription found on the foundation blocks of the pyramid's mortuary temple. It records Amenemhet's royal jubilee, and also that year one of a new king had elapsed, suggesting that the pyramid was started very late in the king's reign. Therefore, considerable debate remains over the timing of his move.

He also reorganized the administration of the country, keeping the nomarchs who had supported him, while weakening the regional governors by appointing new officials at Asyut, Cusae and Elephantine. An inscription records that he also divided the nomes (provinces) into different sets of towns and redistributed the territories by reference to the Nile flood. We see a steady march during Amenemhet I's rule back to a more centralized government, together with an increase in bureaucracy. Another move, both to dilute the army's power and to raise personnel for coming conflicts, was his reintroduction of conscription.

Undoubtedly, in the Discourse of Neferty, Asiatics refer to the people who were causing trouble on the Egypt's eastern frontier. One of Amenemhet I's earliest campaigns were against these Asiatics, though the scale of these operations is unknown. He drove these people back, and indeed did build the Walls-of-the-Ruler, as series of fortifications along Egypt's northeastern frontier. However, even as late as his 24th year of rule, we still find inscriptions recording expeditions against these "and-dweller". None of these fortifications has ever been found, though the remains of a canal in the region may date from the period. Apparently, in the midst of the Asiatic campaign, he also found time to crush a few unrepentant local governors (nomarchs).

In Nubia, Amenemhet I first pushed his army southward to Elephantine, where he consolidated his rule and seems to have been satisfied for a number of years. This expedition was apparently lead by Khnemhotpe I, governor of the Oryx nome, who traveled up the Nile with 20 boats. But by year 29 of his rule, the king appears to have no longer been happy with the lose trading and quarrying network with Nubia that we find in the Old Kingdom. The new policy was one of conquest and colonization with the principle aim of obtaining raw materials, especially gold. An inscription at the northern Nubian site of Korosko about half way between the first and second cataracts (rapids) states that the people of Wawat (northern Nubia) were defeated in his 29th year, and he apparently drove his army as far south as the second cataract. In order to protect Egypt and fortify captured territory in Nubia, he founded a fortress at Semna and Quban in the region of the second Nile Cataract, which would begin a string of future 12th Dynasty fortresses. Along with protecting his newly acquired territory and the gold mines in Wadi Allaqi, he also created a stranglehold over economic contacts with Upper Nubia and further south. We also know that he constructed a fortress at Mendes named Rawaty.

From a foreign relations standpoint, we also know that diplomatic and commercial relations were renewed, after a long absence, with Byblos and the Aegean world.

Amenemhet I took part in a number of building projects. Besides his fortresses, we know he built at Babastis, el-Khatana and Tanis. He undertook important building works at Karnak, from which a few statues and granite naos survive. He may have even established the original temple of Mut to the south of the Temple of Amun. He also worked at Koptos (Coptos), where he partly decorated the temple of Min, at Abydos, where he dedicated a granite altar to Osiris, at Dendera, where he built a granite gateway to Hathor and at Memphis, where he built a temple of Ptah.Also a little north of Tell el-Dab'a, he apparently began a small mudbrick temple at Ezbet Rushdi, that was later expanded by Senusret III.

Religiously, being from southern Egypt, Amenemhet I's allegiance was probably to the god Amun, and in fact, we find from this period forward the rise of Amun, at the expense of Montu, god of war, as the supreme deity of Thebes.

It is also notable that we find an increase in the mineral wealth of the royal family. We find a huge increase in the jewelry caches found in several 12th Dynasty royal burials. It is obvious from several sources of evidence that even the standard of living form middle class Egyptians was on the increase, though their level of wealth was proportional to their official offices.

Amenemhet I appears to have been a very wise leader, setting about to correct the problems of the First Intermediate Period, protecting Egypt's boarders from invasion and assuring a legitimate succession. Yet he was murdered in an apparent harem plot while his co-regent was leading a campaign in Libya. Again, we find two literary works, the Tale of Sinuhe and the Instructions of Amenemhet I, reflecting this king's tragic end.One literary work from the time of Senusret I presents the account of Amenemhet I's murder, supposedly provided by the king himself from beyond the grave:

"It was after supper, when night had fallen, and I had spent an hour of happiness. I was asleep upon my bed, having become weary, and my heart had begun to follow sleep. When weapons of my counsel were wielded, I had become like a snake of the necropolis. As I came to, I awoke to fighting, and found that it was an attack of the bodyguard. If I had quickly taken weapons in my hand, I would have made the wretches retreat with a charge! But there is none mighty in the night, none who can fight alone; no success will come without a helper. Look, my injury happened while I was without you, when the entourage had not yet heard that I would hand over to you when I had not yet sat with you, that I might make counsels for you; for I did not plan it, I did not foresee it, and my heart had not taken thought of the negligence of servants."

Apparently, his foresight in creating the co-regency with his son proved successful, for Senusret I succeeded his father and their seems to have been little or no disruption in the administration of the country.

Last Updated: Aug 4th, 2011


Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Chronicle of the Pharaohs (The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt) Clayton, Peter A. 1994 Thames and Hudson Ltd ISBN 0-500-05074-0
Complete Valley of the Kings, The (Tombs and Treasures of Egypt's Greatest Pharaohs) Reeves, Nicholas; Wilkinson, Richard H. 1966 Thames and Hudson Ltd IBSN 0-500-05080-5
History of Ancient Egypt, A Grimal, Nicolas 1988 Blackwell None Stated
Monarchs of the Nile Dodson, Aidan 1995 Rubicon Press ISBN 0-948695-20-x
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2