Egypt: Amenemhet II (Amenemhat II) , 3rd King of the 12th Dynasty

Amenemhet II, 3rd King of the 12th Dynasty

by Jimmy Dunn

Amenemhet II was the son of Senusret I and one of his chief queens, Nefru. He was the third ruler of Egypt's 12th Dynasty. Like his father, he served the first part of his reign as co-regent (perhaps for only two years) with Senusret I. His co-regency may have been short, but we are told that during this co-regency, Amenemhet II led a Nubian expedition. Apparently, Amenemhet II also took his son, Senusret II as a co-regent, but also for only a brief time before his own death. Amenemhet II apparently ruled Egypt for a period of some 30 years after his co-regency. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt gives his reign as lasting from 1911 through 1877 BC, while Clayton gives it as 1926 through 1895 BC.

His birth name, Amenemhet, means "Amun is at the Head". He is also sometimes referred to as Amenemhat II, or Ammenemes II (Greek). His throne name was Nub-kau-re, which means "Golden are the Souls of Re". We are not sure of who exactly Amenemhet II was married to but at least one source lists Mereret I. However, this source also lists Kem-a'nub,

who is now considered to have been a 13th Dynasty queen. There was also apparently a prince named Amenemhetankh and princesses Ita, Khnemet, Itiueret and Sithathormeret. Of course, another son was Senusret II, who succeeded his father on the throne.

The Sphinx of red granite is from Tanis and is probably the face of Amenemhet II.

We have considerable knowledge of Amenemhet II's reigns because of a number of important documents. Some historical information about the 12th Dynasty comes from a set of official records know as the genut, or "day-books". There were found in the temple at Tod. Some of Amenemhet II's buildings also contain parts of these annals. They describe the day to day process of running the royal palace. One very important set of annuals were discovered at Mit Rahina (a part of ancient Memphis) that record detailed descriptions of donations made to temples, lists of statues and buildings, reports of both military and trading expeditions and even royal activities such as hunting. These documents not only provide information on Amenemhet II, but other kings of the period as well.

Amenemhet II is probably best known for consolidating the work of his predecessors in foreign affairs. He exchanged gifts with other rulers in the Mediterranean (Levant) region. We find jewelry inscribed with his name in royal tombs at Byblos in Lebanon, as well as local copies of Egyptian jewelry. These items were particularly prevalent in the tomb of a local prince named Ipshemuabi. In addition, native rulers at Byblos even wrote short inscriptions in hieroglyphs, held the Egyptian title of count, and made references to Egyptian gods. They even acquired royal and private statuary.

Trove from the Montu Temple at Tod

On the other hand, four bronze boxes found at the temple of Montu at Tod and inscribed on their lids with the name of Amenemhet II bore a large number of silver cups of Lavantine and Aegean origin. There were also cylinder seals and lapis Lazuli amulets from Mesopotamia. These items were probably either a gift, or tribute, and it is noteworthy that at the time, silver was more rare then gold in Egypt, so also more valuable.

Cylinder seal from of Mesopotamia origin

In addition, Egyptian evidence from this period has been found in Crete at Knossos, and common Minoa pottery, called Kamares ware, has been found from this period at Lahun and in a tomb at Abydos in Egypt. There is also an increase in the mention of Levantine names, many of whom were possibly domestic servants, within Egypt. The annals found at Mit Rahina also identify the Syrian northern city of Tunip as an Egyptian trading partner.

However, the annals mentioned above provide some evidence that the sweeping peace with the Levant was probably more selective then formerly believed, because apparently Egypt had treaties with only certain countries in the region. Herodotus even speaks of Asiatic wars about this time (or only slightly later).

In fact, these same annals also refer to a small group of Egyptians who enter Bedouin territory (probably referring to the Sinai) in order to "hack up the land", and two more campaigns were directed against unknown walled cities. These towns were referred to as "Aamu" (Asiatic), and 1,554 prisoners were reported to have been taken by the Egyptian forces. This may very well be the reason we find the increase in Levantine names working as domestic servants. There were also expeditions to the south and the biography in the tomb of a Amenemhet at Beni Hassan mentions an expedition to Kush (Upper, or southern Nubia) and also a visit to the East African kingdom of Punt by the king's official, Khentykhetaywer. This trip was made in the 28th year of Amenemhat II's reign.

One story during the time of Amenemhet II tells of the travels of a ship captain who had been to a magic island in the sea far south beyond Nubia. The sailor told the vizier (prime minister) about a tempest which arose suddenly and drove the ship towards a mysterious land. He suddenly heard a noise like thunder, and saw a huge serpent with a beard. Upon hearing that the sailor was sent by the pharaoh, the serpent let him go back, with gifts to "Amenemhet". It told him that it was Amon-Ras blessing that has made this island rich and lacking nothing. Upon hearing this amusing story, "Amenemhet II" ordered it to be documented on a papyrus. The story is known to historians as "The Shipwrecked Sailor".

Domestically, Amenemhet II failed in one important respect. Under the rule of his predecessors, nomarchs, who were basically the governors of the various nomes (provinces), had been personally appointed by the king. This was a measure taken to assure the centralization of government. The First Intermediate Period was at least partially caused the chaos resulting from strong regional rulers who destabilized this central control. However, Amenemhat II apparently allowed this important office to revert back to a hereditary position.

The nomarchs soon took advantage of this change by adapting pretentious titles sometimes imitating those of the royal court. However, Amenemhat did keep a firm hand on these matters and appears to not let these local rulers forget their allegiance to the crown. In return for royal favors, they were expected to help protect the Egyptian borders, to undertake expeditions for the king and to generally act as his deputies.

Siltsone fragment with Amenemhet's Horus name, Hekenmaat

In fact, the nomarchs began to disappear during the time of Senusret III because of a practice that was probably initiated by Amenemhet II. The children of nomarchs were sent to the king for their training, afterwards being sent to diverse posts. This ended up dissipating the power of the local nomarchs. Amenemhet II does not appear to have done much building, unlike many of his predecessors. Little is known of any building works with the exception of his Pyramid, though some projects may have been usurped by future rulers. Amenemhet II built his pyramid in Dahshure, for reasons we do not know. His two immediate predecessors, Amenemhet I (pyramid) and Senusret I (pyramid) had built their pyramids at Lisht near the Fayoum. Arnold refers to Amenemhet II's pyramid as a new phase in pyramid development, that incorporates both ancient design with experimental components.

His is also attested to by a stele with his name found in the Wadi Um Balad, a gateway at Hermopolis, a large sphinx with his inscription now in the Louvre museum, and he is mentioned in several inscriptions near Aswan, together with his son.


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