Egypt: Mentuhotep II, First Ruler of the Middle Kingdom

Mentuhotep II, First Ruler of the Middle Kingdom

by Jimmy Dunn

For everyone who studies Egyptian history, we like to point out occasionally the fallacy of accepting a single reference about many different ancient topics. One problem with experts is they have their own opinions, which they often state unequivocally, even though others disagree. References on the first ruler of the Middle Kingdom are a perfect example of this.

His throne name was most certainly Neb-hetep-re, meaning "Pleased is the Lord Re", though we also find it spelled Nebhepetra. But this is not his common, or birth name, and here we run into problems.

"Chronicle of the Pharaohs" by Peter A. Clayton refers to him as Mentuhotep I, and gives his reign as 2060-2010. However, the "Oxford History of Ancient Egypt" edited by Ian Shaw gives his name as Mentuhotep II, with a reign from 2055-2004 while Aidan Dodson in his book, "Monarchs of the Nile" refers to him as Montjuhotpe II, with a reign from 2066-2014. "A History of Ancient Egypt" by Nicolas Grimal calls him Mentuhotpe II, with a reign from 2040-2009, while "Who Were the Pharaohs" by Stephen Quirke simple calls him, as well as the following two kings Mentuhotep, without elaboration or dates. So much for Egyptology being consistent, but never fear, they are all talking about the same king, and they all place his rule as the first of the Middle Kingdom and within the 11th Dynasty. However one names him, his birth name, Mentuhotep, means "The God Montu is Content". It should be noted that Montu was a Theban god of war. Mentuhotep ruled Egypt from Thebes, which until then, had not been as prominent as it later became.

We believe he was the son or heir of Intef III, for a number of reasons. First, there is a relief located at Wadi Shatt el-Rigal, near Gebel es-Silsila, that incorporates a colossal figure of Mentuhotep II dwarfing three other figures believed to be he mother, Intef III and Khety his chancellor. There is also a masonry block found at Tod with reliefs portraying Mentuhotep II towing over three kings, named Inhtef, lined up behind him.

However, Mentuhotep worked so diligently to enhance his reputation with his contemporaries with self-deification that some Egyptologists believe he may not have been a legitimate heir to the throne, though this might also be explained by his efforts to reunite Egypt.

Part of the Jubilee celebration scene of Mentuhotep II from Armant.

Montuhotep's principle wife was Tem, but he had a number of lesser consorts. A second major wife was Neferu, who mothered his heir to the throne, and we also know of a wife named Henhenet who died in childbirth.

Though he reunited Egypt after the First Intermediate Period, he did not do this immediately, and we find him with a number of Horus names that follow a progression. First, he was "He who gives heart to the Two Lands", followed by "Lord of the White Crown" (Upper Egypt)

and finally Sematuawy, "Uniter of the Two Lands", as he apparently unified Egypt. Indeed, in later inscriptions, the king was set alongside Menes as being the second founder of the Egyptian State.

At first, his reign was probably peaceful, but latter became most certainly a bloody one, and with a highly militaristic focus. Near his temple at Thebes, American archaeologist Herbert Winlock found a mass tomb in the 1920s with the bodies of 60 of his soldiers who were lain in battle. There place of burial near the King suggests that the battle they fought was an important one, but sources disagree on where they might have fought. In the tomb of a local prince or general named Mesehti at Asyut, we also find models of marching Egyptian soldiers and even in the tombs of common people, we find an increase in the inclusion of weapons among grave goods.

In year 14 of his rule, we know that a revolt took place in the Abydos area by the Hierakleopolitan forces, and that he quickly crushed it. Afterwards, his armies slowly drove the Hierakleopolitan forces north eventually leading to his overall rule of Egypt, but even by year 39 of his rule, when the country was well under his control, he continued his military campaigns into Nubia. It would appear that there might have even been an Egyptian based local kingdom established in the area around Abu Simbel, and so he apparently crushed these upstarts, as well as initiating other policing actions in Lower Nubia. One such expedition was led by his Chancellor, Khety, illustrating the importance Mentuhotep II placed on reopening Egypt's access to Nubia, and beyond.

However, he did have a long reign, perhaps as long as 50 years, and peace did finally return to Egypt proper, along with prosperity. Mentuhotep II initiated a number of building projects, including in the areas of el-Kab, Gebelein, Tod, Deir el-Ballas, Dendera, Karnak, Abydos, Aswan and Armant. His greatest building work, however, was his temple and tomb on the west bank at Thebes (Modern Luxor). It is located in the cliffs at Deir el-Bhari, next to the later and today more famous temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Many of his high officials are buried near him including his chancellor Akhtoy, his viziers Dagi and Ipi, and his chief steward Henenu.


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
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
Who Were the Phraohs? (A history of their names with a list of cartouches) Quirke, Stephen 1990 Dover Publications ISBN 0-486-26586-2