King Mentuhotep III of the 11th Dynasty

Mentuhotep III of Ancient Egypt's 11th Dynasty

by Jimmy Dunn

The Cartouches of Mentuhotep III

Mentuhotep III (actually, the second Mentuhotep of the Middle Kingdom and sometimes referred to as Mentuhotep II), benefited from a strong and flourishing country upon the death of his father, Mentuhotep II. He used this to good advantage, though by the time he took the throne of Egypt in about 2010 BC he was relatively old and only ruled for about twelve years. Though an 11th Dynasty ruler, his order in this dynasty, perhaps as its fifty king, differs according to any number of chronicles of the period, due to the inclusion or exclusion of previous kings.

Mentuhotep, which means "The god Montu is Content" was this king's throne name. His throne name was Sankhkare, which means "Giving Life to the Soul of Re". We know little about his family. His father was presumably Mentuhotep II, and his mother is believed to have been Queen Tem.

Mentuhotep III wearing the Red Crown

Mentuhotep III evidently continued with many of the policies of his predecessors, which included maintaining a defensive attitude towards his neighbors on the northern frontiers, and he was eager to extend trade beyond the First Cataract of the Nile to the south. In the north, he built a series of fortresses along the border of the eastern Delta, where a cult was later dedicated to himself and the Herakleopolitan ruler, Khety III at the site of el-Khatana.

This king initiated a number of expeditions to gather raw material for his many building works, which included a number of temples and shrines. In Year 8 of his reign, we specifically learn, from a long inscription in the Wadi Hammamat, of an expedition led by his steward, Henenu, from Koptos to Wadi Gasus. The road they used had to be cleared of rebels prior to their departure, and with him, Henenu took some 3,000 soldiers. Wood was carried by his soldiers in order to build ships once they reached the Red Sea, and along their journey, they sank twelve wells to support future expeditions. After having built their ships, they departed for the land of East Africa land of Punt, the first such expedition we know of during the Middle Kingdom to do so. They acquired a number of products while in Punt, including perfume and gum. Upon their return, they apparently stopped in Wadi Hammamat in order to query stone.

Mentuhotep III wearing the nemes headdress

It is also interesting to note the care with which Henenu treated his men. Each soldier was provided with a leather bottle, a carrying pole, two jars of water and 20 loaves a day. In addition, "the asses were laden with sandals" to provide for the troops in this harsh terrain.

Mentuhotep III's building work is characterized by a certain amount of architectural innovation. For example, at Medinet Habu he built a triple sanctuary that foreshadowed the 18th Dynasty temple built for "family" triads of gods. He was also responsible for the temple atop Thoth Hill, the highest peak overlooking the Valley of the Kings, not only had a triple sanctuary, but also incorporated the earliest extant temple pylons. Not far away lies the remains of another of his temples. He also apparently finished much of his father's building activities at Abydos, Elkab, Armant, Tod and Elephantine.

The artwork commissioned during the reign of Mentuhotep III was also innovative, and the relief work during this period is arguably the beast of the Middle Kingdom. Most of the stone carving is very fine, with raised relief conveying tremendous spatial depth with a differentiation of no more than a few millimeters of thickness within the stone. The subtlety of the portraiture and the details within the clothing on the reliefs from Tod are far better than the works commissioned by his father.

Another image of Mentuhotep III wearing the Red Crown

Though overall, Mentuhotep III reign seems to have been very positive, we do learn from some correspondence from a man named Hekanakht, who was the funerary priest under the vizier Ipy at Thebes, that towards the end of the king's reign, there was apparently the onset of famine in the Theban region.

We believe that, upon his death in about 1998 (according to some sources, a few years earlier) BC, Mentuhotep III was probably buried in a bay in the cliffs to the south of his fathers monument at Deir el-Bahari. Little remains of his mortuary temple beyond a causeway that apparently ends at a sloping passage going into the rock at Deir el-Bahari. His mortuary temple may have been intended to be similar to that of his fathers, but it was unfinished and uninscribed. In 1997, a Hungarian team led by Gyoro Voros found an early Middle Kingdom tomb below the peak of Thoth Hill on the West Bank at Luxor (ancient Thebes), that very likely belonged to this king. Its architecture may have been the inspiration of the bab-tombs of the early 18th Dynasty.

One wonders why Mentuhotep III's mortuary temple was unfinished, given his other monumental building activities. His successor, Mentuhotep IV could have usurped the throne, since he is missing from some king lists. His mother was apparently a commoner with no royal titles other than King's mother, so he may not have even been a member of the royal family.






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