Egypt: History - Dynasty XII (Twelfth Dynasty)

Twelfth Dynasty

At the close of Menthotpe I's glorious reign nothing seemed to suggest that the power of his family was nearing its end. Yet so it was. The Turin Canon concedes to S'ankhkare' Menthotpe III twelve years of rule, but makes him, though not quite accurately, the last king of Dynasty XI. Likewise in the Abydos and Saqqara king-lists S'ankhkare' is the immediate predecessor of Shetepibre' Ammenemes I, the founder of Dynasty XII and of what is known to us as the Middle Kingdom. Isolated inscribed blocks in many of the towns of Upper Egypt show that S'ankhkare' was active as a builder of temples or chapels. A long inscription engraved in his eighth year upon the rocks of the Wady Hammamat tells how his steward Henu was sent there to quarry stone for statues to be set up in these sacred buildings. Henu relates how he started out from Coptos with 3,000 well-equipped soldiers together with a police force which cleared the road of rebels. On the way to the Red Sea he dug many wells. There had previously been mention of a fleet sent to fetch myrrh from Pwene. It was on the return journey that the quarrying work was affected. The burial-place of S'ankhkare' is something of a problem. Flanking Der el-Bahri to the south is the broad and conspicuous hill of Dheikh 'Abd el-Kurna, and south of this is a bay roughly similar to that chosen by Menthotpe I for his tomb, but much less picturesque. Here traces of a great causeway may be seen, as well as the beginnings of a sloping passage. According to Winlock the end of this passage was hastily widened into a burial chamber and then walled up. At all events S'ankkkare' must have been interred somewhere in this neighborhood, since high on the cliffs commanding both valley are the graffiti of mortuary priests who served the cults of both these Menthotpe kings.

In the fragment of the Turin papyrus S'ankhkare' is followed by the mention of seven kingless years. It is probable that these years included a third Menthotpe subsequently not regarded as a legitimate Pharaoh. This Nebtawyre' Menthotope III is known, apart from the fragment of a stone bowl found at Lisht, only form two quarries to which he sent expeditions. Three graffiti of his first year and one of his second record an official's quest for amethyst in the Wady el-Hudi, some 17 miles to the south-east of Aswan. Much more interesting is a group of rock-inscriptions in the already often mentioned grewacke quarries of the Wady Hammamat. Here in Nebtowere's second year was sent his vizier Amenemhe to fetch him a great sarcophagus. It may well be doubted whether as many as 20,000 men really accompanied the expedition, but there is no need for skepticism as regards two miraculous happenings which attended their short stay. The graphic story is told of a gazelle advancing fearlessly in full sight of the work people to drop its young upon the very stone intended for the lid of the sarcophagus. Eight days later there was a great rain-storm which disclosed a well 10 cubits by 10 cross full of water to the brim. To the prosaically minded historian the personality of the vizier Amenemhe is of greater interest, for it seems well-nigh certain that he was none other than the future Ammenemes I, to give his name the Manethonian form. We have to suppose that a given moment he conspired against his royal master, and perhaps after some years of confusion mounted the throne in his place. A recent discovery lends color to this hypothesis. A Dynasty XVIII inscription extracted from the third pylon at Karnak names after Nebhepetre' and S'ankhkare' a 'god's father' Senwosre who from his title can only have been the non-royal parent of Ammenemes I. The Twelfth Dynasty, dated from 1991 to 1786 BC, was, as we shall see, composed of a number of kings whose surnames were either Ammenemes or Senwosre, for the most part alternately.

Apart from the justified conjectures just mentioned, more personal details are known about the founder of the new dynasty than about any other Pharaoh. Characteristically the sources of our knowledge are works of fiction or semi-fiction rather than formal official records. There exists in the Museum of Leningrad a papyrus of which the whole purpose is the glorification of this monarch and which must, accordingly, have been composed in his reign or not much later. It relates that King Snofru, seeking amusement, called upon his courtiers to find some clever man who could supply the required diversion. A lector-priest from Bubastis named Neferti was recommended, who when Snofru elected to hear bout the future rather than the past, launched out upon a description of coming disaster vividly recalling the picture painted in the already mentioned 'Admonitions'. Salvation was, however, to arrive at last:

A king shall come belonging to the South, Ameny by name, the son of a woman of Ta-Sti, a child of Khen-nekhen. He shall receive the White Crown, he shall wear the Red Crown....The people of his time shall rejoice, the son of Someone shall make his name for ever and ever.

Here the non-royal descent of Ammenemes I is clearly enough indicated, for the phrase 'son of Someone' was a common way of designating a man of good, though not princely, birth. Ta-Sti is the name of the first nome of Upper Egypt, that of which Elephantine was the capital, and where the population was no doubt partly of Nubian race. Ameny is a well-authenticated abbreviation of the name Amenemhe, which, as already noted, Manetho graecized into Ammenemes. Amenemhe means 'Amun is in front', and this mention of the god Amun raises a problem the solution of which is still obscure. Up to then, as we have seen, the principal deity of the Theban nome had been the warlike falcon-god Mont, but with the advent of the new dynasty the human-headed Amun quickly gained predominance over him, soon to be assimilated to the sun-god Re', and ultimately to become the principal national divinity under the name 'Amen-Re', King of the Gods'. According to a plausible theory propounded by Kurt Seth, Amun was an importation from Hermopolis, but he was also early identified with the ithyphallic nature-god Min worshipped in the neighboring Coptite nome. There is some slight evidence that Amun was known at Thebes before the middle of Dynasty XI, so that the possibility cannot be ruled out that the king who incorporated the god's name in his own was of Theban birth. Certain it is, at all events, that both he and his son Senwosre I continued to honor Thebes with their monuments, though wisely adopting as their capital a site more central between the Delta and Upper Egypt. Here, at Lisht on the west bank, they raised their pyramids and surrounded them with the tombs of their courtiers. The scanty remains, after a first excavation by J.E. Gautier and G. Jequier, have been exhaustively investigated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In the eyes of later generations, It-towe 'Seizer of the Tow Lands', to give the new capital its Egyptian name, became the typical royal residence, not merely of Dynasty XII. Yet as a town it was of negligible importance after the close of the Middle Kingdom.

The attitude of the new dynasty towards the old was somewhat ambiguous. That Ammenemes I thought of himself as inaugurating a new epoch is clear from his adoption at his Horus name of the epithet Weham-meswe 'Repeater of Births', a metaphor derived from the monthly rebirth of the moon. Yet we find Senwosre I dedicating a statue to that Inotef the great , born of Iku, who was the ancestor of Dynasty XI, and an altar to the S'ankhkare'Menthotpe whom, as we have seen, the king-lists pure at its close. If Ammenemes I had any quarrel with the Menthotpe family at all, it was only with the short-lived Nebtowere'. Thus it is not wholly without reason that Manetho gave Ammenemes a position midway between the two dynasties. On the other hand, the Turin Canon is decisive in starting a new section with the kings of It-towe. For Dynasty XII the Canon is remarkably trustworthy, even the lengths of reign being accurately stated. Nor at this point must a word of commendation be refused to Manetho for somewhat similar reasons. He is mistaken, however, in describing Dynasty XII as Diospolite (Theban), since perhaps its principal differentiating feature, apart from its interdependence as a single family, was its removal to a geographic position far away to the north.

Of the greatness of Shetepibre' Amenemhe (Ammenemes I) there can be no doubt. Otherwise his son and descendants would have been unable to retain their sovereignty for two whole centuries. Monuments vastly increase in number and the individual reigns are almost all long, sure signs of the prosperity and stability of the country. Local temples built or added to by the kings of Dynasty XII abound, though as a rule only isolated blocks have survived, the remainder having been destroyed or removed to make way for later constructions. Private stele are very numerous, particularly those found at Abydos, a resort of pilgrims as the reputed burial-place of the god Osiris. It is evident that the first Ammenemes aimed at securing for himself an autocracy rivaling that of the Pharaohs of the Old Kingdom. A grave difference subsisted, however. As yet there could be no question of completely abolishing the power of the nomarchs. We must be on our guard against assuming identical conditions in all parts of Egypt, but the splendid wall-paintings in the rock-tombs of Beni Hasan display the Great Chieftains of the Oryx nome as little potentates in their own right. Many officials are there depicted whose titles recall those of functionaries attached to the royal palace, stewards, a superintendent of the hall of justice, another of the storehouse and ergastulum, treasurers, and even a captain of the army. Nor indeed are there absent bearers of foreign tribute. The tomb of the nomarch Khnemhotpe favored by Ammenemes I shows gaudily dressed and befeathered Libyans bringing flocks of goats, and Asiatics with presents of eye-paint are seen in the tomb of a grandson of the same name who never attained the nomarchy, but only authority over a more limited area. A long and important inscription in the last-named tomb yields explicit testimony to the hereditary character of these princely dignitaries and the origin of some of them in alliances with the daughters of rulers of adjacent nomes. And yet there is no attempt to disguise the dependence of all such tenures upon the will and condescension of the king. Of the first honor conferred by Ammenemes I upon the original nomarch Khnemhotpe I it is said that he

appointed him to be hereditary prince, count and governor of the eastern deserts in Men'at-Khufwey. He fixed his southern boundary-stone and secured his northern one like heaven. He divided the great river over its back, its eastern half belonging to (the district) Horizon-of-Horus as far as the eastern desert, when His Majesty had come that he might crush iniquity, arisen as Atum himself, and that he might repair what he had found ruined, what one town had seized from another, and that he might cause town to know its boundary with town, their boundary-stones being secured like heaven and their waters being made known according to what was in the writings and verified according to what was in antiquity, through the greatness of his love of Right.

The great achievement of the founder of the dynasty thus lay in the complete reorganization of the country. For the splendor of his own household and the maintenance of his bureaucracy he needed ample resources. Ameny, whom his son Senwosre I had appointed to the nomarchy as successor of Khnemhotpe I, relates:

I spent years as ruler in the Oryx nome, and all services to the King's House were effected by me. I gave staff-overseers to the farm-holdings of the Oryx nome, three thousand oxen as their contingents, and was praised on account of it in the King's House in every census year. I delivered all their produce to the King's house, and there was no shortage against me in any bureau of his.

Ameny goes on to say that in spite of all the exactions imposed by his royalty he had ruled his province with unswerving justice, respecting the poor man's daughter and the widow, banishing poverty and tilling the land with such assiduity that in years of famine no one was hungry. Evidently a balance had been established between royal power and princely pride, and at this moment Egypt was a feudal state more completely than ever before or after. Nevertheless, there are indications that for the retention of the Pharaoh's authority elaborate precautions needed to be taken. Probably Ammenemes was approaching middle age when he came to the throne. In his twentieth year he associated with himself as king his eldest son Senwosre I, and both reigned together for ten years more. The practice thus initiated was followed throughout the entire dynasty. Perhaps even at the start it was not quite an innovation, for we found evidence that Pepy I of Dynasty VI may have adopted a similar course. In less exalted circles, at all events, aged men of wealth and station had found it prudent to take to themselves a 'staff of old age', as the position was quaintly called. In the case of royalty, however, an embarrassing difficulty arose. If the usually accepted theory of Egyptian kingship is correct, the divine nature of the falcon-god Horus descended from son to son, the dying monarch relinquishing that attribute in order to become an Osiris. An act of association which resulted in two Horuses functioning simultaneously made nonsense of this doctrine, but there is no hint that the Egyptians ever felt scruples on this score. In matters of religion, logic played great part, and the assimilation or duplication of deities doubtless added a mystic charm to their theology.

For the end of the reign two literary works combine to give a consistent and evidently trustworthy picture. Both compositions became great favorites in the Egyptian schools, and centuries later were copied and recopied, though with ever increasing inaccuracy. The death of Ammenemes I is described in a dream where he revealed himself to his son and successor in order to give him wise counsels. Warning Senwosre against too great intimacy with his subjects, he reinforces his advice by recalling what happened to himself:

It was after supper when night was come, I took an hour of repose, lying upon my bed. I was tired an d my heart began to follow sleep. Of a sudden weapons were brandished and there was talk concerning me, whilst I remained like a snake of the desert. I awoke to fight, being by myself. I found it was an attack by the guard. Had I hastened with weapons in my hand, I could have driven back the caitiffs. But there is none strong at night. None can fight alone. There is no successful issue without a protector.

This clearly refers to the conspiracy in which Ammenemes lost his life, and a memory of it, though attributed to the wrong king, survives in Manetho's statement that Ammenemes II was murdered by his eunuchs. The sequel is narrated in what is certainly the greatest glory of Egyptian literature, the celebrated Story of Sinuhe. The relevant passage is here translated in its entirety:

Year 30, third month of the Inundation season, day 7, the god mounted to his horizon, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Shetep-ibre' went aloft to heaven and became united with the sun's disk, the limb of the god being merged in him who made him; whilst the Residence was hushed, hearts were in mourning, the Great Gates were closed, the courtiers crouched head on lap, and the nobles grieved. Now His Majesty had sent an army to the land of the Tjemeh (Libyans), his eldest son as the captain thereof, the goodly god Senwosre. He had been sent to smite the foreign countries, and to take prisoner the dwellers in the Tjehun-land, and now indeed he was returning and had carried off living prisoners of the Tjehnu and all kinds of cattle limitless. And the Companions of the Palace sent to the western side to acquaint the king's son concerning the position that had arisen in the Royal Apartments, and the messengers found him upon the road, they reached him at time of night. Not a moment did he linger, the falcon flew off with his followers, not letting his army know. But the king's children who accompanied him in this army had been sent for and one of them had been summoned....

Sinuhe, a youth who had been brought up at the court, chanced to be standing by when the State secret was being told, and was so much alarmed that he fled precipitately, not staying his flight until he found himself in Palestine, where he found favor with the prince of Upper Retjnu. Exciting as is the rest of the tale, we must refraining from following it up further, since the most that can be claimed for it is that it is 'founded upon fact'.

This, however, is a not unsuitable place in which to summarize the dealings of Egypt with its north-eastern neighbors throughout Dynasty XII. The Prophecy of Neferti had emphasized even more strongly than the similar compositions above quoted the incursions of Asiatics ('Aamu) into the Delta, and had mentioned, like the story of Sinuhe, the 'Walls of the Ruler, made to repel the Setyu, and to crush the Sand-farers'. Where exactly these walls built by Ammenemes I were situated is not known, but their twofold mention suffices to stress the danger that could still be anticipated from the quarter. For the time, however, relations were generally amicable. Towards the end of the dynasty, under Ammenemes III, the brother of the Prince of Retjnu was assisting the Egyptians in the turquoise-workings of Serabit el-Khadim in the Peninsula of Sinai, but these workings were certainly not in Retjnu itself. Upper Retjnu may have extended as far north as the level of Byblos. From the two pieces of evidence above mentioned one might possible conclude that a single powerful ruler dominated almost the whole of Palestine, but this is contradicted by other testimony. The Egyptians, particularly in early times, were apt to regard all foreigners as their natural enemies. Recent finds of great interest have brought to light the names of both persons and places scrawled in hieratic upon broken red potsherds or upon the limestone figures of local princes represented as prisoners with their arms tied behind their backs. Most of the place-names are unidentifiable, but among them Ashkelon and Shechem are probabilities. The Egyptians of the period certainly hoped that the magic inherent in these objects would dispose of their enemies without recourse to arms. The stele of Nesmont dated in the joint reigns of Ammenemes I and Senwosre I shows that this general had to take the field against the Asiatic nomads and destroy their strongholds, but it is not known how far into foreign territory his activities extended. Later, in the reign of Senwosre III, the king himself traveled north to overthrow the Asiatics, and reached the region of Sekmem, which is accepted by most scholars as Shechem in the hill-country of Samaria. Here Sebekkhu, one of his warriors, performed notable exploits which he narrates on his stele. Other similar records are too vague to possess much historical value. The general impression left is that Palestine was at this time mainly occupied by small tribes or communities each ruled over by a petty prince of its own. Much farther north there is considerable evidence of Middle Egyptian penetration, and so experienced an archaeologist as Sir Leonard Woolley held that definite campaigns must be assumed to explain the number of Dynasty XII objects which have been found. Two kings of Byblos received valuable gifts form Ammenemes III and IV respectively, and at Tod was discovered a rich treasure of gold, silver, and lapis lazuli objects clearly of Mesopotamian or Aegean workmanship and inscribed with the cartouches of Ammemenemes II. These were presumably presents from the rulers of Byblos. At Katna to the north of Homs a sphinx bearing the name of a daughter of Ammenemes II was unearthed, and similar sphinxes, as well as the private statue of a vizier known also from other sources, have been found at Ugarit, near the later Laodicea. The northernmost limit for such finds is Atchana at no great distance from the mouth of the Orontes. In the absence of inscription testimony, the exact importance of these and other like discoveries is necessarily a matter of conjecture. In this connection, it should be noted, however, that on stele and in papyri Asiatic slaves are increasingly often mentioned. Yet there is no means of telling whether they were prisoners of war or had infiltrated into Egypt of their own accord.

The magical artifices adopted to counter the malignity of Egypt's north-eastern neighbors were utilized also against the south, but here again the tribal names are hopelessly obscure. On the other hand, the inscriptional and archaeological evidence for the relations of the Dynasty XII Pharaohs with Nubia and the Sudan is considerably more abundant. Tantalizing fragments from the reign of Menthotpe I have already been mentioned, but there is one, even more defective than the rest, which appears to claim the annexation to Upper Egypt of Wawae and the outlying oases. With Ammenemes I records of greater certainty begin. By this time a new occupying race known to archaeologists as the C-group had gained a foothold in Lower Nubia, but they were not Negroes, who's contact with the Egyptians goes back no further than Dynasty XIII. The generic term for the population of Nubia remained as before Nehasyu, a name familiar to us in the Phinehas ('the Nubian') of the Bible and surviving in the modern Jewish surname Pincus. Now, however, is found for the first time the geographical name Kush, which in the New Kingdom designated an administrative province distinct from Wawae and lying to the south of the Second Cataract, while in the Old Testament it corresponds vaguely to Ethiopia. At all periods the northern boundary of Wawae was the First Cataract in the neighborhood of Shellal. The southern boundary in Dynasty XII is uncertain, but may as later have extended even as far as Wady Halfa. We may certainly credit Ammenemes I with the subjugation of Lower Nubia. An inscription of his twenty-ninth year at Korosko records his arrival 'to overthrow Wawae'.

Under his son and co-regent Senwosre I Wady Halfa was firmly held and a garrison established there. A magnificent sandstone stele erected by a general named Menthotpe depicts the god Mont of Thebes (not as yet Amun) presenting to Senwosre captives from a number of Sudanese lands, with Kush at their head. That it was not mere lust of conquest which was now the principal aim is clear from the narrative inscribed on the doorway of his tomb at Beni Hasan by the already mentioned Ameny, the nomarch of the Oryx nome. He describes how, replacing his aged father, he sailed upstream and 'passed beyond Kush and reached the ends of the earth'. On this occasion Senwosre himself was at the head of the army, which returned from the campaign without suffering loss. Subsequently Ameny accompanied his namesake the king's eldest son, doubtless the later Ammenemes II, to fetch treasures of gold for His Majesty, and having accomplished his mission successfully, won high praise at the royal palace. Gold is not mentioned in the Old Kingdom. Most of these things were obtained by barter from the natives, the Medjayu from over the border at the Second Cataract being specially mentioned. It is clear, however, that invasion from the south was a perennial dread and that though expeditions to Lower Nubia and the neighboring deserts now became frequent, they were always something of an adventure and there was little or no actual colonization. A papyrus lists as many as thirteen fortresses between Elephantine and Semna at the end of the Second Cataract. Most of these have been identified and planned. Those to the north of Wady Halfa are on the flat and were evidently intended to keep a vigilant watch upon the native population. No less than seven fortresses lie within the 40-mile stretch of the Second Cataract, mostly on eminences and several of them upon islands. These were obviously designed for defense, as indeed is shown by such names of theirs as 'Repelling the Tribes' and 'Curbing the Deserts. They are vast structures of thick brick walls, enclosing sufficient space to house many officials and scribes as well as substantial garrisons. The exact dates at which these were built are mostly unknown, but there is no doubt that the Pharaoh who strove most energetically to promote his suzerainty in this direction was Senwosre III. It was he who gave his name 'Powerful is (King) Kha'kaure' to the fortress of Semna at the southern end of the Second Cataract, just opposite to the fortress of Kumma on the east bank, the two combining to protect both the land and the river routes. We have Senwosre III's own word for the fact that here was definitely fixed his southern boundary. On the great stele where he makes light of his apprehensions by the contemptuous description of the Nubians quoted above, he concludes as follows:

As for any son of mine who shall maintain this boundary which My Majesty has made, he is my son and was born to me....but he who shall destroy it and fail to fight for it, he is not my son and was not born to me.

In his eighth year when sailing upstream 'to overthrow vile Kush' the same king had ordered a new channel to be dug near the island of Sehel in the First Cataract to help his own ships, but an inscription at Semna dated in the same year shows that the most stringent measures were taken to prevent the Nubians from intrusion in the opposite direction:

Southern boundary made in Year prevent any Nubian from passing it downstream or overland or by boat, (also) any herds of Nubians, apart from any Nubian who shall come to trade in Iken or upon any good business that may be done with them.

How strictly this policy was pursued is shown by dispatches of the early Dynasty XIII sent from Semna to the Theban capital, much tattered copies of which are preserved in a papyrus now in the British Museum. These show that even the most trivial movements of Medjayu people were reported, and the almost daily letters end with the stereotyped formula:

All the affairs of the King's Domain are safe and sound; all the affairs of the master are safe and sound..

Centuries later Senwosre III was worshipped as a god throughout Nubia. In Manetho he is fused with his predecessor Senwosre II, both sharing the name Sesostris. However great their foreign conquests may have been, it is hard to conceive how their command victories can have been inflated into those of this world-conquering hero as described by Herodotus and Diodorus. But there was also another reason why most early Egyptologists refused to identify the semi-legendary Sesostris with the fourth and fifth kings of Dynasty XII. In the hieroglyphs, the Nomen or second cartouche of those kings appeared to show the reading Usertsen, which no amount of philological juggling could equate with the Manethonian Sesostris. It was K. Sethe who first proved that the Nomen involved the inversion of a divine name such as we have encountered earlier, and that consequently the true reading was Se-n-Wosre, meaning 'the man of Wosre, the powerful goddess'. The transition from Senwosre to Sesostris was only a small one, and is not open to doubt.

Mention must, however, now be made of a discovery which can only with difficulty be reconciled with Sesostris III's fixing of his southern boundary at Semna. At Kerma, some little distance to the south of the Third Cataract and hence well over 100 miles upstream from the Second, the American excavator G. Reisner found a fort-like building and a cemetery which may have been occupied as early as the beginning of Dynasty XII. An inscription of Ammenemes III which records the number of bricks required for the restoration of this outpost gives its name as 'Walls of Ammenemes', and other finds point to the likelihood that the founder was none other than Ammenemes I. There were even alabaster jars bearing the name of Pepy I (Dynasty VI), but these may have been imports brought much later for purposes of exchange. The cemeteries found here are utterly un-Egyptian in character, as also the pottery, faience, bone inlays, and weapons discovered therein. The graves themselves, as large circular tumuli, are completely different from the mastabas of contemporary Egypt. The dead lay upon their sides unmummified, and wives and attendants had been killed and buried with their master so as to serve him in the next world.

In one tumulus was found a magnificent statue of a Hapdjefai who may have been the governor, and another of his wife. This man is known from his tomb at Asyut in the XIIIth nome of Upper Egypt to have lived under Senwosre I. Was then this a permanent trading and manufacturing station? And how can it have maintained itself if, as the line of fortresses in the Second Cataract seems to presuppose, all the territory further upstream was normally hostile?

The needs of architects, sculptors, an jewelers demanded ever more diligent exploitation of the deserts and countries surrounding Egypt, and wherever the necessary rocks afforded the opportunity inscriptions record the names of the royal emissaries. The'basalt' of the Wady Hammamat, the alabaster of Hatneb, and the diorite from the north-west of Abu Simbel were put under contribution as eagerly as ever, and the Wady el-Hudi continued to supply its amethyst. In the peninsula of Sinai, new workings on a grand scale were opened at Serabit el-Khadim, where a temple was built to Hathor, 'lady of the turquoise'. The relations with Palestine have already been discussed, but the even more problematical connection with Crete cannot be ignored. In that great seat of the Minoanculture not many Egyptian objects have been found, but in Egypt polychrome decorated pottery of undoubted Cretan manufacture has been forthcoming in Dynasty XII contexts at Hawwara in the Fayoum, and elsewhere. Most striking of all is a magnificent bowl discovered by Garstang at Abydos and now in the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford. The vexed question whether Keftiu was the Egyptian name of Crete and is to be equated with the Biblical Caphtor is still hotly debated. Far away to the south-east Egyptian expeditions were still busy with Pwene and the Somali coast. From the Wady Gasus some distance to the north of the Red Sea port of Kuser came a stele of the twenty-eighth year of Ammenemes II recording such an expedition, and another stele of the first year of the following reign doubtless refers to a similar undertaking with the words 'establishing his (the king's) monuments in the God's Land'. Curiously little consideration has been devoted to the question of what god is here meant. The expression 'the God's Land' is found not only here, but also in connection with Asiatic expeditions, and since these were often headed by an official called a 'god's seal-bearer' or chancellor it seems likely that the deity in question was none other that the Pharaoh himself. Hence, the underlying notion would be his presumptuous claim to have won the treasures of all foreign lands.

Though Ammenemes I had chosen Lisht (It-towe) as the site for his pyramid, adjacent to which Senwosre I built his own, the remaining kings of Dynasty XII had other preferences. Ammenemes II returned to Dahshur and the neighborhood of Snofru's two vast edifices. The tumble-down ruins, investigated by J. de Morgan in 1894, revealed nothing abnormal save in the method of construction. The reasons which prompted the next king, Senwosre II, to erect his pyramid over 30 miles to the south and a good 100 miles from the Nile can only be guessed. The chosen sit of El-Lahun lies just north of the place where the important canal named the Bahr Yusuf turns westward to enter the oasis of the Fayoum. Senwosre I had given his special attention to that remarkably fertile province, placing at Ebgig a cryptic monument nearly 50 feet high which has always been described as an obelisk, but which may have carried at its summit a statue of the king. Whether it was he or one of his successors who instituted the irrigation improvements referred to by Herdotus and Strabo is unknown, but certain it is that from this time onwards the surroundings of the famous Lake of Moeris became a happy resort for the Pharaohs, who indulged their passion for fishing and fowling. The pyramid of Senwosre II displays an innovation which was copied in two other pyramids of the dynasty. Experience had shown how rarely escape from robbery was possible so long as the entrance leading to the burial chamber occupied its normal position on the north side of the superstructure. Senwosre's architect therefore decided to place the entrance outside the pyramid itself. This device, however, proved unavailing for the purpose for which it was intended, since when at last the burial chamber was reached it was found to have been remorselessly plundered. Of the rich funerary equipment with which it had doubtless originally been filled all that remained was a magnificent red granite sarcophagus together with an alabaster table of offerings. Yet the architect had been at least so far successful that it cost Flinders Petrie months of tireless labor before he came upon the shaft which descended to the passage leading to the interior. A similar expenditure of time was exacted when five years later (1894) J. de Morgain investigated the pyramids of Senwosre III and Ammenemes III at Dahshur. Here again the robbers had got the better of the builders, at the same time frustrating any hope that modern archaeologists might have had of finding an intact Pharaonic burial. Consolation was, however, offered at both Dahshur and El-Lahun (the latter in 1914) by the splendid jewelry discovered in the shaft-tombs of royal princess within the pyramid enclosure walls. The pectorals, crowns, armlets and collars, exhibited craftsmanship of the highest order and these had mountings in gold of many semi-precious stones such as lapis lazzuli, amethyst, carnelian, and felspar. They are among the greatest treasures of the Cairo and New York collections. If the designs no longer have the chaste simplicity of the rare examples from the Old Kingdom, they are nevertheless as yet free from the clumsiness seen in the jewels from the tomb of Tut'ankhamun.

With Ammenemes III we once again come across the strange phenomenon of a Pharaoh possessing more than a single pyramid. The monument which he caused to be raised in addition to that at Dahshur was situated at Hawwara, a few miles to the west of El-Lahun alongside a canal of Arab date. Here again elaborate steps had been taken to foil would-be plunderers, and Petrie's efforts to reach the actual place of burial (1886) were no less exacting than those at El-Lahun in the following season. It was the funerary temple of the Hawwara pyramid which constituted the Labyrinth described in such detail by Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and Strabo. The site cursorily investigated by Petrie at the same time as the pyramid and then again in 1911, revealed itself as a vast area of limestone chips, with only scanty remains bearing the names of Ammenemes III and the queen Sebeknofru of whom more will be heard later. The size of this area and its square shape preclude the idea that this funerary temple can have been one of the ordinary type. Indeed, it may be taken as certain that the accounts given by the classical writers were not far wide of the mark. Herodotus speaks of the building as a wonder surpassing even the pyramids, and Strabo describes it as containing a large number of courts interconnected by winding passages through which no stranger could find his way. How the Egyptian building came by the Anatolian name 'labyrinth' has been explained earlier in these Texts. Mention may here be mad of the two 'pyramids' which Herodotus claimed to have seen rising out of the Sea of Moeris. There can be no doubt that by this were meant the two colossal seated statues of Ammenenmes III which Petrie found looking out over the lake at Biyahmu; these giants, including their pedestals, must have measured 60 feet in height, and it is supposed that they stood in a court very nearly on top of a reclaiming dike. No similar monument has been found in the whole of Egypt, unless the already mentioned obelisk of Ebgig can be regarded as such.

It has been noticed that the great provincial tombs found at the beginning of the dynasty disappear after the reign of Senwosre III, and Ed. Meyer inferred with considerable probability that this monarch brought about, if not the suppression, at least a radical transformation, of the feudal state. At all events it is difficult to shut our eye to the great enhancement of the royal power. Hymns of praise extol the virtues of both Senwosre III and Ammenemes III. The latter king reigned upwards of forty-five years, and his successor Ammenemes IV, according to the Turin Canon, nine years, three months, and twenty-seven days, though his sixth year is the latest date recorded at Sinai. The dynasty came to an end with Sebeknofru, whom Manetho possibly rightly gives as the sister of the last Ammenemes. The Turin Canon assigns to her three years and ten months. Though she is ignored in the Abydos list, at Saqqara she is mentioned by her Prenomen Sebekkared' as the successor of Ammenemes IV. A cylinder in the British Museum gives her an almost full royal titulary. There is definite evidence that at one moment she was associated on the throne with Ammenemes IV and Sebeknofru. On such observations as these it is dangerous to base any positive conclusions, but there seems considerable likelihood of a family feud out of which Sebeknofru emerged the victor. It would be the second time in Egyptian history that a woman succeeded in establishing herself as 'King of Upper and Lower Egypt', but so abnormal a situation contained the seed of disaster. After Sebeknofru, as after Nitocris, there followed a succession of kings none of whose reigns, so far as can be seen, exceeded three years. From Whatever cause, the glorious Middle Kingdom had finally broken down.

Considering the large number of private stele which can with confidence be assigned to Dynasty XII, it is disappointing that so few throw light upon individual events or prevailing conditions. Only a minority are dated, and most rest content with the stereotyped wish for 'all things good and pure on which the god lives' followed by the title and name of the owner and an enumeration of the members of his family. Laudatory epithets are not uncommon, but such claims as to have been 'truly loved of his lord' and 'cleaving to the path of him who adorned him' are often all that we are permitted to learn about the person in question. Is it illusion to suppose that the hand of the sovereign now weighed even heavier than of old upon his subservient subjects, and that under the new autocracy the cult of personality was deliberately discouraged? We must not exaggerate, however, and it seems appropriate here to mention a few sources that illumine different aspects of the life of the period, though it will be left to those more adventurous to attempt to combine these into a comprehensive picture. Here again a work of fiction is the most colorful source. Nothing could be more picturesque that the account given of Sinuhe's return to Egypt. After a highly honored life in Palestine, assailed by the longing to be buried in the land of his birth, he wrote a humble petition to Senwosre I, then occupying the throne of the Pharaohs. A free pardon having been granted for his precipitate flight many years before, he was met at the frontier by ships laden with good things. On arrival at It-towe he was at once conducted all dust-bespattered and unshorn into the royal presence, where the monarch welcomed him with a few kind words which his trepidation barely suffered him to understand.

The royal Children were ushered in. Then His Majesty said to the Royal Consort: Behold Sinuhe, who is come as an 'Aam, an offspring of Setyu-folk. She gave a great cry and the Royal Children shrieked out all together. And they said to His Majesty: It is not really he, O Sovereign my lord! And His Majesty said : Yes, it is really he!

In this story we come closer to reality than perhaps in any other piece of ancient writing, but the rest of the tale must not be allowed to detain us. A glimpse of legalistic procedure may be seen in a long inscription carved upon the wall of Prince Hapdjefai's tomb at Asyut. Here are set forth at length the paragraphs of contracts made with the priesthood of the local temple. Hapdjefai had appointed a 'soul-servant' to attend to his funeral cult after his death, endowing him with land, serfs, and cattle as inducement for the loyal discharge of his duties. By a series of exchanges with the priests offerings to his statue were ensured throughout the year. One cannot read the elaborate stipulations of these contracts without realizing that strict rules of property lie behind them, for instance a distinction between what the prince owned by virtue of his office. Much information concerning the internal administration of the temples would, with closer study, be gathered from the mass of papyri discovered in a chamber of the pyramid-town of El-Lahun. As an example a document may be quoted where the daily payments to the various members of the temple staff are recorded, the superintendent at their head receiving sixteen variously sized loaves of bread and eight jugs of beer. The staff payments represented, however, only a sixth part of the daily revenue of the temple, the bulk being disposed of to 'soul-servants', but to whose we are not informed. Another papyrus fragment of administrative interest was found at Haraga, a Dynasty XII site only a couple of miles away. This is a memorandum of the days spent in measuring fields, assessing taxes, and reporting on the subject to the overseer of land of the Northern District. It would be quite in keeping with Egyptian habit if the statement of the duties of the vizier inscribed in several tombs of Dynasty. XVIII really referred to conditions four centuries earlier, but of this we cannot be sure, and the sparseness of our material and the stage thus far reached in our studies make any attempt at a synthesis very precarious.

The site of El-Lahun excavated by Petrie proved to be of exceptional interest, since it yielded the remains of a town all of one period, revealing an unexpected degree of town-planning and a mass of furniture, implements, and ornaments almost unique in the land of the Pharaohs. The houses of the wealthy, built of brick like those of the poor, all possessed an atrium bordered by columns and with a limestone tank in the center. 'The roofing was usually of beams, overlaid with bundles of straw, and mud-plastered; but many roofs of brickwork remain, some entire, others with only the lower part. The doorways were always arched in brickwork, and we know now for certain that the arch was not only known, but was in constant use by the early Egyptians. A wall ran around three sides of the town, leaving it open to the Nile plain on the south. Within, a main street surrounded a main block of houses, minor streets running between the buildings. Besides the mass of temple accounts and correspondence later found in the temple itself, papyri dealing with various topics were gathered from many of the houses, the difficult task of their decipherment being one of the outstanding achievements of that great scholar F.Ll. Griffith. One medical work deals with women's diseases, and a veterinary fragment with those of animals. Then there are wills from which we learn that a man was able to bequeath pretty well as he chose not only his house and chattels, but also such an office as that of director of a phyla of lay-priests. In another case a wife was left, among other things, four 'Aamu, Asiatic slaves. Such documents had to be formally witnessed, and deposited in the house of the Recorder. Censuses of households were taken and similarly registered. In a word, the busy life of this important local community was regulated by strict administrative measures, the extent and co-ordination of which can only be glimpsed from the surviving debris of manuscripts.

Elsewhere a tomb-wall or else a Stele may illustrate some side of life not yet mentioned. One official tells how he was sent to the Oasis to round up some fugitives. At Bersha a famous scene depicts the dragging of a colossal statue to its destination, not less than 172 soldiers belonging to the Hare nome being engaged in the undertaking. Soldiers of outstanding valor might receive valuable gifts from the king, perhaps a dagger and a bow chased in gold; the Sebekkhu who distinguished himself in Palestine was rewarded not only with these but with sixty serfs as well. Important missions might be entrusted to particularly esteemed officials. Thus Senwosre III sent his chief treasurer Ikhernofre to Abydos there to equip the temple of Osiris with splendid furniture encrusted with gold, silver, and lapis lazuli, and whilst on the spot he directed the dramaticceremonies simulating the tragic life of the murdered god. Before ending his chapter reference must be made to some of the more important monuments of the period which have escaped destruction. At Heliopolis a solitary obelisk still stands a witness to the great temple which Senwosre I erected there, as recorded also in a leather document already mentioned. At Karnak gleaming in limestone blocks later used in the construction of the Third Pylon have been reassembled into a small but beautiful jubilee chapel of the same king. It is possibly due to its remoteness that a modest temple excavated by the Italians at Medinet Madi in the Fayoum province is better preserved than other sanctuaries of the kind elsewhere. To characterize the are of Dynasty XII satisfactorily is hardly possible here, but a least it may be said that it displays differences from all that had gone before which even the unpracticed eye can detect. The conventions are the same, the different models are the same, and yet there are palpable differences. In particular one may note the grimness and determination of the sculptured features of the Pharaoh, the supreme masterpieces being the obsidian head of Ammenemes III formerly in the Macgregor collection and the Moscow statuette of the same king.

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Last Updated: June 20th, 2011