Ancient Egypt: History and culture
Ancient Egyptian History: Dynasties 12 to 17 - The Middle Kingdom and the rule of the Hyksos

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Egyptian history: Map of the Middle Kingdom

Canopic Jar of Inpuhotep; Source: Egyptian Museum website
Canopic Jar of Inpuhotep
(holding his entrails)
12th dynasty
Source: Egyptian Museum

Wadi Hammamat
Overland connection to the Red Sea through Wadi Hammamat


A compilation of pictures
Shrine of Senusret I
Source:Tulane University website



Amenemhet III Sphinx
Amenemhet III sphinx







Chariot introduced
during the rule of the Hyksos


Dynasties XII to XVII
The growth of the middle class and the conquest of the Hyksos

Middle Kingdom

12th Dynasty, c.1991-1786 BCE

    The 12th dynasty which, according to Manetho had seven kings, was founded by Amenemhet I, Mentuhotep IV's vizier, (1991 BCE), and worked hard to restore royal prestige, seriously damaged by civil war and periodic famine. Its kings, moving their capital to Itjtawy, reduced the power of the provincial rulers and fostered the growth of a loyal central elite, using propagandistic literature to encourage recruitment of able civil servants and their unconditional allegiance, and transform the royal image from that of an insecure war leader to that of a confident, semidivine ruler. They continued the tradition of pyramid building and were buried in the Fayum region and at Dahshur.
    The external situation remained dangerous. The northern Nubian and Sinai buffer zones were reoccupied and, for the first time, heavily fortified. Foreign trade expanded and diplomatic contacts were established, but Egyptian activity was more confined than during the Old Kingdom.
    Social change was considerable. People had become more conscious of their rights, and royal policies had to both satisfy and temper this tendency. Religion was affected: funerary beliefs and rituals once largely restricted to kings, their immediate family and close followers, spread throughout all classes.
    During the First Intermediate Period Egyptians had been less dependent on the state which had virtually disintegrated, stressing their economic self-sufficiency. Under the 12th dynasty royal policies encouraged the growth of a middle class, whose members were buried in well-furnished tombs and active at cult centers such as Abydos. Osiris, formerly a royal funerary god, became accessible to all.
    Architectural remains become more varied. At Kahun, a large town was divided up into zones of better and poorer housing, reflecting significant socio-economic stratification; superbly designed fortresses were built in Nubia; and the ground plans of several temples have survived. Some kings built cenotaphs at Abydos, where many private memorial chapels of unique type have also been discovered recently.
    Funerary remains continue to be the best source of art forms. At Thebes a new type of royal tomb developed, culminating in the unique terraced monument of Nebhepetre topped, not by a pyramid, but by a cubical version of the primeval mound. The pharaohs of the 12th dynasty, anxious to be identified with the autocratic Old Kingdom, revised the classic complex pyramid but included unusual subterranean elements evoking the mythical tomb of Osiris. Royal statues were often idealized, but some depicted a care-worn and more realistic figure. The elite continued to be buried in mastabas and rock-cut tombs, decorated first in awkward but striking styles reflecting the breakdown of the ancient stylistic norms, but later returning to more sophisticated, traditional modes.
    Amenemhet I, (Ammenemes I) , murdered in 1962 BCE, overthrew the Theban rulers of Egypt to found the 12th Dynasty about 1991 BCE. He campaigned against the Libyans and the nomads in the Sinai. There he erected the Wall of the Prince to guard the eastern borders. He also built a trading post in Nubia at Kerma. He moved his capital from Thebes to central Egypt (on the border of Upper and Lower Egypt) and named it Itj-Tawy, "Seizer of Two Lands." Among his many wives was Nefrutotenen, mother of Senusret I. Amenemhet made Senusret I co-ruler in 1971 BCE.
    Amenemhet's line, from non-royal origin, began a golden age for Egypt. The 'Testament of Amenemhet', included in the Milligan Papyrus and the Papyrus Sallier II, was written as a commemorative following Amenemhet's death. The 'Testament' defines royal obligations and the needs of the people. It states that there are perils awaiting a king who is not wary of those around him. It also states that loneliness and personal sacrifice make for a good king.

The teachings of Amenemhet
The inscription of Khnumhotep I

    Senusret I (Sesostris), (1971-1928 BCE) who had not been appointed successor yet, secured the throne for himself after Amenemhet's assassination, by executing the plotters and publicizing his father's testament, The Teachings of Amenemhet, which became an Egyptian literary classic. He conquered Lower Nubia (Wawat) and controlled it by building a number of fortresses, among them Buhen. The economic importance of the region lay in its mines and quarries - gold in the Wadi Allaqi, amethyst in the Wadi el Hudi and gneiss at Toshka. To the east in the Red Sea region, expeditions were led to Wadi Hammamat, Gawasis and Gasus. Senusret I was succeeded by his son Amenemhet II.

    Amenemhet II was co-ruler with his father Senusret I for three years. Upon his father's death, Amenemhet II became the third king of the 12th Dynasty. His only campaign was in Nubia. Instead of military expeditions he directed his attention toward internal affairs and the nomarchs. These nomarchs were nobles of Egyptian provinces, or nomes, and served as the kings representatives. Raising their own armies, they defended their own borders.

The inscription of Khnumhotep II, description of four generations of Middle Kingdom noblemen.
The inscription of Thuthotep, the nomarch of the Hare nome.

    Senusret III, 1878-1843 BCE, fixed Egypt's southern border above the second cataract of the Nile. He also waged campaigns aimed at combating the Libyans of the Western Desert and retaining Egyptian influence and trade ties with Syria and Canaan. He supervised the design and construction of numerous public works and curbed the power of the nobility. These efforts led to an ever greater centralisation of the administration and concentration of power in the capital, with an accompanying growth of well-being, and a decline of the provinces.

The Semna Stelae of Senusret III
Earliest mention of a campaign in Canaan (Stela of Khusobek)

    Amenemhet III (Nimaatre) (1817-1772 BCE) completed the building of the great waterwheels of the Fayum, thus diverting the flood waters of the Nile into Lake Moeris. The irrigation system and an overflow canal, was used to drain the marshes. An estimated 153,600 acres of fertile land was reclaimed from the water.
    Amenemhet raised two colossal statues of himself nearby to celebrate this feat. Among his many achievements was the famous Labyrinth, also known as the Pyramid of Hawara, one of the great wonders of the ancient world. The central burial chamber of the pyramid, carved from a single block of granite, is estimated to have weighed 110 tons. His pyramidal tomb was built at Dashur, which he abandoned in favor of the Hawara Pyramid.
While most kings were forgotten by the population a short while after their deaths, Amenemhet III was still remembered in the region in Ptolemaic times, and children were named after him.[1]
    Under Amenemhet copper was mined in the Sinai and local mines, often under dreadful conditions for the miners.
    According to two missives Amenemhet prevented a migration of starving Nubians into Upper Egypt by providing food aid, sending bread and beer to the drought stricken region.[1]

Asiatics in Egyptian Household Services18th century BCE
Description of Asiatic life from the Tale of Sinuhe

Second Intermediate Period

13th Dynasty, 1786-1633 BCE

Manetho assigns sixty kings to this dynasty, and a reign of 453 years, numbers which are certainly inaccurate.

    With the decline of the 13th Dynasty, Egypt lost much of its power and cohesion. The military leaders and soldiers stationed in Nubia became more and more independent. Some of them may even have permanently settled in Nubia. The fortresses built along the Eastern border were either abandoned, or control over who passed the borders was not as strict as it used to be. Canaanite nomads entered the country freely.
    Most of these Canaanites settled and became traders, farmers or craftsmen, but at least one of them, Khendjer, became a king. By the end of the 13th Dynasty, the Eastern Delta was populated mostly by Asiatics.

14th Dynasty, c. 1786-1603 BCE

According to Manetho the 14th dynasty was from Xois and comprised seventy-six kings who ruled for 184 years. The dynasty is very obscure.

15th and 16th Dynasties: the Hyksos, c. 1684-1567 BCE

Map of the Realm of the Hyksos     Weakened by internal problems, Lower Egypt was taken over seemingly with little fighting by the invading or perhaps just immigrant Hyksos, who set up two contemporaneous dynasties. The 15th dynasty (1674-1567) of the great Hyksos kings, which according to Manetho consisted of six kings, dominated the, according to Manetho, 32 Hyksos vassal chiefs of the 16th dynasty (1684-1567). Alternatively this was a dynasty of five kings ruling at Thebes.
    Greek writers, beginning with Manetho, called them "Hyksos," which was mistranslated as "shepherd kings." Egyptians seem to have called these kings heqa-khasut, rulers of foreign lands, but they generally referred to invading foreigners as amu, asiatics or shamu, sand-dwellers.
    The Hyksos were a Semitic (Canaanite or Amorite) people and may have come from southern Canaan or Syria. Evidence seems to point to their having had a nomadic life style.
    The dating and naming of the Hyksos kings is still quite uncertain. The foundation of their capital Avaris, which used to be referred to as Tanis, and the beginning of their domination of the Delta took place in about 1720, according to the 400 year stela of Ramses II found there, which describes the arrival of his father Seti, then Vizier of Horemheb at Tanis to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the adoration of Seth at Tanis. The Bible mentions the foundation of Tanis
22     ...(Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt)
Numbers, 13
    Their rule over Lower Egypt lasted from the conquest of Memphis by Salitis (Sheshi) in 1674, till their expulsion in 1567 BCE and was mainly a time of peace and prosperity. Major Hyksos cities or camps were at Tell el-Yahudiyeh, Heliopolis, Tell el-Maskhuta and Tell ed-Dab'a (Avaris).
    Egyptian religion was respected; Egyptian was the language of government; and many Egyptians served in the administration.
    Their most important contributions to Egyptian culture were perhaps the introduction of Canaanite deities such as the Storm God whom they identified with Seth, and Asian artifacts, which were instrumental in abrogating the despotism and isolationism of the Old and Middle kingdoms.
    Foreign culture became established at a few eastern Delta sites, and the Egyptians acquired new military techniques, such as the use of the horse-drawn chariot and the composite bow during this period. Their conquests were strengthened by a type of rectangular fortification of beaten earth used as a fortress; archaeologists have uncovered examples of these mounds in Canaan at Jericho, Sihem, and Lahish.

    The Hyksos seem to have behaved in accordance with Egyptian manners, laws, and theories of monarchy since the times of Khyan (Iannas, last third of the 17th century). It was also during his reign that Hyksos influence, political and economical, over Egypt and Canaan became more marked. They maintained tribute or trade relations with the Minoans and Babylonians and Egyptian artifacts bearing Khyan's name were found as far as Babylon, Knossos and Hatti. As so often happened in the ancient world, the foreign conquerors gradually adopted the ways of the conquered.

    But the Hyksos dream of being integrated into Egyptian society died within a century. The ruling family of Upper Egypt which originated from Thebes, waged war against the Hyksos kings. Apepi I Tao II Sekenenre (Auserre, c.1600 to 1560) tried unsuccessfully to counter the threat posed by Tao II (Sekenenre) and Kamose (Wadjkheperre) by entering into an alliance with the Kushites who had conquered Nubia. He killed Tao II in battle (though some think that Tao was assassinated), but had to retreat northward before Kamose to the vicinity of Avaris in the delta.

Skull of Tao II with multiple head wounds
G. Elliot Smith, Catalogue général des antiquités égyptiennes du musée du Caire, 1912, plate II

    In the end the Thebans forced Khamudi (Apepi II), the last king of the 15th (Hyksos) Dynasty to negotiate the withdrawal of the Hyksos army from Avaris and most of the Delta. The southern Pharaohs did not keep the agreement and Amosis (Ahmose I), the great general, drove the Hyksos out of Egypt by 1550 BCE after a decisive victory at Tanis.

Manetho about the Hyksos

17th Dynasty, c.1650-1567 BCE

Expulsion and pursuit of the Hyksos by Ahmose     The surviving records of Manetho concerning this dynasty are confusing. It sometimes seems to be identified with the 15th dynasty, alternatively 43 kings are given ruling at Thebes. Among them were Tao I Seakhtenre, Tao II Sekenenre, and Kamose who conducted the military campaign against the Hyksos. After their expulsion the Theban kings of the 18th Dynasty kept on raiding the Hyksos cities of the Middle East for many years to come.
    The role played by the queens of this epoch was at times crucial to the success of the Thebans and attested to in the tombs of the 18th dynasty. They didn't just provide legal continuity, but often led their armies after the demise of their husbands. The tomb of Queen Ahhotep, wife of Kamose, contained much weaponry and three golden flies, the Egyptian award for bravery.

The quarrel between Apepi I and Sekenenre Tao
Kamose inscription
Tomb inscription of Ahmose, son of Ebana : The expulsion of the Hyksos

[1] Schuller-G?tzburg, Thomas, "Did Egypt Give Food-AidTo Nubia?", GA/126 (1992), 93-94


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-[1] Cult of kings after their death: the success stories
-Middle Kingdom
-Middle Kingdom (2040-1640)
-Intermediate Period II
-Second Intermediate Period (1668 - 1570 BCE)
-Second Intermediate Period (1640-1540 BCE)
-Second Intermediate Period
-Second Intermediate Period
-Recent find of a warrior tomb with a servant burial in area a/ii at Tell el-Dab'a
-Amenemhat III: La vida intima de un faraón by Alejandra R. Cersósimo.
-El Reino Medio en Egipto: La figura de Amenemhat III by Alejandra R. Cersósimo.
-Archaeology and historical problems of the Second Intermediate Period by Bruce Williams
 - The new datum of 1540 NC
 Manetho?s Twelfth Dynasty and the Standard Chronology Manetho?s Twelfth Dynasty and the Standard Chronology by Gary Greenberg
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June 2010
October 2008
October 2000


- Alternative spellings:
Amenemhet: Amenemhat, Ammanemes, Ammenemes
Senusret: Usertesen, Senuseret, Senouseret, Senuseret I, Senouseret, Senwosret, Sesostris
Nefrusobek: Neferusobek, Neferusebek, Nefrousobek, Neferousobek, Sobeknefrure, Sobekneferure, Sobeknefroure, Sobekneferoure, Scemiophris
Sobekhotep: Sebekhetep, Sobekhetep, Sebekhotep