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Ancient Egypt: The end of the Old Kingdom
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The end of the Old Kingdom

The End of the Old Kingdom

Starving Bedouin. Saqqara; Fifth Dynasty, reign of Unis  Source: http://www.metmuseum.org     The Old Kingdom ended in chaos. Nothing certain is known about what happened, but it seems that the country declined gradually, perhaps due to bad government, or, more likely, due to a series of bad harvests, which resulted in widespread and recurrent famine.
    Unas (2381-2345) was the last king of the fifth dynasty. Depictions along his causeway at Saqqara show the effects of famine. But the climate change which brought about the collapse of the Old Kingdom came only in the 22nd century BCE. Low Niles [1], the drying out of Lake Moeris and subsequent bad harvest seem to have played a major part in it. Egypt suffered political upheavals during at least part of the First Intermediate period and with the armed conflict came war's traditional allies: hunger and disease.
    Regional and local officials were responsible for the hoarding and doling out of grain reserves. Nomarchs, free from supervision by an effective central power, may well have neglected these duties. Ankhtifi, nomarch of Hierakonpolis, supported the Herakleopolitans in their fight against the Thebans, but still managed (according to his autobiography) to prevent a famine and save the population of his nome from dying on the sandbank of hell.
    Merer at Edfu also seems to have administrated his district with efficiency under thirteen rulers
An offering which the king gives (and) Anubis, who is upon his mountain and in the place of embalming, the lord of the necropolis, in all his good and pure places: an offering for the revered one, the Sole Companion, Butler and Overseer of the slaughterers of the House of Khuu in its entirety, who says: I was the priest for slaughtering and offering in two temples on behalf of the ruler. I offered for thirteen rulers without a mishap ever befalling me....
... I buried the dead and nourished the living, wherever I went in this drought which had occurred. I closed off all their fields and mounds in town and countryside, not letting their water inundate for someone else, as does a worthy citizen so that his family may survive. When it happened that Upper Egypt barley was given to the town, I transported it many times. I gave a heap of white Upper Egyptian barley and a heap of
hmi-barley, and measured out for every man according to his wish...
Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, p. 87
and Iti's stela at Imyotru reports
An offering which the king gives (and) Anubis, who is upon his mountain and in the place of embalming, the lord of the necropolis: an offering for the revered one, the Royal Seal-bearer, Sole Companion, Seal-bearer of the God, Iti, who says: I was a worthy citizen who acted with his arm. I was a great pillar in the Theban nome, a man of standing in the Southland. I nourished Imyotru in the years of misery. Though four hundred men were in straits through it, I did not seize a man's daughter, nor did I seize his field....
Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, pp. 88f
    Even if the kings' power had become very limited, some of their servants at least continued to perform their duties where they had the power to do so. The royal chamberlain Seneni put his case before the gods in the best possible light, but we should always keep in mind that all these tomb inscriptions are rather self-serving, intended to improve the deceased's fate in the afterlife.
An offering which the king gives (and) Anubis, who is upon his mountain and in the place of embalming, the lord of the necropolis: an offering for the Eldest of the House Seneni, who says: I measured out Upper Egyptian barley as sustenance for this whole town in the gateway of the count and chief priest Djefi, in the painful years of distress. Having acted in the proper manner, I was praised for it by the whole town. Never did I do what everybody hates. The royal chamberlain Senen(i)."
Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, pp. 89f

    The Herakleopolitan legacy of social responsibility was not lost during the following Middle Kingdom. Many tracts extolling the virtues of justice and compassion were written during this period of literary flowering and added to the corpus of classical writings, which extended back to the Old Kingdom. They were copied and studied by aspiring scribes for centuries to come.


Source of the picture of the Starving Bedouin relief: Metropolitan Museum website
 
[1] According to analyses of the river floodplain sediments by Jean-Daniel Stanley et al. (Geoarchaeology 18, 2003)

--The Famine Stele
-A 6th dynasty tomb inscription
-The admonitions of Ipuwer
-The autobiography of Ankhtifi
 
-The First Intermediate Period
-History contents page
-Dynasty List
-Main Index and Search Page
 

Links

These are just suggestions for further study. I do not assume any responsibility for the content or availability of these websites.
 
The fall of the Egyptian Old KingdomAncient Apocalypse: The fall of the Egyptian Old Kingdom by Professor Fekri Hassan
Abrupt Climate Change in Ancient West Asia and the Eastern MediterraneanBeyond the younger Dryas: Collapse as Adaptation to Abrupt Climate Change in Ancient West Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean by Harvey Weiss (pdf, 8.4 MB)
Third millennium bc catastrophe and civilisation collapseThird millennium bc catastrophe and civilisation collapse by Bob Kobres
Sea-Floor Dust Shows Drought Felled Akkadian EmpireSea-Floor Dust Shows Drought Felled Akkadian Empire by Richard A. Kerr
Disaster that struck the ancientsDisaster that struck the ancients
The First Intermediate Period in EgyptThe First Intermediate Period in Egypt by Brian Yare
 

Feedback: Please report broken links, mistakes - factual or otherwise, etc. to me. Thanks.

 


 

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