The First Intermediate Period
The First Intermediate Period started (2181-2040 BC), after the end of the Old Kingdom. This term is current and was not used in ancient times. Today’s scholars use “Kingdom” to denote a period of stability in Egypt and “Intermediate” for a period of instability. With the death of the last king from the 8th dynasty, the central government at Memphis collapsed. This allowed the nomarch (local officials) to become stronger than the king and gain independence. Tombs with inscriptions or texts became available for more and more people. The inscriptions were supposed to guide the deceased to the afterlife, and everyone wanted such a guide. Though there were still kings, they had little power or control over Egypt. The first king of both the 9th and 10th dynasty was named Khety. Both dynasties claimed Herakleopolis as their capital, but the change of capital didn’t change the situation. Around 2125 BC, King Intef founded the 11th dynasty in Thebes. The changes that would later lead to unification commenced during his time. His successor Menuhotep I declared Thebes as the official capital and was the first to conquer neighboring nomarch, something that all the next kings of the 11th dynasty would continue to do. Wahankh Intef II proclaimed himself King of Upper and Lower Egypt, conquered many nomarchs and restored buildings. He built the first monument dedicated to the god Amon. After his death, his successor Nakhtnebtepnefer Intef III captured the city of Asyut from the Herakliopolitan kings. The later successor Mentuhotep II captured Herakleopolis and united Egypt. Soon after that, with the end of the 11th dynasty, the first Intermediate period ended.
The Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty
The first ruler of the 12th Dynasty was Amenemhat I (c. 1991-1962 BC). His reign marks the beginning of the Middle Kingdom. His dynasty ruled for 200 years and brought about major changes in Egypt’s culture. He left the city of Thebes and ruled from the city of Iti-Tawi. The exact location of the city is still unknown, but it was probably near Lisht, south of Memphis. Evidence shows that he had some problems at court at the end of his reign and that he was probably assassinated. His successor, Senusret I (c. 1971-1926 BC), followed a similar policy. He strengthened the power of the king by taking direct control over the army and the treasury. This brought stability in Egypt, which was used for a vast number of building projects like the Temple of Amon at Karnak or the White Chapel, which carries all the names of the nomarchs of the time. After his death, he was succeeded by Amenemhat II (c. 1929-1895 BC), for whom little is known. He was a co-ruler of Senusret I, a common practice in the Middle Kingdom that was used to prepare a successor for ruling Egypt. Amenemhat II was succeeded by Senusret II (c. 1897-1878 BC), who also was a co-ruler. Senusret II had good relations with the local nomarch and the local offices flourished, without creating any problems for the king. The carvings in tombs like the ones in Beni Hassan tell that, even though they gained power, they were still devoted to the king.
After the death of Senusret II, his successor, Senusret III (c. 1878-1860 BC) brought the golden age of the Middle Kingdom. During his period, the title nomarch was not mentioned in the official records, suggesting that the power of the officials declined, and they fell under direct control of the king. Senusret III led military campaigns in Nubia expending Egypt’s borders and in Palestine that increased trade relationships. All the prosperity and riches reflected on the religious culture of Egypt. People started to question the afterlife and took more pride in material goods and wealth. Many clay objects or statues are found with the names of enemies of the owner of those statues and objects. These were used in a ritual where a spell was recited before smashing the object, so the enemies whose names were written would be “smashed” too. People lived more for the present than for the afterlife. The more possessions they had, the more they were afraid to lose them. In the time of Senusret III, the cult of Osiris became very popular at Abydos, where it was believed that the head of the god was buried. The city grew in wealth and became the most popular place of pilgrimage.
Amenemhat III (c. 1860-1815 BC) succeeded Senusret III after his death. He dedicated his life to numerous building projects. One of the best known is The Labyrinth, a great temple at Hawara. His son and successor Amenemhat IV (c. 1815-1807 BC) continued the policy. In his time trade with Levant and Byblos flourished. The practice of co-ruler ceased during the rule of Amenemhat IV, as he didn’t have a male heir. After his death, his sister Sobekneferu (c.1807-1802 BC) took the throne. She built the city of Crocodilopolis in honor of the god Sobek, located south of Hawara. Her death ended the 12th Dynasty.
The 13th Dynasty and end of the Middle Kingdom
The 13th dynasty is still debated. The Turin King’s list does not mention kings that are not mentioned anywhere else, as well, but some that are found in inscriptions are not mentioned on the list. The period in which they ruled is also debatable. Manetho’s list of kings lists 60 kings that ruled for 453 years, which is virtually impossible. Scholars think that the number is 153, but even this duration is probably wrong because Hyksos became a power in Lower Egypt by 1720 BC. The kings of the 13th Dynasty continued the policy of the 12th Dynasty; however, they didn’t have the same strength and influence. Soon separate political entities began to take control in Lower Egypt. The most powerful of them was Hyksos who reigned Egypt in the Second Intermediate period. The end of the 13th Dynasty ended the Middle Kingdom, and started the next period of Egypt, the Second Intermediate period.