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Middle Kingdom. The Rise of Egypt

At the end of the third and second millennium BC, Egypt, along with the Two Rivers, remained the most advanced country in the world at that time. A number of new phenomena are observed in the public relations of Egypt at this time. In the last centuries, III thousand. Egypt broke up into semi-independent regions. Only gradually does a single state emerge again, significantly different from the state of the previous time. The new period was called the Middle Kingdom, which lasted about five hundred years, beginning at the end of the third millennium BC and ending around 1600 BC. At this time, according to Manetho’s list, there are 9 dynasties-from IX to XVII.

The Fall of the Ancient Kingdom and the rise of the Middle Kingdom

Egypt during the collapse of the Ancient Kingdom

Cube-shaped statue of Hetep. XII dynasty.

Cube-shaped statue of Hetep. XII dynasty.

By the end of the Ancient Kingdom, Egypt is becoming more and more noticeable — the increasing importance of the local, non-metropolitan nobility. The strengthening of the nomarchs under the VI dynasty is confirmed by the fact that during this period, the construction of their tombs on the ground increases. However, in general, under the VI dynasty, the nomarchs did not yet represent the highest nobility. Some of their representatives, such as the rulers of the Upper Egyptian nome Tin, who were related to the VI dynasty, could achieve significant influence in the country, but it is enough to compare the small, carved in the rocks and often poorly decorated tombs of the Upper Egyptian nomarchs with the huge tombs of the capital’s nobles, built of hewn stones and covered with reliefs and inscriptions, to see the difference in the social status of their owners.

In the inscriptions of the second half of the Ancient Kingdom, the nomarchs diligently describe their benefits to the “little” people. Apparently, during this period, in the struggle against the rule of the capital’s nobles, against the royal autocracy, the nomarchs, who were belittled in their importance, tried to use the common people-ordinary community members. The strengthening of the Upper Egyptian nomarchs, who, in contrast to the dominant stratum of the nobility, were apparently supported by wider circles of the population, eventually led to the disintegration of the country into semi-independent regions. The circumstances of the fall of the Ancient Kingdom are not exactly known to us, but the sources still contain information about how the general Egyptian power of the Pharaohs tended to decline.

The last prominent representative of the VI dynasty, Piopi II, was followed by several powerless rulers, known only from royal lists or later legends, such as the female pharaoh Nitokrid.

  • The dynasty is known only from Manetho (70 kings who ruled for 70 days!).
  • the dynasty, according to the same sources, was of Memphis, but the little that can be attributed to the time of its reign points rather to Upper Egypt as the part of the country over which it exercised its power.

The reign of the IX-XI dynasties was full of turmoil and various terrible events of internal struggle. It is possible that there were uprisings in the country, of which only vague or indirect news has reached us.

We will focus on this further, analyzing the data of the political literature of the Middle Kingdom period. The XI and X dynasties were originally from the city of Heracleopolis in northern Upper Egypt. Despite the drastic measures of the founder of the IX dynasty Ahtoya (Egypt. Kheti), whose notoriety reached the days of Manetho, the kings of Heracleopolis failed to firmly unite the country under their rule.

With Heracleopolis, Lower Egypt was reunited under the X dynasty. In the south, the Pharaohs of Heracleopolis took possession of the region of Tina. But they didn’t go any further south. In the teaching of the King of Heracleopolis to his son and successor Merikar (the most complete list of this teaching is kept in Leningrad, in the State Hermitage Museum) The old king advises the young to live in peace with the kingdom that has emerged in the south of Upper Egypt. This southern kingdom grew out of the Theban nome and spread south as far as Elephantine. The local lords (with the recurring name Intef), who initiated the XI dynasty, gradually turned from nomarchs to southern Egyptian pharaohs. However neighborly Heracleopolis might be toward the South, a clash between the two kingdoms was inevitable. The struggle was fought at first with varying success, but the final victory of the South was a foregone conclusion. In this war, the kings of Heracleopolis depended on their nomarchs, who sometimes almost surpassed the power of the kings. At the same time, the Theban nome, having overcome the opposition of its neighbors, united the southern part of the country into a fairly solid state. It is believed that the Theban nome was made easier to solve this problem by the presence of large tracts of fertile land, while the more southern nomes had only narrow strips of coastal soil.

Under the last pharaohs of the XI dynasty, who successively bore the name Mentuhetep, Egypt was already united again. We read again in the inscriptions about the victories over the surrounding tribes and about the trips to the quarries and even to the Southern Red Sea Coast. Stone construction is also flourishing in Egypt.

The state of the productive forces of Egyptian society after the fall of the Ancient Kingdom

A statuette of the scribe of Iri. XII dynasty. Granite. height 16.8 cm

A statuette of the scribe of Iri. XII dynasty. Granite. height 16.8 cm

The disintegration of the country after the Ancient Kingdom into semi-independent, or even hostile, nomes and even kingdoms could not but react disastrously to the drainage and irrigation network, which required coordinated supervision and management. The water distribution network was the basis of Egypt’s economic well-being, and it is not surprising that the inscriptions of the time of the collapse, between the VI and XII dynasties, are full of reports of cases of famine, sometimes leading the population to cannibalism. The ruler of one of the main Upper Egyptian nomes (Siut) in the days of the X dynasty considered it a remarkable achievement of his reign that he dug a clogged canal that could supply water in the hottest weather, built a canal for his city when the rest of Upper Egypt could not see water, made the river flood the old places, stopped disputes over water and was rich in barley when the country was “stranded”. About another Egyptian region, it is known that by the time of the X dynasty, there were such swamp thickets that during civil strife they served as a shelter for people. All this strongly demanded a new unification of the country. At the same time, the collapse of the centralized despotism could not but cause a certain revival of local economic activity, for the further successful development of which, however, also required the unification of the country.

Social conditions, which favored a certain increase in the initiative of individual producers, made it possible at this time to achieve a number of improvements in agricultural technology. Since the XI dynasty, plows with a steep turn of the handles, which made it easier to push when plowing, have become very popular. Some improvement was the replacement, which occurred no later than the XI dynasty, of a grain grater lying on the ground, with a grain grater fitted obliquely on a stand. The flour was now being ground into a receptacle in the front. The hard work of grinding the grain by hand between the two millstones was somewhat easier, since the worker on the grain grinder no longer had to kneel. Also, no later than the XI dynasty, a device for squeezing fruit was transformed — a bag twisted with poles with a dummy vat. The bag and vat were placed inside a wooden rig, and the squeezing was done with just one pole, which was much more convenient.

During the XI dynasty, measures were actively taken to deliver raw materials, which were poor in the Nile Valley; there was a noticeable desire to simplify relations with the places of extraction of this raw material. For example, in the biography of the “treasurer of God”, that is, the pharaoh’s trusted deliverer of valuables, we have received a message about his trips to many mountain crafts and bringing copper, turquoise, lapis lazuli, etc.to the king. The government ship went for the incense resin to the Southern Red Sea region by the shortest route. He did not start from the north, but from a place near the present Koser, in the latitude of the quarries often visited in the Middle Kingdom. The road through the desert to the place of departure of the ships was now provided with wells.

The formation of the slave system in Egypt

Sources dating back to the beginning of the Middle Kingdom indicate the existence of private slave ownership, and in a fairly large scale for such an ancient period. One dignitary — possibly by purchase-acquired 20″ heads ” of people. The other person had 31 “heads”. For the first time in the Middle Kingdom, servile people were called” Heads”. In the Middle Kingdom time tale, in which the action is attributed to the time of the Pharaohs of Heracleopolis, even the subordinate person of the nobleman owns 6 “heads”. “Heads” passed from hand to hand and in the order of inheritance. Thus, the senior cattleman of the XI dynasty boasted in his inscription that his father’s people had come to tom as the property (“things”) of his grandfather and grandmother, and his own people were the property of his father and mother, as well as his personal property acquired by himself. At the same time, as the inscription says, he was “rich in oxen” and was “the son of a rich man in oxen”, the owner of donkeys, fields, and a threshing floor.

Slave ownership in the farms of private individuals, including ordinary community members, is developing significantly.

Hunting on the Nile. Painting of the tomb in Thebes. Middle of the second millennium BC.

Hunting on the Nile. Painting of the tomb in Thebes. Middle of the second millennium BC.

Images of slaves also survived from the Middle Kingdom period. So, in one image, a slave is shown at hard work-grinding grain with a grain grinder. Among the slaves were foreigners.

Together with the Ancient Kingdom, the huge farms of the capital’s nobles are becoming a thing of the past. There are many smaller farms in the country.

Since the end of the Ancient Kingdom, sources begin to mention along with “big people”, i.e. the highest nobility, and “small” (nejes). In the subsequent time, but not later than the beginning of the XII dynasty inclusive, sources constantly talk about them.

The” small ” Middle Kingdoms, judging by their inscriptions, often turn out to be rich, even large dignitaries with high court and state titles. In their biographies, people who call themselves “small” willingly emphasize the successes achieved by “their own hand” and their military prowess. In the days of the XI dynasty, even the noble nomarchs proudly called themselves “strong little ones”.

The appearance of many farms in the country, which, due to their insignificant scale, did not produce all the things necessary for the economy, but had a certain surplus of some products, contributed to the development of exchange. One story tells how, during the IX-X dynasties, a villager from the Salt Oasis (now Wadi Natrun) he went to buy bread and the capital; he carried local products for sale. Under the XI dynasty, a small private farm sold its own fabrics to the side. Although grain remained a common means of valuation and payment (along with it, clothing was also readily paid), it is noteworthy that after the fall of the Ancient Kingdom, copper is more often mentioned as part of the payment for services.

Thus, a characteristic feature of the composing Middle Kingdom is a sharp increase in the role of medium and small slave farms. During this period, there is also a well-known increase in commodity-money relations.

The role of norms

At the time of the weakness of the royal power under the IX and X dynasties, the independence of the nomarchs was especially great. Another ruler, without openly calling himself a king and recognizing in words the rights of his “lord” to establish him in the rank of nomarch, essentially behaved like a king: he kept a chronology according to the years of his own reign, called himself the son of a local deity in imitation of the Pharaoh’s title “son of Ra”, etc. The military forces of individual nomarchs could be quite significant at that time. Tefib, the powerful ruler of the Siuta region in the middle part of the country, to whose support the X dynasty owed its temporary reprieve in the struggle against the South, boasted of the victory won by his army even over the combined forces of the southern kingdom.

When the disintegration of the country into separate and hostile kingdoms, so disastrous for the development of agriculture, was eliminated, the significance and role of the nomarchs still did not change significantly. They have only become more obedient to the supreme authority. Even when the founder of the new, XII dynasty, Amenemhat I, took the throne and began to revive the Egyptian state in its ancient form, the position of the nomarchs remained essentially unshaken.

The rise of the Middle Kingdom

The development of productive forces in the heyday of the Middle Kingdom

Map of Ancient Egypt during the Middle Kingdom

Map of Ancient Egypt during the Middle Kingdom

In the field of the development of productive forces during the heyday of the Middle Kingdom, significant progress was made. First of all, it should be noted that from the time of the XII dynasty, a certain number of objects, including tools of production, have been preserved from an alloy of copper with tin, where the share of the latter is so significant that it is impossible to call the alloy otherwise than bronze. Some of the figurines made of it can be attributed to the time before the XII dynasty. However, the vast majority of the metal objects found during the Middle Kingdom period were made of copper without artificial melting. The types of tools in the Middle Kingdom were noticeably multiplied and improved. There are new types of cutting tools, one of them is quite a complex device. The metal part of the axes of that time was much larger than in the old days, and it was more firmly attached to the ax handle.

However, stone tools continued to exist in the Middle Kingdom. In the city ruins of the time of the XII dynasty, not far from the then capital and very close to the royal pyramid, flint axes, adzes, knives, small scrapers or knives, sickle blades were found. There was also a leather bag, in which — just as in ancient times-lay side by side the remains of copper tools, pieces of flint knives and flint knives. In two tombs of the time of the XI and XII dynasties-although a little further from the capital-the production of flint knives was depicted. These facts point to a certain stagnation of technology in the slave-owning society of Egypt.

Nevertheless, under the XII dynasty, a new branch of the craft — glassmaking-begins to be clearly outlined.

With the beginning of the XII dynasty, as a result of the reunification of the entire country, the state of the irrigation network significantly improved. News of the famine is abruptly reduced. By the end of the twelfth dynasty, large tracts of fertile land had been reclaimed by drainage near the lake that lies at the junction of Upper and Lower Egypt in the western desert, in what is now called Fayum. When after the XII dynasty came the time of endless troubles, followed by a new decline in irrigation farming: in the inscriptions from this time again frequent references to the famine years.

In the field of agricultural technology during the XII dynasty, there are indications of the appearance of plows, anticipating the plows of the New Kingdom with vertical handles.

Images of the time of the XII dynasty speak of an innovation in cattle breeding: along with the ancient breed of sheep with spreading horns, a new breed appears, with bent horns; this breed was destined to replace the first one over time.

Development of Egypt’s external relations

Under the 12th dynasty, Egypt’s foreign relations expanded. The deposits of copper and turquoise in the Sinai Peninsula were covered with Egyptian inscriptions during the 12th dynasty. Near some deposits, inscriptions appeared then for the first time. For the first time, at the beginning of the 12th dynasty, we hear about the development of copper mines by the Egyptians in Northern Ethiopia, between the Nile and the Red Sea. Piles of waste left over from that time in various mines indicate a significant amount of copper mining in them.

Paintings of the walls of the tombs of the XII dynasty. Tomb of Khnumhotep II. A shepherd with antelopes.

Wall paintings of tombs of the XII dynasty. Tomb of Khnumhotep II. A shepherd with antelopes.

Gold, which had been used liberally in the Middle Kingdom, was now mined not only in Upper Egypt — in the Eastern Desert, but also in Ethiopia. Goldsmiths reached the end of the XII dynasty amazing skill in the manufacture of headdresses. Judging by the findings, during the Middle Kingdom, it seems that more silver was used than during the Ancient Kingdom.

Close ties were established with the supplier of the choicest wood — Phoenicia, where the city of Byblos became so Egyptian that some of its rulers ordered their seals and utensils to be inscribed in Egyptian, calling themselves the same title as the nomarchs in Egypt.

Connections were maintained with the Northern Mediterranean. During the Middle Kingdom, Cretan dishes were used in Egypt, and Egyptian products were used in Crete.

The situation of slaves in Egypt

The monuments of the heyday of the Middle Kingdom allow us to give an idea of the situation of the exploited masses and the nature of the exploitation of that time. Two features are most important here: on the one hand, a significant development of slave ownership in private farms; on the other hand, a change in the position of farmers.

In the Middle Kingdom, ordinary officials and even non-officials often had people who belonged to them. The nobility, of course, had many more people – one dignitary of the XII dynasty took only 50 people with him to the quarries-but even among ordinary mortals, the number of people who belonged to them was quite significant.

Some of them served their masters and were called chashniki, kravchimi, escorts, others were farmers, gardeners, bakers, brewers, laundries, etc.

Servants and workers, each at his own work, are depicted on the walls of the master’s tombs, on the master’s funeral plates, as well as in the form of wooden figures placed in the tombs to serve the deceased.

In the paintings of the tombs of the nobility, the workers usually work together in the open air or in the workshop; the figures are already connected together, depicting a weaving, carpentry, bakery, etc.

Often, workers are explicitly called slaves. They are usually female slaves; male slaves are mentioned less frequently. Slaves are often found among persons who are not innocent, and among the rich there are many of them.

Often private individuals had, as the monuments indicate, “Syrians”, who, of course, should be attributed to slaves. On one of the monuments, we see two Syrians engaged in the personal economy of a certain employee of the supreme dignitary, either harvesting (the man reaps, the woman picks up the ears), or brewing.

There were quite a lot of wars during the Middle Kingdom, and a significant part of the foreign slaves probably came from captives. In the accounts of the wars of the XII dynasty with its western neighbors-the Libyans and southern Ethiopians-it is explicitly stated that these wars were accompanied by the capture of not only livestock, but also prisoners.

A bill of sale for Syrian slaves has been preserved: two women and children. From the time of the XII dynasty, there are two wills, in one of which the employee handed over his people to his brother-priest, and in the other-this brother already handed over 4 “heads” to his wife. Slaves were bequeathed, re-bequeathed, and allowed to be passed on to any of their children by the recipient. The Pharaoh also favored “heads”. One of the companions of the militant king of the XII dynasty, Senusert III, said that when he was enlisted in the royal bodyguards, he received 60 “heads”, and when he was promoted to the head of the bodyguards after the Ethiopian campaign, another 100 “heads”. In the fairy tale, a person appointed as a bodyguard was given “heads”. At the same time, the” heads “in both cases complain without land, although in the life of one of the figures of that time we read about awarding him 20″ heads”, as well as 50 arurs, i.e. over 13.67 hectares of arable land.

The fortress of the XII dynasty in Semna (Ethiopia). Reconstruction and plan.

The fortress of the XII dynasty in Semna (Ethiopia). Reconstruction and plan.

However, at the same time, the royal economy, nomarchs, and private individuals exploited people who could not be classified as slaves.

From the beginning of the 12th dynasty, two treaties of the nomarch with the priests of the local gods state that “every farmer of his land from the first fruits of his field”will contribute to the benefit of the priests. If he could make such promises to the priests, it is clear that the economy of the nomarch was based in some measure on the labor of farmers who cultivated each of their plots of land.

With the advent of the Middle Kingdom, there were some changes in the position of the farmers. The “royal” people, known to us in the days of the Ancient Kingdom as persons who were involved in the personal economy of the nomarchs in the time of suffering, are now often found in private farms.

In the tomb of a late Middle Kingdom dignitary, 20 “royal” people are listed as part of his household. Similar inscriptions are found on some other monuments. That they were farmers is proved by the use of the appropriate designation for them in the times immediately before and after the Middle Kingdom. “Royal” people-a general designation of the free agricultural population of Egypt in the first half of the New Kingdom. It is very likely that the “royal” farmers were called in the Middle Kingdom.

“Detachments”, as in the old days, were present on ships, but there are no monuments that would speak of detachments in the field, as we observed it in the Ancient Kingdom, or at least about the leaders, leaders, mentors, scribes of such detachments.

The situation of artisans in the Middle Kingdom

Some changes occurred during the Middle Kingdom in the position of artisans. If in the Ancient Kingdom only a few craftsmen reached a relatively well-off position, then in the Middle Kingdom such artisans are more common. From simple artisans, such as a laundress, brewer, potter, stonemason, goldsmith, coppersmith, etc., stone slabs with inscriptions and images, and even inscribed statues, have come down.

Artisans were united by occupation and collectively represented a certain social force. The stonemasons even formed a special “army” with developed management and divisions.

Officials, in particular the heads of artisans, judging by the images on their monuments, did not disdain the company of ordinary craftsmen, even sometimes they were related to them. The chiefs of the artisans were themselves experts in their craft, and some of them, like the common artisans, had adopted the craft from their fathers, while others were the children of minor officials or distant relatives of high-ranking people.

Socio-economic situation of settlements

But on the whole, for the whole period of the Middle Kingdom, the contrast between the upper and lower levels of society was striking. It can be seen firsthand in the ruins of the city near one of the royal pyramids of the middle of the XII dynasty (at the current El-Lahun at the entrance to the Fayum oasis). The working population lived incredibly crowded, in dwellings of a few tiny cells, while each rich house was a complex complex of many dozens of small rooms and several larger rooms.

Unfortunately, from the ruins of this settlement at the pyramid, it is impossible to form a clear idea of the living conditions in which the middle strata of the townspeople were located. And these strata have now acquired a certain significance in the life of society. Monuments are full of names of non-innocent “residents of the city”. They were relatives not only of minor but also of important officials, fathers and sons of dignitaries.

It would certainly be wrong to think of the” cities ” of the Middle Kingdom as cities in our sense. Both the town and the village may have been a community. From the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, there are hints of the existence of councils of officials in the cities. From the end of the Middle Kingdom, a court case has come down to us about the transfer of a slave girl along with her land plot to the city of Elephantine — hence, the “urban” community at that time was a legal entity that owned slaves and land.

The tsarist economy, of course, continued to exist during the Middle Kingdom. Such a characteristic phenomenon for the Ancient Kingdom, as food and clothing issues from the royal economy, continued in the Middle Kingdom. From the second half of it, parts of the court parish and expense books and other accounting records have been preserved. They can be used to see which people have constantly or occasionally used state food grants. These were common people-artisans, servants, as well as bodyguards, minor officials, minor and highest dignitaries, members of their families, even members of the royal family who lived in their own home. Those who were attached to the temple also received food from the royal household.

Nevertheless, in the second half of the Middle Kingdom, commodity-money relations are further developed.

At the end of the Middle Kingdom, gold became the measure of value: a dignitary pays another “60 debens of gold-gold, yes copper, yes clothing (and) grain”, i.e., pays a total amount of 60 debens of gold (deben = 91 g) in gold, copper, clothing and grain. At the beginning of the twelfth dynasty, we learn that in one case the services were paid in “silver, gold, copper, ointments, clothing, Lower Egyptian barley, wheat.” From this sequence, we can conclude that silver was still valued more than gold at that time. By the end of the Middle Kingdom, it was already twice as cheap as gold. Grain loans continued to be made, and the transactions for grain loans were, presumably, usurious in nature.

The rise of the Middle Kingdom

The heyday of the Middle Kingdom dates back to the time of the XII dynasty, which reigned around 2000 BC and held firm power until the beginning of the XVIII century BC. In more than two centuries, only eight pharaohs were replaced:

  • Amenemhat I,
  • Senusert I,
  • Amenemhat II,
  • Senusert II,
  • Senusert III,
  • Amenemhat III,
  • Amenemhat IV,
  • Pharaoh-woman of Nefrusebek.

Amenemhat I did not settle in the Theban region, but in the north, at the border of Upper and Lower Egypt, in a fortress, meaningfully called ” captured both lands “(“Ittaui”). This fortress became the capital of the XII dynasty. It was located not far from ancient Memphis (near the present village of Lisht), and a little to the south was the “Land of the Lake”, the current Fayum, where during the XII dynasty, as already mentioned, large areas of fertile land were taken away from the lake by drying and a new, rich fertile land district was created.

Political power during the Middle Kingdom

The strengthening of the tsarist power under the XII dynasty was facilitated by victorious wars with neighbors, which resulted in wars of conquest in the south. Ethiopia, whose gold mines were now well known and attracted Egyptian conquerors, had been invaded by the Egyptians under the first two kings of the new dynasty; but the final subjugation of Northern Ethiopia occurred under Senusert III. Several campaigns and the creation of powerful fortresses at the second rapids of the Nile secured Northern Ethiopia to Egypt. Foreign Ethiopians were allowed access to the Pharaoh’s newly acquired possessions only for trade or as an embassy. It is also known of Senusert III that he went to war against Palestine; it is not clear, however, to what extent such an invasion was accompanied by the subjugation of this country. Whatever it was, the glory of the pharaoh-warrior survived him for a long time. In the New Kingdom, he was considered the local god of Egyptian Ethiopia. Later legend, merging with his name vague memories of the Egyptian conquerors of the time of the New Kingdom, created a fabulous image of the conqueror of half the world Senusert, in Greek — Sesostris.

Statue of Amenemhat III (XIX century BC) Porphyry. Height 86.5 cm.

Statue of Amenemhat III (XIX century BC) Porphyry. Height 86.5 cm.

However, even under the powerful Senusert III, as under his predecessors, the ruling nomarchs still sat in the seats. Although some of them were planted in their own area by the king — there is a case when the area was deliberately cut out for one royal associate — the power of the nomarch was hereditary, passed from father to son or from maternal grandfather to grandson, and the king only approved the new ruler. One nomarch depicted 59 sovereign ancestors in his tomb. Even under Senusert I, the nomarch could keep a chronology not only according to the years of the royal, but also of his own reign. Usually the nomarchs were both the heads of the local priesthood and themselves the high priests of the local deities. The nomarchs led the army of their region. They managed both the arable land and the king’s flock in their nomes; the taxes paid to the royal house passed through their hands. Although the “house (household) of the nomarch” as an official and his “father’s house”, as well as the” herd of the king “and the” herd of the nomarch ” were strictly different, yet the nomarchs were and remained powerful people under the XII dynasty. Their power and wealth not only did not decrease, but, on the contrary, increased until the time of the reign of Pharaoh Amenemhat III. The tombs of one nomarch under Senusert II and another nomarch under Senusert III were richer than those of the previous rulers of the same nomes. The tomb of the second nomarch, a contemporary of Senusert III, depicts the delivery of an alabaster statue of the nomarch up to 7 m high from nearby quarries to the capital of the region; the nome warriors and priests took part in the delivery, i.e. dragged the statue on a sledge.

Along with the nomarchs, the court, the service nobility, which was the main support of the new pharaohs, was of great importance.

At the court were crowded, as in the days of the Ancient Kingdom, “friends” of the Pharaoh, in the highest administration sat “the heads of both white houses”, “the heads of both houses of gold”, “the heads of both granaries”, “the heads of works” , etc. As before, the supreme dignitary, he is also the mayor of the capital, headed the court and often combined in his person the management of different departments, except for the military.

Who were the top officials by their origin? Next to the representatives of the local nobility at the court and at the head of the state administration, many people of other origins could be seen. There were dignitaries who inherited their positions from their fathers, i.e. representatives of the hereditary nobility of the capital, and there were also those in whom you can see people who are not born. They were representatives of the service nobility, who owed their position and all the worldly benefits to the Pharaonic power. One can form an idea of their moods according to the words of the chief of the treasury under Amenemhat III: “He gives (i.e., he gives) money.” the king) gives food to those who accompany him, and he feeds those who follow his path; food is the king, and excess is his mouth.” From the strengthening of the power of the king, such persons could only benefit, and the pharaohs could rely on them in the fight against the nome nobility. The royal power was also supported by the close army that guarded the king.

Organization of the army

Paintings of the walls of the tombs of the XII dynasty. Tomb of Khnumhotep II. Catching birds.

Paintings of the walls of the tombs of the XII dynasty. Tomb of Khnumhotep II. Catching birds.

The armed forces of the Middle Kingdom were recruited from the mass of the population by regular selective conscription of young people. Foreign units were added to the Egyptian army, consisting mainly of Northern Ethiopian soldiers. The armament of the troops consisted of bows and arrows from the archers, shields, spears, axes or clubs from other fighters. As it seems, the innovation of the Middle Kingdom was a mobile cover, from under which two warriors with the longest spear struck the enemy on the powerful fortress walls.

But under the XII dynasty, we also see a special army, which was directly under the person of the pharaoh. These were the bodyguards, called, like the servants of the great lords, “escorts”, in this case – “escorts of the ruler”. The composition of the royal bodyguards was heterogeneous: some were apparently from among the nobility, but most, according to available data, were of non-noble origin. The nomarchs also had their own armed “guides”, but they certainly could not give them as generously as the Pharaoh, who gave his bodyguards several dozen people (“heads”) and rewarded them with golden weapons. Another, as if unborn, “guide of the ruler” felt like an important person, and an associate of Senusert III, who had served from bodyguards to “mentors” of bodyguards, had high titles of nobleman. He also called himself ” the one to whom the lord of both lands gave his meaning.” The Pharaoh could count on such warriors in the fight against the local nobility.

The struggle for power in the Middle Kingdom

The internal struggle in the society of the Middle Kingdom was intense even in the most “quiet” time, during the XII dynasty. The kings of the XII dynasty appointed their heirs as co-rulers during their lifetime, and they assumed the royal title during their father’s lifetime. The Pharaohs were constantly concerned about their safety. The capital of the XII dynasty was a fortress, its name “Ittaui” was circled with a sign depicting a fortress wall. The establishment of the bodyguard unit was primarily an event for the protection of the Pharaoh. Amenemhat I was attacked at night in his own bedchamber, which apparently cost him his life, despite his stubborn self-defense. According to Manetho, Amenemhat II was killed by court eunuchs, but it is possible that Amenemhat II is confused here with Amenemhat I.

The kings felt the insecurity of their surroundings and saw danger everywhere. Even in the time of the X dynasty, the Pharaoh, in his teaching to his son, instructed to tame the crowd, since the poor man is rebellious, to exterminate the troublemaker, dangerous in the number of his followers. In the mouth of Amenemhat I was put a warning to his son, advising him not to trust anyone at all. Detective work was at this time of unprecedented importance. One high-ranking official, boasting, called himself the one who stands “above the secret of the palace in the interrogation of the hidden heart”, “who recognizes the husband by what he has said”, the one “to whom the womb has exposed what is in it”, etc. Another dignitary, a contemporary of Senusert II, called himself “the king’s confidant in suppressing the troublemaker”, to whom the” wombs ” of people also opened their contents. Another was “the king’s tongue in testing men, in punishing the obstinate in heart.” The supreme dignitary and judge under Senusert I was called “the humbler of those who rise up against the king”. An enthusiastic adherent of Amenemhat III exclaimed: “There is no tomb to him who rises against his majesty, his corpse (i.e., the rebel) is that which throws itself into the water.”

A sample of an Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription. Hoonenu's memorial stone. IX dynasty. Limestone.

A sample of an Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription. Hoonenu’s memorial stone. IX dynasty. Limestone.

By the middle of the Middle Kingdom, we can date the compilation of the numerous written curses that have come down to us to the enemies of the Pharaoh, not only external, but also internal.

It wasn’t just the Pharaoh who was in trouble. As in the days of the XI dynasty, the nomarchs made their exits and trips accompanied by armed guards, they also had their own armed “guides”. Under Senusert I, the nomarch described himself in this way in his inscription: “I am the one who removes pride from the arrogant, who silences the loquacious, so that he (no longer) speaks. I am the chastiser of thousands of rebels, the love of my domain, the ardent of heart, (when) he sees every criminal. I am the one who drives the robber out of my domain…” The Nomes, too, were evidently uneasy, if the rebels were counted in the ” thousands.”

It was said of Amenemhat I that he had removed “sin” from the land, restored what one city had captured from another, and made them know their borders. But the same was then said of Senusert II, who reigned a century later. Both under Amenemhat I and at the end of the reign of Senusert I, some nomarchs depicted on the walls of their tombs battles between the Egyptians — up to the siege of fortresses — following the example of their sovereign predecessors of the time of the XI dynasty.

The fear of reprisals was so acute that a courtier named Sinuhet, who went with the future Senusert I in the Libyan campaign, only heard about the death of Amenemhat I, from the very thought of possible turmoil after the death of the king, immediately fled from the tsarevich’s camp to Syria. This is told by his artistically processed biography — the so-called “Story of Sinuhet”; there is no reason to doubt the possibility of the incident being told.

The time of the greatest power of state power in the Middle Kingdom coincides with the reign of Amenemhat III. Little is known about his long reign, despite the fact that many monuments from these years have survived. He alone left a structure that can be compared to the monuments of the time of the Ancient Kingdom. At the very entrance to the” Land of the Lake ” (Fayum), a huge stone building was erected, consisting of many chambers, thousands of rooms and passages with overlaps of gigantic slabs. There were only vague traces of the whole structure and scattered fragments, but the Greeks were still as surprised at it as they were at the great pyramids. Later, the Greeks called it the “Labyrinth”. The structure was destroyed, and now it is difficult to determine what it really was, but it is possible that it was a royal memorial temple with special compartments for the gods of the nomes. Apparently, by uniting the deities of the nomes in one temple around the person of the king, they wanted to bind the nomes themselves more firmly to the general Egyptian Pharaonic power.

It is important to note that with the accession of Amenemhat III, the chain of tombs of the nomarchs, hitherto continuous, is suddenly cut off. As you can see, Amenemhat III managed to break the power of the nomarchs. This, however, did not eliminate the complex social contradictions that had torn the society of Egypt during the Middle Kingdom. We have already said that, as the monuments show, both the pharaohs and the local nobility were always in alarm — enemies or rebels constantly threatened their power. With the sharpness of social contradictions, with the instability of the political situation in the country, it was enough to shake the state power slightly, so that all the contradictions were revealed with great force.

After Amenemhat III — the last and only king of the time of the Middle Kingdom who bore any resemblance to the powerful pharaohs of the Old Kingdom, two short — lived rulers, the second of whom was a woman, passed on the throne, and the twelfth dynasty was ended.

End of the Middle Kingdom

The weakening of the Egyptian State

We have seen that the period of the IX—XI dynasties was a period of the most serious internal upheavals in the history of Egypt. But the XII dynasty, which dates back to the heyday of the Middle Kingdom, could not firmly unite Egypt.

Nubian warriors. A wooden sculpture from the tomb of the nomarch in Siuta. The beginning of the Middle Kingdom.

Nubian warriors. A wooden sculpture from the tomb of the nomarch in Siuta. The beginning of the Middle Kingdom.

After the XII dynasty, Manetho names one dynasty from Thebes and one dynasty from Xois in the western part of the Delta-XIII and XIV in number. A badly damaged royal list, written during the New Kingdom period and kept in Turin, listed a great many royal names after the XII dynasty, of which only a part is found on the monuments of that time. This is not surprising: the duration of reigns, when it can be established from the fragments of the Turin list, usually does not exceed only a few years, or even months or days. The throne became a toy in the hands of the struggling forces, the kings were overthrown one by one. Some kings directly named their non-royal parents, while others retained names on the throne that did not sound at all royal. How to draw a line between the XIII and XIV dynasties, whether they followed one another or the XIV dynasty co-existed simultaneously with the XIII and subsequent ones in some corner of the Delta is an unclear question.

However, some of the kings of the XIII dynasty left large statues, detailed inscriptions, even traces of construction activities. The Egyptian state of the Middle Kingdom, as it was formed at the end of the twelfth dynasty, continued to exist under the thirteenth dynasty, despite the turmoil. Such a disintegration of the country, which followed the Ancient Kingdom, has not now been repeated. Moreover, the nomarchs have not even regained the position they had before Amenemhat III — you can meet the tomb of the nomarch in the spirit of the XII dynasty at the XIII dynasty, except as an exception. Excavations in the Phoenician city of Byblos proved that the XIII dynasty retained its influence there. Apparently, until the end of this dynasty, Northern Ethiopia also remained under Egyptian rule.

Hyksos rule in Egypt

The fatal blow to the weakened state was delivered from the outside. At the end of the Middle Kingdom, Egypt was conquered by newcomers from the East, whom Manetho called Hyksos. It is possible that behind this Manethonic name of the conquerors lies the self-designation of the alien kings: “the rulers of the (foreign) highlands”. The tribal composition of the conquerors could be varied. The names of some Hyksos kings included Semitic words. Over time, the Hyksos kings acted as pharaohs. They assumed their title, were called “sons of the Sun,” and declared themselves worshippers of the Egyptian gods. The latter, however, they did not succeed well, as they clearly preferred their new state god, who, although called Set in Egyptian, was perhaps only an identified foreign deity. One of the places of worship of Set was located just in the east of the Delta, where the conquerors mainly settled. Later, in the New Kingdom, it was customary to call the Syrian and Asia Minor gods “sets”. The foreign rule lasted at least 108 years. A century later, after the expulsion of the Hyksos (in the first half of the XVI century BC). temples were destroyed in the country, and up to the time of Manetho there was a legend about the Hyksos invasion as a terrible pogrom. But even under the foreign yoke, spiritual life did not die out in the country, and the Egyptians managed to pass on the legacy of the Middle Kingdom to the new period. Thus, one of the most remarkable scientific manuscripts (a large counting problem book) is marked with the year of the reign of one of the Hyksos kings.

The Hyksos made Avaris their capital in the very east of the Delta. They could not really unite Egypt under their rule. Over Thebes and the neighboring regions reigned the Egyptian kings-shabby, judging by their poor monuments, but as if all the same independent. Only two Hyksos kings, Khian and Apepi, extended their power, perhaps even to the south of Egypt, since there were found seals and stones with their names, the latter-about a hundred kilometers south of Thebes. It is not known whether the conquerors overthrew the southern royal dynasty or whether it continued to exist under their rule. In any case, at the end of the Hyksos rule in Thebes, there were kings who are considered to be the XVII dynasty. The 15th dynasty was made up of Hyksos. It is not clear whether the sixteenth dynasty was Hyksos or Theban. The surviving extracts from Manetho differ on this point.

The seventeenth dynasty marks the beginning of a stubborn struggle to expel foreign invaders from the Nile Valley, a struggle that marks the beginning of a new era in the history of Egypt — the period of the New Kingdom.

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