Ancient Egypt's 1st Intermediate Period

Egypt's Mummies

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The 1st Intermediate Period of ancient Egypt began when the Old Kingdom's centralized monarchy grew weak as provincial rulers called nomarchs became powerful, and ended when the Theban monarch gained control of all Egypt.

Dates of the 1st Intermediate Period of Ancient Egypt

2160-2055 B.C.

  • Herakleopolitan: 9th & 10th Dynasties: 2160-2025
  • Theban: 11th Dynasty: 2125-2055

The Old Kingdom is described as ending with the longest-reigning pharaoh in Egyptian history, Pepy II. After him, building projects in the cemeteries around the capital of Memphis stopped. Building resumed at the end of the 1st Intermediate Period, with Menhotep II at Deir el-Bahri in western Thebes.

Characterization of the 1st Intermediate Period

Egyptian intermediate periods are times when the centralized government weakened and rivals claimed the throne. The 1st Intermediate Period is often characterized as chaotic and miserable, with degraded art—a dark age. Barbara Bell* hypothesized that the 1st Intermediate period was brought about by a prolonged failure of the annual Nile floods, leading to famine and collapse of the monarchy.

But it was not necessarily a dark age, even though there are bragging inscriptions about how local rulers were able to provide for their people in the face of great adversity. There is evidence of thriving culture and the development of towns. Non-royal people gained in status. Pottery changed shape to a more efficient use of the pottery wheel. The 1st Intermediate Period was also the setting for later philosophical texts.

Burial Innovations

During the 1st Intermediate Period, cartonnage was developed. Cartonnage is the word for the gypsum and linen colored mask that covered the face of a mummy. Earlier, only the elite had been buried with specialized funerary goods. During the 1st Intermediate Period, more people were buried with such specialized products. This indicates that the provincial areas could afford non-functional craftsmen, something that only the pharaonic capital had done before.

Competing Kings

Not much is known about the early part of the 1st Intermediate Period. By the second half of it, there were two competing nomes with their own monarchs. The Theban king, King Mentuhotep II, defeated his unknown Herakleapolitan rival in about 2040, putting an end to the 1st Intermediate Period.


Herakleopolis Magna or Nennisut, on the southern edge of the Faiyum, became the capital of area of the Delta and central Egypt. Manetho says the Herakleapolitan dynasty was founded by Khety. It may have had 18-19 kings. One of the last kings, Merykara, (c. 2025) was buried at the necropolis at Saqqara which is connected with the Old Kingdom kings ruling from Memphis. First Intermediate Period private monuments feature the civil war with Thebes.


Thebes was the capital of southern Egypt. The ancestor of the Theban dynasty is Intef, a nomarch who was important enough to be inscribed on the walls of Thutmose III's chapel of royal ancestors. His brother, Intef II ruled for 50 years (2112-2063). Thebes developed a type of tomb known as a rock-tomb (saff-tomb) at the necropolis at el-Tarif.


  • Bell, Barbara. "The Dark Ages in Ancient History. I. The First Dark Age in Ancient Egypt." AJA 75:1-26.
  • The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. by Ian Shaw. OUP 2000.
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Gill, N.S. "Ancient Egypt's 1st Intermediate Period." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Gill, N.S. (2023, April 5). Ancient Egypt's 1st Intermediate Period. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Ancient Egypt's 1st Intermediate Period." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).