Ancient Egypt's Middle Kingdom Period

Sarcophagus Detail
Sarcophagus Detail.

Dates of the Middle Kingdom of Ancient Egypt

Running from the end of the first intermediate period to the start of the second, the Middle Kingdom lasted from about 2055-1650 B.C. It was composed of part of the 11th Dynasty, the 12th Dynasty, and current scholars add the first half of the 13th Dynasty.

Middle Kingdom Capital

When 1st Intermediate Period Theban king Nebhepetra Mentuhotep II (2055-2004) reunited Egypt, the capital was at Thebes.

Twelfth Dynasty king Amenemhat moved the capital to a new town, Amenemhat-itj -tawy (Itjtawy), in the Faiyum region, possibly near the necropolis at Lisht. The capital remained at Itjtawy for the rest of the Middle Kingdom.

Middle Kingdom Burials

During the Middle Kingdom, there were three types of burials:

  1. surface graves, with or without coffin
  2. shaft graves, usually with coffin
  3. tombs with coffin and sarcophagus.

Mentuhotep II's mortuary monument was at Deir-el-Bahri in western Thebes. It was not the saff-tomb type of previous Theban rulers nor the reversion to Old Kingdom types of 12th Dynasty rulers. It had terraces and verandahs with groves of trees. It may have had a square mastaba tomb. His wives' tombs were in the complex. Amenemhat II built a pyramid on a platform -- the White Pyramid at Dahshur. Senusret III's was a 60-m high mud-brick pyramid at Dashur.

Acts of the Middle Kingdom Pharaohs

Mentuhotep II made military campaigns in Nubia, which Egypt had lost by the 1st Intermediate Period.

So did Senusret I under whom Buhen became Egypt's southern border. Mentuhotep III was the first Middle Kingdom ruler to send an expedition to Punt for incense. He also built fortifications at Egypt's northeastern border. Senusret instituted the practice of building of monuments at every cult site and paid attention to the cult of Osiris.

Khakheperra Senusret II (1877-1870) developed the Faiyum irrigation scheme with dykes and canals.

Senusret III (c.1870-1831) campaigned in Nubia and built fortresses. He (and Mentuhotep II) campaigned in Palestine. He may have gotten rid of the nomarchs who had helped cause the breakdown leading to the 1st Intermediate Period. Amenemhat III (c.1831-1786) engaged in mining operations that made heavy use of Asiatics and may have led to the settling of Hyksos in the Nile Delta.

At Fayum a dam was built to channel Nile overflow into a natural lake to be used as needed for irrigation.

Feudal Hierarchy of the Middle Kingdom

There were still nomarchs in the Middle Kingdom, but they were no longer independent and lost power over the period. Under the pharaoh was the vizier, his chief minister, although there may have been 2 at times. There were also chancellor, overseer, and governors of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. Towns had mayors. The bureaucracy was supported by taxes assessed in kind on yields (e.g., farm produce). Middle and lower class people were forced into labor which they could avoid only by paying someone else to do it. The pharaoh also gained wealth from mining and trade, which appears to have extended to the Aegean.

Osiris, Death, and Religion

In the Middle Kingdom, Osiris became the god of the necropolises. Pharaohs had participated in mystery rites for Osiris, but now [rivate individuals also took part in these rites. During this period, all people were thought to have the spiritual force or ba. Like the rites of Osiris, this had formerly been the province of kings. Shabtis were introduced. Mummies were given cartonnage masks. Coffin texts adorned the coffins of ordinary people.

Female Pharaoh

There was a female pharaoh in the 12th Dynasty, Sobekneferu/Neferusobek, daughter of Amenemhat III, and possibly half-sister of Amenemhet IV. Sobekneferu (or possibly Nitocris of the 6th Dynasty) was the first ruling queen of Egypt. Her rule of Upper and Lower Egypt, lasting 3 years, 10 months and 24 days, according to the Turin Canon, was the last one in the 12th Dynasty.


The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. by Ian Shaw. OUP 2000.
Detlef Franke "Middle Kingdom" The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Ed. Donald B. Redford, OUP 2001