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Egypt – 12th Dynasty

End of the 11th Dynasty

Egypt’s 12th Dynasty lasted from circa 1985-1773 BC, which is listed on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History around that time. It began with the reign of Amenemhat I to the first attested female Egyptian monarch Queen Sobekneferu. After the chaos of the First Intermediate Period, Egypt was unified under the 11th Dynasty that ruled from Thebes. Mentuhotep II of Upper Egypt (c 2081–1938 BC) defeated the Herakleopolis-based 10th Dynasty so  by 1968 BC, he had reunited Egypt and ushered in the dawn of the Middle Kingdom. Egypt’s 11th Dynasty starting from Mentuhotep I to Mentuhotep IV lasted for 143 years. This ended with a coup, which the first 12th Dynasty pharaoh, Amenemhat took part in.

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Rise to Power

Amenemhat I (1985-1956 BC) was a vizier of the little-known Mentuhotep IV of the 11th Dynasty before his ascension as pharaoh. He was not of royal birth and may have usurped the throne through violence. The Prophecy of Neferty may have been composed to assert the legitimacy of his rule. Amenemhat is credited with moving the capital from Thebes to Amenemhat-itj-tawy (Itjtawy) in the Faiyum region. There his government would have been closer to Asia where incursions from Asiatics frequently happened. Having a new capital also meant that the officials based in Itjtawy would be dependent on the Pharaoh, and would not have had their own power bases.

Amenemhat I’s reign marked the return of centralized government, increased bureaucracy, rise in mineral wealth as evidenced by royal burials of this era, and an increase in living standards for middle-class Egyptians. He may have also built the undiscovered Walls-of-the-Ruler as mentioned in the Prophecy of Neferty, conducted several conquests to Nubia to obtain gold, and started a campaign westward to Libya. Amenemhat I’s 30-year reign ended when he was assassinated and his son Senusret I, who was raiding Bedouin tribes at that time, hurried back to Itjtawy to assume the throne.

Senusret I succeeded his father as pharaoh of Egypt, and reigned for 45 years (c. 1956-1911 BC). He expanded Egypt’s borders as far as Buhen in Nubia and built a fort there. They also mined gold, amethyst, copper, and other precious stones for jewelry and sculpture in Nubia. He was succeeded by his son Amenemhat II (c.1911-1877 BC).

Wars then became more frequent between Asiatics and Egyptians. He was followed by Senusret II (1877-1870 BC) who expanded trade to the Near East and was notable for his peaceful reign. He inaugurated the Faiyum irrigation system which connected the Nile with the Faiyum region.

Egypt
“Bust of Senusret I in the Neues Museum, Berlin”

Egyptian Renaissance

Senusret III (c.1870-1831 BC) may have been the legendary ‘Sesostris’ mentioned by Egyptian historian Manetho and by Herodotus. He made repeated campaigns into Nubia during his reign, and much of these were violent. He also made, at least, one incursion into Palestine. His son, Amenemhat III (c. 1831-1786 BC), had a long and peaceful reign. It also marked a cultural and political peak during the 12th Dynasty. Amenemhat III was credited with building forts, shrines, and temples. He also strengthened Egypt’s borders and conducted extensive mining. The last years of his reign, however, were marked with low Nile floods and much of the building activities drained the economy. The combination of these factors contributed to Egypt’s economic and political decline at that time.

Decline and End of 12th Dynasty

Little is known regarding Amenemhat IV’s (1786-1777 BC) reign except that he came to it at an old age, and he held the throne for only nine years. He was followed by Queen Sobekkara Sobekneferu (1777-1773 BC) who was the first attested female pharaoh and was also Amenemhat’s IV’s wife and half-sister. Her reign lasted only four years, and her death without an heir marked the end of Egypt’s 12th Dynasty, as well as Egypt’s Middle Kingdom. The rule of competing dynasties and entry of the Hyksos from Asia marked the start of Second Intermediate Period.

References:
http://www.britannica.com/biography/Mentuhotep-II
Shaw, Ian. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.
Picture By Keith Schengili-Roberts – Own Work (photo), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1344762
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