Egyptian Middle Kingdom

After years of fighting, the family in Thebes prevailed. They reunited Egypt under Mentuhotep II, leader of the last phase of the struggle against the Herakleopolitans. On becoming king, Mentuhotep took the kingly title “He who gives heart to the two lands.” (This kingly title was called a Horusname, after Horus, the falcon-headed god who was the traditional protector of Egyptian kings. The king is the physical embodiment of Horus on earth. To the ancient Egyptians, he was Horus.)

Egyptian Middle Kingdom

Egyptian Middle Kingdom

Egyptian Middle Kingdom

Egyptian Middle Kingdom

Egyptian Middle Kingdom

Egyptian Middle Kingdom

In his 14th year of rule, he crushed a major rebellion in Abydos, securing his control of Upper Egypt. He changed his Horus-name to “Lord of the white crown.” It was not until his 39th year of rule that he reunited Upper and Lower Egypt. He changed his Horus-name to “Uniter of the two lands.” So began the Middle Kingdom, which lasted 350 years and encompassed Dynasties 11 (late) to 14 (1980 B.C.E. to 1630 B.C.E.). With strong central control, peace and prosperity returned. Mentuhotep II, ruling from Thebes, built a temple-tomb for himself at Deir el-Bahari, west of the city.

He handed on to his son, Mentuhotep III, a stable, united Egypt. Mentuhotep II and the kings who followed faced a new Egypt  one that had experienced chaos and misery. For the rest of the dynastic era, the suffering of the First Intermediate Period was remembered as a warning about what happens when order breaks down. Faced with a growing population (perhaps 1.5 million people by 2000 B.C.E.), Middle Kingdom kings concentrated on expanding trade and agriculture, promoting the welfare of the country and keeping the peace.

Unlike the all-powerful god-kings of the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom rulers could not harness the entire wealth of the nation to build lavish tombs. Pyramid building was revived during the Middle Kingdom, but they were not as large as the ones of the Old Kingdom. Instead of building lavish tombs, they devoted their attention and resources to repairs, land reclamation, irrigation, and harbors. They strengthened border defenses, dealing quickly and firmly with incursions by Libyans and Bedouins. They renewed long-neglected diplomatic and trading relationships. Ambassadors and trade expeditions traveled to the ancient Phoenician city of Byblos, and other cities in the Near East, as well as Nubia and Punt.

A new middle class of independent professionals, artisans, and tradesmen arose. Many farmers owned their own land, weakening the old system of  feudal estates. Secular (non-religious) literature stories, poetry, songs, satires, proverbs, and wisdom literature (proverbs, collections of wise sayings, morality tales, fables, and advice to the young from their elders) became popular. Stories called pessimistic literature reminded Egyptians about the misery of civil war, lest they forget. With Thebes now the capital, the traditional Theban god Amun became prominent.

He merged with Heliopolis’s sun god Re, becoming Amun-Re. The Theban kings provided lavish support and rich gifts to Amun-Re’s priesthood and temples.  Unlike the all-powerful god-kings of the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom rulers could not harness the entire wealth of the nation to build lavish tombs. Pyramid building was revived during the Middle Kingdom, but they wree not as large as the ones of the Old Kingdom. The rapidly-growing cult of Osiris promised even poor peasants a pleasant afterlife. The Pyramid Texts were updated to apply to the wider range of spirits now eligible for eternal life. The revised spells, called the Coffin Texts, were painted or carved on wooden coffins.

The new middle class of artisans started mass-producing grave goods: pottery, ushabtis, serdab statues (small statues of a dead person, sealed into a niche or chamber in the tomb), furniture, models, and more. The Governor of the South and vizier of Mentuhotep IV overthrew his king to become Amenemhet I, founder of the Twelfth Dynasty. His 29-year reign gave Egypt its first extended period of stability and security in more than 200 years. His first move was to build and furnish a boat to cruise the Nile, putting nomarchs in their place and crushing troublesome Asiatics and Nubians. To consolidate his power over Upper and Lower Egypt at a more strategic location, Amenemhet I established a new capital at Itj-tawy, about 20 miles south of Memphis. He introduced “co-regency” (a king sharing power with his heir) to strengthen royal succession and eliminate the instability that often followed a king’s death.

Co-regency made royal transitions much smoother, and was adopted by several later kings. Amenemhet shared the throne with his son, Senwosret, for 10 years. Senwosret handled the military and kept the frontiers secure. He established fortified towns and trading posts as far south as the third cataract. When Senwosret I took the throne, he continued his military ac- tivities, securing Egypt’s southern border at the second cataract with 13 forts. He sent mining expeditions to Nubia, Syria, and the western oases.

He built a magnificent solar temple at Heliopolis. The 34-year reign of his son, Amenemhet II, saw great achieve- ments. The king widened and deepened the canal that fed the Faiyum from the Nile, expanding hunting, fishing, and agriculture. He sent trade expeditions to Punt, the Red Sea, Lebanon, and the Levant. He carried on a thriving trade with the Mediterranean island of Crete. Senwosret II, son of Amenemhet II, presided over a peaceful, prosperous Egypt. He expanded cultivation in the Faiyum and established friendly (perhaps too friendly) relations with the nomarchs. His habit of giving them tax-free land grants and other rich gifts was one that had caused trouble before. His son, Senwosret III, decided to nip that problem in the bud once and for all.

He created a new government structure that greatly minimized the power of the nomarchs. He closed their courts and revoked their rights and privileges. The new government had three major departments: North, South, and Elephatine/Nubia. Each was overseen by a council of senior officials reporting to a department vizier, who reported directly to the king. During his 18-year reign, Senwosret III showed remarkable skill in managing economic affairs and foreign policy. He led a series of mili- tary campaigns to secure Nubian trade routes, protect the southern borders, secure access to the gold mines, and suppress troublesome Nubians. He cut a bypass canal around the first cataract, improving on a primitive Old Kingdom canal. This allowed speedier, safer trade, and rapid movement of soldiers to trouble spots. Senwosret also built many forts along the southern frontier.

Senwosret’s relations with Asia were mostly peaceful trading partnerships, though he did do some plundering. Much of the plunder and trade wealth that flowed in went to support the temples of Amun-Re at Thebes. The next king, Amenemhet III, enjoyed 46 years of peace, pros- perity, economic growth, and high artistic achievement. He sent almost continual expeditions to the turquoise mines of the Sinai to satisfy Egypt’s endless desire for this prized gemstone. Amenemhet III built two pyramids for himself. One he abandoned. The other, where he was buried, is famous for the large number of features designed to keep tomb robbers out.

There were trap doors, false passages and dead ends. His sarcophagus was carved from a single, massive block of quartzite. After his burial, it was topped with a 45 ton stone slab, and all passages and corridors were filled with rock and rubble. His tomb was looted anyway. Little is known about the last two Middle Kingdom rulers who are named and known, Amenemhet IV and Queen Sobeknefru. Climate change was causing instability in the inundation—the river was always either too high or too low. The resulting disruption led to Egypt’s second extended period of disorder, the Second Intermediate Period. Egypt was about to experience her worst nightmare: rule by foreigners.

Egypt entered a period of internal instability, though not as long or severe as the First Intermediate Period. The Thirteenth Dynasty, ruling from Itj-tawy, included many kings with brief reigns. They maintained some control over both Upper and Lower Egypt, but left few monuments or records. A competing faction (the Fourteenth Dynasty) ruled from a power base in the western Delta. It included an unknown number of obscure kings who came and went quickly. Egyptian control of Nubia collapsed, but many Egyptians stayed to work for local Nubian rulers.  As the 13th and 14th dynasties struggled with one another, a group of foreigners of Semitic origin claimed dominion over Egypt from their eastern Delta power base, Avaris.

The Hyksos soon controlled the eastern Delta and the eastern deserts. The Hyksos had been clever. They did not invade with fanfare and drawn swords. Instead, they immigrated into the eastern Delta and settled in, waiting for the right moment to make their move. Their political influence was largely confined to the Delta. The five (or six) Hyksos kings adopted Egyptian titles, dress, and traditions. They worshiped traditional Egyptian gods and goddesses (they preferred Seth over Osiris), while in- troducing several of their own to the religious mix. They built many temples and sponsored developments in Egyptian arts, crafts, and literature. They sacked Memphis, but did not cause the widespread terror and destruction claimed by later writers.

The Second Intermediate Period

The horror of having their throne seized by foreigners caused the Egyptians to see the Hyksos in the worst possible light. But in many ways, Hyksos rule was the best thing that could have happened to Egypt. It rescued Egypt from political turmoil and cultural decline. The Hyksos brought fresh ideas and new technologies to a land that had become fixed in its outlook.  They introduced Egypt to superior bronze-age technology, already in wide use elsewhere. They introduced new military strategies, tactics, and equipment: the chariot and horse, the composite bow, scale armor (armor with solid, overlapping tabs of metal, rather like metal fish scales), and improved daggers and swords.

The Second Intermediate Period

Without these innovations, it is doubtful Egypt could have become an imperial superpower. The Hyksos also introduced fresh ideas to the arts and everyday life. The vertical weaving loom, stringed musical instruments (lute and lyre), the oboe, the tambourine, the olive and pomegranate trees all came to Egypt with the Hyksos. This 107-year period (1630 to 1539 B.C.E.) spans Dynasties 15 to 17. Egypt had always been strongly inward-looking. Egyptians had not seen the outside world as threatening, or even as very interesting or important. It was a handy shopping mall where they could get things they wanted. Seeing their kingship seized by foreigners finally opened their eyes. The Hyksos takeover profoundly changed the Egyptians’ view of the world.

They realized they needed to do more than just go shopping in the world’s mines and bazaars. They needed a strong, even aggressive, foreign policy to prevent the many up-and-coming nations around the Mediterranean from coming in and taking whatever they wanted  including the throne. For the first time, Egypt established a standing army and a professional military. Because of the Hyksos, Egypt was no longer isolated from the world. As the Hyksos consolidated control over the Delta, a family of Theban princes formed a ruling faction (the Seventeenth Dynasty) at Thebes. They preserved Middle Kingdom culture, and controlled Upper Egypt from Elephantine to Abydos, north of Thebes.

The Hyksos and the Nubians, who had formed an alliance, hemmed in the Thebans for almost 100 years. Finally, simmering tensions exploded into open conflict. The Thebans were determined to drive the hated foreigners off the throne and out of Egypt. King Seqenenre Tao and his son Kamose mounted fierce campaigns against the Hyksos. Seqenenre Tao was soon killed. His mummy shows terrible wounds, probably inflicted in battle. Kamose resumed the fight, retaking the Nubian border forts and leading a raid to the outskirts of Avaris. But he reigned only three years.  His son, Ahmose was also determined to drive the invaders out, but waited for the right moment.

About halfway through his 26 year reign, he led attacks against the Hyksos at their strongholds in Avaris and Memphis. After a hard-fought campaign, Ahmose prevailed. Not content with driving the Hyksos out of Egypt, he chased them all the way back to Palestine and laid siege to their home city, which was in northern Palestine (what the Bible describes as Caanan). The Theban ruling family became the Eighteenth Dynasty, and Ahmose I the first king of the New Kingdom. Egypt’s glorious imperial age was about to begin.

Roman Period

Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire when Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII were defeated at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. The conquest of Egypt and its incorporation into the Roman empire inaugurated a new fascination with its ancient culture. Obelisks and Egyptian-style architecture and sculpture were installed in Roman fora. The cult of Isis, the Egyptian mother goddess, had an immense impact throughout the empire. Likewise, changes were noticeable in Egyptian artistic and religious forms, as Egyptian gods were increasingly represented in classicizing style.

At this time there was no ruling family living in Egypt, and members of Rome's élite classes were forbidden from entering Egypt without the permission of the emperor, in case they should raise an army against him. Like the Ptolemies before them, the Romans left the religion and culture of Egypt intact.

Egypt was garrisoned with Roman legions and auxiliary units until conditions became stable. All business was transacted according to the principles and procedures of Roman law, and local administration was converted to a liturgic system in which ownership of property brought an obligation of public service. New structures of government formalized the privileges associated with "Greek" background.

As part of the Roman Empire, Egypt was also more open to the world than before. Although it had admitted its share of foreigners in the past, it had always clung to its own culture and to its own ideas. Since the conquest by Alexander the Great, however, it became more and more a Hellenistic state, with a Hellenistic culture, and as a Roman province, it was also more open to the ideology that would finally strike the mortal blow to the millennia old Ancient Egyptian civilisation: Christianity.

When the Roman Empire was divided into two parts and Egypt became a part of the Byzantine Empire, most of its population had converted to Christianity.

The end of the Roman Era and the beginning of what is called the Byzantine Era is actually quite difficult to pin down, but certainly the high empire of Rome was in decline. A rapid succession of emperors destroyed any hope of stability, with the exception of the twenty-year reign of emperor Diocletian, who stabilized the money supply (all of the Roman Empire now used one coinage, even Alexandria, which up until now had minted its own money) and made great efforts to reorganize the bureaucracy.

Obelisk Monument

A 1.7 metre-high steel sculpture by Alan Wilson

It was commissioned by Warings in about 2000

Located at the roundabout at Bracknell Gate and Western Road

Obelisk Monument

What is an obelisk?

Obelisks are one of the most widely  recognized types of public  monuments.   An obelisk is a very tall, tapering,  four-sided stone pillar, which is  capped with a pyramid-like shape at  the top.     The word obelisk comes from an  Ancient Greek term obeliskos, which  means small, pointed pillar. 

 When and where did obelisks  originate?

   Obelisks were a prominent feature of  Ancient Egyptian architecture: they  were placed in pairs at the entrance  f temples, where they were thought  o offer protection.     The earliest obelisk still in its original position is in Heliopolis, in the Nile Delta  in Egypt; it dates from sometime between 1971 and 1926 BC.

What did they symbolize?   

Obelisks symbolized the sun god Ra. More than this, it was thought that an  obelisk was a petrified ray of the sacred sun, and that an aspect of the god Ra  lived within it. 

 Where can obelisks be found today?
 There are a great many prominent stone obelisks located in many parts of the  world, dating from all periods of history. Famous examples include an obelisk  at the Place de la Concorde in Paris and the Vatican Obelisk in Rome.  In the UK, the best known example is Cleopatra’s Needle, on the Victoria  Embankment in London. It is one of three Ancient Egyptian obelisks that were  re-located to London, Paris and New York in the nineteenth century.   

 Why is London’s Ancient Greek obelisk known as Cleopatra’s Needle?  

 Long before the obelisk arrived in London, the popular name for obelisks was  Cleopatra’s Needles. A ‘needle’ is a largely outdated term for a variety of  pointed objects (e.g. The Needles, a row of chalk stacks in the sea off the Isle  of Wight), and Cleopatra (of Antony and Cleopatra fame) has been strongly  connected with Egypt in the public imagination. The London obelisk actually  predates Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt (to give this historical figure her full  name) by more than a thousand years. 

  What makes Bracknell’s obelisk different?

   Many of us will have smiled when we first heard about Cleopatra’s Needle in  London, because we now only generally associate needles with sewing. Alan  Wilson, the sculptor, seems to have taken the humour of the name a stage  further. There’s a hole at the top of his obelisk that goes from one side to  another – like a sewing needle.    Also, rather than being made in stone, the Bracknell obelisk is made of steel –  again, like a sewing needle.There’s another aspect to it, too, when you consider that the production of  steel involves heating iron at a temperature of approximately 1,370°C  (2,500°F). This steel obelisk could be seen as a present-day embodiment of a  ray of the sun, in that it’s created with intense heat and glints with the rays of  the sun.    Also, as the artist explains: ‘The hole in the top is mirror polished and meant  to function as a sundial, if the obelisk was correctly aligned... which I don’t  think it is! The obelisk itself casts the shadow and the angled hole would line  up with the sun to form a circle of light on the ground, which should have  appropriate markings to tell the time’. This idea was, however, abandoned  when the original location was shifted from outside Warings to the middle of a  busy roundabout.

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