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At the head of his army, he was considered invincible. His campaigns into Nubia expanded Egypt's boundaries and the fortifications he built along the border fostered trade. He also led an expedition into Palestine and afterwards increased trade relations with that region.

Although the Middle Kingdom was a stable time of great prosperity, one still finds evidence of uncertainty in the literature and other inscriptions of the period. The Lay of the Harper mentioned earlier, for example, questions the existence of an afterlife and encourages a more existential view. The Execration Texts, objects upon which spells were written to destroy one's enemies, are more numerous during the Middle Kingdom than any other period in Egypt's history. The Egyptians believed in sympathetic magic whereby one could elevate a friend, or destroy an enemy, by working with an object which represented them.

The Execration Texts were clay objects, sometimes statues, with the names of one's enemies written on them and a verse one would recite before smashing the object. As the piece was destroyed, so would one's enemies be. Senusret III's campaigns and military success assured the Egyptians of safety, but the number of these objects found during this period indicates that, as Egypt grew more secure and wealthy, the people grew more fearful of loss.

The realism of the literature of the New Kingdom could be interpreted to reflect people's growing concern with the present, rather than an idealized afterlife, as their daily lives became more comfortable and they found they had more to lose than before.


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An example of this kind of fear can be read in the Ipuwer Papyrus The Admonitions of Ipuwer in which a scribe bitterly laments the loss of a golden age and the terrible conditions of the present. Although the Ipuwer Papyrus has been interpreted as history concerning the First Intermediate Period it is actually literature expressing the common human experience of a yearning for a golden age, a time when everything was beautiful, as contrasted to a present of uncertainty and fear.

The vivid images in the Ipuwer Papyrus convey clearly how times have changed for the worse which has encouraged a literal reading of it as referring to the First Intermediate Period, but the work makes more sense when read as an expression of fear of loss in the present, in the Middle Kingdom, and the kind of chaos which one should expect.

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The writer goes to great lengths to make sure the reality of such a loss is keenly experienced by the reader. This fear of the loss of material goods, social stability - even all that one knew - could account for the rise in popularity of the Cult of Osiris at Abydos and the increasing veneration of Amun at Thebes. Amun combined the earlier aspects of the sun god Ra and the creator god Atum into an all-powerful god whose priests like those of Ra in the past would eventually amass more land and wealth than the pharaohs of the New Kingdom and would actually eventually topple the New Kingdom.

Osiris, originally a fertility god, would become known as Lord and Judge of the Dead, the deity who determined where one's soul would spend eternity, and his cult would become the most popular, merging finally with that of his wife Isis. Both of these gods promised stability in one's earthly journey and an eternal life beyond the grave. Senusret III paid special attention to the city of Abydos, where Osiris' head was thought to be buried, and sent representatives there with gifts for Osiris' statue.

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Abydos developed into a wealthy city during this time, the most popular place of pilgrimage in all of Egypt, with the most coveted necropolis. People wanted to be buried near Osiris to have a better chance of impressing him when their time came to stand before him at judgment. At the same time, Amun's Temple at Karnak was continually being added to.

Amun assured believers of his constant watchful care during their lives and the continuation of harmony. The realism of the literary and artistic works of the time can be seen as reflected in the religious developments which promised an unbroken continuation of one's present life. As the afterlife, presided over by Osiris, was seen as a direct reflection of one's present life, and one's present life was protected by Amun, one had no reason to fear change because there would be none. Death was only another change in the course of one's life, not the end of it.

The depictions of the afterlife at this time became just as vivid and realistic as those of common scenes from everyday life. This realism even extends to how Senusret III is portrayed artistically.

A Dark Side to Perfection

Whereas previous kings of Egypt are always depicted in statuary as young and strong, those of Senusret III are realistic and show him at his actual age and looking worn and tired from the responsibilities of rule. This same realism is apparent in the statuary of his son and successor Amenemhat III c. Amenemhat III boasted of no great military victories but built almost as many monuments as his father and was responsible for the great mortuary temple at Hawara known as 'The Labyrinth ,' which Herodotus claimed was more impressive than any of the ancient wonders of the world.

He was succeeded by Amenemhat IV c. He finished his father's building projects and initiated many of his own. Military and trade expeditions were launched numerous times during his reign and trade flourished with cities in the Levant , especially Byblos , and elsewhere. The policy of the co-regency, if it was actually followed, which had ensured a smooth transition of power from ruler to ruler now failed in the case of Amenemhat IV who had no male heir to groom for success. Upon his death the throne went to his sister or wife Sobekneferu c.

Sobekneferu is the first woman to rule Egypt since the Early Dynastic Period unless one accepts the queen Nitiqret Nitocris of the 6th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom as historical. The debate over the historicity of Nitocris has been going on for decades and is no closer to a resolution but many scholars Toby Wilkinson and Barbara Watterson among them now accept her as an actual person rather than a myth Herodotus created. That aside, Sobekneferu reigned centuries before Hatshepsut , the woman often cited as Egypt's first female monarch, and to rule with full royal powers as a man.

A woman named Neithhotep c. Merneith may have only been a regent for her son Den and Neithhotep, whose reputation as a reigning monarch relies largely on the grandeur of her tomb and inscriptions, could have simply been honored as a great king's wife and mother. Unlike Hatshepsut, whose statues increasingly portray her as a male, Sobekneferu is clearly depicted as a female monarch. She either refurbished or founded the city of Crocodilopolis south of Hawara in honor of her patron god Sobek and commissioned other building projects in the great tradition of the other rulers of the 12th Dynasty.

When she died without an heir the 12th Dynasty ended and the 13th began with the reign of Sobekhotep I c. The 12th Dynasty was the strongest and most prosperous of the Middle Kingdom. As van de Mieroop notes, "All but the last two rulers of the 12th Dynasty built pyramids and mortuary complexes in the surroundings and filled them with royal statuary, relief sculptures, and the like" The 13th Dynasty would inherit the wealth and the policies but would not be able to make any great use of them. The 13th Dynasty is traditionally seen as weaker than the 12th, and it was, but exactly when it began to decline is unclear because the historical records are fragmentary.

Certain kings, such as Sobekhotep I, are well attested but they become less so as the 13th Dynasty continues. Some kings are only mentioned in the Turin King's list and nowhere else, some are named in inscriptions but not in lists. Manetho's king list, which is regularly consulted by Egyptologists, fails in the 13th Dynasty when he lists 60 kings ruling for years, an impossible duration, which scholars interpret as a mistake for years Van de Mieroop, The claim that the dynasty lasted for years after Sobekhotep I is also probably wrong in that the Hyksos were firmly established as a power in Lower Egypt by c.

The 13th Dynasty seems to have continued the policies of the kings of the 12th and kept the country unified but, as far as the fragmentary records indicate, none of them had the personal strength of the previous kings. Separate political entities began to spring up in Lower Egypt, the Hyksos being the greatest, and the capital at Itj-tawi does not seem to have had the resources to control any of them. Mortuary complexes, temples, and steles were still raised during this time and documents show the efficient bureaucracy of the 12th Dynasty was still in place but the momentum which propelled Egypt throughout the 12th Dynasty was lost.

As with the transition from the period of the Old Kingdom to the First Intermediate Period, the change from the Middle Kingdom to the Second Intermediate Period is often characterized as a chaotic decline. Neither of these characterizations is accurate. The 13th Dynasty faltered and a stronger power rose to take its place. Although the later Egyptian histories would characterize the time of the Hyksos as a dark period for the country, the archaeological record argues otherwise. The Hyksos, although they were foreigners, continued to respect the religion and culture of Egypt and seem to have benefited the country more than later historians give them credit for.

The Second Intermediate Period, during which the Hyksos ruled Egypt, may not have been the chaos it is presented as but still could not approach the heights of the Middle Kingdom. There was, in fact, some loss of culture such as that of hieroglyphic script and the rise of hieratic script.

There is also evidence that artistic achievements were of a lower quality during the Second Intermediate Period. During its flowering, the Egyptian language attained a level of refinement that ever after made it the model for good prose in ancient Egypt. Art achieved an elegant realism: for the first time, pharaoh's faces were shown with lines of care and age, rather than idealized. Buildings, though not as mammoth as those of the Old Kingdom, possess a refinement that makes them second to none. Egypt also mounted serious military expeditions into the Sudan, forays that would later extend throughout the Middle East.

Even a thousand years later, Egyptians looked back on the Middle Kingdom as a glorious time. The fear of loss evident in the texts of the Middle Kingdom was realized with the dissolution of the 13th Dynasty and the coming of another period of disunity and uncertainty. Later Egyptian writers would contrast the Middle Kingdom with the supposed lawlessness which preceded and succeeded it and raise it to the status of a golden age.

Middle Kingdom Studies

The achievements of the period, especially of the 12th Dynasty, are undeniable and would continue to elevate the culture of ancient Egypt for the rest of its history. Editorial Review This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication. We're a small non-profit organisation run by a handful of volunteers. Become a Member.

Middle Kingdom of Egypt - Ancient History Encyclopedia

Mark, J. Middle Kingdom of Egypt. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Mark, Joshua J. Last modified October 04, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 04 Oct Written by Joshua J. The book collects more than dossiers of the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period non-royal women. This work is complementary to D. Grajetzki and D. Stefanovic, Dossiers of Ancient Egyptians -the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period addition to Franke's 'Personendaten' London establishing sets of data for women known from more than one source.

Middle Kingdom Studies I. His books include The Model. This seminar will discuss ways in which feminization and paternalism in art mediation have been constructed historically. Interdependently, since its inception, this field has also offered spaces for resistance, appropriation and subversion.

It is thus a space where the struggle for hegemony is taking place. This seminar is an invitation to consider collectively possibilities and potentials of art mediation understood as a critical, decolonial and transformative practice in contemporary times and from a global perspective. These new democratic practices can also be found in some municipal governments of Spain.


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