A Brief Look at the Egyptian Middle Kingdom

Following our post on the Old Kingdom, we’re now turning our attention to the Middle Kingdom (and yes, you guessed it, the next will be about the New Kingdom). 

Lintel of Amenemhat, 20th Century BC, Met Museum. Hieroglyphs and heads of the King, Anubis, Horus and attendants
Lintel of Amenemhat, 20th Century BC, Met Museum

The beginning of the Middle Kingdom (after a hiatus of turmoil and strife over a succession struggle) was messy and did not immediately follow the Old Kingdom. There were two factions vying to control all of Egypt with the 11th Dynasty of Thebes controlling the Southern part and the 10th Dynasty from Herakleopolis ruling the north. Eventually the Middle Kingdom started when Mentuhotep II, of the northern Thebes, won control & consolidated power.

The kings of the Middle Kingdom never reached the absolute power that the kings of the Old Kingdom did. That said, one of the most important traditions of Ancient Egypt was established during this time, that of appointing the king’s son as Co-Regent, a tradition that would continue into the New Kingdom.      

During the Middle Kingdom, the ‘block’ statue would become popular and remain so for almost 2,000 years. These statues consist of a man squatting with his knees drawn to his chest, and his arms folded on his knees. The one on the right is located in the British Museum. 

Red sandstone torso of Queen Sobekneferu from the Louvre museum. 18th Century BC.
Headless bust of Sobekneferu,

One of the most interesting facts about the Middle Kingdom is that it saw the first historically attested female king take power. Her name was Sobekneferu (you can see a headless bust of her at the Louvre — and on the left!), although she only ruled for four years, and her death signaled the end of both the 12th Dynasty and the Golden Age of the Middle Kingdom. She was followed by a succession of short-lived kings called the 13th Dynasty, although this is somewhat misleading because few of these kings were actually related. Eventually the unity of Egypt fully disintegrated, leading into the Second Intermediate Period, which would see no significant advancements in almost any aspect of Egyptian civilization. The period following this, the New Kingdom, will be the subject of our next and last post in the Ancient Egypt series.

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