The Middle Kingdom-Mentuhotep II
At the end of the First Intermediate Period, Egypt begins a phase of recovery that will bring it to reunification,The Middle Kingdom in which Manetone merges two dynasties, the XI and the XII, actually began only at the end of the XI dynasty with the reunification of Egypt by Mentuhotep II who reigned from 2061 to 2010 BC about.
The XIth dynasty began practically still in the first intermediate period or, better, in a phase in which the rivalry between Thebes and Heracleopolis became more bitter.
A Tebe reigns Prince Mentuhotep I, along with his father Antef I.
Interesting that neither his father nor Mentuhotep I ever took the royal title even if in later times he was given the name of Horo Tepia, (the ancestor), of course fictitious, and was inserted in the scroll of the “Hall of the ancestors” of Karnak at number 12.
The Egyptologist Alan Gardiner believed that his name could also be found in the 5.12 position of the Royal papyrus of Turin.
Two more princes of Thebes, Antef II, and Antef III will follow, whose son, Mentuhotep II, began a long struggle to subdue the governors of the Delta region, a struggle that will last until he’s 40th year of reign and will end with the reunification of Egypt.
For a long time, it was debated on what the correct identity of this pharaoh was due to the fact that for three times he changed his name.
At first, but without adopting the title of “King of Upper and Lower Egypt“, he took the name of Horus Seankhibtawy.
Then, having repressed a revolt in the districts during the 14th year of his reign, he changed it to Netjerihedjet to change it again to Sematatwi.
With the successful reunification and coronation, he changed his name to Horo Nebhepetre.
Mentuhotep II fixes his residence in Thebes, the “City of 100 gates” (Pi-Amon, or Wast, or Niwt for the Egyptians), where the most important deity was Monthu, god of war, but also a deity up to then little known but that will become by far the most famous, Amon during the Middle Kingdom.
The dark years of the First Intermediate Period have upset the ancient religious conception according to which only the pharaoh is reserved for the afterlife, immortality is now reachable by everyone.
Mentuhotep II dedicated itself to the reorganization of the state administration with the primary objective of weakening the power of the local monarchs and the consequent strengthening of the central power.
Egypt was exhausted from the long past and required urgent reforms to recover.
Mentuhotep II favored the birth of a commercial class and reopened the stone quarries of Aswan, Wadi Hammamat and Hatnub.
A Tebe sent senior officials and specialized artists, mostly from Memphis, and soon came to a renewed artistic conception in which literature enjoyed a moment of particular flowering.
New literary genres are born and the language reaches the maximum purity and elegance.
The Egyptian language we study today is the one written and spoken in the Middle Kingdom, the classic language par excellence.
Mentuhotep II also devoted himself to foreign policy by defending the Nile Delta region and making its eastern and western borders safe.
He went down to Nubia, which in the meantime had proclaimed himself independently and regained it.
Still, in the south, Mentuhotep II began the expansion of Egypt by overcoming the first cataract to guarantee the exploitation of the gold mines of Nubia and those of Berenice Pancrisia in addition to the control of the Kirkuk oasis.
After a long time, the commercial expeditions to the south towards Punt again resumed, also thanks to the reopening of the commercial track that from Coptos leads to the Red Sea.
Other expeditions headed north to Lebanon to procure cedarwood. Documents that have come down to us speak of military campaigns by Mentuhotep II against the Libyan nomad tribes, the Temehu, and the Tenehu and against the Amu of the Land of Djahi, the Setjetiu and the Mentju, nomadic peoples of the Sinai peninsula.
The funerary complex
Among the wives of the sovereign, we remember Queen Tem and Neferu, perhaps a sister. Mentuhotep II chose to erect its rocky slope on the west bank of the Nile, near today’s Deir el-Bahari.
His funerary complex, which he called “The places (of worship) of Mentuhotep shine”, comes from all the previous schemes.
Egyptologists agree only on one point, the complex combines in itself both elements of the “Saff -tombs (sepulchers whose façade consists of rows, (Saff in Arabic), of pillars), and elements of the pyramidal complexes.
Henri Edouard Naville and Henry Hall investigated the complex for four years, from 1903 to 1907, the New York Metropolitan Museum commissioned Herbert Winlock to carry out excavations that lasted from 1911 to 1931 but, like the previous ones, were never completed.
It was not until 1968, when the group of the German archaeological institute in Cairo, under the leadership of Stefan Arnold, resumed the excavations.
The complex consisted of a temple downstream whose remains are found today under the fields on the edge of the Nile valley, a long ceremonial ramp and the overlapping terraced structure of the funerary temple, whose western part is directly carved into the rock.
The ramp, uncovered, was lined at regular intervals by statues of the sovereign in Osiria style.
The mortuary temple stood out against the rocky wall full of crevasses with its limestone pillars, while a large ramp gave access to the temple.
The ramp was bordered on both sides by forest with rows of sycamores and tamarisks artificially planted.
In the second part, I will describe the structure of the funerary complex.
By: Piero Cargnino
Sources and bibliography:
Franco Cimmino, “Dictionary of Pharaonic dynasties”, Bompiani, Milan 2003
Miroslav Verner, “The mystery of the pyramids” Newton & Compton editor, 2002
Alan Gardiner, “The Egyptian civilization”, Einaudi, Turin 1997
Edda Bresciani, “Great illustrated encyclopedia of ancient Egypt”, De Agostini, 2005
Nicolas Grimal, “History of Ancient Egypt”, Rome-Bari, Biblioteca Storica Laterza, 2011