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Middle Kingdom of Egypt

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This period extends from about 2040 B.C., when Mentuhotep III reunited Upper and Lower Egypt with Thebes as the new capital, to 1640. The twelfth dynasty was the culmination of the Middle Kingdom and was one of the most brilliant periods in Egyptian history. It is also one of the best known due to the archaeological remains of tombs, temples and statues and to literary works such as The Memoirs of Sinuhe.

Amenemhat's administration Amenemhat was the first ruler of the twelfth dynasty. He moved the royal residence from Thebes to a more central location near Memphis.

For the first time the 'nomarchs' or nobles had their obligations to the king precisely stated. They were responsible for the collection of taxes, they had to recruit for the army and provide labor for public works. The territory or 'nome' of each nomarch was also exactly defined. An effective administration was setup and it was run by a bureaucracy.

To ensure a smooth succession Amenemhat made his son and heir co-ruler. This gave the new King considerable experience and prevented the rise of factions fighting for the throne. During this period the kings were closer to the people than during the Old Kingdom. Their statues show realistic, even worried, faces rather than idealized portraits.

The Egyptian boundaries were protected by a series of fortresses in the eastern Delta region and above the second cataract, that is, south of Abu Simbel.

During the Middle Kingdom, Egyptian influence was probably at its greatest. By the reign of Sesostris III (1887-1880 B.C.), Nubia, with its valuable gold and copper mines, its quarries and slaves, was completely under Egyptian control.

Trade links were established with the kingdom of Pontus, Palestine and Syria. Cities in these countries were important because the trade caravans from Asia ended in their markets. The valuable cedar wood also came from the Near East. Sesostris III led a diplomatic expedition to Shechem in central Palestine. On his death he was proclaimed a god.

There are few remains of buildings from the Middle Kingdom that have not been modified or included in later structures.

Remains of a fortress at Buhen have been found with walls 12 meters high and 5 meters thick. A shrine has been reconstructed at Karnak where a temple once stood. However, much of the sculpture still exists and it shows a realism and humanity not seen in the idealistic work of the Old Kingdom.

Magnificent ornaments and pieces of jewellery found in excavations of the royal tombs show the high standard of gold and silver work. Precious and semi-precious stones were often included in the designs.

Painting skills became widespread throughout Egypt, developing in provincial schools as well as in the capital. Middle Kingdom painters used imaginary scenes as well as the more traditional field and animal scenes.

Agriculture became more efficient; irrigation canals were restored and improved to allow greater flood control. Previously infertile land was made productive by diverting the Nile waters at Al Fayyum. During the thirteenth and fourteenth dynasties the country was in a state of political turmoil, leaving itself open to invasion by the Hyskos or 'shepherd kings' in 1790 B.C. Nearly 200 years passed before the New Kingdom began.

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