Amenemhet I

views updated

Amenemhet I

The pharaoh Amenemhet I (reigned 1991-1962 B.C.), though not of royal blood, was the founder of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt.

The mother of Amenemhet was apparently named Nefert and was a native of the nome, or province, of Elephantine, and he himself seems to have been born in southern Upper Egypt. His father was a commoner called Sesostris. Amenemhet is almost certainly identical with the vizier of the same name who was in charge of an expedition to the quarries of Wadi Hammamat in the second year of the reign of Nebtowere Mentuhotep III of the Eleventh Dynasty. Amenemhet was probably middle-aged when he became king after usurping his master's throne. He openly acknowledged his lack of royal ancestry, adopting as the first of three names in his new titulary the epithet Wehem-Meswet (Repeater of Births), thereby identifying himself as the inaugurator of a new era in the history of Egypt.

Amenemhet was a strong supporter of the god Amon of Thebes, whom he raised to the first rank among the deities of Egypt. Mindful of the difficulties his predecessors of the Eleventh Dynasty had experienced in controlling Lower Egypt from Thebes, Amenemhet transferred his seat of government to a site 18 miles south of Memphis, on the boundary between Upper and Lower Egypt, where he built the fortified city of It-towy (Seizer of the Two Lands). He erected his pyramid nearby, west of the modern villages of Lisht and Maharraqa.

The first 2 decades of Amenemhet's reign were mainly spent in an organized effort to consolidate his position. In his bid for the throne, he had evidently received much support from the local nomarchs, or governors, of Egypt, and he made no attempt to abolish their hereditary privileges. However, to prevent rivalry between the nomes and dangerous territorial expansion by any one governor, the boundaries of each nome were strictly established. Early in his reign Amenemhet, accompanied by the nomarch of Beni Hasan, sailed up the Nile with a fleet of 20 ships as far as Elephantine, destroying any remaining pockets of resistance to his government. He may also have conducted an expedition against the inhabitants of Lower Nubia. In the north he carried out a tour of inspection of the Nile Delta, on the eastern frontier of which he repulsed raiding parties of Asiatic nomads. He constructed toward the eastern end of Wadi Tumilat a fortified station called "Walls of the Ruler."

In the twentieth year of his reign, Amenemhet made his eldest son, Sesostris I, coregent. Father and son ruled together for 10 years and dated events to the years of their respective reigns. During this coregency Sesostris seems to have begun the military occupation of Lower Nubia. By the year 29 the area as far as Korosko, halfway between the First and Second cataracts, had been conquered. Amenemhet's name is found in the diorite quarries in the Nubian Desert northwest of Toshka and near the turquoise mines in Sinai. Amenemhet apparently met his death as a result of a palace conspiracy while Sesostris was on an expedition against the Libyans.

Further Reading

The sources for the rise of the Twelfth Dynasty are discussed in William C. Hayes's chapter "The Middle Kingdom in Egypt" in J. B. Bury and others, eds., The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 1 (2d ed. 1961). Also useful are H. E. Winlock, The Rise and Fall of the Middle Kingdom in Thebes (1947), and Alan H. Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs (1961). □