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Dynasties of Ancient Egypt
Predynastic Period
Protodynastic Period
Early Dynastic Period
1st 2nd
Old Kingdom
3rd 4th 5th 6th
First Intermediate Period
7th 8th 9th 10th 11th
Middle Kingdom
11th 12th
Second Intermediate Period
13th 14th 15th 16th 17th
Abydos Dynasty
New Kingdom
18th 19th 20th
Third Intermediate Period
21st 22nd 23rd 24th 25th
Late Period
26th 27th 28th
29th 30th 31st
Hellenistic Period
Argead Dynasty
Ptolemaic Dynasty

The Middle Kingdom is a period in the history of Ancient Egypt stretching from the establishment of the Eleventh Dynasty to the end of the Twelfth Dynasty, roughly between 2040 BC and 1800 BC. It was established when the Theban Pharaoh Mentuhotep II united the Two Lands ca. 2040 BC.

The period comprises of 2 phases, the 11th Dynasty, which ruled from Thebes and the 12th Dynasty onwards which was centred around el-Lisht. These two dynasties were originally considered to be the full extent of this unified kingdom, but historians now [1] consider the 13th Dynasty to at least partially belong to the Middle Kingdom despite not being in control of the entire country.

Eleventh Dynasty[]

Main article: Eleventh Dynasty.

The Eleventh dynasty traces its origins to a Nomarch of Thebes, "Intef, son of Iku", who is mentioned in a number of contemporary inscriptions. His son and immediate successor Mentuhotep I claimed kingship in Upper Egypt and is thus considered the first king of this dynasty. The country was still devided during the Third Intermediate Period, with the Tenth Dynasty ruling from Heracleopolis.

An inscription carved during the reign of Intef II shows that he was the first of the Eleventh Dynasty to claim to rule over the whole of Egypt, a claim which brought the Thebans into conflict with the rulers of Heracleopolis. Intef undertook several campaigns northwards, and captured the important Ta-Wer nome of Abydos. Warfare continued intermittently between the Theban and Heracleopolitan dynasts until the 14th Regnal Year of Mentuhotep II, when the Heracleopolitans were defeated and the Middle Kingdom established, and this dynasty could begin to consolidate their rule.

The Middle Kingdom rulers of the Eleventh Dynasty reasserted Egypt's influence over her neighbors in Africa and the Near East. Mentuhotep II sent renewed expeditions to Phoenicia to obtain cedar. Mentuhotep III sent an expedition from Coptos to the Red Sea southwards to the land of Punt.

The reign of its last king, and thus the end of this dynasty, is something of a mystery. Contemporary records refer to "seven empty years" following the death of Mentuhotep III, which correspond to the reign of Mentuhotep IV.

Twelfth Dynasty[]

Main article: Twelfth Dynasty.

The first Pharaoh of the Twelfth Dynasty, Amenemhat I, is, according to some sources, the same man as Amenemhat, the Vizier of Upper Egypt, under the reign of Mentuhotep IV. This explains the smooth transition of power in which Amenemhat easily assumed the reins of power after the death of Mentuhotep IV.

Amenemhat I built a new capital for Egypt, known as Itjtawy. The location of this capital is unknown, but is presumably the present-day el-Lisht, although Manetho claims the capital remained at Thebes. Amenemhet pacified unrest in Egypt by force and curtailed the rights of the nomarchs. He is known to have at least launched one campaign into Nubia. In 1971 BC Amenemhat established his son Senusret I as his junior co-regent. In 1962 BC, he was presumably murdered by a royal bodyguard. Senuseret, campaigning against Libyan invaders, rushed home to Itjtawy to prevent a takeover of the government. This proved the worth of the institution of the coregency since the new king had acquired useful experience by the time he would start his sole reign. The co-regency system lasted throughout the Twelfth Dynasty and provided great stability.

Senusret I (1971 BC - 1926 BC) continued the policy of his father to recapture Nubia and other territories lost during the First Intermediate Period. The Libyans were subdued under his 45-year reign and Egypt's prosperity and security were secured.

Senusret's successor Amenemhat II (1929 BC - 1895 BC) made the position of the nomarchs hereditary again (thus weakening the centralized government) and established trade connections with Nubia. A war seems to have been conducted in the Levant.

Senusret II (1897 BC - 1878 BC) improved trade connections with Nubia, Palestine and the Levant.

His successor Senusret III (1878 BC - 1839 BC) was a warrior-king, often taking to the field himself. He led his troops deep into Nubia, and built a series of massive forts throughout the country to establish Egypt's formal boundary with the unconquered areas of the territory. On the domestic front, he built a fine religious temple at Abydos; while it is now destroyed, surviving reliefs show the high quality of the decorations. He was deified at the end of the Middle Kingdom and worshipped by the pharaohs of the New Kingdom. He gave the Crown to his son in his 20th Year, according to evidence from Papyrus Berlin 10056, but remained the senior coregent.

Amenemhat III (1860 BC - 1815 BC) was the last great pharaoh of the Middle Kingdom. Egypt's population began to exceed food production levels and Amenemhat III ordered the exploitation of the Faiyum and increased mining operations in the Sinai desert. He made sure that nomarchs could no longer inherit their nomes as Amenemhat II had permitted. He also invited Asiatic settlers to Egypt to labor on Egypt's monuments. But late in his reign the annual floods began to fail and his successor Amenemhat IV ruled Egypt for just 9 full years (1816 BC - 1807 BC) before dying prematurely.

The sister of Amenemhat IV briefly reigned as Queen Sobekneferu (1807 BC - 1803 BC). As she apparently had no heirs, the Twelfth Dynasty came to a sudden end as did the Golden Age of the Middle Kingdom.

Pharaohs of the Twelfth through Eighteenth Dynasty are credited with preserving for us some of the most fabulous of Egyptian papyri:

  • 1800 BC - Berlin Papyrus
  • 1800 BC - Moscow Mathematical Papyrus
  • 1650 BC - Rhind Mathematical Papyrus
  • 1600 BC - Edwin Smith Papyrus
  • 1600 BC - Ebers Papyrus


SobekneferuAmenemhat IVAmenemhat IIISenusret IIISenusret IIAmenemhat IISenusret IAmenemhat IMentuhotep IVMentuhotep IIIMentuhotep II12th Dynasty11th Dynasty


  1. Gae Callender, The Middle Kingdom Renasissance in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford, 2000
Preceded by:
First Intermediate Period
Middle Kingdom
Succeeded by:
Second Intermediate Period