Amenemhat I was the first ruler of the 12th Dynasty


Amenemhat I was the first ruler of the 12th Dynasty, and some Egyptologists believe that recovery from the First Intermediate Period into the Middle Kingdom only really began with his rule. He was almost certainly not of royal blood, at least if he is the same Vizier that functioned under his predecessor, Mentuhotep IV. Perhaps either Mentuhotep IV had no heir, or he was simply a weak leader. This vizier, named Amenemhat, recorded an inscription when Mentuhotep IV sent him to Wadi Hammamt. The inscription records two omens. The first tells us of a gazelle that gave birth to her calf atop the stone that had been chosen for the lid of the King's sarcophagus. the second was of a ferocious rainstorm that, when subsided, disclosed a well 10 cubits square and full of water. Of course that was a very good omen in this barren landscape.

Many Egyptologists believe that Amenemhat's inscription implies that a great ruler will come to the throne of Egypt upon the death of Mentuhotep IV, who will lead the country into prosperity. It is fairly certain that Amenemhat the vizier was predicting his own rise to the throne as Amenemhat I.

His Horus name, Wehem-mesut, means "he who repeats births", and almost certainly was chosen to commemorate the new dynasty and a return to the values and prosperity of a united Egypt.

Amenemhat was probably the son of a woman named Nofret and a priest called Senusret. It is fairly clear that Amenemhat established Egypt's first co-regency with his son, Senusret I, in about the older kings 20th year of rule. He was not only seeking to assure the succession of his proper heir, but also providing the young prince valuable training under his tutelage. Senusret was given several active roles in Amenemhat I's government.

We know of several pieces of literature that probably date from his reign, some of which appears to support his reign with fables of kingship. One, the Discourse of Neferty, has a ruler emerging named Ameny, who was foretold by a prophet in the Old Kingdom. This tale has Ameny delivering Egypt from chaos, but it should be noted that it is the chaos of the late 11th Dynasty, not the First Intermediate Period.

Then a king will come from the South,

Ameny, the justified, my name,

Son of a woman of Ta-Seti, child of Upper Egypt,

He will take the white crown,

he willjoin the Two Mighty Ones (the two crowns)

Asiatics will fall to his sword,

Libyans will fall to his flame,

Rebels to his wrath, traitors to his might,

As the serpent on his brow subdues the rebels for him,

One will build the Walls-of-the-Ruler,

To bar Asiatics from entering Egypt...

We do not know what year this dates to within Amenemhat I's reign. But while there are other text that refer to the chaos before the arrival of new kings, the references to Asiatics and the Walls-of-the-Ruler are new.

Amenemhat I set about consolidating the country in a very purposeful manner. He moved his capital north to the capital he apparently established named Amenemhat-itj-tawy, which means, "Amenemhat the Seizer of the Two lands". It was located south of Memphis, on the edge of the Fayoum Oasis, though the city ruins have not yet been discovered. This gave him a more central control of Egypt, as well as placing him nearer to problem areas in the Delta. It also signaled the end of an old era and new beginnings. This move was perhaps only curried out only a short time after he took the throne. Many Egyptologists believe that the move was made at the very beginning of his reign, while a few believe it may have been much later, around the time of his twentieth year as ruler. However, he did being a tomb at Thebes, and then abandoned it for a pyramid at el-Lisht, near the new capital. It appears that the work on the tomb at Thebes may have taken between three and five years to complete. Also, there are very few of his monuments located near Thebes, suggesting that he soon moved away. This pyramid at el Lisht is instructional, for it seems to portray a return to some of the values of the Old Kingdom, while still embracing the Theban concepts of the region of his birth. Egyptologists who believe Amenemhat I may have waited until his twentieth year to make the move to his new city base their evidence on an inscription found on the foundation blocks of the pyramid's mortuary temple. It records Amenemhat's royal jubilee, and also that year one of a new king had elapsed, suggesting that the pyramid was started very late in the king's reign.

He also reorganized the administration of the country, keeping the nomarchs who had supported him, while weakening the regional governors by appointing new officials at Asyut, Cusae and Elephantine. Another move, both to dilute the army's power and to raise personnel for coming conflicts, was his reintroduction of conscription.

In order to protect Egypt and fortify captured territory in Nubia, he founded a fortress at Semna in the region of the second Nile Cataract, which would begin a string of future 12th Dynasty fortresses. Along with protecting his newly acquired territory, he also create a stranglehold over economic contacts with Upper Nubia and further south. Undoubtedly, in the Discourse of Neferty, Asiatics refer to the people who were causing trouble on the Egypt's eastern frontier. He drove these people back, and indeed did build the Walls-of-the-Ruler, as series of fortifications along Egypt's eastern frontier.

Amenemhat I appears to have been a very wise leader, setting about to correct the problems of the First Intermediate Period, protecting Egypt's boarders from invasion and assuring a legitimate succession. Yet he was murdered in an apparent harem plot while his co-regent was leading a campaign against Libyans. Again, we find two literary works, the Tale of Sinuhe and the Instructions of Amenemhat I, reflecting this king's tragic end. Apparently, his foresight in creating the co-regency with his son proved successful, for Senusret I succeeded his father and their seems to have been little or no disruption in the administration of the country.