Egypt: Amenemhet III, the 6th Ruler of Egypt's 12th Dynasty

Amenemhet III, the 6th Ruler of Egypt's 12th Dynasty

by Jimmy Dunn

Amenemhet III was the son of Senusret III and the last great ruler of the Middle Kingdom. Amenemhet III appears to have shared the throne with is father as co-regent for at least a while before the death of his father. The king's principle wives were buried in his pyramid at Dahshur in their own chambers, a very unusual feature at this time. The Chief wife was probably Aat. The second queen we are unsure of. We also know of a daughter named Neferuptah and of course his successor who was probably his son, Amenemhet IV. However, Amenemhet IV may have been a grandson, but in any event, Amenemhet III probably made him a co-regent. It is also possible that the queen who ruled as the last pharaoh of the 12th Dynasty, Sobkhotpe IV, was also his daughter.

Alabaster Head of Amenemhet III

Every king before him or after him in the 12th Dynasty, with perhaps the exception of the last female ruler, would either be named Amenemhet, as the dynasty's founder was, or Senusret, the first of whom was probably the non royal father of Amenemnet I. This is the king's birth name, meaning "Amun is at the head". His throne name was Ny-maat-re, meaning "Belonging to the Justice of Re". To the Greeks, he was Ammenemes III. Amenemhet III was the 6th ruler of the 12th Dynasty, and may have reigned for as long as 45 years.According to Clayton he ruled from 1842 through 1797 BC.

It was a good thing he ruled this long, because his first tomb, his pyramid at Dahshur, started collapsing about the time it was finished. It took about 14 or 15 years to build, and he had to start completely over with a new pyramid near to the Fayoum at Hawara. At Hawara, we believe the complexity and splendor of his mortuary temple made it commonly known as the Labyrinth. Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, Strabo and Pliny all make reference to this structure. According to Diodorus, Daedalus was so impressed by the temple that he built his own labyrinth for Minos in Crete based on Amenemhet III's temple.

Sitting Statue of  Amenemhet III

In some respects, the disaster associated with his first pyramid worked in this king's favor, for it provided him the opportunity to build his tomb closer to the region that he seemed to flourish with attention. Because of his interest in the agricultural economics of the Fayoum, his reign became perhaps the apex of the Middle Kingdom and he reciprocated with an interest in its needs, as well as founding temples and building statues.

Building activity in the Fayoum, besides his pyramid, included the the Temple of Sobek, the principle local deity, in the city the Greeks called Crocidopolis. (Kiman Faris or Faras). In the Fayoum, Sobek was closely related to a more national god, the falcon, Horus the Elder. He also built a chapel dedicated to Renenutet, the goddess of the harvest, at Medinet Maadi. He participated in agricultural projects in the Fayoum as well. For example, he built a barrage to regulate the flow of water into the large lake, Birket Qarun from the Bahr Yousef canal. This reclaimed a large fertile area, perhaps as much as 17,000 acres, that was further protected by an earthen embankment. To celebrate this achievement, he erected two colossal statues of himself at Biyahmu. The statues stand upon very impressive bases, and overlook the lake. He was so much connected to the Fayoum that during the Greco-Roman era, during which time there was a revival of the area, he was probably worshipped as a god under the name Lamares.

Amenemhet III

Probably because of the connecting mortuary temple, his pyramid complex at Hawara was world renown. The mortuary temple was complex with many columned courtyards, chambers and passages. It was known in antiquity to travelers as the Labyrinth. Herodotus wrote of it:

"To strengthen the bond between them, they decided to leave a common memorial of their reigns, and for this purpose constructed a labyrinth a little above Lake Moeris, near the place called the City of Crocodiles. I have seen this building, and it is beyond my power to describe; it must have cost more in labor and money than all the walls and public works of the Greeks put together - though no one would deny that the temples at Ephesus and Samos are remarkable buildings. The pyramids, too, are astonishing structures, each one of them equal to many of the most ambitious works of Greece; but the labyrinth surpasses them. It has twelve covered courts - six in a row facing north, six south - the gates of the one range exactly fronting the gates of the other, with a continuous wall round the outside of the whole. Inside, the building is of two stories and contains three thousand rooms, of which half are underground, and the other half directly above them. I was taken through the rooms in the upper story, so what I shall say of them is from my own observation, but the underground ones I can speak of only from report, because the Egyptians in charge refused to let me see them, as they contain the tombs of the kings who built the labyrinth, and also the tombs of the sacred crocodiles. The upper rooms, on the contrary, I did actually see, and it is hard to believe that they are the work of men; the baffling and intricate passages from room to room and from court to court were an endless wonder to me, as we passed from a court-yard into rooms, from rooms into galleries, from galleries into more rooms, and thence into yet more courtyards. The roof of every chamber, courtyard, and gallery is, like the walls, of stone. The walls are covered with carved figures, and each court is exquisitely built of white marble and surrounded by a colonnade. Near the corner where the labyrinth ends there is a pyramid, two hundred and forty feet in height, with great carved figures of animals on it and an underground passage by which it can be entered".

Outside of the Fayoum, we also know that he built a temple of Quban in Nubia and expanded the temple of Ptah at Memphis.

Amenemhet III as a sphinx

Considering his building projects, it is not surprising that Amenemhet III was very active in various quarries. He was especially interested in the turquoise mines in Sinai such as those at Serabit el-Khadem. He probably at least extensively rebuilt and enlarged the Temple dedicated to Hathor and other gods at Serabit el-Khadem. In fact, there were some 49 rock inscriptions there, as well as ten more at Wadi Maghara and Wadi Nasb in the Siani that record almost continuous mining operations between years two and forty-five of his reign. Yet within Egypt, is is curious that we actually have very few inscriptions from Amenemhet III. But he was also active at Wadi Hammamat, where alabaster is mined, in the diorite quarries of Nubia, at Tura for its fine while limestone, and other mining sites.

What we do not see during Amenemhet III's time is a lot of military action, other than perhaps strengthening the defenses at Semna. The military activities of his predecessors allowed him a peaceful reign upon which to build, as well as to exploit the mineral wealth of the quarries. He does build, politically, reorganizing the domestic administration. He continued to reform the national administration as did his father. It was probably his father that divided the country into three administrative regions, controlled by departments based at the capital. This "federal bureaucracy" oversaw the activities of local officials, who no longer possessed any extensive power. Amenemhet III continued to refine this new administration.

Apparently Amenemhet III was also able to continue with good foreign relations also without much military action. It is said that he was honored and respected from Kerma to Byblos, and during his reign many eastern workers, including peasants, soldiers and craftsmen, came to Egypt.

However, the extensive building works, together with possibly a series of low Nile floods, may have exhausted the economy by the end of his reign. Ironically, all of these foreign workers, many employed for building activities, may have also encouraged the Hyksos to settle in the Delta, thus leading eventually to the collapse of native Egyptian rule. Upon the king's death, he was buried in his second pyramid at Hawara.

Amenemhet III is also attested to by an unusual set of statues probably of Amenemhet III and Senusret III that shows the two in archaic priestly dress and offering fish, lotus flowers and geese. These statues are very naturalistic. but show the king in the guise of a Nile god.. There was also a set of sphinxes that were once thought to have been attributable to the later Hyksos rulers, but are now believed to have been built on the orders of Amenemhet III. Originally all these statues were discovered reused in the Third Intermediate Period temples at Tanis. We also know of an inscription by the king at Koptos (Coptos).






Reference Number

Chronicle of the Pharaohs (The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt)

Clayton, Peter A.


Thames and Hudson Ltd

ISBN 0-500-05074-0

History of Ancient Egypt, A

Grimal, Nicolas



None Stated

Monarchs of the Nile

Dodson, Aidan


Rubicon Press

ISBN 0-948695-20-x

Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian


Oxford University Press

ISBN 0-19-815034-2

Last Updated: June 22nd, 2011