Egypt: Senusret I, 2nd King of the 12th Dynasty

Senusret I, 2nd King of the 12th Dynasty

by Jimmy Dunn

Senusret I was the second king of the 12th Dynasty and ascended to the throne after the murder of his father, Amenemhet I. There had apparently been a harem plot, and with good timing, Amenemhet I was assassinated in the absence of his son, who was fighting in Libya. It would seem that his son either swiftly left the campaign, or was already heading home at the time of the murder. However, this was not the first harem conspiracy, and Amenemhet I had performed his due diligence in respect to assuring a successful transition for his heir. For the first time that we know of in Egyptian history, Senusret I was made a co-regent in the 20th year of Amenemhet I's rule, and so was by the time of his father's death firmly established as the heir to the throne. Therefore, regardless of the intentions of the conspirators, he managed to ascend the throne with little difficulty.

Senusret I was this king's birth name, and means "Man of goddess Wosret". However, it was also the name, we believe, of his non-royal grandfather and so it may give little insight into his character. In references, he is also sometimes called Senwosret I, or Sesostris I (Greek). His throne name was Kheper-ka-re, which means, "The Soul of Re comes into Being". His mother was probably Neferytotenen (Nefrutoteen, Nefrytatenen), one of Amenemhet I's chief wives. He married a Queen Nefru, who was the mother of his successor son, Amenemhet II. Like his father, Amenemhet II was also made a coregent, but only perhaps three years prior to Senusret I's death. The coregency was recorded by a private stele of Simontu that is now in the British Museum. From her pyramid near her father's we also know that he had a daughter (or possibly a wife) by the name of Itakaiet. He may have had other daughters, including princesses Nefru-Sobek, Nefru-Ptah and Nenseddjedet.

Senusret I probably ruled Egypt for a period of about 34 years after his father's death during a period in Egypt's history where literature and craftsmanship was at its peek. We believe he may have been a co-regent of his father far perhaps another ten years. He probably ruled Egypt from about 1956 through 1911 BC.

It was a period of affluence, and a remarkable time for mineral wealth, gold and the fine jewelry produced with this abundance. Jewelry masterpieces have been found, particularly in the tombs of the royal ladies at Dahshur and Lahun, attributable to his reign. Considerable efforts were made to procure amethyst, turquoise, copper and gniess for both jewelry and sculptures. But it was also a time of great stability and development.

Senusret I embraces the creator god, Ptah at Karnak

Tablet attributable to Senusret I at Elephantine

However, we also learn from letters of an old farmer named Hekanakhte to his family, that there was apparently a famine during the time of Senusret, a fact that is also implied by an inscription in the tomb of a nomarch (governor) named Amenemhat at Beni Hassan. But along with this news, we also are provided considerable insight into the life of the common Egyptians of this period by Hekanakhte's letters, and a better understanding of the details of agricultural.

He continued many of his father's policies, including the expansion in northern Nubia. We know that he sent one expedition to Nubia in his tenth year of reign, and that eight years later, he sent another army as far south as the second cataract. His general, Mentuhotep, went even deeper into Nubia. However, Senusret I established Egypt's southern border at the fortress of Buhen near the second cataract, where he placed a garrison and a victory stele, thereby adding to the already substantial military presence established by his father. Now, there were at least 13 fortresses that extended as far as the Second Cataract, and while Egypt's border may have been at the Nile's second cataract, he exercised control of Nubia as far as the Third Cataract. Inscriptions attributable to Senusret I can be found as far south as the island of Argo, north of modern Dongola.

Jewelry from the reign of Senusret I

He also protected the Delta region and the Western desert Oases from Libyan invasion by means of a series of military campaigns and by establishing control over oases in the Libyan Desert. Several of the expeditions also appear to have been lead by him personally.

However, he radically changed the policy towards Syria/Palestine by seeking stable commercial and diplomatic relations rather than a policy of expansion and control.Trading caravans passed between Syria and Egypt exchanging cedar and ivory for Egyptian goods. Religiously, Senusret contributed considerable attention to the cult of Osiris, and over his long rule, this deity's beliefs and practices flourished in Egypt. Osiris was a god of the people and in expanding this cult, Senusret I gave his subjects what John Wilson has described as the "democratization of the afterlife".

Above: Senusret I with Amun-Re at Karnak;

Below: Senusret I holding a hep ferforms a sed festival run before the god, Min

Senusret I had already established himself as a builder during the co-regency with his father by extending and and embellishing some major temples, particularly at Karnak, where he is considered to have founded the temple of Ipet sut (Karnak), and Heliopolis. As early as year two of his reign, he rebuilt the very important temple of Re-Atum at Heliopolis, a center of the sun cult. He probably even personally participated in the foundation ceremonies for the temple's reconstruction. He also had two, massive 20 meter (66 foot) red granite obelisks erected at the same temple on the occasion of his jubilee celebrating his 30th year in office. These monoliths would have weighed 121 tons each. One of the pair remains the oldest standing obelisk in Egypt. He also built the famous bark shrine, or White Chapel, that has been reconstructed by Henri Chevrier in the Open Air Museum at Karnak. It was built in order to celebrate his sed festival (Jubilee) in the 30th year of his reign, but the blocks for the temple were reused to build the third Pylon at Karnak. A scene within the White Chapel records the coronation of Senusret I, and is the oldest such scene so far discovered.

The White Chapel at Karnak

The more important projects included remodeling the temple of Khenti-amentiu-Osiris at Abydos. He also erected many memorial stele and small shrines, or cenotaphs, at Abydos, a practice that would be followed by many Middle and New Kingdom pharaohs.We also find temples built by Sunusret I at Elepantine and Tod. In fact, he is attested to at almost three dozen sites from Alexandria to Aswan and down into Nubia where he carried out building projects.

Senusret I also set up a program to build monuments in each of the main cult sites all over Egypt. This was really an extension of an Old Kingdom policy, but in reality he was following his fathers efforts to consolidate and centralize power. This move undermined the power bases of local temples and priests.

In order to facilitate these building projects, he sent expeditions to exploit the stone quarries of Wadi Hammamat, the Sinai at Serabit el-Khadim, Hatnub, where two expeditions were sent in years 23 and 31 of his reign for alabaster, and Wadi el Hudi. One of these expeditions extracted enough stone to make sixty sphinxes and 150 statues. Many of his statues did not survive the ages, but the Egyptian Antiquity Museum includes a large collection of those that did.

Fragment from Karnak pillar with King and Horus

He also built a large pyramid, very reminiscent of older complexes, at Lisht, near Itjtawy, the capital apparently founded by his father. His pyramid is located just to the south of his father's pyramid at el-Lisht.

Obelisks at (left) the Fayoum and (right) Heliopolis


Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Chronicle of the Pharaohs (The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt) Clayton, Peter A. 1994 Thames and Hudson Ltd ISBN 0-500-05074-0
Complete Valley of the Kings, The (Tombs and Treasures of Egypt's Greatest Pharaohs) Reeves, Nicholas; Wilkinson, Richard H. 1966 Thames and Hudson Ltd IBSN 0-500-05080-5
History of Ancient Egypt, A Grimal, Nicolas 1988 Blackwell None Stated
Monarchs of the Nile Dodson, Aidan 1995 Rubicon Press ISBN 0-948695-20-x
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2