Egypt: History - Dynasty XI (Eleventh Dynasty)

Eleventh Dynasty

Nothing very definite is known about the campaigns in which Menthotpe I regained the Double Crown, and so put an end to the internal anarchy which had finally given place to separate kingdoms in the north and the south. A tomb discovered by Winlock at Thebes contained the bodies of no less than sixty soldiers slain in battle doubtless at no great distance from the capital. Probably fighting was required upstream as well as downstream. There is an imposing rock-relief in the valley of the Shatt er-Rigal about 2 miles below Gebel Silsila showing Menthotpe I accompanied not only by his chancellor Akhtoy, but also by his mother Io'h and his father Inyotef III. Close by are to be read the names of many of his courtiers. This visit, dated in the thirty-ninth year, may perhaps only have been an incident in a royal progress intended to display his power. At Abisko, only a short distance above the First Cataract, a soldier has scratched upon a rock the information that he had accompanied his royal master on an expedition perhaps as far as Wady Halfa. The role of Nubia throughout the foregoing period is very obscure. There is mention of a king Wadjkare' who has been hesitatingly identified with one with the same Prenomen alluded to in a Coptos decree. Then there are rather frequent occurrences of a Inyotef who equipped himself with a full royal titulary, yet cannot be fitted into Dynasty XI as we know it from Egypt itself. Difficult to account for is the model of a troop of Nubian recruits found in a tomb at Asyut as well as the allusion at Hatnub to men of Medja and Wawae among the followers of a prince of the Hermopolitan nome. From this it would seem that Nubian contingents were in the service of the Heracleopolitan confederation.

To the soldier who commemorated his existence at Abisko is owed the further information that King Nebhepetre', that is to say Menthotpe I in his third phase, 'captured the entire land and proposed to slay the Asiatics of Djaty'. The pacification of the entire land must have been accomplished before the forty-sixth year, since a stele at Turin of the date tells us that 'a good course was set by Mont's giving the Two Lands to the sovereign Nebhepetre'. Before the end of the reign it had even become possible for a god's seal-bearer name Akhtoy to engage in extensive foreign travel and to bring back much valuable metal and precious stones of various sorts. But all this involved much successful conflict with the inhabitants. So mighty a king could not rest content with a saff-tomb like his ancestors. The site which he chose for his sepulcher was the cliff-bound inlet of Der el-Bahri, and it would be impossible to conceive of surroundings more impressive. Here, as so often in Egyptian history, there is evidence of changes of plan before the magnificent final funerary monument was decided upon and put into execution. Not the least mysterious feature is a tunnel-like cenotaph known as the Bab el-Hosan, which, when discovered by Howard Carter, contained an empty coffin, a box inscribed with the name of Menthotpe I, and a statue swathed in fine linen. Hardly less intriguing are six shrines of royal ladies, queens and concubines, later embodied in, and partly concealed by, the back wall of the ambulatory. Each shrine had a shaft of its own leading to a chamber containing a finely decorated sarcophagus, and here were found elements of the titulary of Nebhepetre' in the form which, from the position of the find, was obviously the earlier. Of the temple which Menthotpe I's architects devised to perpetuate his fame and which was excavated by Naville and Hall, only little now remains to display its original grandeur. In it tradition and innovation were combined in the happiest fashion. As in the Old Kingdom pyramids a long causeway led up from the valley, but a new feature was the grove of tamarisks and sycamore figs which bordered the inner end of a great court. A ramp intersecting a lower colonnade of square pillars that recalls a saff-tomb gave access to a terrace with a similar colonnade at front and sides. A doorway led into a covered hypostlye hall at the back of which a solid podium supported a pyramid of very modest proportions. Westwards, and penetrating into the mountain, a narrower court ended in a second hypostyle hall and tiny sanctuary. The edifice thus created would have been absolutely unique were it not for the still more imposing structure which Queen Hashepsowe of Dynasty XVIII later placed alongside it, copying and developing many of its ideas. It was perhaps more on account of this visible token of his splendor than because of his victories that Nebhepetre' was revered centuries later as a patron of the Theban Necropolis, but he was also the first king since Dynasty VIII who was deemed worthy of a place in the Abydos and Saqqara king-lists. The cliffs around his funerary temple are honeycombed with the tombs of his courtiers, systematically excavated by Winlock for the Metropolitan Museum of New York. Here, for example, were buried the vizier Ipi and the ubiquitous chancellor Akhtoy. Of more sensational interest was the discovery in one tomb of wonderful models displaying in the round such everyday occupations as weaving, brewing, and the census of cattle. In them the life of the period is exhibited with a vividness even surpassing the scenes in relief which bring the civilization of Ancient Egypt home to us with a realism unequaled in any other bygone age.

With Menthotpe I the First Intermediate Period may be deemed concluded. In treating of this as compromising five stages care was taken to describe them as overlapping. It is to the unknown extent of this overlapping, as well as to the uncertain duration of the various stages, that the impossibility of obtaining a coherent picture is due. Many attempts have been made, but mostly go beyond what the evidence warrants. We do not know how soon after the last stragglers of the Memphite dynasties Heracleopolis began to raise its head, or what was the exact date of 'Ankhtify at Mo'alla. Equally obscure is the position of Merykare', though the 'Instruction' addressed to him links him with the civil war described at Asyut. The statement of one Djari who lived under Wah-'ankh Inyotef II that he had 'fought with the House of Akhtoy on the west of Thinis' may seem to offer a bridge across three of the stages, but the conflict in question may not have been the same as that mentioned in the 'Instruction' and the expression 'House of Akhtoy' is highly ambiguous. The real crux of the matter is chronological, and if the most recent authorities agree in estimating the period from Nitocris to the end of Menthotpe's reign at from 200 to 250 years, this is but little more than a guess. The Turin Canon gives no help, since the total for the eighteen kings of the Heracleopolitan dynasties and their successors is lost, and the possibility of an overlap with Dynasty XI appears to be ignored.

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Last Updated: June 20th, 2011