12th Dynasty (1991-1783)


According to Manetho, the 12th Dynasty comprised seven kings from Thebes, who ruled for a total of 160 years in the version of Africanus, and for 245 years in the version of Eusebius. Oddly enough, this does not include the founder of the dynasty, Amenemhat I, who is added in succession to the kings of the 11th Dynasty.
In the Turin King-list, the dynasty started with Amenemhat I and consisted of 8 kings who ruled for a total of 213 years, 1 month and 17 days. All kings listed in the Turin King-list are also attested by contemporary sources and monuments.

Amenemhat I, founder of the 12th Dynasty.

Amenemhat I, founder of the 12th Dynasty.

The circumstances into which the 12th Dynasty came to power are not known. What is known is that Amenemhat I was not related to his predecessors. His father was a priest in Thebes named Senuseret (Sesostris). His mother was named Nefret and, according to the Prophecy of Neferti, came from Elephantine in the South of Egypt.
It is possible that Amenemhat was the vizier of Mentuhotep IV, the last king of the 11th Dynasty. A stone plate found at Lisht, bearing both the names of Mentuhotep IV and of king Amenemhat I may perhaps indicate that Amenemhat I was a co-regent during the later years of Mentuhotep's reign. This could perhaps indicate that Mentuhotep IV had intended Amenemhat to be his successor.

With the 12th Dynasty, a local god of obscure origin, Amun, would become the most important god of the Ancient Egyptian pantheon. The popularity of Amun is closely linked to the origin of Amenemhat I, whose name, containing the element Amun, shows a particular allegiance to this god. Even when Amenemhat moved the political center of the country from Thebes to the newly built capital Itj-tawi in the Fayum oasis, located to the southwest of the old capital Memphis, Thebes would remain an important religious center. This would determine the religious and political history of Ancient Egypt for the following millennia.

The kings of the 12th Dynasty ruled the country firmly and were able to maintain the balance of power between the central authorities and the local administrations, to their own advantage.
Just as the founder of the dynasty, Amenemhat I, may perhaps have shared power with his predecessor, Mentuhotep IV, so would most kings of this dynasty assume kingship during the lives of their predecessors. This way, they ensured that the transition of power from one king to his successor would be smooth  This explains the overlapping year numbers in the time table below.

The kings of the 12th Dynasty also imposed their rule on northern Nubia and pacified the Bedouins in the deserts to the east and west of the Nile Valley. Huge fortresses were built in Nubia and at the Eastern border, to protect trading routes from raiding Bedouins.

The White Chapel of Sesostris I at Karnak is a good example of the high quality of art produced during the 12th Dynasty.

The White Chapel of Sesostris I at Karnak is a good example of the high quality of art produced during the 12th Dynasty.

The wealth and stability the 12th Dynasty has brought to the country is evidenced in the high quality of statues, reliefs and paintings found throughout the country.

Sesostris III, shown as an old man, wisened by age.

Rather typical for this period are statues with big ears, seen by some as an indication that the king and his nobility listened to their subjects. Deviating from the standard way of representing kings, Sesostris III and his successor Amenemhat III had themselves portrayed as mature, ageing men. This is often interpreted as a portrayal of the burden of power and kingship. That the change in representation was indeed ideological and should not be interpreted as the portrayal of an ageing king is shown by the fact that in one single relief, Sesostris III was represented as a vigorous young man, following the centuries old tradition, on one side and as a mature ageing king on the other, thus portraying the king both as a dynamic youngster, capable of leading the country into battle  and as a wise old man, with the wisdom to lead the country to prosperity.

Amenemhat III appears to have died without any male offspring to succeed him. Towards the end of his reign, he therefore appointed a man of non-royal birth, Amenemhat IV, to be his coregent and later successor. Oddly enough, there are no indications that Amenemhat IV married into the royal family to justify his claims to the throne.
Even though Amenemhat IV was survived by several sons, which would later become the first kings of the
13th Dynasty, he was succeeded by Nefrusobek, a daughter of Amenemhat III. This may perhaps hint at a refusal of some members of the ruling elite to accept the family of Amenemhat IV as the new royal family. A local potentate may even have taken advantage of the dynastic troubles at the end of the 12th Dynasty, to seize control over the eastern Nile Delta, thus founding the 14th Dynasty.
Nefrusobek herself also appears to have died without any male offspring, and was succeeded by the eldest son of Amenemhat IV. With her death, the 12th dynasty came to a definitive end.

Click on the thumbnails below to learn more about the kings of the 12th Dynasty.

© Jacques Kinnaer 1997 - 2015