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Last update: 25 July, 2009
Amenemhat I was the son of a priest named Senuseret (Sesostris) and a woman called Nefret and as such, was not related at all to the members of the royal family of the 11th Dynasty. His name shows allegiance to the god Amun, a hitherto unimportant god of unknown origin who appears to have established himself in the Theban area somewhere during the 11th Dynasty.
A vizier of the same name during the reign of Mentuhotep IV, the last king of the 11th Dynasty, may have been the same person as the later king Amenemhat I. If this is indeed the case, then it might, in part, explain how a man of non-royal origin became the founder of a new dynasty.
The circumstances that allowed Amenemhat, whether he had served as vizier or not, to take the throne are not fully known. 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 in turn could perhaps indicate that Mentuhotep IV had intended Amenemhat for the throne.
That Amenemhat was aware of his humble origins is shown by several literary sources, among them the so-called "Prophecy of Neferti", which claims to have been written during the Old Kingdom and which predicts the rise to power of Amenemhat I.
Amenemhat's policy was one to re-enforce royal authority throughout the country. He established control over Elephantine, Egypt's traditional southern border, but it would take until very late in his reign before his relationship with Nubia became one of conquest.
Most of Amenemhat's military attention was focussed on Egypt's northeastern border, against the Asiatics. He drove away Asian Bedouin from the Delta and constructed a fortress called "Walls of the Ruler" to control the traffic between Egypt and Asia. The exact location and nature of these "Walls of the Ruler" are not known, but they are mentioned both in the "Prophecy of Neferti" and the "Story of Sinuhe", showing that later generations would consider them as one of the most important features of Amenemhat's reign.
A military campaign against the Libyans, to the northwest of Egypt, is reported to have occurred at the end of Amenemhat's reign and was headed by his son and successor, Sesostris I.
In order to reestablish royal authority, Amenemhat also had a firm interior policy, which was aimed at breaking the power of the local rulers who, since the 1st Intermediate Period, had ruled of their own territories with seemingly absolute power.
To this effect, and probably also to be closer to the Asian borders, he abandoned Thebes as capital to found a new capital, called Amenemhat-Itj-Tawi ("Amenemhat has seized the Two Lands") somewhere near the Fayum oasis, to the southwest of the old capital of Memphis. The exact location of this new power center is not known, but it is not unlikely that it must have been in the vicinity of el-Lisht, where Amenemhat built his funerary monument. The fact that he did not simply move back to Memphis and deliberately chose a new site for his capital, shows that he wanted to distance himself from previously established power centers, forcing the nobility and ruling elite to abandon their territories, without favoring any one of them before the other.
Despite his allegiance to the god Amun, Amenemhat I does not appear to have left many monuments in the Theban area.
Amenemhat I appears to have fallen victim to treachery, when a plot ended his life and 30-year reign. This is both hinted at in the "Story of Sinuhe" and the "Teachings of Amenemhat I". A text from the reign of Sesostris I also lets Amenemhat himself tell how he was brutally attacked while he was sleeping, how he defended himself against his attackers and how he was finally slain by his bodyguards.
The "Story of Sinuhe" also hint at the fact that Sesostris I was away on a campaign against the Libyans when Amenemhat was murdered. If this does indeed correspond to the facts, then it is possible that the conspiracy that took the old king's life was also an attempt to seize the power and end the 12th Dynasty.
Amenemhat I was buried in his pyramid at el-Lisht, near the Fayum oasis.
A statue of Amenemhat I, currently one of the many exhibits at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.