This week I was very interested in the discussions of political power shifts in the Middle Kingdom compared to the power set ups in the Old Kingdom. The power shifted away from the Pharaohs a bit, although they were still the kings they no longer had complete power over everything. This same kind of thing happened in England, parliament gained power while the monarchs slowly become not much more than figure heads of the country. I think that it is just the natural course of government that started out as monarchies. Maybe it is because the country becomes too big for one person to rule over, or possibly, because monarchies keep the rulers in the family, the line may become weak and the kings may become unable to rule effectively and someone else has to step in to keep the government from collapse. Then, because people hate to give up power once the y have it, even if there was a king that was capable of ruling they did not give him full power back.
In fear of losing even more power, or maybe just because they did not like that they had lost any power at all, some of the early Middle Kingdom Pharaohs attempted to take back their power by limited and then completely getting rid of, the nomarchs and setting up their own sub-rulers in the different regions. While there were strong pharaohs in the early part of the Middle Kingdom, after Amenemhet, the pharaohs were all weak and some are completely unknown to current scholars. This started a breakdown of political structure in Egypt and created a rift between Upper and Lower Egypt.
There were not nearly as many pyramids built in the Middle Kingdom as there had been in the old Kingdom. I think that this is another sign that Pharaohs were losing power. Pyramids were a representation of power and the low number and low quality of the Middle Kingdom pyramids represent a loss in power. There were only seven pyramids built during the Middle Kingdom. There pyramids were much smaller and of much poorer quality than the ones built by rulers in the Old Kingdom. These were more economically feasible since they did not need the man power or the expensive building materials that the Old Kingdom ones required. This represents a shift in priorities in Egyptian life and government. Money was now used for more public services and less on building the final resting place for the Pharaoh.
There were also increasing problems with grave robbers. These new pyramids had to have a more sophisticated security system than was ever needed in the past. This is probably because in the past an Egyptian would not even consider stealing from a pharaoh’s tomb, the pharaoh was not only a ruler but also a god, and loyalty from all citizens was implicit. In the Middle Kingdom this was no longer the case. Pharaohs had to remind their subject that they were powerful and divine. I think this showed that the common people in Egypt no longer saw the pharaohs as divine and so they were not accorded as much respect as they had been in the past. I think the fact that they were no longer considered divine made it easier to take away some of their power and not allow them to spend as much money on their personal building projects as had been the trend in the Old Kingdom.
I think that it might have been a foreign influence that was partly to blame for the breakdown of the power of the pharaohs. While it is true that there were weak pharaohs in the Middle Kingdom, I am sure there were weak pharaohs in other parts of history as well. However, before foreign interests became a central concern for Egypt the country was mostly turned inwards with their concerns. It is possible that foreign influence taught, or convinced, the Egyptian people that the Pharaohs were not divine. Once you take the religion aspect out of their leadership it would be easier to remove power from them and set up other men to take some of the responsibility.