Middle Kingdom Pyramids

In lecture videos, one of the things talked about was the decreased complexity of pyramids built by Middle Kingdom pharaohs, compared to the pyramids of the Old Kingdom. This is important because of the relationship of the pyramids as a symbol of state authority and organizational power. While the smaller size and lessened quality of Middle Kingdom pyramids could be used to explain a decrease in the authority of the state as compared to the Old Kingdom, the change in pyramid construction could also be understood as a change in the priorities of Middle Kingdom pharaohs.

What really stands out in the readings about the Middle Kingdom is the sheer amount of activity that is going on throughout Egypt during this time period. From the forts of Upper Egypt, to the “Walls of the “Walls of the Ruler” (Chapter 7: The Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period, p. 173), to the trade expeditions to Punt, there is a lot of activity going on in Egypt. The majority of this activity is also, while organized by the state, participated in by the state conscripted laborers or “Corvée” (Chapter 7: The Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period, p. 169). These laborers would have been used for all of these projects, as well as for the construction of pyramids for the Pharaoh’s tomb. With over 3000 individuals being involved in a trading trip to punt, as recorded on the “stela of the king’s [Senusret I] vizier Intef-iker” (Chapter 7: The Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period, p 172), and many others being involved in protecting the southern border of Egypt against Nubia, as well as others having to supply and support all of these state projects, it is not really surprising that the size and complexity of pyramids decreased.

In addition, the growth of religion in the lives of the everyday Egyptian, or the “democratization”, as it is described in Tradition and Innovation: The Middle Kingdom would also have likely contributed to a decreased importance being placed on the pyramid as a representation of pharaoh’s divinity. The growth of popular religion, as evidenced by scarab amulets and birth bricks would have made the average individual closer to the king, both economically and spiritually, such that: in “the reign of Senwosret III, there would have existed in theory only two steps between the households of any local community and the pharaoh himself” (Tradition and Innovation: The Middle Kingdom, p. 134).

The change in complexity and size of the pyramids, as representations of the authority and power of the Egyptian state can be better understood in relation to the decreased importance of the pharaoh as the source of divine intervention in Egyptian life, as well as the shifting priorities of the pharaohs. In this regard, the decrease in pyramid quality can be seen not as an essential loss of state authority, but as a change in the importance of the pharaoh, as well as of the pyramid as a symbol of the pharaoh and state power.