Divinity for the Masses


During the Middle Kingdom the common people of Egypt had greater access to the spiritual material culture which was previously only available to the royal and elite of the Old Kingdom and of the Intermediate Period. Scholars generally believe that this social change came about during the decentralization and disintegration of the royal power as the local social systems of the provincial governors in the nomes gained more control.
Funerary traditions reflect the changing social organization of the Middle Kingdom (Wegner, 124).One of the ways the lower status social groups took part in the formerly elite culture is that the royal mortuary literature, the Pyramid Texts, were utilized by increasingly non-elite social groups. The new funerary expression did not simply mimic elite traditions, but was added to the preexisting cultural norms.
Material objects found in the archaeological record also represent a change in the access to the divine. In times of vulnerability, during transitional periods of their lives, such as  during childbirth and after death, amulets would be used to help aid the process. Although amulets have been used since the predynastic, the Middle Kingdom saw a great proliferation in the record as the eye of Horus (wadjer), the backbone of Osiris (djed pillar), the Isis knot (tjet knot), and the scarab (Wegner, 125).  The later of these, the scarab beetle, was first seen during the First Intermediate Period and is tied to the eternal rebirth of the sun god, symbolizing physical transformation. The scarab was also developed into an administrative seal used to imprint names and titles of officials in the Middle Kingdom. All of these symbols gained increasing popularity and were used in both life and death as giving the wearers a connection to the spiritual realm.

Religious imagery also played an important part in the everyday lives of the Egyptian people of the Middle Kingdom. Anthropomorphic as well as zoomorphic depictions of the mythological deities are seen on  objects such as magical wands or knives. These wands were found in both tombs and settlement areas indicating their use throughout the lifespan and most typically found near women.

There existed a great importance of religious objects in the child birthing process. In Building A of the Wah-Sut complex in southern Abydos archaeologists have recovered the only example of a meskhenet, or  a ritualistically prepared “birthing brick” (Wegner, 128). These bricks were used in groups of four to form two parallel steps as a type of altar on which a woman in labor would squat over. The imagery on the sides of the bricks depicted various scenes of deities, most importantly Hathor, an Egyptian goddess of fertility who gained popularity in the Middle Kingdom, and the sun god as a striding cat. The women depicted on the birthing brick were given blue hair, indicating their divinity, while the mother is seen holding her new baby on a throne. These symbols represent a tie to the divine a woman experiences as she invokes the goddess Hathor at the time of childbirth and symbolically gives birth to the sun god. Magical wands were also found in association with this birthing brick that also displayed similar scenes of protection. The concept of protecting the young is associated with the gathering of allies and the protection of the newly reborn sun god against forces of chaos.

Week 5- The Hyksos in Egypt

Something that I found interesting in this week’s lectures was the fact that Hyksos could basically, peacefully invade Egypt (according to the lecture, “Second Intermediate Period”). It is mentioned in the lecture that they immigrated from their home land, which makes me wonder if life in their native land had become too difficult, or if their population was just expanding so quickly that they needed more room. One thing that must have worked in their favor was the fact that they didn’t attempt to push their own views, and non-Egyptian culture on the natives, but adapted to a lot of Egyptian styles. Of course, the fact that the Hyksos were on good terms with the Nubians must not have sat too well with the Egyptians, and considering the position the Egyptians could find themselves in, with the Hyksos occupying the north, and the Nubians in the south, it seems like that would have given the Egyptians some concern about these new immigrants in their country. Yet the fact that the Hyksos were allowed to immigrate into Egypt make me wonder if perhaps, the Egyptians weren’t guarding their borders very well, or if they just didn’t have the ability to protect their country against foreigners. Either that or maybe they just weren’t very good at thinking about the long-term consequences of having these people occupy such a large part of their country.

It’s also interesting that the Hyksos could levy taxes against the Thebans living in Upper Egypt. It seems like a pretty brazen move to make a decision like that in a country where you’re not even in charge. It makes me wonder how (and how quickly), the Hyksos were able to establish any kind of domain or control in the land they immigrated to. It also sounds like the Hyksos had a good plan of subtly invading a country, and then, gradually trying to take it over.

The Alliance

During the Second Intermediate period there was an alliance between the Hyksos of Avaris in northern Egypt and the people of Kerma in middle Egypt because of archaeological/historical findings.  Both had cultures that showed they were outsiders.  Interestingly their cultures resembled each other and were adaptive to the Egyptian culture.

The Hyksos had methods that were similar to that of the Middle Bronze Age Syria-Palestine.  This allowed for a connection to be made about where these peoples’ roots were from and who they may have traded with.  The power of trading continuously comes up in the Egyptian history.  During the Predynastic Period the Upper Egyptian culture slowly spread and conquered Lower Egypt.  In a similar way that is what the Syria-Palenstine people may have been trying to do.  During the reign of the Hyksos, Egypt did expand some reaching farther into Asia and the culture began to merge.  The time when this transition occured most is unclear. There is evidence of 13th Dynasty Eygptian kings with Asiatic employers found at Tell el-Dab’a through the tombs of the employees that have animal burials.  Later, during the 15th Dynasty, burials were found in Avaris with young female remains. This strongly suggest that they were sacrificed which is a very un-Egyptian practice. The exact origins of such methods are suspected to be of southwest Asia.

Interestingly, in Kerma a similar sight was found within the burial methods.  A man was buried with a herd of sheep and seven sacrificed children.  The burial practice of having scarifical animals and young children is not Egyptian.  As mentioned before this is thought to be Asiatic.  Moreover, the people of this region were probably of similar heritage as the Hyksos.  Their alliance with each other makes sense even though quite some distance separated them.  There is evidence that they were not fond of the Upper Egyptian Theban rulers.  An excuvation at Kerma uncovered a 15th Dynasty Hyksos king seal.  Could Kerma have been a secondary state of the Hyksos?

The invasion of these thought to be Asiatic people is quite interesting.  The land that they decided to conquer as their own is also interesting and shows that they were skillful in their planning.  The Delta is a very rich area as well as the region that the city of Kerma is located on.  Through archaeological findings of these regions as well as that of Syria-Palenstine regions, it has been concluded that the people had multiple similarities.  Those people that resided on Egyptain land were more likely integrate this culture into Egyptain practices.  The merge caused many changes for the occupied areas and helped shaped a new path for Egypt.

Middle Kingdom Advancements

During the Middle Kingdom, quite a few advancements had occurred.  The most interesting advancement that I read about was the emergence of Egyptian literature.  The texts provide us with a firmer grasp on Egyptian life such as the social unrest, famine, and every day life.  A variety of texts developed over this time period.   Egyptian literature was not only used for entertainment in story form, but it was used for many other things such as coffin texts, instructions, and discourses.  More Egyptians were able to write and read with the establishment of the first school during the 12th dynasty.   Those who were in lower ranks may have been able to read as well because coffin texts were found in graves of private individuals and not just in the ones for the royal family, as pyramid texts were during the Old Kingdom.
Also, Instead of reading about the literature that was discovered, I would like to actually read a translation of one of the Egyptian stories.  As much as it is interesting to hear about excavations and artifacts discovered, it would be nice to be able to interpret Egyptian literature ourselves and get a better understanding in what they thought and felt.
Another advancement/adjustment that was made during the Middle Kingdom was the sea-faring expeditions.  During this time, the Middle Nile was under control by the Kerma Kingdom and in order to obtain goods from Punt, the Egyptians had to make a new sea route to reach their destination.  These sea-faring expeditions required thousands of men and careful planning to avoid disruption with Kerma.
Irrigation was another important project that took place during the late 12th dynasty.  The irrigation helped this area (the Faiyum region) prosper with increased crop yields and benefited from the high Nile floods.
During the Middle Kingdom period, more aspects to the culture had developed/had been modified.  I’m interested to see how ancient Egypt changes during the future dynasties we will learn about in the next lessons.


What intrigued me the most from this week lecture, is the appearance of the Hyksos. The Hyksos are people from western Asia who became the first foreign rulers of Egyptian soil. There was just a sudden appearance of people with a different appearance and style of dress moving to Egypt. What drew them to this land? It seems as if they just migrated to Egypt, shared their thoughts, and eventually took control. Why did the Egyptians allow them to just come and rule their land? The lecture says that there was no evidence of war, and in fact they were accepted. When they did come Egypt was dealing with the internal pressure of having weak rulers. Maybe the Egyptians accepted them because they believed they could bring prosperity, which they did eventually do. Evidence of the Hyksos using the Egyptian writing styles to write their non-Egyptian names and seals hints that the two ethnicities were working together because Who was teaching the writing style? The Hyksos friendliness and Egyptians acceptance brought about this mixture of cultures. Through diffusion the population, burials, ceramics, and weaponry were changing. I found it interesting that they combined their practices. For example how the burials had Egyptian like chapels but contained female remains which was a non Egyptian practice. It seems as if they were just there to stabilize the Egyptian economy. While stabilizing they just adopted some of the practices. I think the Egyptians got what they wanted from the Hyksos then were jealous of their success. The problem came because of the Hyksos –who controlled the north-had an alliance with the Nubians-who controlled the south-, which sandwiched the Egyptians. They began to protest complaining about their territory being taken. If the Hyksos were friendly people who were bettering the economy, why fuss now?

Week 5: Expeditions and Medicinal Texts/Depictions

This week’s reading mentioned the various expeditions that the ancient Egyptians conducted. I thought it was interesting that the boats were made in Coptos, which was not near the port on the Red Sea that they used, and then they were disassembled, roped together, carried to the port, and then were reassembled. In a previous post I wondered why their boats were not made with nails and joints, perhaps this process for the expeditions was the reason they constructed their boats this way. I also found these expeditions interesting because they brought exotic materials to cities not near the coast in addition to the materials obtained by trade. Other expeditions that were mentioned were those of mining expeditions. These expeditions allowed the people to mine for their own precious stones, metal ore, and other raw materials that they needed so that they did not need to rely solely on trade for these materials. Some of these mines showed evidence of settlements that were built for the miners and they were imperative to Egypt, so that it could better control Eastern Nubia because of the placement of some of these mines.

I also found the archaeological evidence for the process and rituals of childbirth interesting because I did not think that it would be something that would be important for a society like ancient Egypt.  I am glad that something like the birth bricks and the depictions were preserved and found because it sheds light on the women’s view and beliefs about this private part of their lives. They had their own process, rituals, and goddesses that were worshipped and/or depicted. The text of veterinary medicine and medical papyrus of problems that women face that was discovered is interesting because it shows that they saw these things as problems and were trying to find ways to fix and document them, so that they could help other animals and women who may have been suffering. These texts also show that they possibly had scientific knowledge of medicine and/or a medical part to their culture.

Changes in the status of the pharoahs and the elites.

After going through this week’s material, I think that the most interesting things were the shifts and changes in power that came about during the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period. Whereas during the Old Kingdom we had pharaohs with an almost god-like status, we now see authority shifted away from the pharaohs. I think the fact that during the 13th dynasty, when we see a high amount of turnover as far as pharaohs are concerned, but little turnover among viziers and little internal conflict, illustrates the diminishing importance of the pharaohs during the Middle Kingdom. The decreasing importance of the pharaohs can also be seen in that there are fewer pyramids from this era and the ones that we do see are far less opulent and far diminished in their quality and size compared to those made during the Old Kingdom. When I take this into account along with the fact the Middle Kingdom era pyramids are known for their portcullises and false passages (designed to deter grave robbing), it really seems  obvious that the power of the pharaohs is waning. During the Old Kingdom, it seems like it would have been unthinkable for someone to commit grave-robbery of a pharaoh’s tomb. The fact that during the Middle Kingdom measures such as portcullises and false passages had to be taken really illustrates how the position of royal had changed. (Although, I think that it is important to note that the pharaohs were merely no longer viewed as the demigods that they were considered to be in earlier times.
During this time period, we also see changes in the status of members of Egyptian society in general in that forms of material culture that were once the the province of only the royal and upper-class members of Egyptian society were now being co-opted by lower-status social groups. For example, Pyramid Texts were no longer limited to royal use, but were now being adopted by non-royal elites.

Restoring the Political Power Through Magic

After reading about the re-unification of the Egyptian political structure, I found that the link between the appearance of magical amulets throughout the social hierarchy with that of the government quite interesting.  My first thought when reading about the magical pieces, such as the knives, was that everybody should have the capability of making these pieces since they were all artifacts that had some sort of deity carved into the blade.  It is hard for me to imagine that any blade with a deity carved into it would be considered a magical item.  For instance, holy water is not tap water that is called holy water; it is blessed by a priest.  For that reason, I believe that these magical items were only magical if blessed by some magic man in ancient Egypt.

To address the situation of ancient Egyptians throughout all social classes having these magic pieces, it is important to look at the Pharaoh himself.  The three dimensional scarab that was used as a seal and inevitably becoming a symbol of the Pharaoh.  Since this scarab was found throughout the common-man, it is possible that the Pharaoh adopted the piece as his own since it was so recognized by his subjects.  Another example between ancient Egypt and modern day would be that Twitter has been recently adopted by the President of the United States.  I mention this because it shows that to connect better with your people, you need to have common ground.  With a suffering political government in ancient Egypt, the Pharaoh and his viziers needed to connect with the people to show their presence in their everyday lives.  This could have easily been accomplished by sending these magical amulets throughout the social hierarchy and letting the people establish commonality with their Pharaoh and hence allowing the bureaucracy to grow.

There are probably other interpretations as to why these magical items came into the possession of the people and why the government adopted specific seals such as the scarab.  It is an obvious challenge that although there are many texts that describe the life in ancient Egypt, there is still plenty that is needed to be understood.  The above post is only an opinion based on the way I feel the Egyptians related to their government.  The fact that there are modern examples relating the current thought process of our government to the Pharaoh is just to show that although time has passed a great deal, the thought process of the human mind has not necessarily changed so much.

Power- Week 5

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.

12th Dynasty Pyramids

I decided to write this blog post about pyramids because when most people think about Ancient Egypt, they think about pyramids.  But what do we really know about the pyramids in general and specifically pyramids from the 12th and 13th Dynasty?  This post will summarize what was discussed about 12th Dynasty pyramids in Chapter 7: The Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period.  “Amenemhat I was the first king of the Middle Kingdom to build a pyramid as his tomb” and have a base line of 84 meters (182).  This pyramid was built at Lisht, on a terrace, and has mastaba tombs to the east with a bunch of tomb shafts for royal women to the west.  The tomb shafts reserved for royal women are a development that has been seen in earlier royal tombs at Thebes.  The main materials used for Amenemhat’s pyramid were locally quarried blocks, mud-brick and loose debris as well as stones from Old Kingdom pyramids.  The main burial chamber and valley temple were built below the water table, which makes it almost impossible to examine and excavate.

Also at Lisht, there is a larger pyramid, which is where Senusret I, Amenemhat I’s son, is buried.  This pyramid has a base line of 105 meters and was constructed with internal reinforcing walls consisting of limestone from quarries to the south, southest, and southwest of the pyramid.  Senusret I’s pyramid consists of four thick walls but still suffers from construction problems have weakened the structure and is now a small mount of stone and rubble.

Later 12th Dynasty pyramids were built farther south, as Dahsgur and Hawara.  For example, Amenemhat II’s pyramid was built in this location was was not preserved well because sand was used as fill.  When the interior limestone walls made of limestone were robbed for use in later construction, the structure collapsed.  The last 12th Dynasty pyramid that will be discussed in this blog post is Senusret III’s pyramid.  Senusret III, who is also known as the great builder of the 12th Dynasty, chose Sahshur as the site of his pyramid.  With a base line of 105 meters, similar to Senuret I’s pyramid, the structure was made of mud-brick, encased in Tura limestone and had an unusual entrance on the west side of the oyramid.  The burial chamber was lined in granite, contained a granite sarcophagus and had a second roof to relieve stress in the structure.  However, there is no evidence that that Senusret III was actually buried in this pyramid or at a Abydos site.

In conclusion, by looking at how the pyramids have changed throughout the 12th dynasty, we can see how see how the architecture of pyramids have progressed.  The materials, architecture and location considered when building a pyramid have changed throughout the 12th dynasty.  Although before taking this class I was really interested in learning more about the culture of ancient Egyptians, after taking a few weeks of this course, I am now more interested in learning more about what can be learned about pyramids through archaeological excavations.