April 5, 2012

The First Intermediate Period 2181-2040 BC | Ancient Egypt

Chaos and Rebirth
  1. The First Intermediate Period 2181-2040 BC
  2. The Middle Kingdom 2040-1782 BC
  3. The Second Intermediate Period 1782-1570 BC
Dynasty 7 Ancient Egypt
Form its Inception at the end of the 4th millennium BC, Egyptian civilization had gone from strength to strength in every sphere of the arts, sciences and technology, reaching its zenith with Khufu's great monument at Giza. Small wonder then that the ancient Egyptians were complacent within the sheltering and protective desert-backed cliffs of the Nile Valley. The shock of the breakdown of that essential concept of stability, ma’at, at the end of the Old Kingdom around 2181 BC was therefore even greater because the unimaginable had happened. For 140 years chaos reigned, only to be brought under control, like an unruly horse, by a strong line of princes from Upper Egypt at Thebes. Just 250 years later central government and the concept of ma’at broke down once again. The see-saw effect from one extreme to the other was to become an unpleasant aspect of the structure of civilization in the Nile Valley. Out of this period of disruption, now so dark and difficult to interpret, however, emerged the three luminous dynasties that were to comprise the New Kingdom.

1 - The First Intermediate Period 2181-2040 BC


Dynasties 7&8
2181 - 2161 BC
Pharaohs
 Wadjkare and Qakare  (Iby)

Dynasties 9&10
(Heracleopolitan)
2160 - 2040 BC
Pharaohs
Meryibre (Khety) -  Merykare  - Kaneferr and Nebkaure (Akhtoy)

With the death of Pepi II, central government broke down completely and the fragile unity that had held Egypt together during the Old Kingdom finally splintered. Papyri from the later Middle Kingdom emphasize the turmoil of the First Intermediate Period, for the country had indeed fallen into political and monarchical disorder.

Stela of the Nubian soldier Nenu Egypt (Jeblein),
First Intermediate Period, 2250-2035 B.C.
The later historical sources relating to this period are also confused: Manetho mentions a 7th Dynasty consisting of 70 kings who reigned for 70 days, but rather than being real rulers they were probably dreamt up by the ancient historians to symbolize the demise of central control at the end of the Old Kingdom. More certain, however, seems the existence of an 8th Dynasty. Comprising 17 or so kings, possibly descended from Pepi II, these rulers claimed to govern from Memphis. Their authority was nevertheless mostly limited to the area around this city, for the Delta had been invaded by so-called 'Asiatics' from the east, Thebes (Luxor) had ceased to be the capital of the fourth nome in Upper Egypt, and the city of Herakleopolis (near modern Beni Suef) had won control of Middle Egypt. The 8th Dynasty was short-lived, lasting for only 20 years or so, and the kings left little evidence of their rule apart from a royal exemption decree issued by King Wadjkare (whose Horus name was Demedjibtawy) and a small pyramid of a king called Qakare Iby.

Following the breakdown of the Memphite government, the provinces began to jockey for power, as nomarchs set themselves up as petty warlords. It was at this time that a ruling family from Herakleopolis emerged, the 9th Dynasty, founded perhaps by one Meryibre Khety. This dynasty may have held sway over the whole country for a while, but by the beginning of the second Heracleopolitan dynasty (10th Dynasty) some 30 years later, dual sovereignty had been established, with southern Egypt controlled by a rival family, the 11th Dynasty, at Thebes (p. 72).

The two Heracleopolitan dynasties were somewhat unstable and frequent changes of ruler took place. Manetho mentions the cruelty of a 9th Dynasty king named Achthoes, but goes on to describe how the gods exacted their revenge: the king was apparently driven mad and then eaten by a crocodile. The name of Meryibre Khety has been recorded and maintains the full titulary with the two cartouches; another documented name in a cartouche is that of a king called Merykare.

One of the most important of the few monuments from this war-torn period is the tomb of the nobleman Ankhtify, found at el-Moalla 20 miles (32 km) south of Thebes. He was no mean warrior and identifies himself as 'great chieftain' (presumably the nomarch) of the Heracleopolitan nome (el-Kab). In such troubled times as these, his power could have been god-like and his word law ('I am the beginning and the end of mankind for my equal has not and will not come into being'), but he could also be humane, as shown by one record of his feeding the famine-struck populace. Nevertheless, he did this at the behest of the king, Kaneferre, who was probably the third king of the 9th Dynasty.

The name of another king occurs in the well-known Middle Kingdom 'Tale of the Eloquent Peasant'. This peasant was robbed of his goods on the way to market by a local 'bully boy' landowner, and decided to take his case to the highest in the land. He pleaded his case 'in the reign of his late Majesty King Nebkaure' before the king himself, who was entranced by the humble peasant's eloquence, making him present the case time and again in order to enjoy listening to him. The king concerned was probably Nebkaure Akhtoy of the later 9th/10th Dynasty.

As the authority of the Heracleopolitan government grew, so too did that of the Theban dynasty. Increasing hostility between the two powers resulted in frequent clashes along the border (mostly north of Abydos), which only really abated when Egypt was reunified by one of the 11th Dynasty kings.

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