2060 -2010 BC
The king's birth name, Mentuhotep - meaning 'Montu is content', Montu being the Theban god of war - also seems appropriate, since the first part of his reign at least saw a great deal of bitter fighting. Indeed, in the 1920s the American archaeologist Herbert Winlock found a mass tomb at Thebes, near Mentuhotep's temple, containing the bodies of 60 soldiers slain in battle. They had almost certainly been killed in Nubia and brought back for burial in Egypt - one of the earliest war cemeteries. The militaristic theme is also evident in two large models of wooden soldiers found in the tomb of a local prince or general, Mesehti, at Asyut in 1894. One represented a troop of 40 marching Egyptian pikemen, each armed with spear and hide shield, and the other a similarly sized group of Nubian archers.
The turning point in the fortunes of the Theban camp came in Year 14 of Mentuhotep's reign, when the Thinite (Abydos) nome rose up in revolt. Mentuhotep took immediate steps to crush it, in a series of battles which eventually led to his overall rule of Egypt. By Year 39 of his reign, he was well established as 'Uniter of the Two Lands'. A scratched inscription documents an expedition, mounted in the same year, to Abisko 17 miles (27 km) south of the First Cataract; similar records occur at Shatt er-Rigal, where the king was accompanied by his chancellor Akhtoy, and in the Wadi Hammamat quarries.
The mortuary temple of Mentuhotep I
|Mortuary Temple of Mentuhotep I|
Mentuhotep I enjoyed an unusually long reign of 50 years (at a time when most kings were short-lived), the latter part of which, following reunification, saw a return to peace and relative prosperity in Egypt. Building works at numerous sites - amongst them el-Kab, Gebelein, Tod, Deir el-Ballas, Dendera and Abydos - all testify to the stability now ruling the land. Mentuhotep's greatest project, however, was the temple- tomb he erected on the west bank at Thebes, in the impressive great bay of cliffs at Deir el-Bahari, south of his predecessors' saff tombs. Why he picked that spot and not the prime position nearby (later chosen by the 18th Dynasty Queen Hatshepsut) is a mystery. Nevertheless, the design of the temple-tomb was innovative: a great stepped podium with square- cut pillars around it, and the next terrace with a hypostyle hall at the rear at the base of the cliffs.
In the plain in front of the temple is the entrance to a deep tunnel known as the Bab el-Hosan, the Gate of the Horseman (so-called because Howard Carter's horse stumbled into it and led to its discovery). The tunnel leads to a chamber beneath the temple which held an impressive seated stone statue of the king; he is depicted in the tight white heb-sed costume and wearing the Red Crown but with a black face, thereby assimilating him to Osiris as an Underworld deity of fertility.
A number of Mentuhotep's high officials - including the chancellor Akhtoy, the viziers Dagi and Ipi, and the chief steward Henenu - chose to be buried close to their master's tomb, some having also served his son. Dagi's splendid limestone sarcophagus had a particularly full version painted on its interior of the Coffin Texts (magic spells introduced in the Middle Kingdom, designed to protect the soul of the deceased on the journey into the Afterworld, similar to the Pyramid Texts).