The Advice of Amenemhet I

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: History of Ancient Egypt

By Bob Brier, Ph.D., Long Island University

The Advice of Amenemhet I, written by Amenemhet I for his son and co-regent, Sesostris I, is essentially wisdom literature. However, it is likely that it was written by the son and not the father since it alludes toward the father’s murder.

An old Egyptian papyrus depicting images and script.
The Advice of Amenemhet was a set of instructions given to Sesostris I.
(Image: Kriveart90/Shutterstock)

Amenemhet I instituted something that had never been done before in Egypt: it was what is called coregency. In the last 10 years of his reign, he said, I’m going to take my son, whose name is Sesostris, and I’m going to make him a king with me. He’s going to be coregent. Now, why would he do that? The answer is that Amenemhet was thinking back to the First Intermediate Period, which was an unstable time, and he wanted to make sure that his son was going to rule if something happened to him.

So if anything were to happen to Amenemhet, the successor was established. Now, Amenemhet was named Ameny, ‘the son of a man’. He was a commoner, but he wanted to make sure that his son would succeed him as a pharaoh. Hence, the coregency. This was something that this dynasty kept up, and future dynasties also used it very efficiently.

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The Papyrus of Amenemhet I’s Death

So, he was a coregent. And, it looks like it was a good thing too that he did it because there is some evidence that Amenemhet I was murdered.

Now, it is not 100 percent sure that there is evidence, but there is a papyrus with a wonderful tale that reads like fiction. It is called the Tale of Sinhue, and there is a terrific movie based on it called The Egyptian.

This is a transcript from the video series History of Ancient Egypt. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

The Tale of Sinhue

The story says that Sinhue is a palace official, and he is out of the country with the pharaoh’s son, the coregent. Later, word reaches them that the pharaoh, Amenemhet I, has been killed. The son rushes back to Egypt, but Sinhue is afraid. He is afraid of anarchy. He is afraid that there will be chaos in Egypt. He does not know what is going to happen.

A fragment of the the Advice of Amenemhet I papyrus.
It is likely that Sesostris I wrote the Advice of Amenemhet after his father’s death.
(Image: One dead president, David Liam Moran/CC BY-SA 3.0/Public domain)

Again, he knows what happened during the First Intermediate Period. He does not want that again, so he does not go back; and for much of his life, he stays outside the borders of Egypt, afraid to return to his homeland. However, there is a kind of happy ending.

Eventually, the new king, Sesostris, asks: Why is our Sinhue staying away? Why doesn’t he come home? There are no bad feelings. There’s nothing—why doesn’t he come home? And they send a messenger. Sinhue is an old man by now, but they bring him back, and he returns to the palace. He is taken care of, so it has a happy ending.

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The Advice of Amenemhet I

The papyrus, nevertheless, suggests that Amenemhet was murdered. And, remember, this was a dynasty that knew how to manipulate the press. They used literature for their own purposes. There is also another document, which is supposedly The Advice of Amenemhet I, written by Amenemhet I for his son. It is a sort of wisdom literature: this is how you run a country, kid. But there are signs that it was written by the son, and not by the father.

It is likely that Sesostris really wrote it after his father was dead, and there was a good reason why. When looking at what he wrote, bear in mind that the son’s father had been killed, and the text is giving advice about how to lead a country.

What it says is the following. This is, supposedly, Amenemhet talking to his son. He says, “Beware of the subjects who are nobodies. Beware of those who are plotting that you are not aware of. Do not trust your brother. Do not have any friends.” That is pretty cynical. He continues, “I gave to the beggars. I helped the poor, and look what happened to me.” He says, “ I gave myrrh to people,” now, myrrh was a really precious spice, “and they didn’t help me.”

The Advice of Amenemhet goes on to say, “But he who ate my food raised opposition. He whom I trusted plotted against me.” And then he almost describes how he was killed. Now, obviously, this was not quite Amenemhet doing it, but he says, “It was after supper during the night. Weapons for my protection were turned against me.” So it was an internal plot. Possibly his very own guards did this to him.

And he says, “I had assigned order to everything. Life was good, and look what happened.” So perhaps he really was killed. It is a rare thing.

In fact, there was a kind of funny political problem here. The king was divine, a god. The king could not really come out and say, my father was murdered. It would be the kind of thing kings just did not talk about. It would be like when the queen of England gets indigestion, it is not talked about. So he could not come out and say in this document, my father was murdered; hence, they talk about the plot. They talk about weapons being turned, but they never say he was actually killed.

And at the end it says—he was talking to his son supposedly—“I give you the contents of my heart.” He says, “Wear the white crown of a god, son. The seal is in its place assigned by me.” What it means is you are the legitimate heir. I made you coregent. You’re in, kid.

It is a cynical document, really cynical. But Amenemhet I was quite possibly murdered.

Common Questions About the Advice of Amenemhet I

Q: What did Amenemhet I accomplish?

Amenemhet I consolidated Egyptian unity with the powerful nomarchs or governors after the death of his predecessor, Mentuhotep IV. He used to be the vizier of Mentuhotep IV.

Q: Who was the Pharaoh before Amenemhat I?

Mentuhotep IV was the ruling pharaoh before the coronation of Amenemhat I.

Q: Was Sinuhe real?

There are a lot of doubts regarding the historicity of the Tale of Sinhue. Nevertheless, most experts lean toward it being a work of fiction.

Q: Why did Sinuhe leave Egypt?

Sinuhe left Egypt after the assassination of King Amenemhat I. He fled because he was scared of the ensuing chaos.

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