The End of the Amenemhet and Sesostris Dynasty

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: History of Ancient Egypt

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

The Dynasty XII, or the Amenemhet and Sesostris Dynasty, continued successfully with the same-named yet ordinarily distinguished kings until this canonical order was finally broken with the rule of a queen called Sobeknefru.

A wide angled view of of the pyramid of Amenemhet III.
Amenemhet III built one of his pyramids at Dahshur, the same as the pharaoh Sneferu. (Image: Merlin74/Shutterstock)

Sesostris II

Sesostris II was another great king. He continued the family tradition of alternating names, and he also increased the agriculture of Egypt. Now, the capital was in the Fayoum, which was a nice, moist area. It was not a desert by any means. He reclaimed land and expanded irrigation ditches. So this was a family that was not only comfortable, but they were aggressive. They were increasing the economy. They were pumping new things into the economy.

He also had a pyramid, and around his pyramid were burials for his princesses and some queens. In one of these burials, the beautiful treasures of a princess named Sit-Hathor-Yunet were found. It was a really interesting excavation, too, very hard.

Sesostris III, Slight Change of Order

Then there was a little bit of a change. Sesostris III did not alternate names. There was Amenemhet I, Sesostris I, Amenemhet II, Sesostris II, and then Sesostris III. There were a couple of minor changes with him, but one change that everybody will be able to notice when they go to museums: the statues changed. The art changed a little.

The statues of Sesostris III from the neck down look like an Egyptian statue, an ordinary Egyptian statue, well-muscled, idealized. But the face is tired. The corners of the mouth go down, the eyes droop. It is almost like he is saying, I’ve seen it all. These are people who are in a sense saying, we’re the shepherds of our country. We’ve done a lot, but we’ve suffered a lot. Amenemhet I was murdered.

So, it is interesting. The statues of the end of this dynasty all have this tired look. It is indeed quite interesting.

Sesostris III was a military leader. He was 6’6” tall. He was a big pharaoh. The average Egyptian, in fact, was something like 5’4” for a man, maybe 5’2” for a woman. Roughly, maybe 5’5” was average. They were shorter than people today. But he was 6’6”. He must have been pretty impressive in his time.

He built temples everywhere. They are gone now, but they were there, and their remains can be seen. He also built a pyramid—at Dahshur. Why Dahshur? Because Sneferu built his last two pyramids there. They were going back to the good old days. He was saying, I’m like Sneferu.

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

Amenemhet III

Now, his successor was Amenemhet III. He again had a long reign. His portraits are just like his father’s. The difference can not be seen. The head of Amenemhet III looks just the same. These tired faces. It is amazing.

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The Pyramid of Amenemhet III

A grey bust of Amenemhet III.
Amenemhet III, of the Dynasty XII, was the son of Sesostris III. (Image: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg)/CC BY-SA 4.0/Public domain)

Amenemhet III had two pyramids. Why two pyramids? Well, Sneferu also had a couple, king of Upper and Lower Egypt. So, Amenemhet III was also saying, I can do it. One of them is at Dahshur, the same as Sneferu, and the other is at a place in the Fayoum, Hawara.

It is an interesting one. The entrance is not on the north. It is on the south. Perhaps these pharaohs were showing that they were tired, that they had had it. There was a sense of cynicism. They had seen tomb-robbing, hence he put his entrance on the south so that tomb robbers would not be able to easily find it. It was an attempt at protecting himself. And, it almost worked.

The Confusion of Sir Flinders Petrie

It was robbed in antiquity, but one of the people it fooled was the excavator, Sir Flinders Petrie. Petrie came to the pyramid and said, “Ah, entrance on the north. No problem.” Because every other pyramid had its entrance on the north. He started excavating.

For nearly a decade he was pulling away parts of this pyramid, looking for the entrance. He never found it on the south. Ergo, what he finally did was he went up to the top of the pyramid and started excavating straight down until he hit the burial chamber. Even then it was not easy. There were dead-end passageways intended to throw off the robbers, but it had still been robbed. Probably the robbers were the construction workers who worked on it.

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Princess Neferuptah and Her Pyramid

But there were some interesting things: along with Amenemhet III’s sarcophagus, there was another sarcophagus.

The chamber was about 22 feet by 8 feet. It was big, and there were two sarcophagi inside, one for him and one for his daughter, the Princess Neferuptah. She probably died during his reign, and they put her there temporarily until she could have her own pyramid. But it was quite an impressive thing.

Neferuptah’s pyramid, by the way, was also discovered. It was an interesting excavation. It had no entrance. What happened was, they started building the pyramid after she was dead. So, they cut a big pit inside the ground, covered it over with limestone, and then built the pyramid on top of it.

It is actually one of the few pyramids ever discovered intact where there was a burial. But the water had risen up, and most of it had been destroyed. The body of Neferuptah was completely gone, dissolved in the water. There were about four feet of water in the tomb, and all that was left were the beads from her jewelry.

The End of the Dynasty XII

At the end of the dynasty, not much is known. Amenemhet IV was probably the last real king. There is not much information about him. It is not known where his pyramid is, or if he had one. There is one temple for him in the Fayoum that has been found, but it is terribly ruined.

The dynasty ended with a queen as king, Sobeknefru, and that is a sign that there was trouble. Whenever a queen ruled, there was a problem. She was not a legitimate king for the people. All that is known about her is that she ruled for a few years, and then the dynasty ended.

And after this dynasty, there was another complete collapse of Egypt.

Common Questions about the End of the Amenemhet and Sesostris Dynasty

Q: When did Amenemhet die?

Amenemhet I, the founder of the Dynasty XII, died in 1962 B.C.

Q: Who was the pharaoh before Amenemhat I?

Mentuhotep IV was the ruling pharaoh before the coronation of Amenemhat 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 serve as a vizier for him.

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