AMENEMHET I, 1ST KING OF THE 12TH DYNASTY
BY JIMMY DUNN.
Amenemhet I was the first ruler of the 12th Dynasty, and some Egyptologists believe that recovery from the First Intermediate
Period into the Middle Kingdom only really began with his rule. He was almost certainly not of royal blood, at least if he is
the same Vizier that functioned under his predecessor, Mentuhotep IV. Perhaps either Mentuhotep IV had no heir, or he was
simply a weak leader. This vizier, named Amenemhet, recorded an inscription when Mentuhotep IV sent him to Wadi Hammamt. The
inscription records two omens. The first tells us of a gazelle that gave birth to her calf atop the stone that had been chosen
for the lid of the King's sarcophagus. the second was of a ferocious rainstorm that, when subsided, disclosed a well 10
cubits square and full of water. Of course that was a very good omen in this barren landscape.
Many Egyptologists believe that Amenemhet's inscription implies that a great ruler will come to the throne of Egypt upon the
death of Mentuhotep IV, who will lead the country into prosperity. It is fairly certain that Amenemhet the vizier was
predicting his own rise to the throne as Amenemhet I. However, we are told that he had at least two other competitors to the
throne. One was called Inyotef, and the other a Segerseni from Nubia. It would appear that he quickly dealt with these
obstacles. We believe that he ruled Egypt for almost 30 years. Peter A. Clayton places his reign between the years of 1991 and
1962 BC while the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt gives him a reign lasting from 1985 through 1956 BC. Dodson has his reign
lasting from 1994 until 1964 BC.
Amenemhet I's Horus name, Wehem-mesut, means "he who repeats births", and almost certainly was chosen to commemorate the new
dynasty and a return to the values and prosperity of a united Egypt. Amenemhet (Amenemhat) was his birth name and means "Amun
is at the Head". He was called Ammenemes I by the Greeks. His throne name was Sehetep-ib-re, which means "Satisfied is the
Heart of Re".
Neferu, who was the principal wife of Senwosret I, the kings mother, Nefret, and a principal wife, Nefrytatenen
Amenemhet was probably the son of a woman named Nofret (Nefret), from Elephantine near modern Aswan, and a priest called
Senusret, according to an inscription at Thebes. So his origins are probably southern Egypt. We know of three possible wives
including Neferytotenen (Nefrutoteen, Nefrytatenen), who may have been the mother of Amenemhet I's successor, Senusret I,
Dedyet, who was may also have been his sister, and Sobek'neferu, Neferu). It is fairly clear that Amenemhet established
Egypt's first co-regency with his son, Senusret I, in about the older kings 20th year of rule. He was not only seeking to
assure the succession of his proper heir, but also providing the young prince valuable training under his tutelage. Senusret
was given several active roles in Amenemhet I's government, specifically including matters related to the military matters.
We know of several pieces of literature that probably date from his reign, some of which appears to support his reign with
fables of kingship. One, the Discourse of Neferty, has a ruler emerging named Ameny, who was foretold by a prophet in the Old
Kingdom (Neferty). Neferti was a Heliopolis sage who seems familiar to us from Djedi in the Papyrus Westcar. He is summoned to
the court of Snofru, during who's reign the story is suppose to have taken place. This tale has Ameny delivering Egypt from
chaos, but it should be noted that it is the chaos of the late 11th Dynasty, not the First Intermediate Period.
Then a king will come from the South,
Ameny, the justified, my name,
Son of a woman of Ta-Seti, child of Upper Egypt,
He will take the white crown,
he willjoin the Two Mighty Ones (the two crowns)
Asiatics will fall to his sword,
Libyans will fall to his flame,
Rebels to his wrath, traitors to his might,
As the serpent on his brow subdues the rebels for him,
One will build the Walls-of-the-Ruler,
To bar Asiatics from entering Egypt...
We do not know what year this literature dates to within Amenemhet I's reign. But while there are other text that refer to
the chaos before the arrival of new kings, the references to Asiatics and the Walls-of-the-Ruler are new.
Amenemhet I set about consolidating the country in a very purposeful manner. He moved his capital north to the capital he
apparently established named Amenemhet-itj-tawy, which means, "Amenemhet the Seizer of the Two lands". It was located south of
Memphis, on the edge of the Fayoum Oasis, though the city ruins have not yet been discovered. This gave him a more central
control of Egypt, as well as placing him nearer to problem areas in the Delta. It also signaled the end of an old era and new
beginnings. This move was perhaps only carried out a short time after he took the throne.
Many Egyptologists believe that the move was made at the very beginning of his reign, while a few believe it may have been
much later, around the time of his twentieth year as ruler. However, he did begin a tomb at Thebes, and then abandoned it for
a pyramid at el-Lisht, near the new capital. It appears that the work on the tomb at Thebes may have taken between three and
five years to complete. Also, there are very few of his monuments located near Thebes, suggesting that he soon moved away.
His pyramid at el Lisht is instructional, for it seems to portray a return to some of the values of the Old Kingdom, while
still embracing the Theban concepts of the region of his birth. Egyptologists who believe Amenemhet I may have waited until
his twentieth year to make the move to his new city base their evidence on an inscription found on the foundation blocks of
the pyramid's mortuary temple. It records Amenemhet's royal jubilee, and also that year one of a new king had elapsed,
suggesting that the pyramid was started very late in the king's reign. Therefore, considerable debate remains over the timing
of his move.
He also reorganized the administration of the country, keeping the nomarchs who had supported him, while weakening the
regional governors by appointing new officials at Asyut, Cusae and Elephantine. An inscription records that he also divided
the nomes (provinces) into different sets of towns and redistributed the territories by reference to the Nile flood. We see a
steady march during Amenemhet I's rule back to a more centralized government, together with an increase in bureaucracy.
Another move, both to dilute the army's power and to raise personnel for coming conflicts, was his reintroduction of
Undoubtedly, in the Discourse of Neferty, Asiatics refer to the people who were causing trouble on the Egypt's eastern
frontier. One of Amenemhet I's earliest campaigns were against these Asiatics, though the scale of these operations is
unknown. He drove these people back, and indeed did build the Walls-of-the-Ruler, as series of fortifications along Egypt's
northeastern frontier. However, even as late as his 24th year of rule, we still find inscriptions recording expeditions
against these "and-dweller". None of these fortifications has ever been found, though the remains of a canal in the region may
date from the period. Apparently, in the midst of the Asiatic campaign, he also found time to crush a few unrepentant local
In Nubia, Amenemhet I first pushed his army southward to Elephantine, where he consolidated his rule and seems to have been
satisfied for a number of years. This expedition was apparently lead by Khnemhotpe I, governor of the Oryx nome, who traveled
up the Nile with 20 boats. But by year 29 of his rule, the king appears to have no longer been happy with the lose trading
and quarrying network with Nubia that we find in the Old Kingdom. The new policy was one of conquest and colonization with the
principle aim of obtaining raw materials, especially gold. An inscription at the northern Nubian site of Korosko about half
way between the first and second cataracts (rapids) states that the people of Wawat (northern Nubia) were defeated in his 29th
year, and he apparently drove his army as far south as the second cataract. In order to protect Egypt and fortify captured
territory in Nubia, he founded a fortress at Semna and Quban in the region of the second Nile Cataract, which would begin a
string of future 12th Dynasty fortresses. Along with protecting his newly acquired territory and the gold mines in Wadi
Allaqi, he also created a stranglehold over economic contacts with Upper Nubia and further south. We also know that he
constructed a fortress at Mendes named Rawaty.
From a foreign relations standpoint, we also know that diplomatic and commercial relations were renewed, after a long absence,
with Byblos and the Aegean world.
Amenemhet I took part in a number of building projects. Besides his fortresses, we know he built at Babastis, el-Khatana and
Tanis. He undertook important building works at Karnak, from which a few statues and granite naos survive. He may have even
established the original temple of Mut to the south of the Temple of Amun. He also worked at Koptos (Coptos), where he partly
decorated the temple of Min, at Abydos, where he dedicated a granite altar to Osiris, at Dendera, where he built a granite
gateway to Hathor and at Memphis, where he built a temple of Ptah. Also a little north of Tell el-Dab'a, he apparently began
a small mudbrick temple at Ezbet Rushdi, that was later expanded by Senusret III.
Religiously, being from southern Egypt, Amenemhet I's allegiance was probably to the god Amun, and in fact, we find from this
period forward the rise of Amun, at the expense of Montu, god of war, as the supreme deity of Thebes.
It is also notable that we find an increase in the mineral wealth of the royal family. We find a huge increase in the jewelry
caches found in several 12th Dynasty royal burials. It is obvious from several sources of evidence that even the standard of
living form middle class Egyptians was on the increase, though their level of wealth was proportional to their official
Amenemhet I appears to have been a very wise leader, setting about to correct the problems of the First Intermediate Period,
protecting Egypt's boarders from invasion and assuring a legitimate succession. Yet he was murdered in an apparent harem
plot while his co-regent was leading a campaign in Libya. Again, we find two literary works, the Tale of Sinuhe and the
Instructions of Amenemhet I, reflecting this king's tragic end. One literary work from the time of Senusret I presents the
account of Amenemhet I's murder, supposedly provided by the king himself from beyond the grave:
"It was after supper, when night had fallen, and I had spent an hour of happiness. I was asleep upon my bed, having become
weary, and my heart had begun to follow sleep. When weapons of my counsel were wielded, I had become like a snake of the
necropolis. As I came to, I awoke to fighting, and found that it was an attack of the bodyguard. If I had quickly taken
weapons in my hand, I would have made the wretches retreat with a charge! But there is none mighty in the night, none who can
fight alone; no success will come without a helper. Look, my injury happened while I was without you, when the entourage had
not yet heard that I would hand over to you when I had not yet sat with you, that I might make counsels for you; for I did not
plan it, I did not foresee it, and my heart had not taken thought of the negligence of servants."
Apparently, his foresight in creating the co-regency with his son proved successful, for Senusret I succeeded his father and
their seems to have been little or no disruption in the administration of the country.
Amenemhat I, also Amenemhet I, was the first ruler of the Twelfth Dynasty (the dynasty considered to be the
beginning of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt). He ruled from 1991 BC to 1962 BC. Amenemhat I was a vizier of his
predecessor Mentuhotep IV, overthrowing him from power, scholars vary if Mentuhotep IV was killed by Amenemhat
I, regarding the practise of the time it's considered likely. Amenemhet I was not of royal
lineage, and the composition of some literary works (the Prophecy of Neferti, the Instructions of Amenemhat)
and, in architecture, the reversion to the pyramid-style complexes of the 6th dynasty rulers are often considered
to have been attempts at legitimizing his rule. Amenemhat I moved the capital from Thebes to Itjtawy and was buried
His son Senusret I followed in his footsteps, building his pyramid–a closer reflection of the 6th dynasty pyramids
than that of Amenemhat I–at Lisht as well, but his grandson, Amenemhat II, broke with this tradition.
Two literary works dating from the end of the reign give a picture about Amenemhat I's death. The Instructions of
Amenemhat were supposedly counsels that the deceased king gave to his son during a dream. In the passage where he
warns Senusret I against too great intimacy with his subjects, he tells the story of his own death as a
" It was after supper, when night had fallen, and I had spent an hour of happiness. I was asleep upon my bed,
having become weary, and my heart had begun to follow sleep. When weapons of my counsel were wielded, I had become
like a snake of the necropolis. As I came to, I awoke to fighting, and found that it was an attack of the
bodyguard. If I had quickly taken weapons in my hand, I would have made the wretches retreat with a charge! But
there is none mighty in the night, none who can fight alone; no success will come without a helper. Look, my injury
happened while I was without you, when the entourage had not yet heard that I would hand over to you when I had not
yet sat with you, that I might make counsels for you; for I did not plan it, I did not foresee it, and my heart had
not taken thought of the negligence of servants. "
This passage refers to a conspiracy in which Amenemhat was killed by his own guards, when his son and co-regent
Senusret I was leading a campaign in Libya. Another account of the following events is given in the Story of
Sinuhe, a famous text of Egyptian literature:
" Year 30, third month of the Inundation season, day 7, the god mounted to his horizon, the King of Upper and
Lower Egypt Sehetepibre went aloft to heaven and became united with the sun's disk, the limb of the god being
merged in him who made him; whilst the Residence was hushed, hearts were in mourning, the Great Gates were closed,
the courtiers crouched head on leap, and the nobles grieved.
Now His Majesty had sent an army to the land of the Tjemeh (Libyans), his eldest son as the captain thereof, the
goodly god Senusret. He had been sent to smite the foreign countries, and to take prisoner the dwellers in the
Tjehnu-land, and now indeed he was returning and had carried off living prisoners of the Tjehnu and all kinds of
cattle limitless. And the Companions of the Palace sent to the western side to acquaint the king's son concerning
the position that had arisen in the Royal Apartments, and the messengers found him upon the road, they reached him
at time of night. Not a moment did he linger, the falcon flew off with his followers, not letting his army know.
But the king's children who accompanied him in this army had been sent for and one of them had been summoned.
Amenemhat I is considered to be the first king of Egypt to have had a coregency with his son, Senusret I. A double
dated stela is dated to the thirtieth year of Amenemhat I and to the tenth year of Senusret I, which establishes
that Senusret was made co-regent in Amenemhat's 20th regnal year.
Amenemhat I's name is associated with one of only two sebayt or ethical "teachings" attributed to Egyptian
monarchs, entitled the Instructions of Amenemhat, though it is generally thought today that it was composed by a
scribe at the behest of the king.
Amenemhat I's Horus name, Wehemmesu, which means renaissance or rebirth, is an allusion to the Old Kingdom period,
whose cultural icons and models (such as pyramidal tombs and Old Kingdom artistic motifs) where emulated by the
Twelfth Dynasty kings after the end of the First Intermediate Period. The cult of the king was also promoted during
this period, which witnessed a steady return to a more centralized government.
The royal court
The vizier at the beginning of the reign was Ipi, at the end of the reign Intefiqer was in charge. Two treasurers
can be placed under this king: another Ipi and Rehuerdjersen. Two high stewards, Meketre and Sobeknakht, have also
Naguib Mahfouz, the Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian writer, includes Amenemhat I in one of his stories published in
1941 entitled "Awdat Sinuhi". The story appeared in an English translation by Raymond Stock in 2003 as "The Return
of Sinuhe" in the collection of Mahfouz's short stories entitled Voices from the Other World. The story is based
directly on the "Story of Sinuhe", although adding details of a lovers' triangle romance involving Amenemhat I and
Sinuhe that does not appear in the original. Mahfouz also includes the pharaoh in his account of Egypt's rulers
"Facing the Throne". In this work, the Nobel laureate has the Ancient Egyptian gods judge the country's rulers
from Pharaoh Mena to President Anwar Sadat.