The Middle Kingdom
of Egypt

XI Dynasty, of Thebes,
Mentuhotep I2160-2134?
Intef/Inyotef I2134-2117/2123
Intef/Inyotef II2117-2069,
Intef/Inyotef III2069-2060,
The Middle Kingdom
Mentuhotep IISꜥankhibtowe2060-2010,
Heracleopolis overthrown,
Egypt unified, c.2040
Mentuhotep III2010-1998,
Mentuhotep IV1997-1991,
This is first Egyptian dynasty from Thebes, , the curiousity of whose Greek name(s) as been examined
previously. Otherwise, Thebes could be called , the "City of Amon," or just , the "City." The phenomenon of calling an important or central city just "the City" is familiar as a modern phenomenon, and also with Constantinople -- ἡ Πόλις. There is fallout from this in the Bible, where see Thebes called , [Ezekiel 30:14], or, more fully, , Nō [of] Amōn, which reproduce the names we have just seen in Egyptian. Curiously, where the Hebrew has , the Septuagint translates it as Διόσπολις, Manethō's name for the City. In Coptic, however, it is Ⲛⲉ.

Many of the Kings here in the XI Dynasty have names, , that reflect a local Theban war god, Montu, which means the association of the god Amon with Thebes may be an artifact of the XII Dynasty, not of the place itself. Otherwise, the Royal name is , which we see in some records of XX Dynasty tomb inspectors, who mention intact tombs of the Intefs, in locations that we now (infuriatingly) cannot identify.

These local rulers of a fragmented county end up counting as a dynasty only because, around 2040, Mentuhotep II succeeded in overthrowing the obscure Heracleopolitan kings and reuniting Egypt. This is usually taken as the proper beginning of the Middle Kingdom, so the XI Dynasty, starting in the First Intermediate Period, is the only dynasty in Egyptian history that is taken to straddle two such divisions.

In the course of his long reign Mentuhotep II employed three different Horus names. Earlier historians took this to mean that they were dealing with three different kings, and the total of Mentuhoteps (with this King previously counted as the first) as a consequence was formerly reckoned up to five. The last Mentuhotep seems to have been overthrown by his own vizier, Amenemhet, who thus founded the XII Dynasty. Some ill feeling may have persisted, since Amenemhet himself was ultimately assassinated, a sort of act that was, as far as we know, rather rare in Egyptian history.

The foundation of the temple/tomb of Montuhotep II,
Deir al-Baḥri, temple of Hatshepsut at right, 1969.
Mentuhotep II built himself a unique and impressive mortuary temple at Deir al-Baḥri. Very little of it remains, but it is adjacent to a substantially complete similar construction, which it certainly inspired, by
Hatshepsut. Whether this was actually also the tomb of Mentuhotep is not clear. From records of tomb inspectors of the XX Dynasty, we know that the Egyptians knew where the tombs of all these Kings were located, with a general impression of where that was; but none of them has ever actually been found. This is one of the many frustrations of Egyptian history. Since the Kings of the XII Dynasty, also from Thebes, nevertheless moved their capital and tombs to the North, we don't get royal burials at Thebes again until the XVI and XVII Dynasties.

In Arabic, "Deir al-Baḥri," , means the "monastery of" what looks like the adjective of "sea," , baḥr. I was not sure what this is supposed to mean, although the bay in the cliffs where the buildings stand may have been taken more literally. However, , ʾal-baḥrī actually just means "the sailor." If a founding monk of the monastery had been a sailor, this would easily account for the name. And we should remember that there are always sailors quite close by, on the Nile.

The "monastery" part, , dayr, certainly reflects the fate of the structures to be used as monasteries after the Christianization of Egypt. The nearby village, used for several centuries, in the XVIII, XIX, and XX Dynasties, by the workers in the Valley of the Kings, is similarly "Deir al-Medina," , the "monastery of the city." Relatively isolated in the desert, Deir al-Medina did constitute its own little city.

The treatment here is based on Peter A. Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs [Thames & Hudson, 1994], Sir Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs [Oxford, 1966], and now Aidan Dodson & Dyan Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt [Thames & Husdon, 2004]. The Horus names of Mentuhotep II are given with Gardiner's speculative vocalization, based on Coptic. Dodson and Hilton begin the Dynasty with a Mentuhotep who is not listed in the other sources. The second set of dates are theirs.

Index of Egyptian History

The XII Dynasty, the height of the Middle Kingdom, is one of the classic periods of Egyptian history. Not as spectacular as the previous Old Kingdom or the later New Kingdom, the kings did not build colossal pyramids as in the former period or carry out impressive military campaigns and conquests quite as in the latter -- although they did build pyramids and did carry out military campaigns.

Despite being derived from Thebes and often named after the god Amon, the Kings of the XII Dynasty relocated to the Faiyum, familiar from its name in Arabic, , ʾal-Faiyūm. This derived from Late Egyptian (with its definite article), after its great Lake Moeris, but to the Egyptians "The Sea," , Coptic Ⲡⲓⲟⲙ, which can still be analyzed into a contraction of ⲡⲁ, "the," and ⲉⲓⲟⲙ, "sea." But the Greek name of the lake, Μοῖρις, does not derive from this but from , "Great Canal," a canal into the Faiyum that was built by Amenemhet III.

XII Dynasty, of Thebes,
ReignPyramidLehner 1997Dodson & Hilton 2004
Amenemhet I
Senwosret I
Amenemhet II1929-1895
Senwosret II1897-18791897-18781900-1880
Senwosret III1878-18431878-1841?1881-1840
Amenemhet III1842-1797

Amenemhet IV1798-1790
Politically, the Faiyum may have represented a compromise between Upper Egypt, hemmed in by barren deserts, and Lower Egypt, with extensive farmland and swamps. The Faiyum is lush but limited, a favorite area for hunting, as we can imagine that birds were drawn to the open water (fowling seems preferred over fishing for the Egyptian elites); and it was removed from the influence of older centers of power, Upper or Lower. Manethō, however, seems unaware of this relocation, citing the origin of the Kings at Thebes.

The Faiyum is a below sea level depression that, further out in the desert, if open to ground water, might have constituted an oasis. As it is, a high enough Nile could overtop its banks and flood the depression. Part of the evidence of climate change at the end of the Old Kingdom is that the Faiyum seems to have dried up. All the sediments that should be there from the last years of the Old Kingdom blew away. That bespeaks conditions of drought that could have produced much of the misery attested by Egyptian literature during the First Intermediate Period. The renewal of Lake Moeris and the marsh lands may have impressed the Egyptians enough to help inspire the move of the XII Dynasty to the area. They got all the water and birds back, they may as well enjoy it.

In the desert immediately west of the Faiyum, indeed, only slightly west of the number "21" on the map of the Faiyum below, is the Wadi ar-Rayān. This now consists of two lakes, with the southern lake flowing into the northern one over a waterfall. This is all in a depression much like that of the Faiyum itself, but there is no notice of it in ancient literature. There are sulfur springs at the south end of the area, something that would not make for a useful water source, which means it was never settled as an ancient oasis. Indeed, the water in the lakes seems to be a modern phenomenon of runoff from the irrigation of the Faiyum itself, perhaps promoted by the higher water table created by the Aswan High Dam. It is startling to see the lakes there now, when the Egyptian apparently took no notice of the basin.

It was in the vicinity of the Faiyum that the XII Dynasty pyramids were generally built. Amenemhet I founded a city, ("Itj-Tawy"), to be his capital; but it is not clear if this continued to be used through the dynasty, and its site has not been located (or favored with a Greek name).

The Kings certainly continued the Old Kingdom practice of building a palace near the site of their pyramids, all the better to supervise the construction; and it may be that the use of Itj-Tawy declined or lapsed in favor of these temporary seats. Indeed, we might imagine that Itj-Tawy was itself near Amenemhat's pyramid at Lisht, whose northern location ended up favored by the Dynasty.

The XII Dynasty pyramids were comparable in size to those of the V and VI Dynasties, and for the first time incorporated blind passages, trap doors, and other security measures in the interiors. But the core of the pyramids was now mud brick, which eroded and crumbled catastrophically once the outer stone casing was breached. These structures thus failed to impress subsequent travelers. And while the Kings did expand Egypt up the Nile, building forts deep into Nubia, which added the most durable conquests of all to Egyptian territory, there were none of the expeditions into Palestine or Syria and spectacular battles by which the XVIII and XIX Dynasties were distinguished.

The tradition of pyramid names continues from the Old Kingdom, but we only see elaborate versions of them in the first two Kings. Amenemhet continues the use of "places," , last seen in the VI Dynasty. But the eyes of "Senwosret Behold the Two Lands" are unique in pyramid names. Nevertheless, the last pyramid names of the Dynasty, that we know about, are reduced to one character -- although this is not unheard of earlier.

A clue why Amenhemhat III has two pyramids, at Dahshur and Harawa, may be the same kinds of structural problems that plagued the nearby Bent Pyramid at Dahshur. Amenemhat's pyramid is actually sited on lower and softer ground; and even though its mass is largely mud brick and not stone, the structure seems to have started settling even during construction. Thus, we find the same kind of shoring with cedar beams that still exists in the Bent Pyramid, now supplemented by modern shoring from archaeologists. Nevertheless, although the King would not be buried there, the pyramid was finished, two of Amenemhat's queens were buried in it, and the pyramid was used for some later burials also. Its extensive galleries, unique since the III Dynasty, provided quite enough room for these.

At Hawara, there was a similar problem with siting. Although Amenemhat's new pyramid is on a finger of the desert between the Faiyum and the Nile, it is still close to the water. This is now made worse by an adjacent modern canal, and with the higher water table that has resulted from the Aswan High Dam. Thus, the substructure of the Hawara pyramid is entirely flooded. However, from 19th century examination, we know that the galleries of the pyramid were much simplified from Dahshur. It becomes the kind of pyramid that Hollywood would love, with blind corridors, doors in ceilings, and a vast burial chamber, made from a single piece of quartzite, whose roof was lowered by way of sand escaping from under supporting columns. Hollywood would love that sand, but there are only a couple other examples of its use in Egypt, at Mazghuna and in Khenjer's pyramid of the XIII Dynasty.

The burial chamber is as impressive as any work in Egypt, since the quartizte is the hardest rock the Egyptians ever worked with, and the whole massive block, and its roof, had to be brought here from some distance. The grave robbers had their work cut out for them, and all they managed to actually cut was a hole large enough for a child. But this enabled them to clean out the entire burial. Obviously, this work took time and could only be done after the pyramid was actively guarded, which means after the cult of the King, in the adjacent temple, lapsed.

As it happened, Amenemhat's pyramid at Hawara would become the last of its kind. Its exterior, unremarkable in comparison to Giza, became famous because of the adjacent mortuary temple, which seems to have had multiple chapels, perhaps for every god of Egypt. This fascinated Greek and Roman travelers, beginning with Herodotus, who saw it as a kind of Labyrinth. Unfortunately, very little remains, and its actual plan is now only evident at all from photographs taken from the air, which reveal lines invisible from the surface. Multiple burials of crocodiles, young and old, show the importance of the local crocodile god, Sobek, whose cult becomes prominent, even more in the following Dynasty than in the XII. The XIII Dynasty begins with Sobekhotep I (of which there would be at least eight), as the XII had ended with Queen Sobeknefrure.

The XII Dynasty kings, none of whose mummies have survived, are now regarded as the most human of all the Egyptian kings -- the divine king as the "Good Shepherd." Portraits of the Kings diverge from the idealization of the Old Kingdom and show human emotions, individuality, and frailties. Indeed, it was during the Middle Kingdom that the cult of Osiris was extended from the King to all Egyptians, with a promise of immortality and a happy afterlife for all. Anyone could become (an) Osiris.

We also have the earliest surviving secular Egyptian literature from the Middle Kingdom (including what I have already discussed as stories from the First Intermediate Period), as the language of the period, Middle Egyptian, became the elevated, literary language for the rest of Egyptian history. No story is more vivid than the Tale of Sinuhe, about a Court youth who witnesses the assassination of Amenemhet I, , is afraid of being accused or framed for the act, and flees to Syria. The assassination itself is spoken of indirectly, since the Egyptians found such a deed difficult to contemplate (we see similar language in relation to the assassination of Ramesses III). Sinuhe's life is miserable among the "wretched Asiatics," who don't shave or bathe and wear dirty woollen clothes (which even Samuel Johnson commented could not be properly cleaned -- not until modern dry cleaning), and he longs for Egypt. We can sympathize. It is not until his old age that word of his plight reaches the King, and Sinuhe is invited back to civilized life in Egypt. His homecoming is one of the great such moments in history. And we have no difficulty appreciating a bath and clean Egyptian linen.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York contains jewelry from the tomb of Princess Sit-Hathor-Yunet, , "Daughter of Hathor of the City [of the goddess]." She was buried next to the pyramid of Senwosret II, , at Illahun, probably meaning she was his daughter. The tomb had been robbed, and there was no mummy; but the jewelry had been buried under mud, which means that the tomb may have flooded before the tomb robbers got in. Unlike archaeologists, they may not have liked digging in dried mud.

The Arabic name , ʾAl-Lāhūn, comes from the Egyptian , "Mouth of the Wet Lands" (the dictionaries like "swampy lake," which would describe much of the Faiyum -- in New Jersey they like "meadow lands" for the swampy areas around the lower Hackensack and Passaic Rivers), Coptic Ⲗⲉϩⲱⲛⲉ. The site is indeed at the point where waterways, canals or otherwise, leave the Nile and flow into the Faiyum. The occurrence of the letter "l" is a curiosity of Coptic. Middle Egyptian had no "l," and we see that the word for "mouth" is given with an "r." But the "l" must have survived in dialects, since it turns up sometimes, as here, in Coptic.

The National Geographic image of the princess at left features all the jewelry, jars, and mirror that were discovered in her tomb -- a portrait that was quite fascinating to me when I first saw it about age 12. The Princess is named after the goddess Hathor and her sacred city, Dendera, , the "City of the goddess," Coptic Ⲛⲓⲧⲛⲧⲱⲣⲉ or ⲧⲉⲛⲧⲱⲣⲉ, Greek Τεντύρα, Arabic , Dandarah. Notice the same word here, in the feminine, as is used for Heliopolis, Coptic Ⲟⲛ, On, or Ⲱⲛ, Ōn.

The pieces of jewelry are of extraordinary beauty, delicacy, and refinement, such as previously not seen, or equaled later. It is hard to understand how the tiny inlay of semi-precious stones could have been done without magnification. But it was.

The XII Dynasty is thus an object of considerable affection for Egyptophiles, even if it usually fails to catch the attention of more casual observers or popular presentations of Egyptian history. The ruined pyramids are not such as to impress, even though they are the only ones of their kind that contain the false passages and closing doors that are otherwise favorites of the Hollywood version of Egypt.

Chronology and Julian Day Numbers for the XII Dynasty

R.A. Parker, in his The Calendars of Ancient Egypt [U. of Chicago, 1950], worked out a complete chronology of the XII Dynasty based on astronomical references during that Dynasty to the heliacal rising of Sirius and to phases of the moon, dated in regal years of known kings. These results are listed and discussed in a general way in Sir Alan Gardiner's Egypt of the Pharaohs [Oxford U. Press, 1961, p. 439]. The XII Dynasty already represents the first fairly secure dates in Egyptian history; and if Parker is right, then the dates can be secured absolutely and the XII Dynasty is known with a certainty missing from the rest of Egyptian history until cross-references to Classical chronology (cf. E.J. Bickerman, Chronology of the Ancient World, Cornell U. Press, 1968).

If the dates are known absolutely, then we can give the Julian Day Numbers for them. The following table thus gives the Day Numbers for all the benchmark (year 0) dates of the reigns of the XII Dynasty and the BC dates for the chronologically significant years (year 1, etc.). The XII Dynasty is well know for its system of regencies, so many reigns overlap. The zero year, first year, and last year are given for each reign, with overlaps. The Dynasty ends with the reign of Queen Sebeknefrure (or Sokebneferure), one of three women who are known to have occupied the throne of Ancient Egypt (not counting Greek Queens like Cleopatra), though nothing otherwise is known about Sebeknefrure or her reign.

Absolute Chronology of the XII Dynasty
Amenemhet Iyear 0 = Dynasty XIIyear 0year 0JD 993 847
Amenemhet Iyear 1year 11991 BC
Amenemhet Iyear 20 = Senwosret Iyear 0year 20JD 1001 147
Amenemhet Iyear 21 = Senwosret Iyear 1year 211971 BC
Amenemhet Iyear 30 = Senwosret Iyear 10year 301962 BC
Senwosret Iyear 42 = Amenemhet IIyear 0year 62JD 1016 477
Senwosret Iyear 43 = Amenemhet IIyear 1year 631929 BC
Senwosret Iyear 44 = Amenemhet IIyear 2year 641928 BC
Amenemhet IIyear 32 = Senwosret IIyear 0year 94JD 1028 157
Amenemhet IIyear 33 = Senwosret IIyear 1year 951897 BC
Amenemhet IIyear 35 = Senwosret IIyear 3year 971895 BC
Senwosret IIyear 19 = Senwosret IIIyear 0year 113JD 1035 0921879 BC
Senwosret IIIyear 1year 1141878 BC
Senwosret IIIyear 7 = Heliacal Rising
of Sirius on the 16th day
of the 8th month
year 1201872 BC
Senwosret IIIyear 36 = Amenemhet IIIyear 0year 149JD 1048 2321843 BC
Amenemhet IIIyear 1year 1501842 BC
Amenemhet IIIyear 44 = Amenemhet IVyear 0year 193JD 1064 292
Amenemhet IIIyear 45 = Amenemhet IVyear 1year 1941798 BC
Amenemhet IIIyear 46 = Amenemhet IVyear 2year 1951797 BC
Amnenemhet IVyear 9 = Sebeknefrureyear 0year 202JD 1067 5771790 BC
Sebeknefrureyear 1year 2031789 BC
Sebeknefrureyear 4 = Last Year
of the XII Dynasty
year 2061786 BC

In some recent books we see minor variations on Parker's dates. Thus, in the first XII Dynasty table above I compare Parker's dates with those of Mark Lehner, The Complete Pyramids [Thames and Hudson, 1997, p. 8] and Aidan Dodson & Dyan Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt [Thames & Husdon, 2004, p.289]. Dodson and Hilton end up with a pretty consistent divergence of from three increasing to five years. I have not noticed any direct critique of Parker's data or methods, so in the table with Julian Day Numbers I proceeded with giving the Day Numbers for Parker's results. The value of the Egyptian consonants is discussed in "The Pronunciation of Ancient Egyptian".

Egyptian History Continued

The Egyptian Calendar

Index of Egyptian History

The Egyptian Calendar

The Egyptians originally identified the months by a count, one through four, of their place in the three seasons. Here I show the glyph of the moon over the number. So the Egyptians would identify the first month as the first month of the season of Akhit, the Flood, . Each month is 30 days long, broken into three "weeks" ten days each; and the year ends with five intercalary days, to bring the total day count of the year up to 365. The Maya and Aztecs, with a similar calendar, viewed the extra days as unlucky, with the advent of the New Year in peril, and human sacrifices required; but the Egyptians were more confident in the benevolence and power of their gods, and the intercalary days were occasions for holiday and celebration. Eventually, the months quite reasonably became identified with the gods or festivals peculiarly associated with each month. These ended up as the names of the months in Coptic, as written in a modified Greek alphabet.

Under "Egyptian Names" here I show two things. First are the hieroglyphic writings given by Bill Petty in his English to Middle Egyptian Dictionary [Museum Tours Press, 2016, p.268]. Petty doesn't give us any reference for this list, but we can notice a couple of things about it.
The Egyptian Year
month in
Coptic name --
Saʿidic, Upper
Egyptian, Dialect
zero day
The Season of the Flood, 3kht



P n Ypt


Ḥt Ḥr


K3 Ḥr K3

The Season of Winter, Prt

T3 93bt


P n Mkhr


P n Ymnḥtp


P n Rnwtt

The Season of Summer, Shmw

P n Khnsw


P n Ynt




Mswt R9

5 Intercalary ("Epagomenal") Days, Birthdays of:
Osiris, Horus, Seth,
Isis, & Nephthys
It is missing a feature that is conspicuous in the Coptic names, which is the element pa, which derives from , an article by the time of the New Kingdom that derives from a demonstrative in Middle Egyptian (the article is suddenly used in the names of the daughters of Akhenaton, but it is then dropped when "Amun" is substituted for "the Aton" in their names). The feminine article, , also occurs in earlier Egyptian, but for some reason the masculine article is always followed by the preposition -- although this feature doesn't make it all the way into Coptic. All these elements are missing from Petty's writings, which is what we would expect from proper Middle Egyptian.

A nice example is with the 9th month (the 1st month of Summer), which is clearly named after the god Khonsu (a moon god, later as the child son of the dynastic gods Amun and Mut at Thebes) in both glyphs and Coptic. The Coptic name, however, clearly is from something beginning with , which is lacking in Petty's hieroglyphic reading. We also see this phenomenon in the 8th month.

The second thing we notice about Petty's writings is that not all of them seem to underlie the Coptic forms in any way. This is conspicuous with the very first month, whose Coptic name is obviously based on the god Thoth, . On the other hand, we see that the third month in Coptic is the name of the goddess Hathor, and this is indeed what Petty shows for the third month, the actual name of the goddess Hathor.

Therefore, the second thing I show under "Egyptian Names" is the Egyptian spelling that appears to underlie the Coptic names. I have lost track of the source of this, but it did not provide the hieroglyphic writings.

A peculiarity of Petty's treatment is that the order of the months in the cited dictionary differs from what he gives in his separate Hieroglyphic Dictionary [Museum Tours Press, 2012]. For example, the first month here is said to be the "second month" in the latter source [p.173]. Presumably, the 2016 text is to be preferred, and the confusion may result from the circumstance that the festivals after which the months are named generally do not occur in that actual month. Confusion may result. It does seem odd that the name of Petty's 2016 12th month actually means "New Year's Day" [2012, p.42], when clearly New Year's Day begins the following month (after the intercalary days).

The proper order of the months is certainly to be determined by their Coptic descendants. In those terms, the identity of the 12th month raises another question, for the Coptic name clearly derives from a festival marking the birth of the sun god Rē, , which is going to be a New Year event. Curiously, not only does Petty not feature this as the name of a month, which may well be accurate for Middle Egyptian, but he doesn't list it either among Egyptian "feasts and festivals" [2016, p.266]. I'd like to see some explanation or discussion of this.

Variations in the Coptic names themselves occur, particuarly in relation to the two most prominent dialects of Coptic (among some others), Bohairic (Arabic , ʾal-Buhairī, adjective of "lake" or "garden"), or Lower Egyptian Coptic, and Saʿidic (Arabic , ʾaṣ-Ṣaʿīdī, adjective of "upland" or just "Upper Egypt" -- also "Sahidic"), or Upper Egyptian Coptic. I have given Saʿidic versions of the names in the table above because these have been considered closer to Ancient Egyptian. However, when the Coptic Patriarchate moved from Alexandria to Cairo in 960 AD (under the Ikhshīdid Amirs), the Bohairic dialect began to dominate as the literary language of all of Egypt. Thus, in the table below, Bohairic versions of the names are given, with comparison to Greek and Arabic forms.

Coptic survived as a spoken language until the 15th or perhaps even to the 17th century -- see discussion of the confusion that has resulted from attempts to reconstruct its pronunciation. The population of Egypt may still have been as much as half Coptic Christian until the Mamlūks (1252-1517) began active persecution, something that both reduced the number of Copts to its modern remnant and probably finished off Coptic as a spoken language.

Since the Egyptian year was exactly 365 days long -- a noteworthy achievement, indeed a milestone, in the history of astronomy (independently matched, although later, by the Maya) -- it is easy to use the table for the XII Dynasty. Thus, if we are given a date, like the 16th day of the 8th month of the 7th year of Senwosret III (noteworthy as an attested heliacal rising of Sirius), what we need to do is:

  1. Multiply the number of the year by 365, which gives us 2555.

  2. Find the zero day of the month, in left hand column in the table above. The zero day of the 8th month (Coptic Parmoute) is 210. Add this to 2555, which gives us 2765.

  3. Add the day of the month (16) to 2765, which gives us 2781.

  4. Find the zero day for the reign of Senwosret III in the table above. That is Julian Day Number (JD) 1035 092. Add this to 2781, which gives us the answer, JD 1037 873.

JD 1037 873 can be converted to a date on the Julian calendar by using the tables and methods in "Julian Day Numbers for dates on the Gregorian and Julian Calendars".

Sothic BenchmarkJD 705 13219 July 2783 BC
Other benchmarks for dating with the Egyptian calendar are given in the following tables. The "Sothic" benchmark is the conjectural date for the beginning of the Egyptian calendar, when the "heliacal rising" of Sirius originally coincided with the beginning of the calendar year. The helical rising is when the star first appears in the morning sky, in July. The Egyptians associated this with the advent of the Flood of the Nile each year. Since the Egyptians never added intercalations to their 365 day year, the calendar ran fast, and the calendar "Flood" rarely coincided with the actual Flood. When it did, after about 1460 years, it was a moment of excitement and optimism.

This may have happened at the beginning of the reign of Seti I (dated from 1317 to 1291 BC), who used the phrase , "Repeater of Births," as had Amenemhet I. Indeed, given the Sothic benchmark of 2783 BC, the Cycle would complete in 1323, probably in the reign of Haremhab. The Year 0 Benchmark for Amenhotep I is determined by the other complete date of a heliacal rising attested for Egyptian history, though there continues to be dispute and uncertainty about interpreting the date.

Amenhotep I BenchmarkJD 1157 00213 September 1546 BC
Ptolemaic (Nabonassar) BenchmarkJD 1448 27225 February 748 BC
The "Nabonassar" Benchmark is for the Era introduced by the Greco-Roman astronomer Claudius Ptolemy, who was using Babylonian astronomical records that went back to the beginning of the reign of the Babylonian King Nabū Nāṣiru, Ναβονάσσαρος, in 747 BC. This was not an Era ever used by the Egyptians, but it continued to be used by astronomers at least until Copernicus, since it was easy to calculate using the even 365 days of the Egyptian year. Julian Day Numbers have now replaced this, since it is even easier to calculate by just using days.

Although the Nabonassar Era was never used by the Egyptians, the calendar in those terms nevertheless preserves the occasion of the traditional Egyptian New Year. Thus the official Astronomical Almanac, of the United State Naval Observatory and Her Majesty's Nautical Almanac Office in the United Kingdom, always lists the year and New Year of "Nabonassar." For 2019, the year is 2768 and the New Year falls on April 19th. When the Julian or Gregorian calendars add a Leap Day, the Egyptian New Year advances by one day. Thus, in 2015, the New Year was April 20th; but in 2016, after a Leap Day, the New Year advanced to April 19th. This will become April 18th in 2020. Thus, the modern Astronomical Almanac preserves a mechanism from perhaps the oldest calendar on Earth, in continuous use, if only by astronomers, since earliest Antiquity. It is not now still used, but its terms are still remembered and noted.

It is not generally understood that the day of the Egyptian New Year can still be identified. I have never heard or read any historian or Egyptologist mentioning it, and I have never noticed any Egypt buffs being aware of it. There should be New Year's parties -- indeed, parties for all five of the preceding intercalary days. For Egypt buffs, no human sacrifices are necessary. I have long wished to give such parties; but I've never known enough people, living in the same place, who would have been interested. A place like the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York, with its vast Egypt collection, which certainly draws many Egypt buffs, should be doing that itself.

Julian Augustan (Alexandrian) BenchmarkJD 1710 70629 August 30 BC
Julian Coptic (Diocletian) BenchmarkJD 1824 66429 August 283 AD
This table gives two Benchmarks for the Coptic calendar. That calendar is identical to the Egyptian calendar except that a leap year is used -- every four years an extra intercalary day is added to the five already used. This device, although proposed by Ptolemy III and adopted by Julius Caesar at Rome, was not adopted in Egypt until imposed by the Emperor Augustus. This "Alexandrian Year" was mainly used in Alexandria until finally accepted by the Egyptians in general when they converted to Christianity. Meanwhile, other, self-governing cities in the area had adopted the reform, using the identical structure of the Egyptian calendar, matched with Greek month names. We see examples in Bickerman of Gaza, as shown, and Ascalon [op. cit., p. 48]. The months at Gaza are actually the names from the Macedonian calendar, which itself started the year with Δῖος, in the Autumn.

The Julian Egyptian YearGaza
29 August






27 March
26 April
26 May
25 June
25 July
5 Intercalary Days
24 AugustEpagomenai
The table shows the Coptic months of the Alexandrian calendar in their Bohairic form, which is often closer to the names in Greek. The names in Arabic are, of course, much later, but they sometimes follow the Saʿidic rather than the Bohairic versions of the Coptic names. We also have features of Arabic phonology, for instance that there is no "p," for which "b" is used.

Augustus imposed the Julian intercalation in 23 BC. It could have been done no earlier than 26/25 BC, which were the first years in which August 30/29 on the Julian calender would have been the Egyptian New Years. However, I use a benchmark of 30 BC because that is the beginning of the reign of Augustus in the Canon of Kings. It is also convenient to use for the calendar from its imposition by Augustus until the acceptance by the Egyptians. This "Augustan" Era from that date was never used by anyone.

The Coptic Benchmark, which is the actual Era of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, then represents the calendar used by the Copts themselves ever since. Since Diocletian persecuted Christians, the Copts refer to their era as the "Era of Martyrs" -- something that now again seems appropriate with attacks on the Copts in Egypt by Islamic radicals. The dates in the table are the fixed dates for the beginning of the months on the Julian Calendar. Because the Julian Calendar now differs (in 2017) from the Gregorian by 13 days, we would add 13 to 29 August to get the beginning of the Coptic year three years out of four. That's 11 September. The fourth year will be 12 September, when the Coptic calendar has added a leap day but the Julian/Gregorian calendars have not yet done so (in the following February). Thus, the Coptic year began on 12 September in 2011, but was back to 11 September in 2012. Since September 11 (9/11) was the day of the Terror attacks on the United States in 2001, "Martyrs" again has a new meaning -- for the victims, not for the murderous suicide attackers who paradoxically styled themselves "martyrs."

Using the last tables with Julian Day Numbers is a little more complicated than for the Egyptian calendar above. An Augustan or Coptic year must first be divided by 4, to determine the leap year cycle. The quotient of the division is then multiplied by 1461, which is added to the remainder of the division multiplied by 365. The Coptic year 1715, which begins September 11, 1998, gives us a quotient of 428 and a remainder of 3. (428 x 1461) + (3 x 365) = 626 403. This number is then added to the Coptic Benchmark, the month number (as above), and the day of the month, for the Julian Day Number. For 1 Thout 1715, that comes out to JD 2451 068, which, indeed, is 11 September 1998, on the Gregorian calendar.

Egyptian History Continued

Index of Egyptian History

Julian Day Numbers for dates on the Gregorian and Julian Calendars

Philosophy of Science, Calendars

Philosophy of Religion

Philosophy of History

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Chronology and Julian Day Numbers for the XII Dynasty, Note

The "heliacal rising" of Sirius means the morning (and the Egyptian day began at dawn) on which the star Sirius can first be seen in the eastern sky right before sunrise. This was to the Egyptians the astronomical beginning of the year, though the actual heliacal rising moved through the Egyptian calendar, since the Egyptian calendar year was 365 days long with no leap day. See Gardiner (op. cit.), pp. 65-66. The 7th year of Senwosret III is only one of three dates in Egyptian history, and only one of two complete dates, for which we know the heliacal rising from Egyptian records. This is the anchor for the chronology, not just of the XII dynasty, but for much of Egyptian history--since there is no such anchor for the Old Kingdom.

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The Isin-Larsa and
Old Babylonian Periods

Isin, Larsa, and Babylon all begin as city states, but they come to dominate the period after the fall of the III Dynasty of Ur. Larsa soon encompases most of traditional Sumer, while Isin and Babylon are more at the Akkadian end of the area. However, just as the Sumerians fade from history, there is the infusion of a new Semitic speaking people, the Amorites. Babylon itself, hitherto unattested in Sumerian or Akkadian texts, could well be an Amorite foundation, although cultural assimilation is rapid, and it is the Amorite kings who permanently establish the cultural dominance of the Akkadian language, now taking on the form of a Babylonian dialect. Amorite itself ends up so poorly attested that its affinities in the Semitic family are uncertain. Under the celebrated Hammurabi, Babylon comes to dominate Sumer and Akkad, beginning the process by which the area simply becomes "Babylonia." For a while, Babylon expands into a domain comparable to that of Sargon or Ur III. This ended abruptly, has often the case in Mesopotamia, with an invasion, in this case that extraordinary raid of the early Hittites on Babylon. An obscure and poorly dated era follows, with the "Sealand" (Babylon II) Dynasty in the south and the Kassites (Babylon III) filling the vacuum in the middle. It is actually under the Kassites the Babylon ceases to be a city state and bestows its identity on all of what had been Sumer and Akkad.

Dynasty I
of Isin
Ur-Ninurta1923-1896Abi-sarē1905-1895Dynasty I of Babylon,
Sin-eribam, Sin-iqisham
Zambia, IterpishaṢilli-Adad1842-1835
Falls to Babylon, 1787Hammurabi1792-1750,
 Falls to Babylon, 1763
attacks Elam, 1762,
captures Ashur, 1760,
destroys Mari, 1757
Hittites capture Babylon, c.1595,
revised, 1499

The name of the city of Babylon illustrates the devices and issues of cuneiform writing. The most traditional rendering of the name would go thus:   [David Marcus, A Manual of Akkadian, University Press of America, 1978, p.115]. This is actually written as it would be in Sumerian. is "gate," which is in Sumerian and bābu in Akkadian (this is still , bāb, in Arabic); and is "god," which is dinger in Sumerian and ilu in Akkadian (, ēl, in Hebrew). These are ideograms, like Chinese characters or many Egyptian hieroglyphics, and they write the entire word as translated. Then the name gets interesting. The next sign is , which is not an ideogram but simply writes the syllable ra. The sources I have do not explain why this is here. It does not phonetically write any part of the name. I suspect that it is the Sumerian suffix -ra, which marks the dative case [John Alan Halloran, Sumerian Lexicon, Logogram Publishing, Los Angeles, 2006, p.217, and Dietz Otto Edzard, Sumerian Grammar, Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, p.34]. So the name would then be, "the gate for the god" (i.e. the patron god of Babylon, Marduk). The last sign is , a "land" or "place," which is ki in Sumerian and erṣetu in Akkadian (arḍ, , in Arabic, eretz, in Hebrew), but here is used as a "generic determinative," as in Egyptian, and is not pronounced. So Babylon in Sumerian is actually Ká-dingir-ra. The strangeness of this name reminds us that Sumerian was unrelated to Semitic or Indo-European languages.

George Roux renders this as Babylonian Bāb-ilim [Ancient Iraq, Pelican Books, Penguin, 1964, 1966, p.169]. Here the word for "god," ilu, takes a case ending in the genitive, -i, with "mimation," or the addition of an m. Akkadian and Babylonian do not have a dative case, so we get the genitive, "the gate of the god." The mimation is used in Akkadian and Old Babylonian to indicate the singular number [Marcus, p.18]. However, it drops out of use in later forms of Babylonian and Assyrian [Marcus, p.19]. As we begin to see "Babylon" written phonetically, instead of with the Sumerian ideograms, the word looks like Bab-ilu, with neither mimation nor case inflection [Marcus, p.115, and Edwin Norris, Assyrian Dictionary, Part I, 1868, Elibron Classics, 2005, p.70] -- bābu seems to have lost its case vowel altogether even in older versions of the name. Thus we get . Here is ba, is bi, and is lu, with the determinative still used [Norris, p.70]. As in Sanskrit, the written syllables may bridge separate words. Also, long and short vowels are written the same way. [Although Marcus uses Neo-Assyrian cuneiform even with Old Babylonian texts, the signs we see in Norris often seem to be somewhat simplified or slightly altered.]

Old Assyrian Period
Ushpia, Sulilic.2020,
not attested
Puzur-Ashur Ic.1975-c.1939
Erishum I1939-1900, or
Sharu-kīn I,
Sargon I
Puzur-Ashur II
Erishum II
Shamshi-Adad I1813-1781, or
expands west and south
to the Eurphrates
Invasion by Hammurabi, 1760
[six kings]
The city state of Ashur appears in history in the early days of the Isin-Larsa period. It is named after its god Asshur, , and grows into the state and empire of Assyria, , which will have a long history until its abrupt and catastrophic end. In this early period, its first distinguishing characteristic is as the center of a system of trade, with Assyrian merchant communities attested deep into Anatolia. The state briefly expands to empire proportions under Shamshi-Adad I -- himself of Amorite origin, like the contemporaneous Dynasty I of Babylon -- but then is rapidly reduced again. Subordination to Babylon and then domination by the Hurrians and Mitanni keep Assyrian within its limits, and its history unimpressive, for some time.

The invasion and domination or conquest of Ashur by Hammurabi's Babylon leads to one of the more obscure periods in Assyrian history. Thus, the Old Assyrian Period leaves us with little hint of the conquerors that the Assyrians would later become. Already, however, the Akkadian language of Assyria emerges as a distinct dialect, as it will continue until the fall of Nineveh. Beyond the expanse of traditional Sumer and Akkad, Assyria is a frontier region whose rigors at the crossroads of conquest perhaps explain the toughening of the people to a military discipline that later would seem unbeatable. In subsequent treatment here, Babylonian and Assyria history are separated. They do go their own ways, but it should be kept in mind that they represent two sides of the same civilization, with well remembered roots in Sumer. We might say that Babylon represents the Greek side of the tradition, with a sophistication that was passed down to, indeed, the Greeks, and Assyria the Roman, creating the first transcontinental empire (since it extended up the Nile) in the Middle East. Assyria, however, was destined to display little of the durability of Rome. We may reflect that the very ferocity of Assyrian power was self-defeating.

The list and dates here are from Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq [op.cit., 1966, 1992, pp.506-507], and/or Amélie Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East, c.3000-330 BC [Routledge, 1995, 2000, volume I, pp.79,82], with some touches from the Historical Atlas of the Ancient World, 4,000,000-500 BC, by John Haywood [Barnes & Noble, 1998, 2000]. However, it now appears that Roux's dates are up to 96 years too early. In "Astronomy and the Fall of Babylon," in the July 2000 Sky & Telescope [pp.40-45], Vahe G. Gurzadyan discusses changes that can be made in Babylonian chronology on the basis of analysis of Babylonian astronomical records (the Enūma Anu Enlil) and more accurate modern calculations of ancient eclipses. The benchmark event for the chronology of this period is the fall of Babylon to the Hittite King Mursilis I. Previously, there were high, middle, and low estimates for this event, 1651, 1595, or 1531. Roux, like most, used the "middle" chronology. Gurzadyan says that the basis of all these estimates was wrong, the "high" and "middle" dates don't fit with other archaeological evidence, and that now the event can be dated precisely to 1499. A key astronomical event for the period was a total eclipse of the sun on 16 May 1459, which allows the resettlement of Babylon after the Hittite sack to be dated to 1496. Four revised dates are given, along with the Roux's "middle" chronology dates, for Babylon I.

I was hoping to get a very up-to-date treatment of the king lists in A History of Babylon, 2200 BC-AD 75, by Paul-Alain Beaulieu [Wiley Blackwell, 2018]. Beaulieu, however, provides no lists or dates for the Sumerian or Akkadian dynasties. He gives the governors of Babylon under Ur III, but not the kings of Ur III. OK, the book is about Babylon; but when we get to Babylon I, the list and the dates are no different from those provided by Roux and Kuhrt. Beaulieu also dates the fall of Babylon to the Hitties to 1595. What about all the astronomical considerations of the last 20 years? I don't see it. The treatment of the subsequent years seems to involve only minor changes, which I will note in turn.

I must acknowledge that my first introduction to the study of the languages here was thanks to Dr. Sara J. Denning-Bolle, who in 1990 gave me a copy of Marcus' Manual of Akkadian. Of the modern sources cited, Marcus is still the most valuable, since the Sumerian grammar and lexicon I have do not use cuneiform at all(!). I find this puzzling. One does not learn Sumerian to speak it; and one cannot read it without being able to transcribe cuneiform.

The Babylonian Calendar

Babylonian Kings continued

Assyrian Kings continued

Mesopotamian Index

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The Second Intermediate Period of Egypt

The Second
XIII Dynasty,
of Thebes, ,
or Memphis,
Sobekhotep I
Amenemhet V1796-1793
Qemaw, Ameny Qemau

Amenemhet VI1788-1785
Sobekhotep II1780-1777
Hori I
Amenemhet VII1769-1766

Intef V (IV?)?
Sobekhotep III1749-1742
Neferhotep I
Sobekhotep IV1732-1720
Sobekhotep V1720-1717
Sobekhotep VI1717-1712
Aya, Aye I
Hori II1669-1664
Sobekhotep VII1664-1662
Mentuhotep V?
Neferhotep II?
XVI Dynasty,
of Thebes,
Sobekhotep VIII1645-1629
Neferhotep III1629-1628
Nebiryraw I1627-1601
Eruption of Thera, 1627-1600
Nebiryraw II1601
Dedumose I1588-?
Dedumose II?
Montuhotep VI?
Senwosret IV?-1582
XVII Dynasty,
of Thebes,
Sobekemsaf I
Intef VI1573-1571
Intef VII1571-1566
Intef VIII1566
Sobekemsaf II1566-1559
Siamun(? Tao/Taa I)
Seqenenre Tao/Taa II
The lists and dates here are mainly from K.S.B. Ryholt, The Political Situation in Egypt during the Second Intermediate period c.1800-1550 B.C. [Carsten Niebuhr Institute Publications, Volume 20; The Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Near Eastern Studies, University of Copenhagen, Museum Tusculanum Press, 1997].
XIV Dynasty,
of Xois, ,

or Avaris,
Apophis I(?)?
Ryholt's chronological tables (pp.408-410) are somewhat simplified, with Prenomens given where Nomens are absent, and with some modifications by comparison with the lists in Peter A. Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs [Thames & Hudson, 1994] and William J. Murnane, The Penguin Guide to Ancient Egypt [Penguin, 1983]. Ryholt's treatment, however, is the guiding authority. Not all souces will agree with him, and readers should be wary.

The chronology and even identity of the kings of the period is very confused. The Turin Canon (cf. Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, Oxford, 1966, pp.440-442) lists dozens of kings that could be of the XIII, XIV, or XVII Dynasties.

With so many ephemeral kings, one wonders what was really going on. While one problem with the First Intermediate Period was the lack of names, the embarrassment here is so many names, with so little in the way of monuments or records to give them any meaning or context.

The pyramid of Khendjer (a Semitic name, "Pig" of all things) is the only substantial monument of the XIII Dynasty -- although enough to motivate some to include the XIII Dynasty in the Middle Kingdom -- while the last three kings of the XVII are the only figures about whom we can have some historical confidence -- we still have the mummies of Tao II and Kamose. They can be examined in the Cairo Museum.

Ryholt's recent study may do as much as is humanly possible, given the present state of the evidence, to sort this all out. The gaps and fragmentary names in the lists, especially for the XIV dynasty, reflect damage to the Turin Papyrus itself.

For a long time, there is only one attested tomb from the XIII Dynasty, that of Khendjer. But Khendjer only reigned five years, and according to the records there were some longer reigns than that. Ibiaw is said to have reigned eleven years and Aye twenty-four years -- long enough, we might think, to build a major pyramid. Certainly something was built, some kind of tomb. As it happens, satellite images seem to show areas at Saqqara, where Khendjer's tomb is located, where other tombs, probably pyramids, may be located. Superficial excavations show that something is there, but I haven't heard that we have any names or dates yet.

In 1957 another tomb was discovered, at Dahshur, of the very obscure King Qemaw. Nothing was left above ground, and the substructure was not even investigated until 1968. The burial chamber, perhaps remarkably, was one piece of quartzite, as in the impressive pyramid of Amenemhet III at Hawara. Since Qemaw was only credited with a two year reign, even this seems like a lot to get done in that time.

More remarkably, the substructure of another pyramid was discovered at Dahshur in 2017. The burial looked intact, but when the granite capping stone of the burial chamber was lifted, the tomb had evidently been robbed. From inscriptions on the pyramid and on the wooden canopic chest, which survived, the burial was credited to a daughter of "Ameny Qemau," who is apparently our Qemaw. After some fancy image enhancement, her name was finally read off the canopic chest: "Hatshepsut."

The mystery of the burial is how it got robbed. Robbers had actually cut a hole through the quartzite burial chamber of Amenemhet III, but the roof, walls, and floor of Hatshepsut's burial chamber are intact. The inference, finally, was that the robbery must have occurred before the tomb was even sealed. The grave robbers may have been the priests and the workers charged with the burial.

There is also the mystery why this princess rated a tomb about as impressive as that of her father. Since a woman, Sebeknefrure, had reigned in her own right not long before, we might wonder if Hatshepsut, like her later namesake, was originally destined for the succession. In these terms, since she doesn't seem to have made it to the Throne, we might wonder if the looting of her burial was actually a kind of revenge of Qemaw's actual successor. Why the looters would then go ahead with sealing the tomb leaves us with another mystery. Since the closed tomb concealed the fact of the robbery, it is possible the crime was done secretly.

We might consider the fate of the later Hatshepsut. Thutmose III erased her name and image from her own mortuary temple at Deir al-Baḥri. There was then the suspicion that Thutmose might have visited his vengeance on her body and burial. However, Hatshepsut's mummy has now been, remarkably, identified; and it is clear that she died a natural death and was properly buried. Perhaps some such mixture is evident with the earlier Hatshepsut, who was denied the Throne, properly buried, but then with a burial looted at the last minute. A final insult. That is the thing about ancient history. Sometimes our imaginations can run riot.

Of all the remaining mysteries of Egypt, the tombs of these Second Intermediate Period kings rank right up there. Following immediately on the fourishing of the XII Dynasty, we should expect something more than we have previously seen.

To the Egyptians themselves, the major event of the era was the rule of part of the country, and suzerainty of the rest, by foreign invaders, the "Hyksos," Ὑκσώς, who probably introduced the horse and chariot into Egypt, at the time when Iranian invaders, like the Mitanni, were taking advantage of this new technology to dominate Babylonia and Syria. Some of the Hyksos names, however, appear to be Semitic (e.g. "Yakub" -- Jacob), so we can imagine them as having adopted horses from the invaders but still as having been bumped out of Asia at the end of the migratory dominoes. There had already been Semitic immigrants in the Eastern Delta in the XII Dynasty, and their presence would continue from then on. There is little doubt that such settlement underlies the story of the Israelites in Egypt, from Joseph to Moses, and there is no lack of Biblical interpretations for the Hyksos, though the evidence about anything beyond their mere existence is thin.

Which dynasties are Hyksos and which are not is a matter of uncertainty and dispute. Manethō says that the XV, XVI, and XVII Dynasties were Hyksos, although Egyptian Kings at Thebes were also included in the XVII. This leaves the XIII and XIV Dynasties as Egyptian. Kevin L. Johnson & Bill Petty group, with no division, the XIII and XIV as Egyptian, and the XV and XVI as Hyksos -- which is perhaps the most conservative evaluation -- with cautions that the identity, succession, and dating of the Kings is very uncertain.

What I show here from Ryholt, however, involves a pretty drastic reevaluation, where it is the XIV and XV Dynasties that are Hyksos, while the XIII, XVI, and XVII are Egyptian. Thus, Yakubaam is listed by Johnson & Petty last in the combined XV and XVI Dynasty [The Names of the Kings of Egypt, The Serekhs and Cartouches of Egypt's Pharaohs, along with Selected Queens, Museum Tours Press, Littleton, Colarado, 2011, 2012, p.36], while Ryholt has the King of that name as the first of the XIV. Peter A. Clayton puts Yakobaam in the XVI Dynasty, and all the main Hyksos Kings in the XV, with dates of the two dynasties contemporaneous [Chronicle of the Pharaohs, Thames & Hudson, 1994, p.93]. Ryholt's names for the XVI Dynasty follow the Egyptians names of the XI, XII, and XIII -- with all the Sobekhoteps interestingly echoing the terminal Queen of the XII Dynasty, Sobekneferure -- while Clayton, and I think Johnson & Petty also, simply seem to have left the names out. So this is just a mess, which goes back to the state of the King lists, and it would nice to think that Ryholt knows what he is doing.

Manethō gives six "great" Hyksos kings of the XV Dynasty of Avaris, but his names in Greek match up only imperfectly with the names known from inscriptions.
XV Dynasty, Hyksos,
of Avaris, ,
, Saitēs
, Bnōn
, Pachnan
Eruption of Thera,

, Staan
Apepi I

, Archlēs
Khamudi, Apepi II

, Aphōphis
The XVII Dynasty appears to have become vassals of the Hyksos, giving the foreigners control of the whole country for the first time, and then to have revolted. In the Cairo Museum we can see the axe wound to the forehead, as I myself have, from which Tao II evidently died, and Kamose may also have been killed in battle. We have a long account by Kamose on the outbreak of open war with the Hyksos, who were making humiliating demands on the king. Kamose's brother (or nephew), Ahmose, credited as the first king of the great
XVIII Dynasty, then drove the Hyksos out of Egypt and even pursued them into Palestine. Just as the Hyksos themselves adopted the horse and chariot from their enemies, the Mitanni, the Egyptians adopted the horse and chariot from the Hyksos and, thus equipped, began to project Egyptian power for the first time deep into the Levant.

The area of the Hyksos capital of Avaris, Αὔαρις is adjacent to where Ramesses II later built Pi-Ramesse [Exodus 1:11], a fortress city and palace that henceforth became the capital of the Ramessids. This was long thought to be identical to Tanis, Τάνις, the capital of the XXI Dynasty, but this now does not appear to be the case. For the construction of such cities, the local population, heavily Semitic, was impressed. These locals, previously distant from most New Kingdom building activity and unused to the traditional Egyptian corvée, would certainly find this forced labor oppressive and slave-like, just as represented in Exodus. Now communitarians could just accuse them of not wanting to contribute their "fair share" to the community through "National Service."

We can compare Ryholt's results with a more recent treatment, that of Aidan Dodson & Dyan Hilton in The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt [Thames & Husdon, 2004]. In Dodson and Hilton's complete chronology [p.290] -- which includes the XIII Dynasty in the Middle Kingdom, something I had previously never heard of -- we see Sobekhotep I starting in 1781 (following directly upon Queen Sobekneferu), but then no dates whatsoever until the end of the Dynasty in 1650. Ryholt begins the Dynasty a bit early -- it would still be in the reign of Amenemhet III -- but ends with no dates. Dodson and Hilton end the dynasty with several other unknown reigns, unremarked by Ryholt. They then skip the XIV Dynasty altogether. For the XV Dynasty, they begin in 1650, and otherwise only date the reigns of Apepi I, 1585-1545, and Khamudi, 1545-1535. For the XVI Dynasty, they begin in 1650 with the unknown King and end in 1590 with Senwosret IV but otherwise provide no dates. The succession is comparable. Finally, Dodson and Hilton run the XVII Dynasty, with comparable succession, from 1585 to 1549, but otherwise only give dates beginning with the death of Tao (Taa) I in 1558. The numbering of the Intefs (Inyotefs) is reduced by one.

We find Simcha Jacobovici, the delightful and eccentric host of the former CBC show "The Naked Archaeologist," arguing that the Hyksos actually were themselves the Israelites, the Pharaoh of the Exodus was Ahmose I of the XVIII Dynasty, and that Mycenaean Greece was the result (or something) of some (Greek speaking?) Israelites going there rather than to Palestine. He thinks that the catastrophic eruption of the volcanic island of Thera (Santorini) brought about all the effects described by the Bible as the Ten Plagues. Geologists now date this eruption of Thera to have been between 1627 and 1600 BC, about the middle of the XV and XVI Dynasties (a significant later eruption was in 726 AD, during the Roman Isaurian dynasty). Archaeologists are not too happy with this, believing that the material evidence indicates a date about a century later. Jacobovici, of course, wants a later date, since the reign of Ahmose I is usually placed in the range between 1575 and 1525.

Curiously, what may perhaps be the best evidence for the historicity of the Exodus is also one of the best pieces of evidence against Jacobovici's thesis:  the cities built of mudbrick by the Israelites are named in the Bible, i.e. , Pithōm and , Raꜥamsēs. These look like the names of the cities built by Ramesses II -- indeed, his name is in there, with the correct use of the consonant that in Arabic is ʿayn. It seems unlikely that a Bible generated in later mythology would use the names of places that would by then long have been insignificant and forgotten. And there were no Hyksos Kings named "Ramesses." An accurate record of the Hyksos period could be expected to have something like an accurate name of their capital.

I have seen assertions now that the name of Pi-Ramesse was remembered for some time and so might turn up in later literature. However, I would wonder if its later use in Egypt, in documents, would account for a later use elsewhere among foreigners, who would have no access to such documents and would be illiterate in their language. It still seems most probable to me that names attested in the Bible are the result of direct acquaintance with them in Egypt, at the time when their use was general there.

But there are many other problems with Jacobovici's theory. The Hyksos ruled Egypt, but the Bible never has Joseph replacing Pharaoh, and the Isaelites otherwise become slaves (i.e. comrade volunteers helping the People build socialism) making bricks to build Pharaoh's cities. They would presumably only be doing this under Ahmose, who overthrew and ejected the Hyksos. However, Ahmose built no new cities at or in the vicinity of Avaris. His capital was Thebes. Jacobovici offers the inscriptions at Egyptian turquoise mines in the Sinai as evidence of Hebrew slaves; but the Bible says nothing about turquoise mines, and we know from Egyptian practice that metal mining or stone quarrying in the desert usually involved the occasional expedition, which suffered brutal attrition -- given the obvious conditions of heat and lack of water. There were not thousands of Israelites living for an extended time out at the turquoise mines. No, the Bible says the Israelites made bricks, and this is exactly what they would be doing for Ramesses II, but not for Ahmose I. Similarly, Jacobovici's notion that the Mycenaeans were Israelites suffers from the obvious embarrassment that the Bible says nothing about it -- Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years -- and from the fact that we can read Mycenaean writing (Linear B), which is in Greek, not in Hebrew.

The worse thing about the theory, however, may be theological and moral. Jacobovici wants to believe that the Plagues, although natural phenomena, were nevertheless miraculously arranged by God for the purposes of the Exodus. But if this is the work of God, we must then believe that God was willing to set off the equivalent of a very large nuclear weapon in the middle of the Aegaean Sea, killing many thousands of people and all but exterminating the Minoan civilization, simply to apply duress to the King of Egypt. Talk about "collateral damage," this is the mother of all collateral damage. It is thus hard for me to think of it as an improvement over the story of miraculous local phenomena. The Plagues would have been deadly enough to a great many innocent Egyptians. It does not make it better to throw in a whole civilization that is an innocent and ignorant bystander, where the effects were much more devastating than in Egypt. Also, if the Mycenaeans were not Hebrews, Jacobovici loses his chance to make the Minoans themselves Hebrews -- their language, written in Linear A, has not been definitely deciphered but is now thought to be or be related to Luvian in Asia Minor -- since the Minoans were themselves the ones demolished by the eruption God arranged to save the Israelites.

Thus, as with many of Jacobovici's ideas, this theory is clever and imaginative, but it is gravely at odds both with the Bible and with the history of the period of the Hyksos -- not to mention the moral purpose of God's miracles.

Egyptian History continued

Index of Egyptian History

Philosophy of History

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