The Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom were times of growth and prosperity for Egypt. At the same time, however, the Egyptians stopped believing in the pharaoh as an intermediary, or go-between, for humans and gods. This weakening of the pharaoh's power eventually led to a breakdown of the Egyptian government.
The Middle Kingdom
At the end of the Old Kingdom, ancient Egypt went through troubled times. About 2080 B.C. the country was divided as rival kings fought for power. Egypt was torn by a civil war. In a civil war groups of people from the same place or country fight one another. A scribe named Neferti described this troubled time in Egypt:
Dry is the river of Egypt, one crosses the water on foot....
I show you the land in turmoil....
Men will seize weapons of warfare....
I show you the son as enemy, the brother as foe....
Egypt reunited in about 1980 B.C. That year also marks the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, which lasted until about 1630 B.C.
The rule of Dynasty 12 is considered the high point of the Middle Kingdom. Dynasty 12 started about 1938 B.C. when a vizier in Lower Egypt named Amenemhet (AHM«uhn»em»HET) took over as pharaoh. He and those who ruled after him conquered all of Lower Nubia. Then Egyptian trade also expanded during the Middle Kingdom. Boats and furniture were built of cedar and pine wood from Lebanon. Important metals such as gold from Nubia, silver from Syria, and copper from the Sinai peninsula were brought to Egypt by traders. Egyptians received products such as gold, ebony, ivory and incense from the African savanna through trade with Upper Nubia.
During the Middle Kingdom, Egyptian society changed. Some of the rights that had once been for pharaohs alone were now available to all Egyptians. For example, the burial prayers that had once been used only for kings could now be used by everyone. Despite this change, Egyptian society remained strongly divided by social class.
Historians have compared Egyptian society to a pyramid. At the top of the social pyramid stood the pharaoh. Just below the pharaoh were the royal family and the priests and nobles. Below them were the scribes, craft workers, and merchants. Egypt's farmers followed. At the very bottom of the pyramid were the slaves.
Most of Egypt's enslaved workers had been captured during military campaigns. Unlike slaves in some societies, those in Egypt had some freedoms. They were allowed to own personal items and even to hold government jobs. They were also able to earn their freedom.
In addition to changes in society, Egypt also saw changes in government. A Middle Kingdom pharaoh named Sesostris III (suh»SAHS*truhs) reorganized Egypt's bureaucracy, or network of appointed government officials. Under the old system the leaders of individual nomes had gained much power. Sesostris III removed these leaders from office and replaced them with a system of governors. The new governors were controlled by the pharaoh's vizier.
This gave the pharaoh greater control over the government.
How did Egyptian government change during the Middle Kingdom?