Achievements and Weaknesses of the Middle Kingdom and Its Downfall

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In Ancient Egypt, the Middle Kingdom is seen as one of its finest ages. This is because it was a time of ‘expanding political strength’ and ‘broader economic horizons’[1]. Generally thought to be from approximately 2000 B.C. to 1780 B.C.,[2] it was during the Twelfth Dynasty that Egyptians opened a wide trade amongst other countries, improved agricultural systems, fortified and expanded Egyptian borders with a strong military reputation, and explore the arts and literature to a depth which Egyptians had not previously. The Middle Kingdom has little weaknesses, but these did not prevent its gradual downfall.

For Ancient Egypt, a significant advantage of the Middle Kingdom was its trade with other countries. In Palestine and Lower Syria, Egyptian artifacts of the Twelfth Dynasty kings have been found[3] and in the ancient story ‘The Story of Sinuhe’, it is documented that the king or pharaoh sent his envoys to Syria on regular journeys. In Crete, artifacts of the Middle Kingdom were also excavated[4]. The kings of this period ordered increased mining in the Sinai mining centres to raise their turquoise and copper ore stores. In foreign trade, many of these stalls were used.

Foreign trade was but one indication of Egypt’s prosperity during this time. The vast improvement of Egypt’s agricultural system was another. The Faiyum, which was a vast expanse of swampland[5], was close to Egypt’s new capital, Itjtaway. The powerful kings of the Twelfth Dynasty, though ‘devoted a good deal of attention to the land reclamation and hydraulic engineering to this region’[6], through a great amount of effort. The kings of the dynasty turned the Faiyum into a superior water supply, using a system of ‘canals, dikes and catch-basins’[7].

During the Middle Kingdom, Egypt expanded and fortified its borders, as it was a force to be reckoned with. Threats from nearby countries such as Nubia increased, and the Egyptian kings of the Middle Kingdom expanded the land they controlled. This was so they owned more land south of the First Cataract[8]. At the northern end of the Second Cataract fortifications were also established[9]. Ammenemes I, the first king of the Twelfth Dynasty, ordered a fortification to be built to keep the Asiatic immigrants out of the Delta[10]. This wall of mud brick was known as the ‘Walls of the Prince’[11]. The kings also developed a system of check points to ‘regulate trade an immigration’[12].

The arts and literature of the Middle Kingdom held great importance. The earliest surviving Egyptian literature came from this period as the ‘language of the period, Middle Egyptian, became the literary language for the rest of Egyptian history’[13]. The later Egyptians viewed the literature that existed in the Middle Kingdom as influential to their daily life and the writing of this time, ‘express a particular idea of the nature of civilization that was later to be adopted as the perfect model’[14]. In the Middle Kingdom, there were a variety of genres of literature represented, the two with the most being didactic and narrative texts[15]. ‘Instructions of Ammenemes I’ was the most popular didactic text. These didactic texts were seen as instructions to the future generations of Egypt, and especially kings, of how to serve their country. In ‘Instructions of Ammenemes I’, there are many references to a need of a lack of reliance in others, as the book said that these people were not to be trusted:

Beware of the subjects who are nobodies,
Of whose plotting one is not aware.
Trust not a brother, know not a friend,
Make no intimates, it is worthless. [16]

This text is quite intriguing, as during his jubilee year of rule, Ammenemes I was assassinated by those in his own court[17]. The ‘Story of Sinuhe’ was the most popular narrative text of this time. It detailed the events that occurred after a servant, Sinuhe, overheard plans to assassinate Ammenemes I. It repeatedly praises the heir of the throne, Sesotris I,...
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