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The First Intermediate Period in Egypt

Pepi 2

Brian Yare

December 1999

On the first occasion when chaos descended on Egypt, we have difficulty in deciding what happened. How do Egyptologists view the reconstruction?

What was the First Intermediate period? It was a period after the Old Kingdom when Egypt was not ruled by a single government. It lasted between 110 and 200 years depending on which sources one trusts. The Old Kingdom appears to have ended towards the end of the 6th Dynasty, and the Middle Kingdom was founded when Upper and Lower Egypt were reunited during the 11th Dynasty: I will restrict the discussions to this period.

Information from the various King Lists is confusing. I have included a possible list of the Pharaohs of this time as Appendix A. It is compiled from Manetho and from the various King Lists. This is subject to much conjecture. In particular, the Abydos King List comes from Abydos in the 8th Nome of Upper Egypt. It omits the ninth and 10th Dynasties, and the early part of the 11th Dynasty. But it contains the 7th and 8th Dynasties, Kings of Memphis, in the 1st Nome of Lower Egypt. The Saqqara List, from near Memphis omits the entire First Intermediate Period. The Karnak List, from near Luxor in the 4th Nome of Upper Egypt is of no assistance, and the origins of the Turin Canon are not known.

Manetho was a priest from the 3rd century BC. His king list is the most complete, having been handed down to us by several later authors.

How did the Old Kingdom end? Manetho tells us "Othoes was murdered by his bodyguard. Phiops succeeded when six years old and reigned until his hundredth year. Nitocris, the noblest and loveliest of the women of her time, of fair complexion, the builder of the third pyramid, reigned for 12 years."

Herodotus tells us about Queen Nitocris.

"They said that she succeeded her brother; he had been king of Egypt, and was put to death by his subjects, who then placed her upon the throne. Bent on avenging his death, she devised a cunning scheme by which she destroyed a vast number of Egyptians. She constructed a spacious underground chamber, and, on pretence of inaugurating it, contrived the following: - Inviting to a banquet those of the Egyptians whom she knew to have had the chief share in the murder of her brother, she suddenly, as they were feasting, let the river in upon them, by means of a secret duct of large size. This, and this only, did they tell me of her, except that, when she had done as I have said, she threw herself into an apartment full of ashes, that she might escape the vengeance whereto she would otherwise have been exposed."

More recently, Brugsch-Bey, who reproduces the royal cartouches from the Abydos King List, tells us that after the death of Neferkare Egyptian history is involved in darkness and confusion, which suggests the probability of a state split into petty kingdoms, afflicted with civil wars and royal murders, and from among whose princes no deliverer arose who was able with a strong arm to put down the rebels or to guide the monarchy with firmness. The traditional story of Queen Nitocris (above) gives us a clue to all this. She may have been buried in the blue basalt sarcophagus contained in the upper chamber of the third pyramid, that of Menkaura of the Fourth Dynasty.

Wallis Budge tells much the same story, or lack of it - at the turn of the century very little was known about this period.

Philip Watson tells us that, "Following the collapse of the Old Kingdom at the end of the Sixth Dynasty, due to economic disorders and increasing appropriation of power by the nobility, Egypt entered a period of instability with fragmented government under feeble dynasties for almost a century and a half." A few pyramids are known from this First Intermediate Period, but because of the relative weakness of their royal builders they are of no great size and little importance.

Of the kings of the First Intermediate Period we know very little, Rice, using the Cambridge Ancient History, tells us of Demedjibtowy of the Eighth Dynasty that he was the last of the fragile kings to reign in Memphis after the end of the Old Kingdom. He was overthrown by the Heracleopolitan princes who eventually comprised the Ninth and Tenth Dynasty.

Rice also tells us of Akhtoy I of the Ninth Dynasty. He was the governor of the Twentieth Nome of Upper Egypt, centred on Heracleopolis and seized the throne, laying down the foundations of the Ninth and Tenth Dynasties. He took the throne name of Meryibre. He set about imposing his will and some degree of order on the nomarchs, who had assumed virtually an independent status in the last years of the Old Kingdom. It was perhaps due to their influence that in later times he was reviled and he was branded as cruel and evil. He seems to have been acknowledged as king over most of Egypt, however, and the kings of his line undoubtedly regarded themselves as the legitimate successors of the Sixth Dynasty rulers.

Further, Akhtoy II (Nebkaure) was the fourth ruler of the Heracleopolitan line and is probably the king remembered by the popular story of the Eloquent Peasant.

A little later, another two Akhtoys are recorded as Tenth Dynasty nomarchs of the Asiut nome (13 on my map), although they might have been the same as those previously mentioned. Rice mentions also Tefibi as a nomarch of Asiut in this era.

What do we know about the start of the Middle Kingdom? After Nitocris, a period of confusion now follows, and the next king of whom Brugsch-Bey writes is Nebkherra, who was also called Mentuhotep. I assume that this is the first king of the Eleventh Dynasty although there is considerable disagreement between Clayton and others. The line of kings to whom Mentuhotep belonged were of Theban origin, the feeble ancestors of a line bore alternately the names of Antef and Mentuhotep. They had established themselves in Thebes, and their tombs (simple pyramids of brick-work) lay at the foot of the western mountain of the Theban necropolis. Here it was that in about 1860 some Arabs brought to light two very simple coffins of these Pharaohs. They were discovered in that part now called Assassif, scarcely hidden under heaps of loose stones and sand; one of them contained the mummy of the king, his head adorned with the regal circlet. The cover of the chest was richly gilt, and the hieroglyphs on the middle bore the cartouche of Antef. In the year 1854, Brugsch-Bey had the good fortune to discover the coffin of a second Antef, distinguished from the first by the title of 'the Great'; it is now in the Louvre. The remaining traces of this king's tomb were discovered by Mariette at Drah-abu-'l-Neggah. In the interior of a brick pyramid was found a simple chamber with a memorial stone dated in the fiftieth year of the reign of King Antef 'ao (i.e. 'the Great'), the inscription and paintings on which have been fully published by Dr Birch. The lower part of the king's image is well preserved. At his feet stand his four favourite dogs.

Of Mentuhotep III who bore the royal name Neb-taui-Ra, 'Lord of the Two Lands', a memorial is preserved on the black rocks of the island of Konosso, above the First Cataract. A bas-relief chiselled in the hard stone exhibits him as the conqueror of thirteen foreign nations, and as the devoted servant of Amsu of Coptos.

By this time, it is obvious that the First Intermediate Period was over. Egypt was again a great nation, winning foreign wars.

The kings of the Eleventh Dynasty built tombs on the west bank of Thebes, their home town. The earliest kings, Intef I and II, sited their tombs at Dra Abu el-Naga. Both were similar in plan, having a rectangular court with a tomb tunnelled into the rock face behind. A ledge was cut out of the rock above the burial chamber and a small brick pyramid, about 15 metres square, was built on this. It obviously represented only a token gesture to the traditions of royal funerary architecture. The tomb of Intef III has not yet been located although it is usually assumed that it would have been nearby and similar.

In the mid Eleventh Dynasty Mentuhotep I, who is normally regarded as being the first king of the Middle Kingdom, selected a bay in the cliffs at Deir el-Bahri for the site of his burial. Here he constructed what was one of the most innovative examples of funerary architecture in Egyptian history, now badly preserved and sadly overshadowed by the Eighteenth Dynasty funerary temple of Queen Hatshepsut, whose design owes much to Mentuhotep's monument. It is probably best described as being a mortuary temple with integral tomb.

Kuhrt tells us a little about the First Intermediate Period. Royal buildings and inscriptions - the signs of central control - are remarkably absent during this time. The end of dynasty XI constitutes the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, and is marked by the reappearance of a strong central power controlling all of Egypt. Although royal monuments and texts are sparse in this transitional period, the tombs of the nomarchs of Upper Egypt become more numerous and elaborate, some containing quite long and informative autobiographies describing their activities and achievements. This feature has led a number of scholars to suggest that some nomarchs tried to shake off the central authority after dynasty VI.

In outline, the picture appears clear. Central economic control broke down completely after dynasty VI; there was general economic decline from dynasty VI onward, intermittent civil war followed. Dynasties IX and X ruled only part of Egypt from Herakleopolis, and finally a Dynasty XI king based in Thebes reunited Egypt. However, the details are lacking.

The strong independent nomarchs are recorded only in Upper Egypt and there is little evidence in Upper Egypt showing how Lower Egypt was governed.

The tombs of Middle Egyptian nomarchs at Asyut in nome 13 attest the existence of seven Herakleopolitan kings. These are of the house of Khety, or Achthoes, and are recorded in the Turin Canon. The best known figure of the dynasty was Merikare, and the 'Instructions of Merikare' by his father, although only New Kingdom copies exist, is thought by many scholars to have been composed during his reign, although others are sceptical. Combined with the nomarchs' evidence, the 'Instructions' suggest that the Herakleopolitan kings wielded fairly extensive control extending northward into the delta. They quarried stone at Hatnub (nome 14) and were acknowledged as kings by the nomarchs of Asyut (13), Cerastes Mountain (12) and probably Hare (15). Further south their authority was challenged by Thebes (4) and the following passage in the 'Instructions for Merikare' seems to refer to this long-drawn-out conflict. This and Abydos are in nome 8, fairly close to Thebes.

"Troops will fight troop
As the ancestors foretold;
Egypt (70) fought in the graveyard,
Destroying tombs in vengeful destruction.
As I did it, so it happened,
As is done to one who strays from god's path.
Do not deal evilly with the Southland,
You know what the residence foretold about it;
As this happened so that may happen.

I attacked This straight to its southern border at Taut,
I engulfed it like a flood;
King Meriyebre, justified, had not done it;
Be merciful on account of it,
------ renew the treaties.
(75) No river lets itself be hidden,
It is good to work for the future." (Lichtheim)

Until the end of the Old Kingdom Thebes was a fairly unimportant provincial temple centre. Tombs and stelae only appear in any number after dynasty VIII. Only after dynasty VI did a certain Inyotef, 'Great Chief of the Sceptre Nome (4 or Thebes), Great chief of Upper Egypt', begin to claim more grandiose titles. He appears as an ancestor of the royal line in the Karnak kinglist without a cartouche or royal titles. He was succeeded by a Mentuhotep, who was also later regarded as an ancestor of the Theban line, although he again claimed no royal titles. Mentuhotep's second successor, Inyotef II, succeeded in expanding Thebes' control during his 50-year reign. A stele from his tomb describes the capture of the Thinite nome (8) and the extension of Theban power to Qaw el-Kebir (10). Simultaneously he expanded successfully to the south as far as Elephantine (1). The stele of Djary tells us that Inyotef II 'had fought the house of Khety to the north of This' and controlled the 1st to 10th nomes.

The stele of Treasurer Tjetji tells us:

"I spent a long period of years under the majesty of my lord, Horus Wahankh, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Son of Re, Intef, while this land was under his command from Yebu to This in the Thinite nome, I being his personal servant, his chamberlain in very truth.

Now when his son had taken his place, - Horus Nekht-neb-tep-nefer, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Son of Re, Intef, born of Nefru, who lives like Re forever - I followed him to all his good places of heart's content."

This suggests that both these kings ruled nomes 1 to 8, but they are more grandly titled.

The autobiography of Ankhtify of Mo'alla (Hierakonpolis = nome 3) may also refer to the reign of Inyotef II and his rapid expansion of Theban power. Ankhtify himself had taken control of Edfu (2) and later Elephantine (1). He led his forces against Thebes but was ultimately unsuccessful as soon after Thebes ruled from Elephantine (1) to Hu (7). The capture of This (8) followed, at which time the plundering of graves (as mentioned in the 'Instructions of Merikare') could have taken place. The devastation in the Abydos area (8) seems to have been followed by a period of relative peace until, in the 14th year of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II a 'rebellion of Abydos' led to the final defeat of Herakleopolis and its allies by Thebes. Mentuhotep II signalled this victory by adopting the name Smatowy = 'Uniter of the Two Lands', by which he laid claim to have re-established Egypt as a harmonious whole under one king.

Naguib Kanawati found only 16 possible cases of polygamy among dignitaries of Old Kingdom, although others were recently discovered by Bretislav Vachala at the Giza cemetary. During the FIP the custom spread to governors in charge of the various regions, and other senior scribe-officers. This suggests a lowering of moral standards.

Royal decrees of the 6th and 8th dynasties make no mention of labour squads being seconded for the construction of irrigation canals. It appears indeed that no artificial irrigation was needed as a rule up until the end of the Neolithic wet phase (subpluvial) around 2350BC. The Nile floods functioned quite regularly, supplemented by occasional rain. It was only a series of low floods during the First Intermediate Period, when rain ceased falling in Upper Egypt too, that famine occurred and radical measures were clearly needed. It is just at this time, around the 9th and 10th dynasties, that we get the first document describing the construction of a canal 10 cubits (5.2m) wide. This is in the tomb of a regional prince, Khety, at Asyut. Water from this canal would have been distributed over the fields by the system of basin-irrigation.

Museum collections often have pieces ascribed to various Dynasties, but this is often only approximate as the provenance of the pieces is uncertain. In particular, the Petrie Museum at University College, London, ascribes pieces as 7th-8th Dynasty or 9th-10th Dynasty. The location of the finds is not always given, and as the pieces are mainly faiance beads they are of no help to us in this discussion.

Until more sites from this period are discovered, excavated and published, this is about all that is known about the First Intermediate Period. On the first occasion when chaos descended on Egypt, we have difficulty in deciding what happened.

APPENDIX A First Intermediate Period King Lists


Six kings of Memphis. (Manetho)

TetiOthoes, 30y3433[4. 1]
Userkare 35om[4. 2]
MeryrePhios, 53y36Piopi, 34[4. 3] 20y
MerenreMethusuphis 7y3735[4. 4] 44y?
NeferkarePhiops, 99y3836[4. 5] 90+ y
Merenre AntyemzafMenthesuphis 1y39 [4. 6] 1y
NitokertyNitocris, 12y  [4. 7] or [4. 8]?
Netjerkare 40
Menkare 41


The Seventh Dynasty consisted of 70 (or five) kings of Memphis, who reigned for 70 (or 75) days.

This would appear to be a figure of speech to suggest a period of confusion. Gardiner says "This dynasty appears to be entirely spurious."

Neferkare I42
Neferkare Neby43
Djedkare Shema44
Neferkare Khendu45
Neferkare Tereru49

The Eighth Dynasty consisted of 27 (or 5) kings of Memphis, who reigned for 146 (or 100) years.

Wadjkare Pepysonb51
Sneferka Anu52
Ka?kaure Iby53
Neferkaure II54


The Ninth Dynasty consisted of 19 (or 4) kings of Heracleopolis (in the 19th Nome of Upper Egypt), who reigned for 409 (or 100) years.

The first of these, King Achthoes, behaving more cruelly than his predecessors, wrought woes for the people of all Egypt, but afterwards he was smitten with madness, and was killed by a crocodile.

Neferkare [4. 20]
Akhtoy [4. 21]


A period of division, pitting this dynasty and it's eventual successor, below, against one another.

The Tenth Dynasty consisted of 19 kings of Heracleopolis, who reigned for 185 years.

Neferkare IV
Wankare (Acthoes III)


The Middle Kingdom emerges.

The Eleventh Dynasty consisted of 16 kings of Diospolis (or Thebes), who reigned for 43 years. In succession to these, Ammenemes ruled for 16 years.

Mentuhotep I
Inyotef I  [5. 13]
Inyotef II  [5. 14], 49y
Inyotef III  [5. 15], 8 or 18y
Nebhepetre (Mentuhotep II)5737[5. 16], 51y
Sankhkare (Mentuhotep III)5838[5. 17], 12y
Nebrowyre (Mentuhotep IV)omomom

Appendix B - Map of the Nomes of Upper Egypt



Brugsch-BeyEgypt Under The PharaohsBracken BooksRandom House, London, 1902
Budge, Ernest A. WallisThe Mummy, Funereal Rites & Customs in Ancient EgyptSenate, London, 1893
Clayton, Peter AChronicle of the PharoahsThames and Hudson, 1999
Gardiner, Sir AlanEgypt of the PharaohsOxford University Press, 1961
Grimal, NicolasA History of Ancient EgyptBlackwell Publishers, 1992
tr. George Rawlinson
The HistoriesEveryman's LibraryJ.M.Dent & Sons Ltd, 1910
Kuhrt, AmélieThe Ancient Near East, Vol I.Routledge, London, 1995
Lichtheim, MiriamAncient Egyptian Literature, Vol I.University of California Press, 1975
tr: W.G. Waddell
ManethoLoeb Classical Library,Harvard University Press, 1940
Rice, MichaelWho's Who in Ancient EgyptRoutledge, 1999
Strouhal, EugenLife in Ancient EgyptCambridge University Press, 1992
Tiradritti, FrancescoThe Cairo Museum Masterpieces of Egyptian ArtThames and Hudson, 1999
Watson, PhilipEgyptian Pyramids and Mastaba TombsShire Publications, 1987

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