The pyramids of the middle empire


Pyramids of the middle empire

In the history of ancient Egypt, which goes from the beginning of the Thinite period, towards -3150, to the end of the lower era, in 383 AD, the period of the pyramids is concentrated mainly between the beginning of the Third Dynasty (-2650) and the end of the 6th dynasty (-2200). It corresponds to the largest of the Old Kingdom, a period of splendor for the Egyptian civilization that will be undermined by the loss of power of the pharaohs, resulting in the first intermediate period.

This period sees the central power disappear in the profile of local administrators, nomarchs (governors of "nomes", provinces). The tombs of the pharaohs are then plundered, and the ancestral traditions of being buried under a pyramid, within a large funeral complex, disappear. When central power is centralized again, this tradition, especially during the 12th Dynasty, is one of the most important in the history of civilization. We must see this return to tradition as a rebound of history that will disappear again, before reappearing one last time during the New Empire.

Characteristics of the pyramids of the Middle Kingdom

The civilization of the Middle Kingdom is one of the most advanced of its time. When she decides to build a building, she does it with all the art of which she is capable, in relation to her technical abilities. As for the pyramids, they are built with great care, but if the mass of limestone blocks that constitutes it is hardly innovative, it is the network of galleries that becomes highly sophisticated, with a multiplication of intricate closures and architecturally interesting burial chambers.

Alas, these pyramids, made of smaller and better-cut blocks, have not withstood the weather: They suffered both the disintegration due to the natural conditions that prevail on the plateaus of Egypt, but also to their dismantling, their blocks having been partially recovered to build buildings during the New Kingdom. It must also be said that the power in place was more realistic in the face of the vagaries of life. As much during the Old Kingdom, the Pharaoh was an untouchable God whose only real function was to prepare his passage in the hereafter, as much during the Middle Kingdom was a head of state, certain deified, but who had to ensure the security and prosperity of his people. Thus we have abandoned the titanic projects of the giant pyramids in favor of pyramids more easily achievable, less costly in time and money, and therefore made with materials less noble. For example, sometimes the limestone blocks were replaced by bricks in terra cotta, much more fragile, and so it is not surprising that these buildings have disappeared nowadays.

Pharaohs builders of pyramids

All the Pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom did not have pyramids built, far from it. It is rather the prerogative of the Twelfth Dynasty. The first pharaoh of this dynasty to do so is Amenemhat I, who had a funeral complex built in the necropolis of Licht, west of the new capital, Itjitaoui, about sixty kilometers away. South Cairo. This pharaoh will set up certain principles that will be repeated throughout the twelfth dynasty, such as associating his heir to power or claiming the God Amun, the future God of local origin (Thebes) called to popularize in any Egyptian society. The pyramid of Amenemhat I is original in its internal architecture made of limestone retaining walls arranged at right angles, forming compartments filled with sand and waste. The compartments are then plugged by mud brick beds, all covered with blocks of fine limestone, for finishing. It measured 55m high and 84m apart. Nowadays this pyramid is only a big pile of sand of 15m, but its structure of galleries has probably remained inviolate. Dead murdered, it was his son Sesostris I who succeeded him. He had a pyramid built near his father's, in Licht, a pyramid a little larger than his father's (61m high by 105m on one side) and designed exactly the same way. It was accompanied by a pyramid of worship and nine queen pyramids, all about 15m high. Nowadays it is also completely destroyed.

The next pharaoh was Amenemhat II. Its originality does not come from the construction of its pyramid, identical to the previous ones, but from its location since this pharaoh chooses Dahshur as a necropolis, a little further north than Licht. This funerary complex was fairly simple, with a large space bounded by a high wall housing a pyramid 50m (approximately) high and some buildings annexes, but that's it. It is nowadays completely destroyed. It is exactly the same for his successor Sesostris II, whose pyramid was in Fayum, and for that of Sesostris III, which has its pyramid in Dahshur. Initially, it was 64m high and 107 on the side.

The pharaoh Amenemhat III had two funeral complexes built, the first one, called "The black pyramid", is in Dahshur, the second, logically called "The white pyramid", is at the necropolis of Hawara.

  • The black pyramid, of standard size (75m high, 105m side), is entirely made of raw bricks, without retaining walls. So it is much more fragile, which motivated the pharaoh to build another. However, it has a beautiful network of internal galleries. Nowadays it remains the central core of this pyramid at the feet of which we can see the rest of the superstructure, in rubble.
  • The white pyramid is the true tomb of Amenemhat III. High 58m 105m side was also in raw bricks, but its interior shows a certain simplicity in the structure of the galleries. It contains three interesting sophisticated harrows and externally, its plan shows a high wall with steps, as in the pyramid of Djoser (385x158m, anyway).

Of course, these two pyramids have received this popular name because of the color of their outer blocks.

The history of the Egyptian pyramids intersects with that of Egyptian civilization at this time. Indeed, Amenemhat III lived very long, and at his death, his heirs are already very old. Taking power at a time when their ages showed a certain weakness, the Egyptian nobility took the opportunity to take initiatives and increase their local powers. This is exactly the same pattern that had already occurred at the end of the Old Kingdom, with a noticeable weakening of central power for the benefit of local governors. The successor of this pharaoh, Amenenhat IV, died without descendants, which led to the beginning of a period in which two dynasties ruled in parallel, splitting the country in two.

For the second time the notion of pyramidal burials disappeared in favor of more classical tombs, Egyptian society not being powerful enough at this time to undertake very large-scale works. The pyramid era will come one last time in a late period.

See also:

The differents kinds of pyramids


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