The Middle Kingdom of Egypt: The Intefs of the Eleventh Dynasty

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: History of Ancient Egypt

By Bob Brier, Ph.D., Long Island University

At the end of the First Intermediate Period, the political system in Egypt had collapsed, and there was total anarchy. The Middle Kingdom rose after this. The Middle Kingdom comprised only two dynasties—the Eleventh Dynasty and the Twelfth Dynasty. The kings of the Eleventh Dynasty had the same name. How did they live? What did they do to unite Egypt in the Middle Kingdom?

Aerial view of the ancient Theban necropolis with ruins and remnants of royal cemeteries and funerary complexes.
Egypt lost its glory at the end of the First Intermediate Period. The lost prosperity came back in the Middle Kingdom.
(Image: Steve F-E-Cameron/CC BY 3.0/Public domain)

One thing that makes it a little difficult to understand the history of Eleventh Dynasty for archaeologists, as well as people who are just interested in Egypt, is that the kings all have the same name. The first kings of this dynasty were all named Intef. They have a second name and a third name, but often, we only have fragments of documents, bits of stone, with ‘Intef’ or maybe ‘Int’ written on them, and we know it’s one of these kings, but we’re not sure which one.

However, the theme to keep in mind is this: The first kings, the Intefs, were not really kings. They were Theban princes, who were trying to pull the country back together. The next set of kings in this dynasty, the Montuhoteps, who also all have the same name, actually unified the country.

Learn more about the First Intermediate Period.

Intef Seher-Towi

In ancient Egypt, names were very important. They had a meaning. In fact, it is possible to sometimes glean the political situation from a name.

For example, the first Intef was Intef Seher-towi, whose name probably means ‘causing the peace in the two lands’. Towi means ‘the two lands’, Upper and Lower Egypt. By taking on a name like this we can decipher that he was focused on uniting Upper and Lower Egypt.

He wrote his name in a cartouche. This showed his optimism. He was saying, I’m the king of Egypt. He got his name encircled in a cartouche, which indicates he was a king. But he wasn’t really a king. There is not much evidence that he was controlling Upper and Lower Egypt, but he had aspirations. This is what we learn from this name.

Learn more about the Middle Kingdom – Eleventh Dynasty.

Intef Wahankh

A funerary stela depicting three dogs, of which the bottom-most is in a seated position, while the other two are standing.
Intef Wahankh was a dog lover, and there’s evidence of this in the form of a stela, which commemorates his five dogs. (Image: Omicom/Public domain)

The next Intef was Intef Wahankh. Ankh means ‘life’, and Wa means ‘established’. So he was saying that he was ‘established in life’. The most interesting thing we know about him has nothing to do with his politics and how successful he was. We don’t have much of the records from him. But he was the first dog lover in history.

We have a record in the form of a stela. Ancient Egyptians carved on round-topped stones when they wanted to indicate something, or leave it for posterity. These are known as stela. It was found by an Egyptologist in 1860, and on this stela are five dogs. These were Wahankh’s dogs. He wanted to commemorate that he had these five dogs.

Ancient Egyptians and Their Pets

The Egyptians, by the way, were pet lovers, and it infiltrates into their art. When you see a picture from this period, it is usually a tomb painting of a nobleman. When you see him seated on a chair (very common to see the nobility seated on chairs), look underneath the chair. The artist rarely wasted that space.

There was almost always something placed under that chair. Pets were the most common. There are paintings with cats and even one with a baboon under the chair. However, it was not always a pet. If it was a lady, sometimes, her cosmetics would be placed there. Mirrors under the chair were also quite common, which were left there for the lady to check how she looked. The point is that the ancient Egyptians were real pet lovers, with cats being the most popular pet, followed by dogs.

The whippet dog breed today is really a descendant of the Egyptian pharaoh’s hound. The Egyptian dogs were thin, wiry dogs that looked a little bit like today’s small greyhound.

This is a transcript from the video series History of Ancient Egypt. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

Intef Nakht-Neb-Tep-Nefer

The third Intef was Nakht-neb-tep-nefer. Nakht means ‘mighty’ or ‘victorious’, and Neb usually means ‘lord’, and Tep probably means ‘front’ or ‘foremost’. Nefer means three things: ‘good’, ‘beautiful’, or ‘happy’. That’s why a number of women’s names included Nefer in it, such as Nefertiti or Nefertari.

So, the name Nakht-neb-tep-nefer means something like ‘the beautiful and strong champion or lord’. It seems, with this name the Intef was claiming that he had accomplished what he had set out for. He was claiming he had unified the country.

We have the records that show that his claim was justified. He was a Theban prince from the south, and he went north and actually fought the northerners. He actually did something concrete to unite the country.

The Intefs, or the first set of kings of the Eleventh Dynasty, struggled and tried to pull the country back together. They didn’t succeed completely, but they were on the right track.

Learn more about the history of ancient Egypt.

Common Questions about the Intefs of the Eleventh Dynasty

Q: What happened during the Middle Kingdom of Egypt?

The Middle Kingdom rose after the almost total anarchy of the First Intermediate Period. During the period known as the Middle Kingdom, which comprised the Eleventh and Twelfth Dynasties, Upper and Lower Egypt were unified once again.

Q: How were dogs treated in ancient Egypt?

Egyptians were real pet lovers. Cats were, of course, the number one pet, and then came dogs. We know they had a great love for their pets based on the fact that they carried them into their tombs—either literally, in mummified form, or through a piece of art depicting the pet.

Q: Did people in ancient Egypt have dogs?

Yes, people in ancient Egypt had dogs. Dogs were popular pets.

Q: What is the Middle Kingdom of Egypt known for?

The Middle Kingdom of Egypt is known for the Eleventh and Twelfth Dynasties, with kings who often shared the same name. This period is also known for reinstating political stability in Egypt and pulling the country back together again.

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The First Dynasty of Egypt
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