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

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: History of Ancient Egypt

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

The Montuhoteps were the second set of kings of the Eleventh Dynasty. They were the first real kings of this dynasty because the Intefs preceding them were actually Theban princes. The Intefs took the first steps toward unifying Upper and Lower Egypt, it was the Montuhoteps who actually accomplished it.

A painting of Montuhotep Se-Ankh-Ib-Towi in his mortuary temple.
Montuhotep Se-Ankh-Ib-Towi was the first real king of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, and there is evidence that he did actually engage in a battle.
(Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art/Public domain)

The Montuhoteps

In ancient Egypt, Montu was the god of war. The fact that these kings decided to call themselves Montu suggests they were going to battle their way, they were going to fight their way to unification. Hotep means to ‘be pleased’. So, Montuhotep means ‘the war god is pleased’.

Montuhotep Se-Ankh-Ib-Towi

The first Montuhotep was Montuhotep Se-Ankh-ib-towi. Ib means ‘heart’, and towi means ‘the two lands’. We can decipher these meanings from his name: ‘causing the heart of the two lands to live’, or maybe ‘he gives life to the heart of the two lands’. He wanted to unify the country by saying that the two lands live in me. He really was a king of Upper and Lower Egypt in the full sense of the meaning.

What do we know about him? First, he had the resources. Second, he had the money. We know this because he built a spectacular mortuary temple. A mortuary temple was where the priests would go and pray for the deceased. Montuhotep Se-Ankh-ib-towi didn’t know when he was going to resurrect and go into the next world. He needed a large facility where people could come and pay their respects and make offerings, and he built a mortuary temple that was glorious.

It is terribly ruined today, but he selected a spot called Deir el Bahri. There was nothing growing there. All one could see was cliffs, and right at the foot of the cliffs Montuhotep Se-Ankh-ib-towi built his mortuary temple. It was a new kind of monument. In fact, it was revolutionary. In the middle of it was a small pyramid on a kind of platform, and around the pyramid was what we call an ambulatory, a place where one could walk. It took quite a bit of resource to build something like that.

Learn more about mummification – how we know what we know.

The Burials of the Harem Princesses

This mortuary temple has been excavated many times, and almost every time it was excavated something new was found. The first excavator was a man named Édouard Naville, and he excavated it just at the turn of the twentieth century. In the mortuary temple, beneath the paving stones, he found the burials of princesses, or ladies of the harem of Montuhotep.

About 20 years later, Herbert Winlock, an excavator for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, began excavating there again. The reason Winlock was excavating again was that he had looked at the plans and saw there were shrines in the back, and he realized there should be a couple more coffins, a couple more burials for ladies of the harem. So he went looking for them, and he found them.

The Coffin of Maut

One of the coffins that Winlock found belonged to Maut. The coffin was virtually intact. What’s worth noting is that Maut was just five years old. So, she was probably a daughter rather than a lady of the harem. She was a palace kid.

There’s a lot that can be learned from Maut’s coffin. It’s rectangular and there is a simple band of hieroglyphs on the outside, with two eyes painted on it. That, by the way, is typical of Middle Kingdom coffins. A wooden box, with a simple band of hieroglyphs, and usually with magical prayer and two eyes on the side. The eyes were painted on the side to help the deceased look out of the box.

Learn more about the Middle Kingdom – Eleventh Dynasty.

Montuhotep’s Soldiers

Herbert Winlock made another discovery which shows that Montuhotep really did go to war and fight. The tombs of the nobility of this dynasty were built around Montuhotep’s mortuary temple, cut into the rock. The idea was that the king, when he went to the next world, would be surrounded by his nobility.

In one of these tombs, Winlock found piles of mummies, numbering more than 60. At first, he thought somebody had used this tomb later for burials. However, when he looked at the mummies carefully, he noticed names of the deceased on the bandages. Interestingly, these were names that Egyptians used during the Middle Kingdom. Then, Winlock realized they were all males.

He sent many of the bodies to Douglas Derry, who was an anatomist working at the university in Cairo, to examine them. And Derry reported that not only were these mummies all males, they were all in the prime of their lives. They were all young men. Derry also noticed that several of them had arrows in them.

These were the soldiers of Montuhotep who had perhaps gone north to fight, and their bodies had been brought back for burial near their king’s tomb. So, Montuhotep really did go out and engaged in a battle.

Map of ancient Egypt showing Upper and Lower Egypt.
Egypt was a divided country, in total anarchy, by the end of the First Intermediate Period, and it was during the Middle Kingdom that Upper and Lower Egypt were unified by the Montuhoteps. (Image: RedTony/CC BY-SA 4.0/Public domain)

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

Montuhotep Se-Ankh-Ka-Re

Montuhotep Se-Ankh-Ib-Towi was succeeded by Montuhotep Se-Ankh-Ka-Re. This Montuhotep’s name means ‘causing the ka of Re to live’. Ka is the soul, and Re is the god. So, it actually means, ‘causing the soul of Re to live’.

He succeeded his father, which is a sign that things were going well, and that there was stability. He sent an expedition to Wadi Hammamat. Wadi Hammamat is an ancient caravan route. It had been used for thousands of years. It started just outside of Thebes and ended at the Red Sea, through desert. It was a treacherous route.

The reason Egyptians wanted to go to Wadi Hammamat was that it was a source of fine, black stone. The kind of stone that you see sometimes in the black sarcophagi. That stone almost always came from Wadi Hammamat. Montuhotep Se-Ankh-Ka-Re sent an expedition there of 3,000 men. That’s a sign that he was established. Three thousand men traveling to Wadi Hammamat wasn’t easy, and the overseer of these men even recorded that they dug 12 wells along the way.

They even recorded the little details of these expeditions, because this was a journey that one would remember for the rest of their life. So these guys recorded things like ‘I supplied two pots of water for every man on a pole that they carried on their shoulders’. Or ‘they had donkey loads of sandals because the sandals were wearing out from marching’.

Montuhotep Neb-Towi-Re

The next king was Montuhotep Neb-Towi-Re. His name means ‘Re is lord of the two lands’. He too sent an expedition to Wadi Hammamat. This time 10,000 men were part of the journey, which included the sculptors, the chisel men, and the men who were going to take care of the tools.

There is one little detail about this expedition that’s quite interesting. They were looking for a stone that was just right for the sarcophagus of the pharaoh. When they arrived a pregnant gazelle came in front of them, and they followed this pregnant gazelle, and she gave birth on a stone that was just right for the pharaoh. Unfortunately, the record also says they sacrificed the gazelle because they thought this was a great sign.

This was a dynasty that could build large temples, and send expeditions to Wadi Hammamat. They could bury their princesses in nice coffins with jewelry. This was a clear sign that Egypt had been reestablished.

Learn more about ancient Egyptian thought.

Common Questions about the Montuhoteps of the Eleventh Dynasty

Q: What was Montuhotep II known for?

Montuhotep II, also known as Se-Ankh-Ib-Towi, was the first real king of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Q: What does Montuhotep mean?

Montu is the god of war. And Hotep means ‘to be pleased’. So, Montuhotep means ‘the war god is pleased’. The fact that the Montuhoteps of the Eleventh Dynasty associated themselves with the name of the god of war suggests they wanted to battle their way to unify the country.

Q: Who was the pharaoh of the Middle Kingdom?

During the first part of the Middle Kingdom, the Intefs were the rulers of Egypt, or more specifically of Upper Egypt. However, the Intefs were actually Theban princes and not real kings. The first real king of the Middle Kingdom was Montuhotep Se-Ankh-Ib-Towi. He was succeeded by his son Montuhotep Se-Ankh-Ka-Re and followed by Montuhotep Neb-Towi-Re.

Q: Does Mau mean cat?

The ancient Egyptian word for cat was mau, as in ‘meow’.

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