Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt

Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt
1991 BC – 1802 BC
Fragment of a statue of Amenemhat III 12th Dynasty c. 1800 BC State Museum of Egyptian Art, Munich
Fragment of a statue of Amenemhat III
12th Dynasty c. 1800 BC
State Museum of Egyptian Art, Munich
CapitalThebes, Itjtawy
Common languagesEgyptian language
Religion ancient Egyptian religion
GovernmentAbsolute monarchy
Historical eraBronze Age
• Established
1991 BC 
• Disestablished
 1802 BC
Preceded by Succeeded by
Eleventh Dynasty of Egypt
Thirteenth Dynasty of Egypt

The Twelfth Dynasty of ancient Egypt (Dynasty XII) is considered to be the apex of the Middle Kingdom by Egyptologists. It often is combined with the Eleventh, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth dynasties under the group title, Middle Kingdom. Some scholars only consider the 11th and 12th dynasties to be part of the Middle Kingdom.


The chronology of the Twelfth Dynasty is the most stable of any period before the New Kingdom. The Turin Royal Canon gives 213 years (1991–1778 BC). Manetho stated that it was based in Thebes, but from contemporary records it is clear that the first king of this dynasty, Amenemhat I, moved its capital to a new city named "Amenemhat-itj-tawy" ("Amenemhat the Seizer of the Two Lands"), more simply called, Itjtawy. The location of Itjtawy has not been discovered yet, but is thought to be near the Fayyum, probably near the royal graveyards at el-Lisht.

The order of its rulers of the Twelfth Dynasty is well known from several sources: two lists recorded at temples in Abydos and one at Saqqara, as well as lists derived from Manetho's work. A recorded date during the reign of Senusret III can be correlated to the Sothic cycle, consequently, many events during this dynasty frequently can be assigned to a specific year. However, scholars now have expressed skepticism in the usefulness of the referred date, due to the fact that location affects observation of the Sothic cycle.

Egypt underwent various developments under the Twelfth Dynasty, including the reorganization of the kingdoms administration and agricultural developments in the Fayyum. The Twelfth Dynasty was also responsible for significant expansion of Egyptian borders, with campaigns pushing into Nubia and the Levant.


Dynasty XII Kings of Egypt
Nomen (personal name) Prenomen (throne name) Horus-name Image Date Pyramid Queen(s)
Amenemhat I Sehetepibre Wehemmesu 1991 – 1962 BC Pyramid of Amenemhet I Neferitatjenen
Senusret I (Sesostris I) Kheperkare Ankhmesut 1971 – 1926 BC Pyramid of Senusret I Neferu III
Amenemhat II Nubkhaure Hekenemmaat 1929 – 1895 BC White Pyramid Kaneferu
Senusret II (Sesostris II) Khakheperre Seshemutawy 1897 – 1878 BC Pyramid at
Khenemetneferhedjet I
Nofret II
Senusret III (Sesostris III) Khakaure Netjerkheperu 1878 – 1839 BC Pyramid at Dahshur Meretseger
Khnemetneferhedjet II (Weret)
Amenemhat III Nimaatre Aabau 1860 – 1814 BC Black Pyramid; Pyramid at Hawara Aat
Khenemetneferhedjet III
Amenemhat IV Maakherure Kheperkheperu 1815 – 1806 BC Southern Mazghuna pyramid (conjectural)
Sobekneferu Sobekkare Merytre 1806 – 1802 BC Northern Mazghuna pyramid (conjectural)

Known rulers of the Twelfth Dynasty are as follows:

Amenemhat I

This dynasty was founded by Amenemhat I, who may have been vizier to the last king of Dynasty XI, Mentuhotep IV. His armies campaigned south as far as the Second Cataract of the Nile and into southern Canaan. As apart of his militaristic expansion of Egypt, Amenemhat I ordered the construction of multiple military forts in Nubia. He also reestablished diplomatic relations with the Canaanite state of Byblos and Hellenic rulers in the Aegean Sea. He was the father of Senusret I.

Senusret I

For the first ten years of his reign, Senusret I ruled as a coregent alongside his father, Amenemhat I. He continued his fathers campaigns into Nubia, expanding Egyptian control to the Third Cataract of the Nile. In addition to pursuing militaristic expansion, Senusret I was also responsible for internal growth within Egypt. As king, he initiated a considerable amount of building projects across Egypt, including pyramids in Lisht, a temple at Karnak and oversaw the renovation of the kingdoms major temples.

Amenemhat II

A figure wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt and whose face appears to reflect the features of the reigning king, most probably Amenemhat II or Senwosret II. It functioned as a divine guardian for the imiut, and it is wearing a divine kilt, which suggests that the statuette was not merely a representation of the living ruler.

Unlike his predecessors, Amenemhat II was king during a time of peace. Under his reign, trade boomed with other states in Asia, the Mediterranean, and Africa. Built his mortuary complex near Memphis at Dahshur.

Senusret II

A map showing the north of Egypt, with the Fayyum highlighted in the black square.

Senusret II also reigned during a time of peace. He was the first king to develop the Fayyum Basin for agricultural production. This development was complex, requiring the digging of several canals and the draining of a lake in order to maximize the Fayyum’s agricultural output. The Middle Kingdom development of the Fayyum later became the basis for the Ptolemaic and Roman efforts that turned the region into the bread basket of the Mediterranean.

Head of Senusret III with youthful features, 12th Dynasty, c. 1870 BC, State Museum of Egyptian Art, Munich
Sobekneferu was the last ruler of the 12th Dynasty
Stele of Abkau dates to the 12th Dynasty

Senusret III

Finding Nubia had grown restive under the previous rulers, Senusret sent punitive expeditions into that land. As apart of his effort to suppress Nubia, he ordered the construction of several new fortresses as well as the expansion of existing ones along the Egyptian border. He also sent an expedition into the Levant. Senusret III’s military career contributed to his reverence during the New Kingdom, as he was regarded as a warrior king and even revered as a god in Nubia. One of Senusret III’s significant internal developments was the centralization of administrative power in the kingdom, which replaced the nome system with three large administrative districts that encompassed all of Egypt.

Amenemhat III

Senusret's successor Amenemhat III reaffirmed his predecessor's foreign policy. However, after Amenemhat, the energies of this dynasty were largely spent, and the growing troubles of government were left to the dynasty's last ruler, Sobekneferu, to resolve. Amenemhat was remembered for the mortuary temple at Hawara that he built.

Amenemhat IV

Amenemhat IV succeeded his father, Amenemhat III, and ruled for approximately nine years. At the time of his death, Amenemhat IV had no apparent heir, leading to Sobekneferu’s ascension to the throne.


Sobekneferu, a daughter of Amenemhat III, was the first known woman to become king of Egypt. She was left with the unresolved governmental issues that are noted as arising during her father's reign when she succeeded Amenemhat IV, thought to be her brother, half brother, or step brother. Upon his death, she became the heir to the throne because her older sister, Neferuptah, who would have been the next in line to rule, died at an early age. Sobekneferu was the last king of the twelfth dynasty. There is no record of her having an heir. She also had a relatively short nearly four year reign and the next dynasty began with a shift in succession, possibly to unrelated heirs of Amenemhat IV.

Ancient Egyptian literature refined

Several famous works of Egyptian literature originated from the 12th Dynasty. Perhaps the best known work from this period is The Story of Sinuhe, of which papyrus copies dating as late as the New Kingdom have been recovered.

Some of the existing literature pertaining to the 12th Dynasty are propagandistic in nature. The Prophecy of Nefertiestablishes a revisionist account of history that legitimizes Amenemhat I’s rule. Written during the reign of Amenemhat I, described a sage’s prophecy given to the 4th Dynasty King Snefru that predicted a destructive civil war. It writes that the sage, Neferti, prophesied that a great king named Ameny (Amenemhat I) would lead a united Egypt out of this tumultuous period. The work also mentions Amenemhat I's mother being from the Elephantine Egyptian nome Ta-Seti. Many scholars in recent years have argued that Amenemhat I's mother was of Nubian origin.

Other known works attributed to the 12th Dynasty include:

See also

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