Egypt in the Middle Kingdom (2030–1640 B.C.)

  • Relief of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II (detail)
  • Cosmetic Jar in the Form of a Cat
  • Statue of an Offering Bearer
  • Statuette of a Hippopotamus
  • Traveling Boat being Rowed
  • Scribes from Meketres model granary
  • Stela of Mentuwoser
  • Guardian figure in the form of King Amenemhat II
  • Pectoral of Princess Sit-Hathor-yunet (detail)
  • Face of Senwosret III
  • Sphinx of Senwosret III


The Middle Kingdom (mid-Dynasty 11–Dynasty 13, ca. 2030–1640 B.C.) began when Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II reunited Upper and Lower Egypt, setting the stage for a second great flowering of Egyptian culture. Thebes came into prominence for the first time, serving as capital and artistic center during Dynasty 11. The outstanding monument of this dynasty was Mentuhotep’s mortuary complex, loosely modeled on the funerary monuments of his Theban ancestors. Built on a grand scale against the spectacular sheer cliffs of western Thebes, Mentuhotep’s complex centered on a terraced temple with pillared porticoes. The masterful design, representing a perfect union of architecture and landscape unique for its time, included painted reliefs of ceremonial scenes and hieroglyphic texts. Carved in a distinctive Theban style also seen in the tombs of Mentuhotep’s officials, these now-fragmentary reliefs are among the finest ever produced in Egypt.

At the end of Dynasty 11, the throne passed to a new family with the accession of Amenemhat I, who moved the capital north to Itj-tawy, near modern Lisht. Strongly influenced by the statuary and reliefs from nearby Old Kingdom monuments in the Memphite region, the artists of Dynasty 12 created a new aesthetic style. The distinctive works of this period are a series of royal statues that reflect a subtle change in the Egyptian concept of kingship.

Catharine H. Roehrig
Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2000


Roehrig, Catharine H. “Egypt in the Middle Kingdom (2030–1640 B.C.).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2000)

Further Reading

D'Auria, Sue, Peter Lacovara, and Catharine H. Roehrig. Mummies & Magic: The Funerary Arts of Ancient Egypt. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1988.

Hayes, William C. The Scepter of Egypt: A Background for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953-59.

Schulz, Regine, and Matthias Seidel, eds. Egypt: The World of the Pharaohs. Cologne: Könemann, 1998.