Sesostris III

Sesostris III
King 1878-1843 BC.
    The Twelfth Dynasty probably reached its zenith with the reign of Sesostris III. 'Pharaoh Sesostris', the legendary hero who appears in later Classical accounts and combines the personalities of *Sesostris I, Sesostris III and even *Ramesses II, was probably based on folk-memory of the great Sesostris III.
    One of his major achievements was to curtail forever the power of the provincial nobility. Since the Old Kingdom they had threatened the pharaoh's autocracy and in the First Intermediate Period had wielded great power as independent rulers. As the early rulers of the Twelfth Dynasty needed their support, they had allowed these nomarchs in Upper and Middle Egypt to retain a degree of independence and to continue building great rock-cut tombs in their own districts. Although his methods remain obscure, Sesostris III managed to abolish the nomarchs' ancient rights and privileges, and thus put an end to the feudal state. Royal power was enhanced and a new administration was introduced which placed the vizier, as the king's deputy, in overall control of the various departments. The demise of the hereditary nobility resulted in the beginning of a middle-class which consisted of craftsmen, tradesmen and small farmers; also, the great provincial tombs ceased to be built. By his action Sesostris III removed one of the greatest threats to pharaonic power.
    Another great achievement was the king's energetic consolidation of Egypt's annexation of *Nubia. Troubles had begun to emerge in this region following the peaceful reigns of Sesostris III's two predecessors, and in Year 8 and on at least three other occasions, Sesostris III campaigned in *Nubia to rectify this situation. A new channel was cut in the First Cataract, near the island of Sehel, to provide a navigable waterway to link Upper Egypt to Lower Nubia and to allow the king's ships to gain access to *Nubia. The Egyptian frontier was now fixed at Semna, at the southern end of the Second Cataract, but Egyptian influence extended beyond this. To consolidate and control the area, Sesostris III built or extended at least eight brick forts between Semna South (at the border) and Buhen (at the northern end of the Second Cataract). These forts, situated on islands and promontories, provided an effective defence system and enabled the Egyptians to expand their exploitation of *Nubia, where Sesostris III was later deified and worshipped for many centuries.
    In Palestine there was far less activity and only one military expedition is recorded, when the Egyptians took Sekmem, (probably Shechem in Mount Ephraim). In the Execration Texts, the names of a number of foreign rulers are included; these texts (the most important of which date to this reign or shortly afterwards) had a magical purpose. They included the names of enemies and dangers (both personal and of Egypt as a state). These were inscribed on pottery bowls which were then smashed and buried in the non-royal tombs at Saqqara and Thebes, with the intention of destroying the ability of a host of evils to harm the deceased.
    Sesostris III's own pyramid was at Dahshur; it was investigated by de Morgan in 1894 and he discovered magnificent jewellery belonging to the queens and princesses of the royal family, who had been buried in a shaft-tomb within the pyramid enclosure. This compares closely with the other Middle Kingdom treasure discovered at Lahun by Petrie in 1914.
    Other artistic and literary achievements of this reign include the temple built to Mont, the god of war, at Medamud near Karnak; the fine sculptured portrait heads of the king; and the hymn in praise of Sesostris III which was found amongst the papyri at Kahun, the pyramid workmen's town of *Sesostris II.
BIBL. Lansing, A. The Museum's excavations at Lisht. Bull. MMA 19 (1924). Dec., part 2, pp. 33-43; 28 (1933). Nov., Section 2, pp. 4-38; 29 (1934). Nov., Section 2, pp. 4-40; Blackman, A.M. A reference to Sesostris III's Syrian campaign. JEA 2 (1915) pp. 13-4; Clarke, S. Ancient Egyptian frontier fortresses. JEA 3 (1916) pp. 155-79, pls. 24-32; Gardiner, A.H. An ancient list of the fortresses of Nubia. JEA 3 (1916) pp. 184-92.
Biographical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Rosalie and Antony E. David

Ancient Egypt. A Reference Guide. . 2011.

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