Academic level – Undergraduate 3-4
Type of paper – Question/Answer
Topic Title – Middle Kingdom
The pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom are often depicted as “the shepherds of the people”, as opposed to the more distant image of the Old Kingdom pharaohs.
To what extent is this depiction justified, or is it just propaganda intended to make the later pharaohs more acceptable to their subjects?
I.e. is there any real difference between the way the Old and middle Kingdom pharaohs rule?
The Middle Kingdom of Egypt which lasted from 2055 BCE to 1650 BCE brought about changes, in how pharaohs presented themselves and governed compared to the Old Kingdom. During this period there was a focus on authority and the well-being of the Egyptian people. Pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom such as Amenemhat I and Senusret III made efforts to portray themselves as rulers who looked after their subjects much like shepherds tending to their flock (Barta, 2019). Senusret III is particularly praised for his initiatives in developing infrastructures like irrigation systems that enhanced agriculture. Improved the lives of Egyptians. This emphasis on enhancing the people’s livelihoods represented a departure from the perception of pharaohs during the Old Kingdom. In that era, they were viewed as god kings for maintaining cosmic order and overseeing monumental construction projects such, as pyramids.
The portrayal of pharaohs, during the Middle Kingdom era, as “the shepherds of the people” can be seen as both justified and driven by motives. While it is true that some pharaohs in the Middle Kingdom genuinely implemented policies to improve the lives of their subjects, it is important to acknowledge that these actions were often part of a propaganda strategy aimed at legitimizing their authority and maintaining stability within the kingdom. Propaganda played a role in Egypt as a means of consolidating power and presenting rulers as benevolent leaders served this purpose effectively (Barta, 2019). By portraying themselves as protectors and caretakers of their people, Middle Kingdom pharaohs garnered support and loyalty from the population. This allowed them to retain control during a time marked by instability and external threats. It would be an oversimplification to completely dismiss this portrayal as propaganda. There is evidence suggesting that Middle Kingdom pharaohs indeed made efforts to address the needs of their subjects through policies and public works projects. For instance, initiatives such as constructing canals and dikes not agriculture but also provided employment opportunities, for many Egyptians.
Although there are distinctions, between how pharaohs in the Old and Middle Kingdoms presented themselves and governed, it is important to recognize that both eras maintained aspects of Egyptian governance. One such aspect was the belief in kingship, where pharaohs were seen as intermediaries between the gods and the people. The Old Kingdom pharaohs focused more on construction projects and their association with the cult, which created a greater divide between them and their subjects. Pharaohs during the Middle Kingdom aimed to bridge this gap by prioritizing governance, developing infrastructure and implementing policies that directly impacted everyday life for Egyptians (Jay, 2023). While genuine efforts were made to enhance the lives of citizens during this time, these actions were often intertwined with objectives of legitimizing and consolidating pharaonic power. The disparities in rule between Old and Middle Kingdom pharaohs can be attributed to their approaches in presentation and priorities. The latter emphasized an approach, to governance that focused on the well-being of its people.
Barta, M. (2019). Analyzing collapse: The rise and fall of the Old Kingdom. The American University in Cairo Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv2ks71gr
Jay, J. (2023). Death, power, and apotheosis in Ancient Egypt: The old and middle kingdoms. History: Reviews of New Books, 51(1), 2–4. https://doi.org/10.1080/03612759.2022.2154897