Episode 27: A Walk in the Desert


Montuhotep II (Part I): The Monuments at Thebes

The First Intermediate Period is coming to an end, with the House of Intef victorious in their war to reunify the kingdom. The North has been conquered, internal peace returns.

Montuhotep II, now King of Upper and Lower Egypt, immediately takes a thought for his eternal burial. To commemorate his achievements he expands his Mortuary Temple, already under construction west of Thebes.

The Eleventh Dynasty temple at Deir el-Bahari is a fascinating monument, that will greatly influence royal funerary temples right into the New Kingdom.

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The Deir el-Bahari Monument
The Deir el-Bahari Monument


Montuhotep II. The elongated limbs and large eyes bear all the hallmarks of artistic convention in the First Intermediate Period (Source: Louvre, Paris, via Wikipedia).

p57JVzpQueen Kawi (Source: FineArtAmerica)


Queen Aash-it (Source: Arnold, 1991)


Wolfram Grajetzki, The Middle Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, 2006.

Gay Robins, The Art of Ancient Egypt, 1997/2008.

Dorothea Arnold, “Amenemhat I and the Early Twelfth Dynasty at Thebes,” Metropolitan Museum of Art Journal, 1991.

Nicolas Grimal, A History of Egypt, 1994.

Ian Shaw (editor), The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, 2004.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Vlad says:

    Hi Dominic, based on this image you can clearly see that the main character is black, while the other characters are lighter skinned. I googled the race issue and there completely opposing sides on the matter. Atlanta black star claims that all Egyptians were African, black while some scientists claim that they were Caucasian. Quite a few take the middle ground ground and claim that ancient Egyptians were of various races and colors. I think if you did an episode on this issue and researched what effect if any skin color had on their culture and how race played a role (if any) and the racial breakdown per areas (north vs south). This would be very interesting.

    1. DominicPerry says:

      Hi Vlad,

      You are correct, the Lady in question is indeed black; it is generally hypothesied that the lady was Nubian/Sudanese. Of course, her attendants are not black; how far we interpret artistic difference as representing reality is a big question.

      The subject of the Egyptians’ race is a highly political one, and I am not going to tackle it in the podcast, for several reasons. Generally, I try to focus on the Egyptians’ universal legacy – what their actions and achievements tell us about human societies generally; and about ancient human mindsets and beliefs. Engaging in the “race debate” is beyond my qualifications, and (to me) detracts from that greater legacy, from the lessons that we can learn as members of the human species, not as members of individual races or creeds. I feel, perhaps like many historians, that I am unqualified to add my voice as any kind of “authority” on the subject. History I can do; genetics and race are beyond my skill-set.


      1. Vlad says:

        Fair enough. I saw quite a few scientists avoid this issue. I imagine it would be revolutionary to show Egypt as a multilayered society where various races live, work and rule in harmony without focusing on skin pigmentation. But alas I imagine this part of history will mostly be speculative. You did mention that Egyptians haven’t changed their appearance in 4000 thousand years, that made me wonder what did they look like back then. While we are on controversial topics I noticed that you frequently call the disputed area that is now Israel interchangeably as Palestine and sometimes Israel. Is there a particular reason when you can it one or the other?

  2. DominicPerry says:

    I called it both to avoid the issue: if I only call it one, I anger one group; if I call it another, I anger the other group!
    I’ve settled on calling it Canaan, at the suggestion of a listener. More accurate, anyway. If I need to refer to the modern name, I refer to whichever country that the specific location (town, fortress etc.) is currently in.

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