Egypt's Twelfth Dynasty

We may well compare the history of Egypt with that of Europe, the early Egyptians through the sixth dynasty representing for us the ancient days like those of Greece and Rome. This early civilization was separated by centuries of darkness and feudalism from the renaissance which began under the twelfth dynasty and led on as in Europe, though only after a period of suffering and shame, to the splendor and world victory of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties. These we can compare to our modern days.

The ruler who secured a firm hold over the lesser princes and started the twelfth dynasty was Amenemhat I. How he won the throne, we do not know; but of the happy changes which his strong rule caused he tells in his own inscriptions: "Perpetual fighting was no longer witnessed, whereas before my coming they fought together as bulls heedless of yesterday, and no man's welfare was safe whether he was ignorant or learned." In another place he says: "I spread joy throughout the country, even to the marshes of the delta. At my prayer the Nile granted its overflow to the field. No man was hungry under me; no man thirsted with desire; for everywhere man obeyed my commands, and every command was such as to win their love."

The nobles, crowded out of power, plotted against Amenemhat. He tells us: "The evening meal was past and night came, I gave myself up to pleasure for a time, then I lay down on the soft coverlets in my palace, I gave myself to repose, and my heart began to sink into slumber; when behold! they gathered in arms to revolt against me." Rousing himself he fought against the assailants hand to hand. "Strength forsook them; and nothing evil could they achieve against me." It is a brief record of the last impotent upheaval of the forces of disorder.

The great capital of Amenemhat and his successors was Thebes in upper Egypt. There they built temples and palaces so solid that the mighty structures still survive, and so splendid that we still gaze on them with admiration. Most impressive of all the twelfth-dynasty buildings was perhaps the so-called "Labyrinth," which was erected near the lake of Fayoum by Usertesen III. Herodotus, who examined it, was astounded, and declared that all the temples of the Greeks put together did not equal it in cost and splendor. It contained twelve roofed courts, joining one another, with opposite entrances, six facing the north and six the south, the whole being enclosed by an immense wall. One-half the temple was above and one-half below ground, and each division contained fifteen hundred apartments. Those below ground were the sepulchres of the kings and the halls of the sacred crocodiles. No wonder it was called the Labyrinth, for any one who attempted to pass through its winding and almost innumerable divisions was certain to lose his way, unless he was in charge of an experienced guide.

Herodotus was allowed to visit the apartments above ground, but not the subterranean ones. Regarding the former he said: "I pronounce them among the grandest efforts of human industry and art. The almost infinite number of winding passages through the different courts excited my highest admiration: from spacious halls I passed through smaller chambers, and from them again to large and magnificent saloons, almost without end. The walls and ceilings are of marble, the latter embellished with the most exquisite sculpture; around each court, pillars of the richest and most polished marble are arranged; and at the termination of the Labyrinth stands a pyramid one hundred and sixty cubits high, approached by a subterranean passage, and with its exterior enriched by huge figures of animals."

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Read about Egypt's Twelfth Dynasty in the The Story of the Greatest Nations and the Worlds Famous Events Vol 1

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