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Ancient Egypt - Military Architecture of the Middle Kingdom


Nubia is the equivalent of the Sudan. They did not have firm borders. Egypt's border ended in the south at a place called Aswan. Its a natural border with huge boulders in the Nile that obstruct river transportation. These obstructions are called cataracts and serve as a great location for military control.

Egypt embarked on a program of military expansion into Nubia, bolstering their position with a long chain of fortresses between modern Aswan and the region of the Second Cataract. These were heavily fortified settlements, located at the most vulnerable points in the trade route from the south and were simultaneously both military outposts and customs stations.

Most of these fortifications were built of mudbrick over a period of some 130 years, between the reigns of Senusret I to his great grandson, Senusret III. Of about seventeen fortresses, eleven fortresses were clustered in the area of the Second Cataract alone, each positioned so that they could control the flow of traffic northwards at points where the Nile was difficult to navigate.

The fortification walls were 30 feet high and 15 feet wide. These forts were impressive. Nubians traveling along the roadway would have to go through these forts, due to the difficult terrain. You couldn't just go around them and they were constructed on the cataracts, so river navigation was also difficult.

The principal reason for these fortresses was apparently not the protection of Egypt's southern border, for they could have been easily outflanked by desert invaders on either side of the Nile. They also appear not to have been designed simply to subjugate the Lower (Northern) Nubians, since the local population does not seem to have been considered much of a threat. These forts were where the Egyptians collected the taxes. If you were a Nubian traveling through the area, you would be required to pay a tax in order to continue on the road. These forts were also heavily manned. As a result, they served as excellent sources of revenue and very good positions to stage the army in case of uprisings.

The southernmost of these fortresses, at Semna, Kumma, Uronarti and Semna South, were about 30 miles south of the Second Cataract, around the narrowest gorge in the whole course of the Nile, and these marked the final frontier during the 12th Dynasty.


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