Ancient Egypt - Pharaoh Mentuhotep II


With Mentuhotep II, the country is again united. The First Intermediate Period ends and the Middle Kingdom begins. After unifying the country, Mentuhotep II spent the rest of his long life returning peace and prosperity to Egypt, which they had not experienced in over 200 years.


The Mortuary Temple of Mentuhotep II

South of his predecessors' saff tombs, Mentuhotep constructed a large Mortuary Temple on the impressive Great Bay of Cliffs at Deir el-Bahari. The choice of this location was certainly related to the Theban origin of the 11th Dynasty: Mentuhotep's predecessors on the Theban throne were all buried close-by in saff tombs. Furthermore, Mentuhotep may have chosen Deir el-Bahri because it was aligned with the temple of Karnak, on the other side of Nile. In particular, the statue of Amun was brought annually to Deir el-Bahri during the Beautiful Festival of the Valley, something which the king may have perceived as beneficial to this funerary cult.



This temple-tomb was innovative and consisted of a great stepped podium with square-cut pillars round it. At the rear of the base of the cliffs was a terrace with a Hypostyle Hall. The main entrance of this complex became a deep tunnel that led to a chamber beneath the temple which held an impressive seated stone statue of the king.


The mortuary temple of Mentuhotep II has been excavated many times. In the late nineteenth century, Swiss Egyptologist Edouard Naville (Navee) found three princesses beneath the paving stones in the mortuary temple. These 'Ladies of the Harem of Mentuhotep' were poorly mummified. One of these burials contained a young girl in a wooden coffin.


In the Middle Kingdom, people were placed on their sides in these wooden coffins. Two eyes were painted on the coffin so the deceased could spiritually look out. On their side, facing west, these eyes allowed them to see so they knew where they were going during their journey to the afterlife. Often the insides of the coffins were inscribed with spells to help them get to the next world.


You can tell the kingdom from the type of coffin. The Middle Kingdom coffins were all wooden boxes with simple bands of hieroglyphs. The New Kingdom developed the coffins that were shaped like a mummy, much like King Tut's coffins.


Why are we seeing spells now in coffins during the Middle Kingdom? Remember Pharaoh Unas began the pyramid texts – the spells written on the walls of the burial chamber that was continued throughout the 6th Dynasty. A commoner would never have seen these spells because the pyramids were sealed. But during the First Intermediate Period, these pyramids were robbed. All the pyramids created up to

this point were robbed during the First Intermediate Period: Sneferu's pyramids, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and the 5th and 6th Dynasty tombs. Here the commoners were now observing these spells in the burial chambers and realized that they helped you to resurrect. As a result, these were copied, and since they did not have pyramids themselves, the commoners began writing the spells into their own coffins. These 'pyramid texts' in coffins became known as 'coffin texts' which would later become part of the Book of the Dead in the New Kingdom.



Portraits of the Pharaoh

Mentuhotep II had wealth and was established. He had the means to create beautiful portraits and statues as seen from the Old Kingdom, however, the artistic talent seems to have been lost during the First Intermediate Period. Although these statues are successful in showing him as a powerful man, they are not well made. They lack high quality artistic craftsmanship and appear crude. The royal sculptors and studios of the past were not supported during the Intermediate Period and, as a result, the skills were momentarily lost. In the video series we show a statue of Mentuhotep II enthroned, wearing the red crown in the tight Heb-sed costume. His black color features his assimilation to Osiris – the underworld god of fertility. A second statue features him standing in his jubilee garment.


The most profound innovations of Mentuhotep II's temple were not architectural, but religious. First, it is the earliest mortuary temple where the king is not just the recipient of offerings but rather enacts ceremonies for the gods (and in this case Amun-Ra). Second, the temple identifies the king with Osiris, a local Theban god which grew in importance from the 11th Dynasty onward. The decoration and royal

statuary of the temple emphasizes the Osirian aspects of the dead ruler, an ideology apparent in the statuary of many later pharaohs.

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