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Ancient Egypt - Pharaoh Senusret I

Updated: Nov 5, 2020


During Senusret's reign, he continued exploiting the quarries and mines throughout Egypt, and for the first time, led an expedition into the Western Desert. At Heliopolis, he erected a pair of 66-foot red granite obelisks, each weighing 121 tons. One of the pair still stands and is the oldest standing obelisk in Egypt.

Senusret built a pyramid one mile south of his father's monument, at el-Lisht. This pyramid used a method of construction never before seen in an Egyptian pyramid; four stone walls radiated from the center built of rough-hewn blocks that decreased in size the higher their placement. The eight sections formed by these walls were then subdivided by three more walls, splitting the pyramid into 32 different units which were then filled with slabs of stone as well as debris. An exoskeleton of fine limestone then covered the structure. This new method of construction was not particularly efficient, and the completed pyramid suffered from stability problems. Unusual for Egyptian archaeology, clear evidence for ramps used to construct the pyramid remain. The burial chamber, like his father's, is inaccessible due to ground water.

Surrounding the actual structure was a comparatively large complex, which consisted of a mortuary temple, a rectangular structure with a courtyard in the center, and nine smaller pyramids for Senusret's queens. From the mortuary, a limestone causeway with carved statues set every 10 cubits ran to a public temple outside the perimeter wall of the compound. Little of this is visible today, however, because later Roman buildings were built over the complex.

The Karnak Temple Complex

Senusret was the first pharaoh to build at Karnak in Thebes. Construction at the complex would continue into the Ptolemaic Period, although most of the buildings date from the New Kingdom. The area around Karnak was the main place of worship of the 18th Dynasty Theban Triad with the god, Amun, at its head. It is part of the monumental city of Thebes and gives its name from the nearby modern village of el-Karnak, 1.6 miles north of Luxor.

Approximately 30 pharaohs contributed to the buildings, enabling it to reach a size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere. Few of the individual features of Karnak are unique, but the size and number of features are overwhelming. The deities represented range from some of the earliest worshiped to those worshiped much later in the history of the Ancient Egyptian culture. Major construction work in the Precinct of Amun-Ra take place during the 18th Dynasty when Thebes became the capital of Ancient Egypt.

Portraits of the Pharaoh

Unlike the 11th Dynasty, the artwork during this period becomes refined and artistic skill returns to the royal workshops. In the video series we show two statues of the king that were discovered in the tomb of the high priest of Heliopolis, Imhotep, which was located on the east side of Senusret's pyramid. Each statue is about 23-inches tall and shows the king holding a tall crook-topped staff while wearing the red and white crowns. The two figures were probably used as part of a dramatic funerary ceremony and then ritually buried.

In spite of its small size, the statue has great presence. In Egyptian art, the essential purpose of any formal representation of a man (whether god, king, or lesser mortal) was to embody the essence of masculine strength and virility. The restrained power expressed in the elegantly simple pose of this striding figure admirably achieves this goal, and it is easy to understand why Egyptian artists continued to use many of the same uniquely expressive forms for nearly thirty centuries.