The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt

By W. Stevenson Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
THE SECOND INTERMEDIATE PERIOD: DYNASTIES XIII-XVII 1786-1570 B.C.

OUR discussion of the minor arts at Kerma has carried us well into that period of Egypt's decline when the strong rule of the kings of Dynasty XII could no longer be maintained by their successors in Dynasty XIII. The burials in the large tumuli at Kerma were interpreted by their discoverer, Reisner, as being those of a succession of Egyptian governors of that fortified trading-post during a period of some two hundred years from Hepzefa's death in the reign of Amenemhat II to the end of Dynasty XIII. Strong objections have been voiced against this view,1 although the analysis of the contents of the Kerma graves has produced one of the few sequences of related material that provides some continuity in this difficult period which is so hard to understand in Egypt itself. The chief point which has been difficult to accept is that upper-class Egyptians should have adopted the barbarous local burial customs. The chief figure in each of the great tumuli was buried on a bed, usually a wooden one with its foot-board decorated with rows of ivory inlays but, in the case of Hepzefa, one made of quartz. Ordinarily there was no coffin.2 The master was accompanied by his household and many retainers who, perhaps drugged by the wine of the funeral feast, were covered alive by the filling in of the central sacrificial corridor when the mound was heaped up over the brick compartments of the substructure on the day of the funeral. However abhorrent this may have been to a civilized Egyptian, one should not underestimate the influence which the local women in a household might have had upon an Egyptian long resident abroad.

Naturally, every official sent to Kerma need not have died there. The Egyptian community was probably a small one, and the majority of burials were those of the local inhabitants of a large town that lay in the immediate neighbourhood of the fortress. It is unfortunate that denudation has removed the buildings of this town, leaving only broken pottery and other widespread evidence of occupation on the surface. Close by the fortress a few remnants of walls remained, protected from erosion, as well as some of the raw materials and partially worked objects for the industries undertaken for trading purposes. The man who was in charge of such a trading-post, whatever tide we may give him, must certainly have been an Egyptian. Innumerable instances from later colonial history can explain how, with a small garrison, he could have maintained order in the midst of a population awed by the military might displayed in the South in Dynasty XII, beginning in the reign of Amenemhat I. He could depend also upon a line of communications firmly maintained by the fortresses in the region of the Second Cataract. The recorded inspection and probable repair of one of the chapels at Kerma in the reign of Amenemhat III and the mud-seal impressions from receptacles containing articles involved in the administration of the post are paralleled by what we know of

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