THE GROWTH OF THE MIDDLE KINGDOM AND ITS COLLAPSE
THE FIRST INTERMEDIATE PERIOD: DYNASTIES VII-X 2258-2052 B.C.
WE do not know exactly what political event was the immediate cause of the collapse of the Old Kingdom. The diminished power of the royal family is painfally evident at the close of Dynasty VI. A brief period of confusion, evidently a sort of interregnum known as Dynasty VII, was followed by the weak kings of Dynasty VIII who made some attempt to carry on Memphite traditions. We can see from decrees set up in the temple at Coptos, how dependent the throne was upon the support of a powerful provincial family there.1 A revolt of the town of Heracleopolis, which lay south of Memphis near the entrance to the Fayum, really brought the Memphite royal house to an end. The rulers of Heracleopolis of Dynasties IX and X drove the Asiatics out and restored order in the Delta. They had no more than nominal control in the south even in the middle provinces of Egypt. Our best glimpse of events in this exceedingly dark time is in the period after Intef I had established Dynasty XI in Thebes, around 2130 B.C. At this time the Theban territory extended as far as the Thinite Nome. Fighting began around Abydos, which the princes of Assiut attempted to hold for Heracleopolis in the struggle which was to result in the conquest of the north by Neb-hepet-ra Mentuhotep and the uniting of the country about 2050 B.C. The early part of Dynasty XI at Thebes thus ran parallel with Dynasty X during this period of the rise of Theban power, against which Assiut formed a bulwark in Middle Egypt for the suzerain power of Heracleopolis. We know very little about conditions in the Delta, but in Upper Egypt each Nomarch attempted to maintain the independence of his district which had been gained at the end of the Old Kingdom, and it was to be the problem of the Middle Kingdom kings to break the power of this provincial nobility.
We need not attempt here to follow the decline of the Memphite style in Lower Egypt, where some traces of the small monuments which continued to be built at Saqqara into Heracleopolitan times have survived. In Upper Egypt the decorations of the rock-cut tombs are more interesting as containing elements of a new style. There is something here, as in the few small pieces of sculpture in the round, which cannot be