First Intermediate Period

2181 BC
2055 BC

The weakness of the rulers of the Sixth Dynasty resulted in the loss of order and control over the country, and an increase in the power of provincial governors. These local administrators eventually became completely independent from Memphis and, seeking to extend their respective territories, came to establish their own forces. This resulted in civil wars and the deterioration of political and economic conditions. It is believed that it was during this period of turmoil that the royal pyramid complexes were robbed.

          The written sources from the following period, the Middle Kingdom (c.2055–1650 BC), describe the First Intermediate Period as a time of famine and chaos. The absence of the king and central government supposedly led to poverty, the loss of moral values, and instability. Archaeological evidence, however, paints a very different picture. New forms and shapes of pottery were invented, new, architectural forms specific to individual provinces found expression, and local popular culture flourished. Life seems to have simply continued. If anything, the economy of the provinces and of the average person in these areas, free from the demands of the central administration, appears to have improved. Local rulers became paternal figures who took care of their people, boasting about how they fed the hungry and gave water to the thirsty. The notion of the ruler as benefactor would have deep repercussions on the conception of kingship in the following period.

          Another one of the most important developments of this period is the so-called “democratization of the afterlife”. This is when the Coffin Texts first appeared. As their name suggests, these were usually written on the insides of coffins. Their purpose, to ensure that the deceased successfully reached the afterlife, is the same as the Pyramid Texts, from which they evolved. Unlike them, however, the Coffin Texts were not exclusive to royalty. Private, non‑royal, individuals now had a chance to an afterlife, independently of their king. Whether this was the case earlier too is hotly debated, as is whether people had already access to funerary texts, but it is clear that it was never this overt.

          Eventually, the Ninth and Tenth Dynasties, which were based in Herakleopolis (modern Ihnasya al‑Medina), came to rule Egypt, but they held a tenuous grasp over their territories, especially the south. A new dynasty arose in Thebes (modern Luxor) in Upper Egypt that was powerful enough to challenge them. The First Intermediate Period ended with the reunification of Egypt by King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep of the victorious Theban Eleventh Dynasty, ushering into the prosperous Middle Kingdom period.

First Intermediate Period