Joann Fletcher explains how ancient Egypt's story fits together. She explores how the Pyramid Age ended in catastrophe and Egypt was plunged into the dark ages and civil war.
Browse content similar to Chaos. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
With its mighty pharaohs, multiple gods and magnificent art,
it's easy to think that Ancient Egypt was always powerful and successful.
But there were also darker times. Conflict, civil war, famine
and an overall feeling of catastrophe.
And the only way it could survive was
through its own resilience and the strongest of leadership.
Now, this is Sesostris III,
who ruled Egypt almost 4,000 years ago.
He's strong and he's muscular,
everything a pharaoh should be, and yet look at his face.
His scowling features have been interpreted to suggest his harsh rule
and his large ears, his ability to hear any plots against him.
Sesostris embodies the way Egypt's monarchs
ruled during its turbulent times.
This king controlled his enemies through
a series of military fortresses and through magical curses.
For this is a new era in Egypt's history,
not only ruled by military power but by fear and suspicion.
And Egypt's darkest times threatened to destroy its entire civilisation.
I've already explored how Egypt's ancient culture
began thousands of years earlier.
Blessed by the river Nile and a rich natural environment
and a society united by a complex ideology.
But in this episode, we'll see how the massive
self-confidence of the pyramid age was not to last, as a dark age
brought this civilisation to the brink of annihilation.
Make no mistake, this is the home of the dead and we're in amongst them.
These were times of famine, civil war and anarchy.
Kings have been reduced to something on a minuscule level.
But this collapse triggered one of the greatest
revivals of ancient times...
..with Egypt re-emerging
more powerful and wealthy than ever before.
Welcome to my story of Ancient Egypt.
Saqqara - where Egypt's great pyramid age began.
But among its glories there's also evidence of a far less
well-known side to Egypt's story.
Its descent into a dark age.
The zenith of Egypt's Old Kingdom was the Great Pyramid at Giza,
and only 200 years later King Unas' Causeway was created.
It might not look much today
but it's the highlight of Unas' pyramid complex.
A 750m long causeway which symbolically connected
life and death.
It goes right from the Nile Valley all the way up
on to the high desert plateau,
right to the foot of the Pyramid of Unas.
So it would have been used for
his funeral procession, but it would also have drawn up that life-giving
force from the valley below, up to the city of the dead here at Saqqara.
A narrow slit in the roof once allowed enough light in, but
the extraordinary thing is that this causeway was
designed for a sole purpose, the king's funeral procession.
Carved upon its walls are scenes revealing both sides of life,
the forces of order and of chaos.
It first portrays an idealised version of Egypt, a time of plenty.
Here we can see typical scenes within an Egyptian temple
or funerary context.
Scenes of the rich bounty of Egypt.
All the fruit, the vegetables, the crops, the meat,
the fish. All the wealth of the natural environment of Egypt
which was all, obviously, brought to the land through the good offices of
the king, the bringer of all bounty, the intermediary with the gods.
But also this causeway contained something rather more
disturbing, evidence that dark forces were at work.
Further on down the causeway emerged a counterpart image...
..the flipside of bounty.
An image so unusual it's now displayed in Saqqara's museum.
And it really is one of ancient Egypt's most haunting
and revealing works of art.
Here we see these dark forces at work.
What we have are two rows of emaciated victims of famine.
These poor people, they're weak with hunger, they're falling down,
they're suffering and this is basically Ancient Egypt coming
face-to-face with reality because these are believed to be
the Bedouins who inhabited the desert fringes of Egypt, so it's as if
this kind of idea of suffering, the forces of chaos are on the periphery
of Egypt but they're getting ever closer to the Nile Valley.
Egypt is starting to waken up to the fact that chaos isn't
all that far away. This is Ancient Egypt beginning to suffer.
Such gritty realism had rarely been portrayed before.
Chaos depicted as the suffering of real people.
This isn't happening in some esoteric realm of the gods where chaos
is, sort of, portrayed as some sort of disparate magical force,
very detached from reality, this is reality.
Through such realistic images,
the Egyptians were expressing their fears to the gods.
Appealing to them to keep these forces of chaos at bay.
But instead, the starving famine victims would turn out to be
a chilling omen.
Up until now, Egypt's prosperity had flowed from its one
source of water, the river Nile, whose annual floods enriched
the soil, allowing life and agriculture to flourish.
This natural abundance was the very bedrock on which Egypt,
and its perpetual world order, was able to thrive.
But this lifeblood was about to run dry.
Evidence shows that at the end of the third millennium BC,
the Nile flood levels fell dramatically.
As the very thing that brought them life began to diminish,
the Egyptians believed that their gods had begun to abandon them.
And for the next century, the ancient texts talk of suffering,
starvation and even cannibalism.
Traditionally, Egyptian society had been
built on the belief in the divine power of its kings.
Without this belief, the pyramid age would never have been possible.
But now, in its time of need, Egypt's king seemed increasingly
powerless in the face of such natural disaster.
And this would come to a head with a ruler who was well past his prime.
Claimed to have lived for 100 years,
he was Egypt's longest-lived monarch, King Pepi II.
And this space was once a ceremonial running track,
the type of place where Pepi would have to display his physical
prowess to prove himself to his people.
Now, when any pharaoh had celebrated 30 years' reign,
they had to perform the jubilee ceremonies and this involved
running the ceremonial jubilee race, four times round this circuit
as King of the North,
four times round this circuit as King of the South.
It was the ultimate public display of their fitness to rule
and their strength.
It really showed who was in charge of Egypt.
But that's where Pepi's advancing age would eventually let him down.
Of course, when Pharaoh was relatively young and fit,
this would have been a great celebration.
But in the case of poor Pepi, then in his 90s, it became all too
clear that Pharaoh was no living god and this really undermined
the whole concept of what it was to be a pharaoh.
Clearly as mortal as his subjects, any natural disaster must have
seemed the fault of this less than superhuman king.
And this combination of a weakening pharaoh
and failing harvests led to rapid decline.
Ancient Egypt now faced its first major political crisis.
For the power and apparent divinity of the pharaoh that had been
so very important in the pyramid age had now vanished.
Everything that bound Egyptian society together
had begun to fall away...
..and Egypt was plunged into a dark age.
In this time of growing uncertainty,
when the Egyptians had lost faith in both the monarchy and
state-run religion, they increasingly turned to the power of magic.
This is a rather unsettling thing.
It's an ancient Egyptian mask.
It's almost 4,000 years old and it's made of linen,
covered in a thin layer of plaster then painted predominately
black with colours picked out on various features.
Of course, the Egyptians are well known for making elaborate
arrangements for their afterlife.
The death mask, placed over the mummified body,
recreated the features of the dead to make them recognisable to the gods.
But this mask is different. It was made to be worn by the living.
And we know this
because of the very distinctive eye holes which you can see there
and this would allow the wearer to see around them.
You can imagine
when this was applied to the face, fastened on, tied on behind the head
it would transform that individual into a completely different entity.
Traces of paint on the linen reveal how it might have helped
the wearer embody some form of magical being.
Whoever wore this
was going to some effort to transform their appearance to
try and tap into the hidden forces of the gods
and to control the world in which they lived. It's as if the Egyptian
individual that wore this was trying to take charge of their own destiny.
But the mask isn't the only evidence of magic.
For in their dark ages the Egyptians increasingly began to write
out curses and spells on pots and figurines.
Scrawled across one was the curse, "Die, Henui, son of Intef!"
A form of magic sufficiently small-scale
to be performed within their own homes.
One of the most graphic ways they did this was to take
a piece of clay or a simple pot like this one
and write upon it the thing or the person that they wanted to control.
They often used red ochre,
because red was associated with the powers of destruction.
So if I was doing this, I would put on the thing
I would want to stop, which are early morning calls and alarm clocks.
So you've got to imagine Egyptians from all walks of life doing
this, the priest wanting to protect the pharaoh, the soldier
in battle against an enemy, or simply a hated love rival. So all
sorts of Egyptians could be on the receiving end of something like this.
And then to activate the curse, they smashed the pot.
It was a symbolic act to annihilate the name of the enemy
and therefore to control that enemy.
Ooh, that does feel better!
Not unlike voodoo, such practices are found in many ancient cultures
and Egypt was no exception.
But it's far from the way we imagine the formal, time-honoured rituals
of the temple led by the king at the head of the religious hierarchy.
This is an Egypt that's becoming more suspicious, more fearful
and more aware of the threats to their world, natural disasters,
political breakdown and foreign powers.
And this little wax figurine is a means to control anyone that
threatens the balanced order of Egyptian life.
Welcome to the age of fear...
..a time when every element of Egypt's world view was in doubt.
Their faith in their king,
in their land and even in their gods had all faltered.
This is one of the lowest points in Egypt's long story
and its effect reverberated throughout the Nile Valley.
The king, traditionally based in the north,
was no longer the source of wealth, so royal officials abandoned
court and relocated back to their hometowns throughout the country.
Disunited, Egypt reverted back to how it had been 1,000 years earlier.
Breaking up into series of local regions called nomes.
And now a new kind of leader emerges to dominate the dark ages.
No longer a single king, but multiple warlords.
And we know much about one of them,
because he left his detailed autobiography in his rock-cut tomb
at Mo'alla, well away from the usual tourist sites.
His name was Ankhtifi.
Now, Ankhtifi is a small-time official
who's worked his way up through the ranks
to become the regional governor, or nomarch, as it's known.
And in the declining central government the power vacuum
that opens up is now filled by the Ankhtifis of this world.
Ankhtifi's tomb is quite modest by ancient Egyptian standards,
but its interior walls tell of his rise to power.
And Egyptologist Garry Shaw is going to help me unravel Ankhtifi's story.
-You can see the man himself.
-Ah, the great man.
-The great man, carved, standing there.
-He's got a great hairstyle.
-That is lovely. I'm liking him already.
And he has a great tomb, as well.
The hieroglyphs and images that fill the walls reveal how Ankhtifi
exploited the power vacuum at the end of the pyramid age,
reducing the king to nothing more than a footnote.
The only time you see the name of a king in the entire tomb is
right here. This tiny little cartouche.
Oh, it couldn't be any smaller. Look at the size of that.
-It says Neferkare and that's it.
-Is that it in the whole tomb?
The whole tomb, one mention of a king, and I think that really
emphasises just how important he thought he was alone.
He didn't need to mention the pharaoh,
he didn't need to say that the king told me to do this,
so I did this because of the king's favours, he just did it himself.
That is extraordinary.
I think that cartouche, alone of everything in the tomb,
encapsulates this whole period.
Kings have been reduced to something on a minuscule level and the local
rulers are shown on a huge scale and it's all about them, isn't it?
Ankhtifi had enhanced his own political career
and wanted to ensure the gods were in no doubt as to his importance.
So the elaborate language, once exclusive to the king, was now part
of Ankhtifi's own boastful propaganda.
This warlord was an egomaniac.
He also says that he's a hero without equal,
without peer and you get that here.
"I am a hero without peer," and pretty much almost every inscription
in this tomb ends or includes this statement at some point inside.
And what did he do to, kind of, justify these claims?
He emphasises all the good things he did for the people.
This was meant to be a time of drought and famine,
so we're told in the texts, and he tried to guide them through this,
he was managing it by feeding everybody
and doing all sorts of good things,
giving bread to the hungry, ointment to those without ointment.
Sandals for those who were barefoot and wives to those without wives.
So it's basically telling us about a time of turmoil.
Yeah, but he was probably just over-exaggerating
because the more he exaggerates just how awful it is,
the more great he looks when he says, "Well, these are the nice
-"things I did for everybody."
-And you get this here.
He talks about the entire south dying from hunger.
Oh, look at that, that's a really graphic hieroglyph, I love that.
-The guy fallen over.
-He's definitely dead.
But then it gets even worse,
because he says that every single man is eating his children.
He didn't allow this to happen in his nome, of course.
Where he lived, everything was fine.
And at the same time he was also a fantastic warrior,
-we're told over here.
-Inevitably! How did I know that was coming?
Yeah, absolutely, yeah. These texts on this particular column
talk about his abilities as a warrior.
In his biggest boast of all,
Ankhtifi, the local hero, almost claims the status of a god.
In Egypt's dark age,
warlords like Ankhtifi had replaced the real kings of Egypt.
And Ankhtifi's delusions of grandeur, so vividly expressed inside his tomb,
are even more emphasised on the outside
because he chose burial inside a rock shaped like a natural pyramid.
He wanted to be the local pharaoh.
And in a way he was,
because whoever fed and protected the people also led the people.
But as the power of warlords like Ankhtifi grew,
so did the conflicts between them.
And over time, as they either defeated their neighbours or formed
alliances with them, two separate dynasties of warlord kings emerged.
One in the north at Herakleopolis where they wore the
red crown of Lower Egypt...
..and one in the south at Thebes,
symbolised by the white crown of Upper Egypt.
Egypt was a divided kingdom of two lands.
And between them lay a warzone.
Situated at its centre lay Egypt's most sacred site...
..its earliest royal burial ground.
And still today an evocative and atmospheric place.
This was the resting place of Egypt's first kings,
whose mummified bodies were buried in elaborate burial chambers
beneath the desert floor.
A safe place for their souls, or so they thought.
But hostilities between the two warring factions
were about to plumb new depths of horror,
with an assault so blasphemous,
it would change the face of Egypt for ever.
One of the most violent acts was recorded in later texts
as the Vile Deed, for the northern warlord kings
fighting their southern opponents here
actually desecrated these royal tombs.
For their troops set fire to the tombs
and destroyed the royal mummies.
At a stroke, Egypt's physical link to its ancient past was severed.
Such an act of desecration was completely unimaginable
and the Egyptian people were rightly appalled.
Although the northern kings deeply regretted what their troops
had done, the destruction was irreversible
and the origins of Egypt's royal past lost forever.
Of course, the problem with such times of destruction is that there's
very little left of them for us Egyptologists to find.
But clues do remain if you know what you're looking for.
Today, what's left of the violation of this
royal burial ground is surprising...
..thousands upon thousands of broken pots.
Although most are not part of the destruction itself,
they represent centuries of atonement for the loss of Egypt's
physical connection with its past.
Now, not long after the desecration, this became a place of pilgrimage,
where people came with little pots like this one,
filled with food, drink, incense,
which they offered up to the souls of the dead kings once buried here.
It was believed that at death, these souls of the kings had joined
with the soul of Osiris, god of the dead,
and as this place became a site of pilgrimage, it's as if the people
of Egypt were trying to make amends for the desecration of the past.
Egypt's spiritual connection to its royal ancestors was all it had
left after the northern warlords had destroyed their physical remains.
And the desecration soon provoked violent retaliation.
Directly across the desert from Abydos...
..the stronghold of the southern warlords.
And they would soon rise up against their northern rivals
and attempt to resurrect Egypt as a united land.
Back in 2000 BC, Thebes was a one-donkey town.
And yet its warlords had two distinct advantages over other leaders.
They lived on a bend in the Nile called the Qena Bend,
a strategic control point of rich farmland.
And their local god was Montu, the god of war!
The warlords of Thebes would reunite Egypt.
And one in particular came to the fore.
His images were carved into the walls of his Theban tomb complex.
And his name tells us much.
This is the Theban warlord Montuhotep,
and there's a real clue as to what was happening
at this part of Egyptian history, because his name, Montuhotep,
means "the local war god, Montu, is content",
because "hotep" simply means content and happy.
So if the war god was happy with Montuhotep,
this means that he was a very powerful military figure
and this is a wonderful scene.
There are a lot of little clues here to tell us
what's going on and if you look really closely you can see hands
embracing him, flanking him at his back, at his front, round his middle.
He's been embraced by the gods, chief amongst whom is Montu himself,
and there he is. He's nose to nose with the king,
he's giving him the breath of life
and infusing him with his own divine power.
It was the power of victory.
One that finally brought an end to Egypt's first dark age.
Montuhotep really did live up to his name
as a true son of the war god because he took his armies north,
he conquered the north and he reunited Egypt.
But best of all he's got the red crown on,
and this is the red crown of the north
because Montuhotep is declaring to the world,
"I might be a southerner, I might be from Thebes,
"I should be wearing the white crown,
"but look at me now, I have the red crown.
"I am the king of the north and the king of the south
"and I have reunited Egypt."
As Egypt's new king, he became Montuhotep II.
But his victory came at a high price.
The grim details of what his soldiers went through
can be found on Thebes' West Bank at Deir el-Bahari.
It was inside one of the tombs here that the
remains of Montuhotep's warriors were uncovered in 1923.
Their bodies silent witnesses to Egypt's civil war of 4,000 years ago.
Which careful analysis revealed in fascinating detail.
Now, the archaeologists found around 60 bodies in the tomb
and these are the original excavation photographs.
All of them had been naturally preserved, naturally mummified
in the hot, dry climate, so you've still got the skin and the hair.
And crucially, evidence of how these men had fought and died.
Some of these bodies had been pierced by arrows,
this one goes right into the left side of the chest.
Others had actually been buried with these leather wrist guards
that archers use.
Ten of the warriors had been killed with ebony-tipped arrows.
But in others, the wounds are even more brutal.
You can see here somebody's hit this man on the head with a real
whack and you can see this very, very graphic area of damage there.
And after these series of furious blows had been
rained down on these poor guys, they lay helpless on the field of battle,
their bodies picked at by vultures. You can see here the dreadful damage.
It's such a profound image.
The bodies reveal evidence of the weapons used against them
as they fought for control of Egypt.
Arrows, sling shot
and even rocks had been hurled at the warriors from above.
Eventually their bodies were collected from the battlefield
and carefully wrapped in linen.
This linen bore the insignia of the Theban tomb complex,
belonging to their leader Montuhotep.
But just as significant as the bodies themselves,
was where Montuhotep chose to bury his fallen heroes.
Today, the warriors' resting place is a little-known, sealed tomb.
But 4,000 years ago Montuhotep honoured his dead soldiers
with a burial amongst the graves of his highest officials,
making them part of his monument to victory.
The new king had created what could well be
the world's first known war cemetery.
Now, I'm lucky enough to have been given special permission to see
Montuhotep's soldiers for the first time.
These guys are going to be taking down the tomb wall for me,
allowing me to actually meet the very people who fought in Egypt's
civil war around 2,000 BC so I am very, very excited.
And it was the same curiosity which drove a team of American
archaeologists to excavate their original mass grave
in the first place.
Now reburied in a neighbouring tomb,
the bodies of Montuhotep's soldiers have rarely seen the light of day
since their discovery over 90 years ago.
THEY SPEAK ARABIC
Now this is really, really super frustrating,
but in the interests of health and safety
I can't go in there immediately, much as I really want to,
cos all the stale air has built up as the wall's been sealed
and we've really got to let this out with all the fungal spores
and bacteria and everything else that's so detrimental to health.
Early Egyptologists tended to rush straight in and risked the
so-called pharaoh's curse, so a little waiting is essential.
I can't believe we're going to actually enter this tomb now.
It's one of those rare moments you get in an Egyptological career,
into a tomb that's hardly ever visited.
The wall had to come down and who knows what we're
going to find inside cos I certainly have never seen
this before so it's a very, very special moment.
This literally wasn't at all what I expected, nobody knew what to expect.
It's staggering. I've never ever been into a tomb quite like this before.
The mask is a very good idea because there's all sorts of things
floating around in the atmosphere in here,
not just the dust of ages, but the dust of human beings,
and as such we have to be very, very respectful.
It's a large rock-cut tomb
and although its walls are unfinished, it is typical
of those created for courtiers and officials throughout these cliffs.
Wow, it's a mummified body.
It's absolutely incredible. Oh, that's quite something.
And if you look along the length of this very long tomb, look at the
floor, this isn't stone, these are human remains and mummy wrappings.
And there are chambers
and corridors leading off, again full of wrappings, the linen of ages.
Some of it is claimed to be the very linen that bound
the bodies of Montuhotep's warriors to help preserve them for eternity.
But at first glance it's hard to get a clear picture, for this particular
tomb seems to have been reused many times during Egypt's long history.
Part of a shoulder, you see the way the skin is folded and dried out.
Partial human body, still with much of its soft tissue intact.
It hits you immediately in the face
and you're confronted with what a tomb is all about.
Make no mistake, this is the home of the dead and we're in amongst them.
And it's a very emotive and powerful place to be.
But what's striking is how little is left of their bodies.
Like many other tombs up and down the Nile, they've been subjected to
centuries of looting and damage.
And amongst all these linen wrappings and debris and human remains
themselves are the tangible remains of these men who died so
bravely in their efforts to reunify Egypt for Montuhotep their leader.
Having just come out of that tomb I have very, very mixed emotions.
I don't really know what I was expecting to see, certainly some
of Montuhotep's soldiers.
Perhaps some of them were, it's highly likely.
Essentially, what we're looking at are the ancient Egyptians themselves.
These are the ancient Egyptians.
Temples, tombs, pyramids, this wonderful culture.
It's all well and good studying these esoteric aspects
that are distinct and marvellous and grand but when it comes down
to it, the things we should really be interested in are these people.
Montuhotep's reunification of Egypt marked a new beginning,
the dawn of what would become
known as the Middle Kingdom...
..and the rise of Thebes.
Montuhotep made it the new spiritual heart of Egypt.
And it would stay that way for the next 2,000 years.
But whereas the war god Montu had dominated the previous
century of Egypt's story,
the deity that now took centre stage was Hathor, the goddess of love,
joy, beauty and motherhood. The goddess whose origins can be
traced right back to the earliest of times.
And believing that Hathor dwelt in the cliffs of
Deir el-Bahari, Montuhotep chose this site not only for his war cemetery,
but for his own tomb complex.
It was Montuhotep that first built here in this dramatic place
where the cliffs meet the desert,
believed to be the home of the goddess Hathor herself.
It was a fast-track to the afterlife and for Montuhotep
and his men, who'd lived and died by the war god Montu,
they all now rest in the eternal embrace of Hathor.
The first to build at Deir el-Bahari was Montuhotep,
the founder of a reunified Egypt.
He was so influential that almost 600 years later, female pharaoh
Hatshepsut built her own funerary temple right next door to
tap into the religious and political power of her illustrious predecessor.
In the Middle Kingdom, life for ordinary people was on the up.
Food was plentiful...
..wealth and trade flourished...
..and farming was revitalised with new irrigation systems.
Yet the dark age had nonetheless left its mark on the Egyptian mind-set,
as revealed in the way they prepared for the afterlife.
In the Old Kingdom, tomb walls were often covered in elaborate scenes
and texts replicating an idealised version of the Egyptian world.
But in the dark ages people had seen their sacred sites ripped apart.
So instead of such tomb art,
many in the Middle Kingdom opted for its cheaper equivalent.
With something much smaller and much more intimate.
While these may look like children's toys, they were in fact made
nearly 4,000 years ago to be placed inside Egyptian burials.
Now, these wooden models were designed to provide the deceased with
an eternal supply of food and drink in the next world and so we have
all the basics here, the Egyptian staples of bread, beer and beef.
So we have the bakers at this end and they're grinding the grain to
make flour which will then be made into the bread loaves
that are cooked in this fire and the baker is in front there.
The arms are quite damaged but presumably shielding his face
from the heat as we know from other examples. Move to the middle, we have
the butcher here and he's cutting the throat of this ox. The legs
are bound here to keep the animal in situ while the deed is done.
And we move on to the end and we have the brewer.
This is a fabulous,
fabulous example because he's pushing the mash through a sieve
and the sieve's even been drawn on there on the top.
Actually, in proportion with the rest of it this individual's
ordered rather more beer than either bread or beef
because this section of the model is almost half its length
but you can see the vats of beer carefully laid on their side.
It's a wonderfully evocative piece.
These people have been working for 4,000 years
and they're still at it, look at them.
The key elements of Egyptian culture were back.
And they look little different from times of plenty
in the previous millennium.
Look at this busy crew grappling with the sail,
poles ready to launch the boat off the Nile's banks.
And this granary silo. Inside, workers haul sacks of barley...
..while a scribe counts the crop.
And, of course, there are also female figures.
In Egypt women enjoyed much the same status as men,
unlike their sisters in many other parts of the ancient world.
They're also producing one of the Egyptian staples, linen,
the cloth which was used to make pretty much every Egyptian garment.
When you see this standing woman here, she's spinning
the thread with this spindle and the thread that she is busy making she'll
then hand on to her two companions, the weavers, and they are using this
horizontal loom that's pegged to the ground to produce the bolts of cloth
which will be fashioned into the wrap-around dresses,
the kilts, the loincloths, as worn by
pretty much every ancient Egyptian man, woman and child.
The lives depicted in these busy little scenes are the comfortable
and the familiar, representing the Egyptian idea of security.
This isn't Tutankhamen's death mask, this isn't the finest
piece of art you'll ever see but that isn't the point. These are real
people doing real jobs. This is Ancient Egypt up close and personal.
Order had been restored within Egypt.
But the fears that once tore Egypt apart hadn't disappeared entirely.
For now they were projected outwards, to the world beyond its borders.
So Middle Kingdom monarchs like stern old Sesostris III
focused on national security and wealth creation.
Sesostris is infamous for his devastating military campaigns
south into gold-rich Nubia.
But he also opted for a more permanent kind of control,
by building castles.
Now, this is a map of southern Egypt and Nubia which is modern day
Sudan, and where Aswan is, that was the border between the two.
And Egypt maintained its control over Nubia through a series of forts.
With around eight of these built by Sesostris himself,
these Middle Kingdom forts were within signalling
distance of one another along the southern Nile down into Nubia.
They were all part of a massive state building programme designed to
subjugate the local population and maintain the flow of goods
and people up into Egypt, particularly Nubian gold.
Very few of these forts still survive.
These are some of the last images ever recorded of the largest,
It was filmed in 1962 during its excavation.
And after the creation of the Aswan Dam, these massive mud brick
walls disappeared forever beneath the waters of the new Lake Nasser.
But Buhen isn't completely lost to us
because the excavation records are kept here at the
Egypt Exploration Society
and they reveal an unexpected aspect of Middle Kingdom Egypt.
As well as photographs,
they hold architectural plans of the fort drawn up during the excavations.
Giving a real insight into the immense scale of the Egyptian
crackdown in Nubia.
-Hi, Jo. How are you?
I'm well, thank you. This looks like an amazing photograph.
What does it actually show?
This is an aerial photograph, Jo, so what we can see here
along the bottom this strip is actually the river Nile and then
right on the banks of the Nile emerging from the sand here we see
this square outline of the massive fortification of the site of Buhen.
But once the excavators began to uncover the full extent of what
we can see, this is what they came across.
That just looks like a medieval castle, doesn't it?
Very rarely do you think Ancient Egypt,
"Oh, yeah castles," and yet here's the evidence in front of us.
Designed to keep the enemy out, Buhen shares features
with the castles of Europe, but all constructed 3,000 years earlier.
Most astonishing of all is its sheer size.
There's a little scale on this map that gives you an idea.
This is roughly 100m, so just the Nile-facing wall here
is well over 400m long.
If you think about the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza
that's 200m along the base, so we're talking about the length of two
Great Pyramids along here. The total circumference of this wall is
well over a mile and these outer walls are 11m high.
Inside which you could fit around 20 football pitches.
Because as well as controlling the Nubian gold supply,
Egypt intended to rule by intimidation.
This is the Middle Kingdom's
great monumental, architectural statement.
Pyramids, monumental tombs,
were not really the kinds of buildings they needed.
What they very much needed were these heavily fortified,
fortress towns to guard the frontier of their territory.
When this fortress arrives in the barren,
empty desert landscape in the Middle Kingdom,
this would have been a massive statement. Something very,
very big, powerful, strong, scary has suddenly arrived in the desert.
So anybody travelling from Nubia north into Egypt has to sail past
this and this would have taken quite a while to sail past, wouldn't it?
Imagine, you're in a little boat on the Nile and you are looking up
and up and up and you can see all these arrow slits,
people training their arrows perhaps on you.
You know you're being watched.
-It's that big brother mentality, isn't it?
Rising up by the Nile, Buhen was a gleaming citadel of power.
But most of all it was an early warning system, the eyes
and ears of a nation defined by suspicion and fear.
But Egypt's southern border wasn't the only one to be fortified.
The north-eastern border with Palestine was also secured
with such defences to monitor the large number of foreign
traders regularly travelling to sell their goods in super-wealthy Egypt.
And the visit of one such group is portrayed here on a tomb wall,
a caravan of wealthy merchants and their families.
Clearly not Egyptian with their distinctive hairstyles.
and brightly coloured clothes.
Known as the Aamu people, they traded in such goods as the
black lead ore vital for Egypt's production of eye make-up.
And their distinctive pottery has been found across the Nile Delta,
where many of them settled to live and work among the Egyptians.
But within a century, some of these Aamu had infiltrated high office
and eventually took over Egypt itself.
Now, these nomadic Aamu people who came in
and out of Egypt on a regular basis to trade
are portrayed here in this wonderful tomb scene.
And yet the most important
part of the entire scenario are three small hieroglyphs
right in the middle.
They reveal one of the other terms the Egyptians used to name the Aamu.
It's basically a crook, a sceptre and that's written with two symbols
and that's pronounced heka - it means ruler. And then the third of the
three symbols is, kind of, undulating uplands which means desert or hill
country. Basically, the Egyptians use this symbol to denote a foreign land.
So you put these signs together, ruler of foreign lands
and this really is the clue to what happened next, because these
Aamu of Palestinian origin eventually became the Hyksos.
The heka khasut are the Hyksos,
and they ruled Egypt from the north between 1650 BC and 1550 BC.
But as tension between the foreign rulers and their Egyptian
subjects gradually escalated, Egypt entered a second dark age.
The Hyksos made an alliance with the Nubians to the south...
..and the Egyptians found themselves trapped between two enemies.
Although we know little about this difficult time,
some fascinating texts do survive.
Perhaps the most compelling are the words of a royal letter sent by
the Hyksos king south to Thebes.
Its message would prove so explosive that
it galvanised the Thebans to once more regain control of their land.
Now, this letter was either a colossal diplomatic faux-pas
or simply downright rudeness and it involved the Egyptian goddess
Taweret, the pugnacious blade-wielding hippo.
Taweret may have been a protective deity,
but she was also a ferocious creature...
..with features borrowed from the hippo and the crocodile,
animals the Egyptians feared.
It seems the Hyksos king, Apophis,
set out deliberately to insult the Thebans.
Now, the letter takes the form of a complaint in which Apophis is
basically complaining that the bellowing of the sacred hippos
in Thebes is keeping him awake at night.
Now, many have taken this to be a rather eccentric comment,
but I think it actually alludes to the powerful women of Thebes.
It seems that Apophis is actually comparing
the wife of the Theban leader with the feisty hippo goddess herself.
And soon it will be the Thebans who would decide that the Hyksos
had had their day. They had to go!
And soon this war of words had escalated into armed conflict
between the two powers.
But the Egyptians of Thebes had also gained the means to
launch their attack with something developed by the Hyksos themselves,
state of the art weaponry.
In particular, a new kind of bow.
Known today as the composite bow.
It would revolutionise Egyptian warfare.
Wasn't it a lovely shape?
-It's a beautiful thing.
-This may look like a bow made of solid wood
similar to those the Egyptians had always used.
But the secret of the composite bow is all down to the elements within.
It's composite because it's made out of different materials all
joined together, so there's a wooden core at the centre of the bow
but inside the curve on the belly of the bow is horn,
glued onto the wood which forms a really powerful spring.
So the cow horn would go there?
Yeah, that's right, on the inside of the curve
and then on the outside of the curve an even more unpromising
material, sinew which looks like something the cat would enjoy.
Then it's all covered over with birch bark to protect
-the glue from the elements.
-Before the Hyksos occupation,
the Egyptians had shot arrows from bows carved from solid wood.
They were quite large, unwieldy and only effective at fairly close range.
But in the composite bow, animal horn added flexibility,
and the sinew strength...
-It's a clever combination of ingredients.
..making it the ultimate in ancient archery.
It just asks you to do that, doesn't it? It's fabulous.
There's a real sense of power behind this, isn't there?
It's a beautiful thing.
So let me show you why it's such a game changer.
Really, because it's a bow that you can use.
It's quite short, you can use it in a chariot and yet...
Whoa! That was brilliant! Well done!
The composite bow was easier to handle
and shot faster arrows with much greater accuracy.
The Egyptians had little choice
but to adapt or remain an occupied nation.
So by copying the new military technology,
they were eventually able to push the Hyksos out of Egypt
all the way back to Palestine,
securing Egypt's northern frontier once again.
And when the new bow was used in conjunction with the other
Hyksos introductions, the horse and chariot...
..the three combined to express
the power and supremacy of Egypt's new Egyptian rulers.
This marked the start of the New Kingdom, which began
when the powerful Theban leaders took the throne.
This dramatic rebirth in royal power was mirrored by the rise
of Thebes' local god Amun based at his cult centre,
the Temple of Karnak.
And it would be Amun who now protected Egypt and its kings.
Yet thanks to the Hyksos legacy, these were a new kind of king.
And it's on this temple's walls we can clearly see
the effect of their Hyksos occupation for as the pharaoh
smites his enemies this is Egypt reborn, a fully armed, fully charged
superpower, whose kings, shown on a monumental scale, are superheroes.
Over some 800 years since the pyramid age, Egypt's story had been
one of upheaval, collapse and finally rebirth.
The Egyptians had reclaimed their culture
and entered a truly golden age.
The next part of Ancient Egypt's story is a time
of monumental architecture.
Oh, oh, flippin' heck!
..and vast wealth...
..bringing not only glory...
..but greed and corruption.
The priest-kings of Karnak had got what
they had always wanted, absolute power.
In the second episode, Joann explores how the Pyramid Age ended in catastrophe. In one of Saqqara's last pyramid complexes, Joann uncovers evidence of famine as the young Egyptian state suffered a worsening climate and political upheaval. With depleted coffers, Egypt was plunged into the dark ages and civil war. With the land fractured into many small states, Joann tells the story of small-town leaders rising through the ranks.
In a little-known tomb in Thebes, Joann uncovers stories of warriors who fought in the bloody battle which eventually would mark the reunification of Egypt. This burial represents the world's first recorded war cemetery and the rise of Thebes. The country was reborn, resuming grand building projects for Egypt's mighty kings and bejewelled queens.
Joann reveals how settlers known as the Hyksos tried to infiltrate the government and take the throne. But their rule was short-lived as they were ousted by southern rulers who laid the groundwork for Egypt's largest empire.