Pharaoh Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II

The fall of Egypt’s Old Kingdom occurred towards the end of the reign of Pepi II, during a time of political disruption and famine. Scholars place Pharaoh Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II at the beginning of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom. The 11th dynasty is divided into two parts, the first concluding the Old Kingdom, and the second part ushering in the Middle Kingdom, with Mentuhotep II as its first king (r. ca. 2065-2014 BC). (To keep things interesting, Baines & Malek state that Nebhepetre Mentuhotep is “called I or II by different writers.” They date his reign at c. 2016-2010 BC. Source: Ancient Egypt, The Cultural Atlas of the World, p. 35).

Pharaoh Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. Photo ©Leon Mauldin

With the fall of the Old Kingdom, there was initially a period of disunity, the First Intermediate Period, during which time two rival kingdoms co-existed in a state of mutual hostility. But in the year ca. 2025 BC, under the leadership of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II, the Theban armies were victorious over Lower Egypt. Consequently he was looked upon as the great unifier of the Two Lands (Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt), the great monarch who reunified Egypt.

His statue was found in his funerary chamber under the terrace of his mortuary temple at Thebes, at Deir el-Bahri. The statue retains sculptural traditional traits characteristic of the Old Kingdom.

The statue had been wrapped in a linen cloth and seems to have been painted black just before it was buried. It represents Mentuhotep seated, wearing he red crown and enveloped in the white jubilee mantel which barely reaches to the king’s knees. His black skin and his beard curved at the end like the beards of the gods, as well as the position of his arms crossed on his chest, place him in relation to the god Osiris with whom the king was identified after death.

The Egyptian Museum Cairo, eds Prestel-Verlag and Philipp von Zabern, #67.

Ian Shaw writes:

In addition to the emphasis on his lineage, part of Mentuhotep’s strategy to enhance his reputation with his contemporaries and successors was a programme of self-deification. He is described as “the son of Hathor” on two fragments from Gebelein, while at Dendera and Aswan he usurped the headgear of Amun and Min . . . Evidence from his Deir el-Bahri temple indicates that he intended to be worshipped as a god in his House of Millions of Years, thus pre-dating by hundreds of years ideas that became a central religious preoccupation of the New Kingdom. It is evident that he was reasserting the cult of the ruler.

The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, pgs. 151-152.

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