Bedouins in Egypt

Written by Felgr Pavel on .

Desert Bedouins used the weakening of Egyptian central power and invaded into delta at the end of 6th dynasty rule. They were attracted by wealth and verdant valley. These nomadic tribes of Asian origin were a continual threat for Egypt, so the Pharaohs had to drove them out of their territory.

Who were the desert Bedouins?

The Egyptians called the Bedouins Shasu. These nomadic tribes of Semitic origin lived in clans on Sinai Peninsula and its surroundings in large desert area with indented relief - mountains were 2,000 meters high, paths were full of hairpin bends and hard to access, the climate was harsch and dry. When the Egyptians tried to follow the Bedouins, they were attacked by small groups of Bedouins in terrain well-known for them. The Bedouins were able to attack and plunder a caravan incredibly fast. But they were traders as well, who made their living by barter and came in Egypt to sell antimony used in cosmetics for make-up preparation.

They were formed from poor tribes living in tents. The Bedouins made their living by farming (camels, cows and sheeps), hunting (gazelles and oryxes) and arid and only little fertile soil cultivation. When the central power was strong in Egypt, the Bedouins cut down only for trading. But as soon as the power was weakened, they attacked their richer neighbour. They were traditional enemies of Egypt, who didn't hesitate to offer their guide services to other armies, which fought with Egypt. The Bedouins guided the soldieries of Assyrian ruler Esarhaddon into the Nile delta in the 7th century BC and they even gave him camels needed for transport of water.

Bedouins - clothing and appearance

The Bedouins had beards clipped into a tip. They wore long habits with geometric motifs embroideries. Their women wore dresses in the length of half calf and with one bare shoulder. The clothes were white decorated with red figures and coloured strips. Footwear they made of very fine leather dyed red.

The reign of Pepi II. was too long and it was the beginning of destabilization period in Egypt, which was slowly divided into smaller areas, where various dynasties ruled parallelly. The Bedouins profitted from that harmful athmosphere - they invaded into Egypt and settled in rich Nile delta. Let's mention that already general Weni had a lot of work to defeat the Bedouins under Pepi I rule, the father of Pepi II. Egypt was still united at that time, but under Pepi II. rule the situation was far more complex for effective defence in Egypt.

Amenemhet I. and ruler's walls

Amenemhet I., the founder of the 12th dynasty, came to the throne at time, when the power was strengthened by his predecessors from the 10th and 11th dynasty. Amenemhet I. wanted to protect the land from potential incursions of nomadic tribes, so he started building a number of fortresses on the eastern delta verge. These buildings should create an impenetrable rampart, which should stop any invasion attempts immediately. The buildings were called ruler's walls in elder texts. Ruler's walls should especially strenghten the vulnerable part of land.

Amenemhet's successors tried to follow his politics and protect the Egyptians, who worked in turquoise mines on the Sinai Peninsula. Permanent controls were initiated, which monitored the movement of all foreigners in the area. Egypt lived in fear of Bedouin attacks for several centuries, which wasn't fulfilled except a few cases. But famous Thutmose III had to face a Bedouin rebellion under the 18th dynasty rule, which he suppressed after a fierce fight. The danger of Bedouin tribes seemed to be stave off for a long time.


Written by Felgr Pavel on .

For the Egyptians Nubia began at the first cataract to the south from the island of Elephantine. Today Nubia divides geographically into Lower Nubia between the first and the second cataract and Upper Nubia, which was situated between the second and the fourth cataract - see map. It is known that this area of Lower Nubia was attached by Archaic period rulers to Egypt, who were attracted especially by Nubian gold mines. We also know that the prices of small nations living on the Nile banks paid tributes - wood and soldiers under 6th dynasty rule - because people of Nubia belonged to well-known warriors.

The Pharaohs, who ruled in following periods, wanted to keep their dominance over this important area at any price, so they continually suppressed various rebellions against Egyptian dominance. The thing is that Nubia was an important junction between south and north Africa, which all caravans heading from southern lands to the north went through. On the top of that Nubia held exceptional wealth - hard and very resilient ebony wood loved by the Egyptians, gold, elephants, hippos and rhinoceros, from which tusks artistic objects were made, stock, beasts of prey skins, rubber, olibanum, grains and last but not least cheap manpower as well. People of Nubia were often employed at riot police in big cities as Thebes (Waset) or Memphis (Mennefer).

The journey of Nubia

The journey into or out of Nubia was full of danger for the Egyptians. The area behind the southern boundary of the land, right behind the first cataract was imponderable for them. Nubia was located there and a large Kingdom of Kush further in the south, which was always in Nubian princes hands. Also the country was different. The red sandstone cliffs ustoupily to the rock walls from black quartzite. The unfriendliness of the rocks was even intensified by high steep precipices. Waves of the river were swelling there among the cliffs, which hinted the stones with defeaning roar. On the top of that this area was occupied by wild tribes that attacked the boats with valuable loot without hesitating. That's why Egyptian Pharaohs tried to control this area with building fortresses.

These strategic points should protect the caravans that travelled along the river and transported their valuable cargo into Egypt. The areas situated between the first cataract and Kush were called Wawat, Irjet, Setju a Medjay. Autobiographical signs of dignitaries were preserved from the Old Kingdom period, who resided on Elephantine and were charged to lead the campaigns into Nubia.

Lower Nubia

Lower Nubia was hilly and parched area totally different from Egyptian sandy country. Only several cultivated fields proved the presence of people in this dry rocky territory. However, there also were many gold mines, so the Pharaohs didn't hesistate and led the campaigns there inspite all difficulties. The Egyptians mined gold in mines in Wadi Allaqi and granite in quarries in Toshka since the very first Pharaoh dynasties. Fortress Buhen (at the second cataract) became a paramount trade centre. In spite of many rebellions against Egyptian rulers the Kings of the 11th and 12th dynasties strenghtened their position later. They built fortresses and shifted the boundaries continually.

Mentuhotep II, Pharaoh of the 11th dynasty, beat the tribes from Wawat area and recruited the people of Nubia to his army immediately afterwards. They broke through quickly in the army thanks to their courage and dexterity. The rulers of the 12th dynasty went even further. Senusret I let build many fortresses and founded new trade centres between the second and the third cataract: in Mirgissa to the south from Buhen and on Sai Island located even further southwards.

There were 17 fortresses built in Nubia at the end of the Middle Kingdom, which ensured the dominance of Egypt. The Kingdom of Kush located in the territory of Nubia became independent in the troubled Second Intermediate period and it even united forces with the Hyksos, the then enemies of Egypt. But the Egyptian dominance over Nubia was renewed at the beginning of the New Kingdom period. Thutmose III let dig a canal, which enabled an easier navigation through the first cataract.

Intef II.

Written by Felgr Pavel on .

Intef II.

The first rulers of the 11th dynasty, Mentuhotep I. and Intef I., ruled only fifteen years each. But brother and successor of Intef I. Intef II. went down in new monarchy development. His reign lasted 50 years and a lot of archaeological, epigraphic and artistic documents preserved from that time, which enable us to look at the character of the Theban kingdom in detail.

Intef II. laid claim to traditional dual expression of the royal power (nesu – bity) and also to the title „the son of Ra“, which is associated with dogma of the ruler's divine origin. But he didn't accept the whole royal protocol with its five "great names", so-called fivefold royal titulary.

Intef II. only accepted the "name of Horus" Wahankh ("never-ending life") to his "personal name" Intef and he didn't have any "throne name" (that traditionally contained the name of sun God Ra). Unfortunately, there are only few preserved depictions of the ruler and it is not possible to say if he used the whole set of royal crowns and other insignia. However, the actual remainder of the documents indicates that this is not likely much.

The first Theban kings were obviously aware of the fact that their power was limited. According to the fact that Intef II. came from a social class of provincial rulers, he let inscribe a biographical stele, which was placed into entrance chapel of his saff tomb in el-Tarif. He is depicted there in company of his five favourite dogs and also successes of his reign are recapitulated there. Information on this stele are also richly confirmed in texts of his adherents.

There is a good reason to believe that the last non-royal Theban nomarch already ruled over a large area of the southern Upper Egypt. However, it was only Intef II. who raided the north. Intef II. conquered Abydos Nome, which was the most important administrative centre of the Upper Egypt since the Old Kingdom period. He continued even further and attacked the area of the 10th Nome of the Upper Egypt. He started politics of open hostility towards Herakleopolis Kings this way and he had to wage a war in strip territory between Abydos and Asyut, which lasted with intermissions for several decades.

Hetepi from el-Qa'ab

We know names of several men, who served Intef II.. For example the Theban commandant Djar, who fought with Herakleopolis army in Abydos Nome and fought his way to the north into 10th Nome; Hetepi from el-Qa'ab, who administered the three most southern Nomes for the King and Intef's cashier Cecej, whose beautiful stele is a part of the British Museum collections in London today. Even if the main aim of biographical signs of these men is praise of their own successes, there is no doubt, who was the highest authority there. It was only Hetepi from el-Qa'ab.

Ruler's men

So says Hetepi: I was the one, who was loved by my master and who was praised by the lord of this land; and His Majesty really gratified his servant [it means Hetepi]. His Majesty said: "There is nobody, who [...](my) good orders than Hetepi!", and this servant did it very well and His Majesty praised this servant for it. And his courtiers said: "Let your name be praised!"

Buildings and art

Intef II. built a lot of temples for Gods. The pylon of Intef II. is the eldest preserved fragment of the royal building in temple complex in Karnak. The researches on Elephantina revealed intact building stages in the temple of Goddess Satis. The eldest of them came from the Archaic period. The Kings of the Old Kingdom dedicated the Goddess Satis only several votive sacrifices on Elephantina, but only Intef II. was the first ruler who built a temple not only to Satis, but also to Khnum and who had made ceremonial signs on doorframes. All his successors from the 11th dynasty followed his example.

Both non-royal and royal buildings from Intef II. period contain wonderful representatives of the 11th dynasty Theban art. Some of smaller objects, for example Djar's stele, still demonstrated ponderous artistic style of the Upper Egypt of the First Intermediate period, but the royal workshops began to create beautifully well-balanced works at the same time. These works had deep round shape and often gained a special esthetic effect through a contrast between large smooth surfaces and finely chiselled details here and there such as detailed folds of pleated kilt or complicated hairstyles. An effort to create a suitable style for expression of new dynasty aspirations is evident there in these works.

If we focus on the southern part of the Upper Egypt development it is possible to track down of new political system formation, which gradually led to the Middle Kingdom creation. Thus process had a great impact to Egypt's future and we might consider it as the most important aspect of the First Intermediate period's history. On the other hand, we shouldn't forget that the Theban manor occupied only a small, remote and relatively unimportant part of the whole Egypt. According to this fact we have to consider the wars and conflicts periods as local and short-term episode, even if they make the biographical stories so thrilling and exciting.

Intef I.

Written by Felgr Pavel on .

Intef I.

Intef I. was the 11th pharaoh of Egypt Dynasty. Strictly speaking - was a pharaoh of Upper Egypt and its headquarters chose Thebes (Vaset). Beginning his government is not exactly known, but it is certain that the throne after Mentuhotep I..

At the beginning of the government Intef I. Egypt floundered in anarchy that occurred after the fall of the Old Kingdom. Intef I. But the government took a firm hand and occupied several nearby territories and regions. Then adopted the name Horus Sehertauej and got called Pharaoh. During the reign of Intef I. and his successors came heyday Thebes (Vaset), which reached a peak in the 18th Dynasty.

Tarif necropolis - saff tombs

Due to the local topography a special type of rock tomb was developed in el Tarif necropolis. Smaller tombs of non-royal persons had a wide courtyard dug into gravel and marlstone of the flat desert terrace. The western wall of open courtyard was made by a row of heavy square pillars, which constituted the facade of the tomb itself.

It was this row of pillars, which gave a modern name saff tomb to this type of mortuary architecture (saffje means a "row" in Arabic language). The tomb had a short narrow corridor, which was being opened in the middle of the facade and led into a mortuary chapel. The mortuary shafts of the tomb's owner and his family members opened into the floor of this chapel.

Saff tomb of Intef I.

Intef I. decided to let build a saff tomb of huge size for himself. The complex is called Saff el-Dawaba today, it has a rectangular courtyard 300 meters long and 54 meters wide, which was embed under surrounding terrain level; 400,000 m3 of gravel and soft stone was dug out of the ground and piled up to two long and low piles along the courtyard sides.

Unfortunately the front part of the courtyard (where also entrance chapel might have been built) didn't preserve, but the rear part of the tomb is still pretty well preserved. It has a wide facade, which is comprises of double row of stone pillars and three chapels (one for the King himself and two maybe for his wives). The surface of tomb walls and pillars became eroded, so we don't know if they were originally decorated with paintings or not. Despite this fact, Saff el-Dawaba is an imposing work of architecture, which reveals something from then base of newly established royal power.

There wasn't the merest effort there to imitate the royal mortuary architecture of the Old Kingdom. The Theban rulers came out of local architectural traditions instead. And on the top of that, they didn't long for an exclusive location of the tomb unlike many Pharaohs of the Old Kingdom. The royal tombs were still built in the main Theban necropolis on the opposite river bank, opposite the city and its temples.

The places of rulers' last rest were surrounded there not only with tombs of close courtiers group, but also with necropolis of local people. There was also place for some of his adherents' funerals in smaller mortuary chapels standing along the royal tomb courtyard sides. The message hidden in this architecture is focused not only on Pharaoh's high position, but also on the fact that these rulers became deeply rooted in Theban surroundings and local society as well.

The successors of Intef I. (Intef II. and Intef III.) also let build similar saff tombs in el-Tarif necropolis near Saff el-Dawaba. The probable reason for relocation of the royal necropolis by Mentuhotep II in Deir el-Bahari was the fact that there weren't any other suitable building places for monumental architecture in el-Tarif.

Intef I.

Intef I.

Message from the Nile

  • History of Czech institution of egyptology

    The Czech egyptology founder is Frantisek Lexa, the author of up to now evaluated work about ancient Egypt magic and Demotic grammar. Seminar for egyptology started thanks to him in Faculty of Philosophy and Arts of Charles University in Prague in 1925. Two years later Lexa became the first regular professor of egyptology in then Czechoslovakia.

  • Abusir - outstation of Czech egyptology expedition

    Abusir is an archaeological locality in Egypt named after nearby recent village Abusir. It is situated on western Nile bank on the edge of Libyan tableland approximately 20 kilometers to the south-west of Cairo. The name of this locality is derived from ancient Egypt god Osiris, from Per Usir (Busiris), "(cult) place of Osiris" (Busiris in Greek).

  • Researches in Western desert

    Czech egyptology is successful in researching not only on pyramidal fields in Abusir recently, but also in supporting and organizing smaller expeditions into egyptian Western desert. Czech expedition has been working even in slowly evanescent oasis El-Hajez since 2003, which is situated about 400 km to the south-west from Cairo.

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