The Pyramids at Lisht

Amenemhet I and his son Sesostris I

Lisht or el-Lisht s an Egyptian village located south of Cairo. It is the site of Middle Kingdom royal and elite burials, including two pyramids built by Amenemhat I and Senusret I. The two main pyramids were surrounded by smaller pyramids of members of the royal family, and many mastaba tombs of high officials and their family members. They were constructed throughout the Twelfth and Thirteenth Dynasties. The site is also known for the tomb of Senebtisi, found undisturbed and from which a set of jewelry has been recovered. The pyramid complex of Senusret I is the best preserved from this period. The coffins in the tomb of Sesenebnef present the earliest versions of the Book of the Dead.

Amenemhet I also Amenemhet I and the hellenized form Ammenemes, was the first ruler of the Twelfth Dynasty, the dynasty considered to be the golden-age of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. He ruled from 1991 BC to 1962 BC (1939 BC to 1910 BC).

Amenemhat I was probably the same as the vizier named Amenemhat who led an expedition to Wadi Hammamat under his predecessor Mentuhotep IV, and possibly overthrew him from power. Scholars differ as to whether Mentuhotep IV was killed by Amenemhat I, but there is no independent evidence to suggest this and there may even have been a period of co-regency between their reigns.

Amenemhet I was not of royal lineage, born to Senusret and Nefert who were Nomarchs of one of Egypt's many provinces. The composition of some literary works (the Prophecy of Neferti, the Instructions of Amenemhat) and, in architecture, the reversion to the pyramid-style complexes of the 6th dynasty rulers are often considered to have been attempts at legitimizing his rule. Amenemhat I moved the capital from Thebes to Itjtawy and was buried in el-Lisht.

Two literary works dating from the end of the reign give a picture about Amenemhat I's death. The Instructions of Amenemhat were supposedly counsels that the deceased king gave to his son during a dream. In the passage where he warns Senusret I against too great intimacy with his subjects, he tells the story of his own death as a reinforcement.

Amenemhet I instituted something that had never been done before in Egypt - called coregency. In the last 10 years of his reign, he said, Im going to take my son, whose name is Sesostris, and Im going to make him a king with me. Hes going to be coregent. Now, why would he do that? The answer is that Amenemhet was thinking back to the First Intermediate Period, which was an unstable time, and he wanted to make sure that his son was going to rule if something happened to him.

So if anything were to happen to Amenemhet, the successor was established. Now, Amenemhet was named Ameny, the son of a man. He was a commoner, but he wanted to make sure that his son would succeed him as a pharaoh. Hence, the coregency. This was something that this dynasty kept up, and future dynasties also used it very efficiently.

The Advice of Amenemhet was a set of instructions given to Sesostris I.

(Image: Kriveart90/Shutterstock)

It was after supper, when night had fallen, and I had spent an hour of happiness. I was asleep upon my bed, having become weary, and my heart had begun to follow sleep. When weapons of my counsel were wielded, I had become like a snake of the necropolis. As I came to, I awoke to fighting, and found that it was an attack of the bodyguard. If I had quickly taken weapons in my hand, I would have made the wretches retreat with a charge! But there is none mighty in the night, none who can fight alone; no success will come without a helper. Look, my injury happened while I was without you, when the entourage had not yet heard that I would hand over to you when I had not yet sat with you, that I might make counsels for you; for I did not plan it, I did not foresee it, and my heart had not taken thought of the negligence of servants.

This passage refers to a conspiracy in which Amenemhat was killed by his own guards, when his son and co-regent Senusret I was leading a campaign in Libya. Another account of the following events is given in the Story of Sinuhe, a famous text of Egyptian literature:

Year 30, third month of the Inundation season, day 7, the god mounted to his horizon, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Sehetepibre went aloft to heaven and became united with the sun's disk, the limb of the god being merged in him who made him; whilst the Residence was hushed, hearts were in mourning, the Great Gates were closed, the courtiers crouched, head on lap, and the nobles grieved. Now His Majesty had sent an army to the land of the Tjemeh (Libyans), his eldest son as the captain thereof, the goodly god Senusret.

He had been sent to smite the foreign countries, and to take prisoner the dwellers in the Tjehnu-land, and now indeed he was returning and had carried off living prisoners of the Tjehnu and all kinds of cattle limitless. And the Companions of the Palace sent to the western side to acquaint the king's son concerning the position that had arisen in the Royal Apartments, and the messengers found him upon the road, they reached him at time of night. Not a moment did he linger, the falcon flew off with his followers, not letting his army know. But the king's children who accompanied him in this army had been sent for and one of them had been summoned. (...)

The Pyramid of Amenemhet I

The north chapel and entrance to the pyramid of Amenemhet I

Relief of Amenemhat I from his mortuary complex at El-Lisht

Original name: Amenemhet is high and pleasant
Original height: 55 m / 183 ft
Base length: 78 m / 260 ft
Angle of inclination: 54° 27' 44"

The Pyramid of Amenemhet I is an Egyptian burial structure built at Lisht by the founder of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt, Amenemhet I. His pyramid was made in the same fashion as 5th and 6th dynasty pyramids by having a rough core clad with a fine mantle of smooth limestone.

Archaeological evidence suggests that Amenemhet started to build his pyramid at Thebes but for unknown reasons switched his capital and the location of his pyramid to Lisht. The pyramid upon its completion rose to a height of 55 m, with a base length of 83 m and a slope of 54 degrees. The core of the pyramid was made with small rough blocks of local limestone with a loose fill of sand debris and mud brick. Some of the limestone was stripped from other monuments, blocks of stone from the pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, Unas and Pepi II (or possibly Pepi I) have been found in the pyramid. Inside the pyramid a sloped shaft blocked with granite plugs upon burial ran from the ground level entrance chapel to a vertical shaft that descended directly to the burial chamber.[4] The overall construction of the pyramid was poor and little of it remains today.

Around the pyramid were found tombs of high officials serving the king. These include the tombs of the high steward Nakht, the treasurer Rehuerdjersen and the vizier Intefiqer.

The core of the pyramid was made up of small rough blocks of limestone with a loose fill of sand, debris and mudbrick. Perhaps the most remarkable feature is that it included fragments of relief-decorated blocks from Old Kingdom monuments - many from pyramid causeways and temples, including Khufu's. Granite blocks from Khafre's complex went into the lining and blocking of Amenemhat I's descending passage. We can only conclude that they were picked up at Saqqara and Giza and brought to Lisht to be incorporated into the pyramid for their spiritual efficacy.

When the limestone outer layer was taken, the core slumped. The pyramid and temple have been used as a source of material for lime burners so only a small amount remains today.

The Middle Kingdom pyramids were built closer to the Nile and Amenemhet I's burial chamber is now underwater because the River Nile has shifted course. The complex has an inner wall of limestone and an outer wall of mudbrick; members of the Royal family were buried between these two walls. There are a number of mastaba tombs between the walls and 22 burial shafts on the western side of the pyramid.

His son Senusret I followed in his footsteps, building his pyramid a closer reflection of the 6th dynasty pyramids than that of Amenemhat I - at Lisht as well, but his grandson, Amenemhat II, broke with this tradition.

Amenemhat I is considered to be the first king of Egypt to have had a coregency with his son, Senusret I. A double dated stela from Abydos and now in the Cairo Museum (CG 20516) is dated to the Year 30 of Amenemhat I and to the Year 10 of Senusret I, which establishes that Senusret was made co-regent in Amenemhat's Year 20.

The first excavation of the site was undertaken by the French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero in 1882. His work as later continued by a French archaeological expedition under the direction of J.E. Gautier and Gustave Jquier in 1894 and 1895. The investigations were continued from 1920 to 1934 by Albert Lythgoe and Arthur Mace in a team from the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. By the time of these excavations the pyramid had undergone much disintegration and is now only 20 meters high with most of the surrounding complex gone. None of the expeditions successfully explored the interior of the pyramid due to the internal passageways being flooded with groundwater.

The Pyramid of Sesostris I

Senusret I was the second pharaoh of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt. He ruled from 1971 BC to 1926 BC (1920 BC to 1875 BC), and was one of the most powerful kings of this Dynasty. He was the son of Amenemhat I. Senusret I was known by his prenomen, Kheperkare, which means "the Ka of Re is created."

He continued his father's aggressive expansionist policies against Nubia by initiating two expeditions into this region in his 10th and 18th years and established Egypt's formal southern border near the second cataract where he placed a garrison and a victory stele. He also organized an expedition to a Western Desert oasis. Senusret I established diplomatic relations with some rulers of towns in Syria and Canaan. He also tried to centralize the country's political structure by supporting nomarchs who were loyal to him. His pyramid was constructed at el-Lisht. Senusret I is mentioned in the Story of Sinuhe where he is reported to have rushed back to the royal palace in Memphis from a military campaign in Libya after hearing about the assassination of his father, Amenemhat I.

The family relations of the king are well known. Senusret I was the son of Amenemhat I. His mother was a certain queen with the name Neferitatenen. His main wife was Neferu III who was also his sister and mother of his successor Amenemhat II. The known children are Amenemhat II and the princesses Itakayt and Sebat. The latter was most likely a daughter of Neferu III as she appears with the latter together in one inscription.

Senusret was crowned coregent with his father, Amenemhat I, in his father's 20th regnal year. Towards the end of his own life, he appointed his son Amenemhat II as his coregent. The stele of Wepwaweto is dated to the 44th year of Senusret and to the 2nd year of Amenemhet, thus he would have appointed him some time in his 43rd year. Senusret is thought to have died during his 46th year on the throne since the Turin Canon ascribes him a reign of 45 Years.

Pyramid of Senusret I

Diagram of the Pyramid of Senusret I at el-Lisht and surrounding temple complex.

One mile southward lies the pyramid of Sesostris I. It was built around a core of rock and faced with limestone. Besides 10 secondary pyramids of dignitaries, a mortuary temple was excavated that resembled 6th dynasty mortuary temples.

The Pyramid of Senusret I is an Egyptian pyramid built to be the burial place of the Pharaoh Senusret I. The pyramid was built during the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt at el-Lisht, near the pyramid of his father, Amenemhat I. Its ancient name was Senusret Petei Tawi (Senusret beholds the two lands).

The pyramid was 105 meters on each side with a height of 61.25 meters; the slope of the four faces was 49° 24'. The pyramid used a method of construction never before seen in an Egyptian pyramid; four stone walls radiated from the center built of rough-hewn blocks that decreased in size the higher their placement. The eight sections formed by these walls were then subdivided by three more walls, splitting the pyramid into 32 different units which were then filled with slabs of stone as well as debris. An exoskeleton of fine limestone then covered the structure. This new method of construction was not particularly efficient, however, and the completed pyramid suffered from stability problems. Unusually, clear evidence for the ramps used to construct the pyramid also remain.

Surrounding the actual structure was a comparatively large complex, which consisted of a mortuary temple, a rectangular structure with a courtyard in the center, and nine smaller pyramids for Senusret's queens. From the mortuary, a limestone causeway with carved statues set every 10 cubits ran to a public temple outside the perimeter wall of the compound. Little of this is visible today, however, because later Roman buildings were built over the complex.

The pyramid has been severely damaged over time, and little of its limestone cladding remains. It now appears as little more than a hillock of stone. None of the excavations penetrated to the burial chamber due to high water levels, but much was learned about pyramid construction from the surrounding quarries, which contained one of the highest concentrations of ancient debris of any Egyptian archaeological site.

The pyramid was first explored by archaeologists Gautier and Jequier between 1894 and 1895. From 1906 to 1943, the pyramid was excavated by a team from the Metropolitan Museum of Art headed by Lythgoe, Mace and Ambrose Lansing. From 1984 to 1987, further excavation was carried out by Dieter Arnold.