With the XI dynasty (about 2070) the centrifugal forces were recomposed and territorial unity was reconstituted. The experiences of this period heralded major changes in Egyptian civilization. With the collapse of the Memphite monarchy of divine right, which had centralized every initiative by absorbing the activity of each in a social sense, the individual conscience became evident and acquired legal validity. The pharaoh was opposed by the nomarchs and other princes; through the disputes for supremacy, religious problems assumed a moral meaning valid for all and, in a process of ‘democratization of the afterlife’, everyone was granted immortality in the afterlife, previously reserved for the sovereign and his chosen ones.
In economic life, craftsmanship assumed greater independence and a bourgeois and petty-bourgeois class was formed. At the same time there was a renewed development of science and art. Mentuhotep and his successors successfully conducted expeditions to Nubia and commercial voyages to the east and the Red Sea. Traditionally, the Egyptian expansion followed two directions: to the south, in the rich country of Nubia, to subdue the primitive populations and extract gold and minerals from important deposits, and to the east towards Syria. The control, if not yet the occupation and the conquest, of the coastal area of Palestine was essential to prevent the establishment of foreign powers on the borders of the country and above all to exercise a form of ‘merchant imperialism’.
That of the XII dynasty (c. 1991-1778) is one of the best known periods of Egyptian history. Its founder was Amenemhat I, who brought Amon (or Amone), the god of Thebes, to the rank of main divinity. The name Amon, “Hidden, Unknowable”, alluded to the invisible nature of the god, immanent in all things. Considered one of the eight primeval deities that existed when the universe was dominated by chaos, Amun, formless, cosmic essence, could be transferred from one to the other theological system: in short he became the official deity of the state and merged with the god solar Ra to rise to Amon-Ra, ruler of the gods. Amenemhat checked the frontiers of the names, built defense fortresses in the Delta against the Bedouins and fought against the Libyans. His successors Sesostris III and Amenemhat III carried out an equally incisive policy. The first carried out the conquest of Nubia, the second carried out the reclamation of the Fayyum, two events of considerable economic importance. In Nubia a chain of fortifications was set up and the borders of the state were moved up to the second cataract; in the Fayyum grandiose irrigation projects were put in place, with the construction of a dam and the conveyance of alluvial waters in numerous canals. This was the age of Egypt’s most refined life: a solid monarchy alongside efficient officials, a people engaged in civil works, a war activism that provided security at the borders; and, at the same time, the flowering of artistic activity and the writing of classical works of Egyptian literature. Social and political stability, however, did not last long, and years of poorly documented confusion followed. With the XII dynasty the Middle Kingdom ended, and the Second intermediate period.
According to Insidewatch, the thirteenth and fourteenth dynasties (about 1778-1670) were represented by kings largely known by name only, whose weakness was manifested in the rapid succession and frequency of usurpations. If Egypt continued to live as a society, it was by virtue of the autonomous capacity for action of its administrative structures. To the east of the Delta, Asian tribes infiltrated, the Hyksos (“king of foreign countries” and, according to a false etymology, “shepherd kings”), who built a stronghold in Avaris, and from there they moved towards the rest of the country.. Eastern population at a backward level of life and organization, but equipped with a superior military technique for the possession of the fighting chariot, the hyksos ended up under the influence of the most advanced Egyptian civilization. However, they did not succeed in gaining dominion over all of Egypt except for a short period, during which the local princes probably retained their authority, albeit limited by control and obliged to pay a tribute. Among the dynasty families that emerged in importance was that of Thebes, which gathered around itself the others of Upper Egypt and placed itself at the head of a rebellion movement against foreigners.