Senusret I, also known as Sesostris I was the second pharaoh of the Twelfth Dynasty of Kemet. He was known by his prenomen, “Kheperkare,” meaning “the Ka of Re is created or Keeper of the Ka of Re.” He ruled with power and authority from 1971 BC to 1926 BC. During his reign, Senusret I continued his father’s aggressive expansionist policies around Nubia, launching two expeditions into the region and establishing Kemet’s southern border near the second cataract, complete with a victory stele and garrison. He also sought to expand his kingdom’s reach, organizing an expedition to a Western Desert oasis and establishing diplomatic relations with neighboring towns in Syria and Canaan.
As a leader, he strived for centralization, supporting nomarchs loyal to him and strengthening the country’s political structure. Even in the face of tragedy, such as the assassination of his father Amenemhat I, the founder of the 12th dynasty, Senusret I proved himself a swift and decisive leader, rushing back to the royal palace in Memphis from a military campaign in Libya.
He was the son of the powerful Amenemhat I founder of the twelfth dynasty, through his wife Queen Neferitatenen. He was married to his sister, Neferu III, who was also the mother of his successor, Amenemhat II. From this union, he had two children, the prince Amenemhat II and the princesses Itakayt and Sebat. The latter was believed to be a daughter of Neferu III, as she appeared in an inscription with her. His ascension to the throne occurred after a tragic event, the assassination of his father Amenemhat I. An event that would be remembered for centuries to come.
That murder was a turning point in the history Kemet. With a co-regent already on the throne, the assassins made a fatal miscalculation. Instead of toppling the reign of Amenemhat, the son, Senusret I, assumed full power and continued his father’s policies with a twist. He deployed subtler methods to win the hearts and minds of the people where overt oppression had failed.
He commissioned a work of literature on the theme of his father’s regicide. It was a bold move. It challenged the very ideology of divine kingship and broke a powerful taboo against discussing crises in public. But Senusret and his advisers were playing a clever game. They realized that by publicizing the murder, they could gain more than by trying to hide it.
In the days of the civil war, provincial leaders used tales of crisis to legitimize their power. Now, the political thought of the First Intermediate Period provided the foundation for the ruling ideology of the Twelfth Dynasty. By presenting the assassination of Amenemhat I in literary form to the elite of the royal court, Senusret gave himself a perfect excuse for a crackdown. He made his father a martyr and himself a devoted disciple. Before the Twelfth Dynasty, the Nile Valley had produced little literature of note. However, Senusret realized that poets and authors might prove just as powerful as army commanders.
The flowering of literature in the Twelfth Dynasty was a remarkable cultural achievement of the Middle Kingdom. The works composed for the royal court, some of them at the king’s personal behest, are considered classics. They deal with complex themes and powerful emotions, all in the service of the royal house. Amenemhat I himself explored the possibilities of propagandist literature early in his reign, presenting himself as the savior of Kemet and the champion of cosmic order following a period of distress and calamity. An excerpt from “The Prophecies of Neferti” reads:
Senusret I’s circle of intellectuals elevated the art of literature with their masterpiece, “The Tale of Sinuhe.” The fictional tale follows a courtier who flees Egypt upon hearing of the assassination of Amenemhat I. Sinuhe finds refuge at the court of a Palestinian ruler and achieves both wealth and fame in exile. But as his life draws to a close, he yearns to return to Egypt, to embrace all that it represents and to be reconciled with its king, its supreme embodiment:
The enduring popularity of “Sinuhe” is attributed to its literary excellence, its captivating narrative, and its emotional impact. However, the underlying theme of loyalty to the monarch runs through the story, making it both a work of literature and propaganda.
The “Loyalist Instruction” is a more overt example of political literature, making loyalty to the king the cornerstone of righteous living. The text urges Egyptians to:
The rulers of the Middle Kingdom of Kemet, are very special. But despite their significant impact on both Kemet and the world at large, they are often overlooked and underappreciated. With this article I hope to give these influential figures the recognition they deserve.
Senusret I was not one to shy away from battle. In his 18th year as Pharaoh of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt, he set his sights on Lower Nubia and launched a daring military campaign. His troops conquered the region down to the Second Cataract, and the date of the expedition is proudly displayed on a stela from Buhen. The military prowess of Senusret I is celebrated in several inscriptions from his reign, and key figures such as Amenemhat, the governor of the Oryx nome, joined the campaign with the title of overseer of troops. But even the strongest of leaders must face hardship, and in Senusret I’s 25th year on the throne, Egypt was struck by a devastating famine caused by a low Nile.
The king was not only a learned man and a warrior, he was also a great builder. He left a lasting legacy through his building program. During his long reign, he dispatched quarrying expeditions to the Sinai and Wadi Hammamat, and constructed numerous shrines and temples throughout Egypt and Nubia. He rebuilt the sun cult center, the temple of Re-Atum, in Heliopolis and erected two red granite obelisks to celebrate his 30th year Heb Sed Jubilee. One of these obelisks remains the oldest standing obelisk in Kemet.
He was also responsible for building the temple of Min at Koptos, the Temple of Satet on Elephantine, the Montu-temple at Armant, and the Montu-temple at El-Tod where a long inscription of the king has been preserved. To commemorate his 30th year jubilee, the king built a shrine known as the White Chapel or Jubilee Chapel at Karnak with fine, high-quality reliefs of himself, which was successfully reconstructed from various stone blocks discovered in 1926. In addition to these major building projects, Senusret also remodeled the Temple of Khenti-Amentiu Osiris at Abydos, solidifying his place in history as a patron of the arts and architecture. Senusret I belongs to these pharaohs who were pyramid builders. His legacy was cemented with the construction of his pyramid at el-Lisht, a testament to his rule during an age of prosperity.
The court of Senusret I was a well-oiled machine, made up of a cast of key players who helped the king to rule with efficiency and authority. At the forefront of the court was the powerful vizier, Intefiqer, who served the king for a long period of time and left a lasting legacy in the form of inscriptions and his tomb next to the pyramid of Amenemhat I. He was followed in office by a vizier named Senusret. The king also had two treasurers, Sobekhotep and Mentuhotep, the latter of whom was a towering figure in the court and served as the main architect of the Amun temple at Karnak. Other important members of the court included Hor, a high steward who led expeditions for amethyst and was remembered in inscriptions and stelae, and Antef, son of a woman called Zatamun, who held the position of high steward and left behind several stelae marking his time in office. These were just a few of the notable figures who made up the royal court of Senusret I and helped to ensure the stability and prosperity of his reign.
The reign of Senusret I was marked by a seamless transition of power. As a young prince, Senusret has crowned coregent with his father, Amenemhat I, in his father’s 20th year on the throne. It was the first time in the history of Kemet that such a thing happened, but not the last time, since after their dynasty, many other rulers will practice it, due to its success. His father was a true visionary. And as expected, as the years went by, Senusret proved himself to be a capable and visionary ruler, leaving a lasting legacy through his military conquests, building programs, and royal court appointments.
Towards the end of his life, he carefully planned for the future by appointing his son Amenemhat II (also known as pharaoh Naba Mahoro) as his coregent as his father had done with him. The stele of Wepwawetō, dated to the 44th year of Senusret’s reign and the 2nd year of Amenemhet’s reign, confirms that the transfer of power was smooth and deliberate. With a reign of 45 years according to the Turin Canon, Senusret I passed away as a revered and respected pharaoh, leaving behind a legacy that continues to captivate and inspire people to this day.
This article is part of the restoration project, which aims to combat the longstanding distortion of African history through visuals or representation. For too long, ancient African figures who accomplished great things have been misrepresented as white or white-passing, while the contributions of all groups of people have been erased or minimized. This systematic falsification of history has had a damaging effect on the self-esteem and opportunities of African people, and has contributed to the oppression they experience in their daily lives.
I am excited to present a facial reconstruction of Pharaoh Senusret I, created with attention to detail in depicting his facial features and a skin tone commonly found on the reference statue. It offers a glimpse into the appearance of this remarkable ruler. I hope you will appreciate the care taken in its creation, and note that improvements may be made as my skills develop.
If you would like to support this initiative, please consider making a donation or spreading the word about the ‘Restoration Project’ to your network. Together, we can work towards a future where all groups of people are accurately and fairly represented in the historical narrative. Thank you for visiting our website and for supporting this important cause.
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