Senusret III

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Khakaure Senusret III (also written as Senwosret III or the hellenised form, Sesostris III) was a pharaoh of Egypt. He ruled from 1878 BC to 1839 BC during a time of great power and prosperity,[1] and was the fifth king of the Twelfth Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom. He was a great pharaoh of the Twelfth Dynasty and is considered to rule at the height of the Middle Kingdom.[2] Consequently, he is regarded as one of the sources for the legend about Sesostris. His military campaigns gave rise to an era of peace and economic prosperity that reduced the power of regional rulers and led to a revival in craftwork, trade, and urban development.[3] Senusret III was among the few Egyptian kings who were deified and honored with a cult during their own lifetime.[4]


A Pectoral bearing the cartouche or royal name of Senusret III found in the tomb of Mereret at Dashur.

Senusret III was the son of Senusret II and Khenemetneferhedjet I, also called Khenemetneferhedjet I Weret (the elder). Three wives of Senusret III are known for certain. These are Itakayt, Khenemetneferhedjet II and Neferthenut, all three mainly known from their burials next to the pyramid of the king at Dahshur.[5] Several daughters are known, although they also are attested only by the burials around the king's pyramid and their exact relation to the king is disputable. These include Sithathor, Menet, Senetsenebtysy, and Meret. Amenemhat III was most likely a son of the king. Other sons are not known.[6]

The tomb of Mereret was found partly robbed but a pectoral of Senusret III, her father, was missed by the tomb robbers.


Senusret III cleared a navigable canal through the first cataract of the Nile River,[7] (this was different from the Canal of the Pharaohs, which apparently, Senusret III also tried to build). He also relentlessly pushed his kingdom's expansion into Nubia (from 1866 to 1863 BC) where he erected massive river forts including Buhen, Semna, Shalfak and Toshka at Uronarti.

He carried out at least four major campaigns into Nubia in his Years 8, 10, 16, and 19.[8] His Year 8 stela at Semna documents his victories against the Nubians, through which he is thought to have made safe the southern frontier, preventing further incursions into Egypt.[9] Another great stela from Semna dated to the third month of Year 16 of his reign mentions his military activities against both Nubia and Canaan. In it, he admonished his future successors to maintain the new border that he had created:

Year 16, third month of winter: the king made his southern boundary at Heh. I have made my boundary further south than my fathers. I have added to what was bequeathed me. (...) As for any son (i.e., successor) of mine who shall maintain this border which my Majesty has made, he is my son born to my Majesty. The true son is he who champions his father, who guards the border of his begetter. But he [who] abandons it, who fails to fight for it, he is not my son, he was not born to me. Now my majesty has had an image made of my majesty, at this border which my majesty has made, in order that you maintain it, in order that you fight for it.[10]

The Sebek-khu Stele, dated to the reign of Senusret III (reign: 1878 – 1839 BC), records the earliest known Egyptian military campaign in the Levant.[11] The text reads "His Majesty proceeded northward to overthrow the Asiatics. His Majesty reached a foreign country of which the name was Sekmem (...) Then Sekmem fell, together with the wretched Retenu", where Sekmem (s-k-m-m) is thought to be Shechem and "Retenu" or "Retjenu" are associated with ancient Syria.[12]

His final campaign, which was in his Year 19, was less successful because the king's forces were caught due to the Nile being lower than normal. They had to retreat and abandon their campaign in order to avoid being trapped in the hostile Nubian territory.[13]

Such was his forceful nature and immense influence that Senusret III was worshipped as a deity in Semna by later generations.[14] Jacques Morgan, in 1894, found rock inscriptions near Sehel Island documenting his digging of a canal. Senusret III erected a temple and town in Abydos, and another temple in Medamud.[15]

His court included the viziers Nebit, and Khnumhotep.[16][17] Ikhernofret worked as treasurer for the king at Abydos.[18] Sobekemhat was treasurer too and buried at Dahshur.[19] Senankh cleared the canal at Sehel for the king.[20] Horkherty was king's acquaintance.[21]

Length of reign[edit]

The Year 16 border stela of Senusret III (Altes Museum), Berlin

A double-dated papyrus in the Berlin Museum shows Year 20 of his reign next to Year 1 of his son, Amenemhat III; generally, this is presumed to be a proof for a coregency with his son, which should have been started in this year. According to Josef W. Wegner, a Year 39 hieratic control note was recovered on a white limestone block from:

...a securely defined deposit of construction debris produced from the building of the Senwosret III mortuary temple. The fragment itself is part of the remnants of the temple construction. This deposit provides evidence for the date of construction of the mortuary temple of Senwosret III at Abydos.[22]

Wegner stresses that it is unlikely that Amenemhat III, Senusret's son and successor, would still be working on his father's temple nearly four decades into his own reign.[23] He notes that the only possible explanation for the block's existence at the project is that Senusret III had a 39-year reign, with the final 20 years in coregency with his son Amenemhat III.[5] Since the project was associated with a project of Senusret III, his Regnal Year was presumably used to date the block, rather than Year 20 of Amenemhat III. Wegner interprets this as an implication that Senusret was still alive in the first two decades of his son's reign.

Wegner's hypothesis is rejected by some scholars, such as Pierre Tallet and Harco Willems; according to them, it is more likely that such a coregency never occurred, and that the Year 39 control note still refers to Amenemhat III, who may have ordered some additions to Senusret's monuments.[24][25]


Head of King Senusret III in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, being one of the few statues heads where the nose is intact.

The "Cycle of Songs in Honor of Senwosret III" is a series of 6 songs as part of the archive of papyri from Illahun. It is suggested by Adolf Erman that they were written and composed for the king in a town south of Memphis. The songs outline the responsibilities of the king and embody kingship ideology in the Middle Kingdom.[26] This ideology includes protecting the unity of the two kingdoms, extending the boarders of Egypt, striking fear in Egyptian enemies, and ensuring the success of his subjects.[26] Though there is not a strong difference of hymns to living kings or dead kings, there is indication that these hymns were to be song by the king's subjects while he was alive. A hymn reads "may he live for ever and eternity."[27] He was often compared to Sekhmet in the hymns because of his iron fist and conquering of enemies. The cult of the king after his passing lasted for roughly 3 centuries at South Abydos.


Plan of the Pyramid complex at Dashur

Senusret's pyramid complex was built north-east of the Red Pyramid of Dashur.[28] It far surpassed those from the early twelfth dynasty in size, grandeur, and underlying religious conceptions.

The complex of pyramids was constructed in 2 phases. Originally, it was designed to follow Old Kingdom pyramids which included the structure itself, an eastern pyramid temple, and a stone wall encircling the complex.[29] The second phase included an outer brick wall which was surrounded by 6 smaller pyramids for the royal queens.[5] There is also an underground gallery with further burials for royal women. Here were found the treasures of Sithathor and queen Mereret.[5] The final, seventh, pyramid served as the king's ka pyramid with a statue of himself inside for worship. There was also a southern temple, however this has since been destroyed.[30]

Ruins of Pyramid of Senusret III at Dahshur

Senusret's pyramid is 105 meters square and 78 meters high. The total volume was approximately 288,000 cubic meters.[31] The pyramid was built of a core of mud bricks. They were not made a consistent size implying that standardized moulds were not used. The burial chamber was lined with granite. Above the vaulted burial chamber was a second relieving chamber that was roofed with five pairs of limestone beams each weighing 30 tons. Above this was a third mudbrick vault.[32]

Tomb at Abydos[edit]

There has been speculation that Senusret was not necessarily buried there, but rather, in his sophisticated funerary complex in Abydos and his pyramid more likely being a cenotaph.[3]

The Mortuary Temple at Abydos is 30m below the surface and extends below for 180m.[33] It is located on the base of high desert cliffs and is focused on a subterranean royal tomb. Near the site, there is a town that houses administrators and priests dedicated to the cult of the late king.[34] The mountain where the tomb is located was known as "The Mountain of Anubis" and was used as a conceptual link of Senusret and the gods.[33] The design of the tomb is likely symbolically representing the descent of the sun into the realm of Osiris.[35] It would later develop into a center for funerary complexes and would include 11 kings whose rules date from the thirteenth century and the Second Intermediate Period.

The construction dates and inscriptions further suggest a coregency between Senusret III and Amenemhat III, according to Wegner and Dieter Arnold. It shows that the construction of the temple was likely finished during the reign of Amenemhet III rather than he ordered the construction.[23]

Royal statuary[edit]

A statue of Senusret III at the British Museum, showing the traits that are peculiar for this king

Senusret III is well known for his distinctive statues, which are almost immediately recognizable as his. On them, the king is depicted at different ages and, in particular, on the aged ones he sports a strikingly somber expression: the eyes are protruding from hollow eye sockets with pouches and lines under them, the mouth and lips have a grimace of bitterness, and the ears are enormous and protruding forward. In sharp contrast with the even-exaggerated realism of the head and, regardless of his age, the rest of the body is idealized as forever young and muscular, in the more classical pharaonic fashion.[36][37]

Scholars could only make assumptions about the reasons why Senusret III chose to have himself portrayed in such a unique way, and polarized on two diverging opinions.[36] Some argue that Senusret wanted to be represented as a lonely and disenchanted ruler, human before divine, consumed by worries and by his responsibilities.[38][39][40] At the opposite, other scholars suggested that the statues originally would convey the idea of a dreadful tyrant able to see and hear everything under his strict control.[41]

More recently, it has been suggested that the purpose of such peculiar portraiture was not to represent realism, but rather, to reveal the perceived nature of royal power at the time of Senusret's reign.[42]



Senusret is a major character in Christian Jacq's historical fiction series The Mysteries of Osiris.[43]

Some biblical scholars consider Senusret the pharaoh mentioned in Genesis 39-47, who elevated Joseph to a high administrative post, answerable directly to him.[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kim S. B. Ryholt, The Political Situation in Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period, c.1800-1550 B.C., Museum Tusculanum Press, Carsten Niebuhr Institute Publications 20, 1997. p.185
  2. ^ Mark, Joshua J. "Senusret III". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2024-02-29.
  3. ^ a b "The Pyramids: Their Archeology and History", Miroslav Verner, Translated by Steven Rendall, p386–387 & p416–421, Atlantic, ISBN 1-84354-171-8
  4. ^ "The Oxford Guide: Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology", Edited by Donald B. Redford, p. 85, Berkley, 2003, ISBN 0-425-19096-X
  5. ^ a b c d Arnold, Dieter (2002). The pyramid complex of Senwosret III at Dahshur: architectural studies. Publications of the Metropolitan Museum of art Egyptian expedition. New York (N.Y.): Yale university press. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-87099-956-7.
  6. ^ Pierre Tallet: Sesostris III et la fin de la XIIe dynastie, Paris 2005, ISBN 2-85704-851-3, p. 14–30
  7. ^ J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part One, Chicago 1906, §§642–648
  8. ^ J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part One, Chicago 1906, §§640–673
  9. ^ J.H. Breasted, §652
  10. ^ Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian literature: a Book of Readings, Berkeley CA, University of California Press, 1973. pp.119–120
  11. ^ Van de Mieroop, Marc (2011). A history of ancient Egypt. Blackwell history of the ancient world (1. publ ed.). Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 131. ISBN 978-1-4051-6070-4.
  12. ^ Pritchard, James B. (2016). Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament with Supplement. Princeton University Press. p. 230. ISBN 978-1-4008-8276-2.
  13. ^ Ian Shaw, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press 2003, p.155
  14. ^ Peter Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs, Thames & Hudson Ltd, (1994),p.86
  15. ^ "Senusret (III) Khakhaure". Retrieved 2013-12-03.
  16. ^ Metropolitan museum of art, ed. (2015). Ancient Egypt transformed: the Middle Kingdom. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 978-1-58839-564-1.
  17. ^ Quirke, Stephen (1991). Middle Kingdom studies. New Malden (GB): SIA publ. pp. 51–67. ISBN 978-1-872561-02-8.
  18. ^ Grajetzki, Wolfram (2009). Court officials of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom. Duckworth egyptology. London: Duckworth. ISBN 978-0-7156-3745-6.
  19. ^ Simpson, William K. (December 1957). ""Sobkemḥēt, a Vizier of Sesostris III."". The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. 43: 26–29. doi:10.2307/3855275. JSTOR 3855275.
  20. ^ Grajetzki, Wolfram (2009). Court officials of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom. Duckworth egyptology. London: Duckworth. pp. 57–58. ISBN 978-0-7156-3745-6.
  21. ^ Jiménez Serrano, Alejandro; Morales, Antonio J. (2021). Middle Kingdom palace culture and its echoes in the provinces: regional perspectives and realities. Harvard Egyptological studies. Universidad de Jaén. Leiden: Brill. pp. 363–387. ISBN 978-90-04-44281-8.
  22. ^ Josef Wegner, The Nature and Chronology of the Senwosret III–Amenemhat III Regnal Succession: Some Considerations based on new evidence from the Mortuary Temple of Senwosret III at Abydos, JNES 55, Vol.4, (1996), p. 251
  23. ^ a b Wegner, Josef W. (1996). "The Nature and Chronology of the Senwosret III-Amenemhat III Regnal Succession: Some Considerations Based on New Evidence from the Mortuary Temple of Senwosret III at Abydos". Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 55 (4): 249–279. doi:10.1086/373863. ISSN 0022-2968. JSTOR 546190.
  24. ^ Tallet, Pierre (2005). Sésostris III et la fin de la XIIe Dynastie. Paris. pp. 28–29.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  25. ^ Willems, Harco (2010). "The First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom". In Lloyd, Alan B. (ed.). A companion to Ancient Egypt, volume 1. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 93.
  26. ^ a b Simpson, William Kelly; Ritner, Robert Kriech, eds. (2003). The literature of ancient Egypt: an anthology of stories, instructions, stelae, autobiographies, and poetry (3. ed.). New Haven, Conn. London: Yale Univ. Pr. ISBN 978-0-300-09920-1.
  27. ^ "Hymns to king Senusret III". Retrieved 2024-02-24.
  28. ^ Katheryn A. Bard, Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, Routledge 1999, p.107
  29. ^ Arnold, Authors: Dieter. "The Pyramid Complex of Senwosret III, Dahshur | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History". The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Retrieved 2024-03-01.
  30. ^ Lehner, Mark The Complete Pyramids, London: Thames and Hudson (1997)p.177–9 ISBN 0-500-05084-8.
  31. ^ Arnold, Dieter (2002). The pyramid complex of Senwosret III at Dahshur: architectural studies. Publications of the Metropolitan Museum of art Egyptian expedition. New York (N.Y.): Yale university press. pp. 25–27. ISBN 978-0-87099-956-7.
  32. ^ Arnold, Dieter (2002). The pyramid complex of Senwosret III at Dahshur: architectural studies. Publications of the Metropolitan Museum of art Egyptian expedition. New York (N.Y.): Yale university press. pp. 34–36. ISBN 978-0-87099-956-7.
  33. ^ a b "Expedition Magazine | Beneath the Mountain-of-Anubis". Expedition Magazine. Retrieved 2024-03-14.
  34. ^ "Mortuary Complex of Pharaoh Senwosret III at South Abydos". ARCE. Retrieved 2024-03-14.
  35. ^ Silverman, David P.; Yale University, eds. (2009). Archaism and innovation: studies in the culture of Middle Kingdom Egypt. New Haven, Conn: Dep. of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Yale Univ. [u.a.] ISBN 978-0-9802065-1-7.
  36. ^ a b Robins, Gay (1997). The Art of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press. p. 113. ISBN 0714109886.
  37. ^ Freed, Rita E. (2010). "Sculpture of the Middle Kingdom". In Lloyd, Alan B. (ed.). A companion to Ancient Egypt, volume 2. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 900–902. ISBN 9781405155984.
  38. ^ Bothmer, Bernard (1974). Brief Guide to the Department of Egyptian and Classical Art. Brooklyn, NY: The Brooklyn Museum. p. 39.
  39. ^ Morkot, Robert G. (2005). The Egyptians: An Introduction. Routledge. p. 14.
  40. ^ Cimmino, Franco (2003). Dizionario delle dinastie faraoniche (in Italian). Milano: Bompiani. p. 158. ISBN 88-452-5531-X.
  41. ^ Wilkinson, Toby (2010). The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt. London: Bloomsbury. p. 179. ISBN 9781408810026.
  42. ^ Laboury, Dimitri, Senwosret III and the Issue of Portraiture in Ancient Egyptian Art, in Andreu-Lanoë, Guillemette & Morfoisse, Fleur (eds.), Sésostris III et la fin du Moyen Empire. Actes du colloque des 12-13 décembre 2014, Louvre-Lens et Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille. CRIPEL 31 (2016-2017), pp. 71–84.
  43. ^ "The Tree of Life (Mysteries of Osiris, book 1) by Christian Jacq". Retrieved 2013-12-03.
  44. ^ Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament (3rd edition), Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009, p. 187.


  • W. Grajetzki, The Middle Kingdom of Ancient Egypt: History,Archaeology and Society, Duckworth, London 2006 ISBN 0-7156-3435-6, 51-58.
  • Josef Wegner, The Nature and Chronology of the Senwosret III–Amenemhat III Regnal Succession: Some Considerations based on new evidence from the Mortuary Temple of Senwosret III at Abydos, JNES 55, Vol.4, (1996), p. 249–279.

External links[edit]