Eternal Egypt deconstructed: a re-assessment of cultural continuity and regional diversity in Middle Kingdom Egypt (Dynasties 11-13, 2055-1650 B.C.E.).

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


European historical traditions have presented ancient Egypt as a well-balanced, homogeneous society that is characterised by continuity of thought, burial customs, artistic traditions and interhuman relations. One of the hallmarks of ancient Egyptian civilisation is its cultural longevity, which has led to the myth that Egypt is unchanged and to this day represents an endless, static, perpetual culture. However, Egyptian history is an amalgamation of 5000 years of development and change and, in more recent literature, the popular idea of 'Eternal Egypt' has been over turned by richer understandings of the dynamic cultural, social, and political forces that continually acted to re-shape the Egyptian civilisation (Moreno Garcia 2014: 52-54).

While there have been considerable investigations into the process of state formation or the factors that contributed to the disintegration of 'kingdom' periods, certainly less of a focus for Egyptologists has been the process of state re-formation – asking how state systems were re-established, re-defined and re-formed following periods of social fragmentation and decline? Striking in the diachronic study of ancient Egypt is the resilience of the 'great tradition': a core political ideology built around the persona of the pharaoh as the divinely sanctioned ruler who was responsible for maintaining maat (divine order) against the continual threat of isfet (chaos). These concepts and a rich, embedded system of iconography and religious symbolism formed a civilisation template that became particularly relevant during periods of state re-organisation. In these times of state re-formation modes of cultural expression were re-defined and reflect a period of cultural renaissance. Various scholars have noted that a salient feature of the Middle Kingdom is extensive use of 'archaism', or a conscious emulation or imitation of form, type and style from earlier periods, which have been long out of use (Kahl 2010).

The brief communication will present an overview of a new research project, which aims to and produce a fuller understanding of regional diversity in Middle Kingdom Egypt in two parts: one, examining regional artistic style and form from the late Old Kingdom to Middle Kingdom (2 and 3 Dimensions); the other attempting a full analysis on Egypt’s view of its past, which will centre on the extent to which connections with the earlier models and forms were explicitly manipulated as symbols of legitimacy.

Kahl, J., ‘Archaism’. In: Wendrich, W., (ed.), UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology (Los Angeles, 2010).
Freed, R.E., 'Relief Styles of the Nebhepetre Montuhotep Funerary Temple Complex'. In: Goring, E., Reeves, N., and Ruffle, J., eds., Goring, E., Reeves, N., and Ruffle, J., (eds) Chief of Seers: Egyptian Studies in Memory of Cyril Aldred (London, 1997), 148-163.
Moreno Garcia, J.C., "The cursed discipline? The peculiarities of Egyptology at the turn of the Twenty-First century". In: Carruthers, W., (ed.), Histories of Egyptology: Interdisciplinary Measures (London, 2014), 50-63.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sep 2016
EventFourth Australasian Egyptology Conference - Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 16 Sep 201618 Sep 2016


ConferenceFourth Australasian Egyptology Conference
Internet address


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