Senusret III

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 monarch of the Twelfth Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom. He was a great pharaoh of the Twelfth Dynasty and is considered to be perhaps the most powerful Egyptian ruler of the dynasty. 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.[2] Senusret III was one of the few kings who were deified and honored with a cult during their own lifetime.[3]


Senusret III was the son of Senusret II and of Khenemetneferhedjet I also called Khenemetneferhedjet I Weret (the elder). Two wives of Senusret III are known for certain. These are Khenemetneferhedjet II and Neferthenut, both mainly known from their burials next to the pyramid of the king at Dahshur. Several daughters are known, although they are also just attested 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.[4]


Granite statue of Senwosret III. He is shown wearing the nemes headcloth with a cobra at the front, the pleated shendyt kilt, and the bull's tail, visible between his legs. Beneath his feet are nine bows, symbolizing Egypt's traditional enemies under his power. Unlike his predecessors, who were shown with idealized facial features, Senwosret has heavily lidded eyes, lined and haggard cheeks, and pursed lips. The reason for this change is not known, but imitations of his features by later kings and private individuals suggest that Senwosret's features were intended to convey his virtuous qualities. Brooklyn Museum

Senusret III cleared a navigable canal through the first cataract[5] (this was different from the Canal of the Pharaohs, which Senusret III also apparently 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 and Toshka at Uronarti.

He carried out at least four major campaigns into Nubia in his Years 8, 10, 16 and 19.[6] 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.[7] 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 which 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.[8]

His final campaign which was in Year 19 was less successful because the king's forces were caught by the Nile being lower than normal and they had to retreat and abandon their campaign to avoid being trapped in hostile Nubian territory.[9]

Such was his forceful nature and immense influence that Senusret III was worshipped as a god in Semna by later generations.[10] Jacques Morgan, in 1894, found rock inscriptions near Sehel Island documenting his digging of a canal under the king. Senusret III erected a temple and town in Abydos, and another temple in Medamud.[11]

His court included the viziers Sobekemhat, Nebit and Khnumhotep. Ikhernofret worked as treasurer for the king at Abydos. Senankh cleared the canal at Sehel for the king.

Length of reign

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; this is generally assumed 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.[12]

Wegner stresses that it is unlikely that Amenemhet III, Senusret's son and successor, would still be working on his father's temple nearly 4 decades into his own reign. He notes that the only possible solution for the block's existence here is that Senusret III had a 39-year reign, with the final 20 years in coregency with his son Amenemhet III. 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 Amenemhet III. This implies that Senusret was still alive in the first two decades of his son's reign.

Werner's hypothesis is rejected by some scholars such as Pierre Tallet and Harco Willems; according to them, it is more likely that such coregency never occurred, and that the Year 39 control note still refers to Amenemhat III who may had ordered some additions to Senusret's monuments.[13][14]

Pyramid and complex

Plan of the Pyramid complex at Dashur

Senusret's pyramid complex was built north-east of the Red Pyramid of Dashur[15] and in grandeur far surpassed those from the early 12th dynasty in size and underlying religious conceptions.

There has been speculation that Senusret was not necessarily buried there but rather in his sophisticated funerary complex in Abydos with his pyramid more likely to have been a cenotaph.[2]

Senusret's pyramid is 105 meters square and 78 meters high. The total volume was about 288,000 cubic meters. The pyramid was built of a core of mud bricks. They were not made a consistent size implying that standardized moulds weren't used. The burial chamber was lined with granite. Above the vaulted burial chamber was a second relieving chamber that was roofed with 5 pairs of limestone beams each weighing 30 tons. Above this was a third mudbrick vault.

The pyramid complex included a small mortuary temple and 7 smaller pyramids for his queens. There is also an underground gallery with further burials for royal women. Here were found the treasures of Sithathor and queen Mereret. There was also a southern temple, however this has since been destroyed.[16]

Royal statuary

A statue of Senusret III at the British Museum, showing the traits which 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 eyesockets with pouches and lines under them, the mouth and lips have a grimace of bitterness, and the ears are enormous and protruding forwards. In sharp contrast with the even-exaggerated realism of the head and regardless of its age, the rest of the body is idealized as forever young and muscular in a more classical pharaonic fashion.[17][18]

About the reasons why Senusret III chose to be depicted in this unique way one can only speculate, and scholars have proposed two main and somewhat polarized hypothesis.[17] Some believe that Senusret wanted to be represented as a lonely and disenchanted ruler, human before divine, consumed by worries and by his responsibilities.[19][20][21] 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.[22]


Senusret is a major character in Christian Jacq's historical fiction series The Mysteries of Osiris[23]

Many conservative biblical scholars consider Senusret the Pharaoh of Genesis 39-47 who elevated Joseph to a high administrative post answerable directly to him. [24]

See also


  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. 1 2 "The Pyramids: Their Archeology and History", Miroslav Verner, Translated by Steven Rendall,p386-387 & p416-421, Atlantic, ISBN 1-84354-171-8
  3. "The Oxford Guide: Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology", Edited by Donald B. Redford, p. 85, Berkley, 2003, ISBN 0-425-19096-X
  4. Pierre Tallet: Sesostris III et la fin de la XIIe dynastie, Paris 2005, ISBN 2-85704-851-3, p. 14-30
  5. J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part One, Chicago 1906, §§642-648
  6. J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part One, Chicago 1906, §§640-673
  7. J.H. Breasted, §652
  8. Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian literature: a Book of Readings, Berkeley CA, University of California Press, 1973. pp.119-120
  9. Ian Shaw, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press 2003, p.155
  10. Peter Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs, Thames & Hudson Ltd, (1994),p.86
  11. "Senusret (III) Khakhaure". Retrieved 2013-12-03.
  12. Josef Wegner, The Nature and Chronology of the Senwosret IIIAmenemhat III Regnal Succession: Some Considerations based on new evidence from the Mortuary Temple of Senwosret III at Abydos, JNES 55, Vol.4, (1996), pp.251
  13. Tallet, Pierre (2005). Sésostris III et la fin de la XIIe Dynastie. Paris. pp. 28–29.
  14. Willems, Harco (2010). "The First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom". In Lloyd, Alan B. A companion to Ancient Egypt, volume 1. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 93.
  15. Katheryn A. Bard, Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, Routledge 1999, p.107
  16. Lehner, Mark The Complete Pyramids, London: Thames and Hudson (1997)p.177-9 ISBN 0-500-05084-8.
  17. 1 2 Robins, Gay (1997). The Art of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press. p. 113. ISBN 0714109886.
  18. Freed, Rita E. (2010). "Sculpture of the Middle Kingdom". In Lloyd, Alan B. A companion to Ancient Egypt, volume 2. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 900–902. ISBN 9781405155984.
  19. Bothmer, Bernard (1974). Brief Guide to the Department of Egyptian and Classical Art. Brooklyn, NY: The Brooklyn Museum. p. 39.
  20. Morkot, Robert G. (2005). The Egyptians: An Introduction. Routledge. p. 14.
  21. Cimmino, Franco (2003). Dizionario delle dinastie faraoniche (in Italian). Milano: Bompiani. p. 158. ISBN 88-452-5531-X.
  22. Wilkinson, Toby (2010). The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt. London: Bloomsbury. p. 179. ISBN 9781408810026.
  23. "The Tree of Life (Mysteries of Osiris, book 1) by Christian Jacq". Retrieved 2013-12-03.
  24. Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament (3rd edition), Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009, p. 187.


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