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Manetho’s Twelfth Dynasty and the Standard Chronology
Paper presented at the
2002 annual meeting of ARCE , at Johns Hopkins University

While there are many conflicting theories about how to analyze the chronological evidence for the Twelfth Dynasty and what the proper chronology should be, the two major groups of disputants can be divided into proponents of a “high” chronology and advocates of a “low” chronology.

For many years, the high chronology has been referred to as the “standard chronology” and had been widely accepted by Egyptologists as rock solid. This is the chronology that you usually find in almost any general history of Egypt. In recent years, proponents of the low chronology have mounted a substantial challenge to the high chronology, to the point that one scholar has recently written, “the standard chronology for the Twelfth Dynasty has largely been abandoned.”[1]

While the two groups disagree on a number of details, such as the date of the Sothic observation for the seventh year of Senwosre III and how to interpret the lunar data in the Illahun papyri, the differences between the two are not huge. The high chronology dates the start of the Twelfth Dynasty to 1991 and gives it a duration of about 206 years, ending at about 1786. The majority of the low chronology advocates dates the start to about 1976 and ends it at about 1794, a period of about 183 years. While the disagreements aren’t huge, there are repercussions that impact on chronological issues concerning the Second Intermediate Period.

Table 1 shows three of the principle proposals for Twelfth Dynasty chronology. For comparison, I have also included the Turin Canon chronology and the highest known year-marks for each king from the archaeological record. Parker represents the high chronology and Beckerath the majority view for the low chronology. The Krauss column presents an alternative version of the low chronology based on a much later Sothic date for Senwosre III, but which has a distinctly smaller following than does the Beckerath version.

Interesting as many of the discussions about the various theories and the underlying arguments may be, time limitations prevent me from exploring those issues. Instead, in this paper I am going to focus on one of the primary differences between the high and low chronologies and try to use the problematic Manetho account to show that the high chronology is the correct model.

The length of Senwosre III’s reign

One of the chief differences between the high and low chronologies concerns the length of reign for Senwosre III. The Turin Canon says he ruled for 30 + X years. The entry is damaged, leaving a potential reign of 31 to 39 years. But many Egyptologists have challenged the reliability of the Turin Canon in this regard and have pointed out that highest know year-mark in the archaeological record that specifically refers to Senwosre III as a living king is 19 years.[2] This doesn’t of necessity limit the length of his reign but offers some evidence that he may not have had as long a reign as given in the Turin Canon.

The debate over the highest known year mark for Senwosre III has taken a number of twists and turns, fluctuating between the Year-19 datum and the Turin Canon’s proposed 30 + X years. Gardiner, who adopted Parker’s chronology, accepted some evidence suggesting that there was a Year-33 mark for Senwosre III[3] but Edgerton, one of the originators of the high chronology, has said that such an interpretation was questionable and the low chronology proponents have rejected it.[4]

In 1990, another piece of evidence came to the fore, strongly indicating that Senwosre III reached a Year-30, but the king’s name isn’t mentioned in the writing, and the argument is based on the context of the find, which obviously leaves the conclusion open to debate.[5]

Another important find in 1994 refers to a king’s Year-39 and the context indicates that it could be either Senwosre III or Amenemhe III, his successor, although the context again seems to support a finding that it belongs to Senwosre III.[6]

Those proponents of a low chronology who accept that the Year-39 belongs to Senwosre III now argue that there must have been a long coregency between Senwosre III and Amenemhe III.[7] The existence of a lengthy coregency between the two kings is also subject to debate and proponents of the high chronology and many advocates of the low chronology reject the idea. If, however, the Year-30 and Year-39 markers belong to Amenemhe III, then no adjustment is necessary by either side.

Table 2 shows the standard chronology modified to reflect the increase in Senwsore III’s reign from 36 to 39 years. It also shows the chronological scheme of the coregencies.

Observations on Manetho’s Twelfth Dynasty

Table 3 sets forth the Manetho chronology for the Twelfth Dynasty as preserved in Africanus and Eusebius. The two Manetho lists have some peculiarities that we should take note of before proceeding to a comparison between the Manetho chronology and the archaeological record.

To begin with, both Manetho lists separate the first king of the Twelfth Dynasty from the rest of the dynasty, placing him in between the Eleventh and Twelfth Dynasties. In addition, they both give him a reign of 16 years, when he should have served either 20 years as sole ruler or 30 years in total if we count his coregency with Senwosre I.

In Table 3, I have separated out Manetho’s first king from the others as a reminder of the Manetho structure. This displacement may be due to the fact that both Africanus and Eusebius say that the first book of Manetho’s history ended after the reign of Ammenemes (i.e., Amenemhe I), and that Manetho began his second book with the kings they identify as the members of the Twelfth Dynasty. So it is possible that this was just a simple editing error caused by running out of space at the end of Manetho’s Book One.

Another major difficulty with the two lists is that Manetho’s Sesostris, presumably corresponding to Senwosre II based on the sequence of the rulers, has a 48-year reign whereas the actual Senwosre II had no more than about 19 years in office. This has led many scholars to assume that Manetho’s Sesostris actually combines together the reigns of Senwosre II and Senwosre III.[8] If this is the case, and we shall see below that it is, this leaves us with the additional problem of one too many pharaohs in Manetho’s Twelfth Dynasty. Dividing Sesostris’s reign into two separate kingships gives us nine Manetho kings when there should only be eight.

The next king in Manetho’s sequence is Lachares (or Lamares) in Africanus and Lamaris in Eusebius, who should correspond to either Senwosre III or Amenemhe III, but this king has only an 8-year reign whereas Senwosre III ruled for 39 years (or 19 years in the low chronology) and Amenemhe III had a 46-year reign.

Another important problem is that following the fifth king, Africanus and Eusebius have differing accounts as to how the dynasty ended. Africanus has three kings ruling respectively 8, 8, and 4 years, while Eusebius has a summary claim indicating that some unidentified number of kings had a collective reign of 42 years. Both lists also have some problems with the number of years given for the total duration of the dynasty.

The total number of years ruled in the Eusebius list, when added up, is 198 years, which falls midway between the high and low chronological proposals, but he writes that the total number of years ruled by this dynasty is 245 years. He gives no explanation for this 47-year discrepancy.

Africanus says that the dynastic total was 160 years, which is an accurate total for the kings he lsts as belonging to the dynasty, but which excludes Amenemhe I, whom he placed in between the Eleventh and Twelfth Dynasties. When that ruler is added in the total reaches 176 years, far shorter than both the high and low chronologies.

The recorded durations in both Manetho lists and the actual durations for all the kings accounted for in both Manetho lists appear at the bottom of Table 3.

Unfortunately, time constraints on this presentation prevent a full discussion and resolution of all the problems with Manetho’s Twelfth Dynasty and for the balance of the paper I will focus only on that portion of the Twelfth Dynasty that is in serious dispute among the various schools of thought, the durations of the first five reigns, individually and collectively.

Manetho’s Twelfth Dynasty and the Standard Chronology

Amenemhe I and Senwosre I

The first two kings of the Twelfth Dynasty, Amenemhe I and Senwosre I, served 30 and 44 years respectively, but an inscription from the stele of Antef suggests that Senwosre I’s 10th year began in Amenemhe I’s 30th year.[9] In addition, the stele of Wepwaweto (Leyden V. 4) says that Amenemhe II’s second year began in Senwosre I’s 44th year.[10] On this basis, we can say that there were 62 years from the start of Amenemhe I’s reign to the start of Amenemhe II’s reign.

For Amenemhe I the Turin Canon has a damaged entry where the “tens” figure should appear for the length of reign. The original entry was either 19 or 29, either of which would closely correspond to the actual record of 20 and 30 years, depending upon whether or not the entry for this first king included his full reign or only up to the start of his coregency. For Senwosre I the Turin Canon has an entry of 45 years, the last year of which is otherwise undocumented in the archaeological record.

Both Manetho lists give the first two kings lengths of reign of 16 and 46 years. The first king’s reign is four years too short if we count up to the start of the coregency, and the second king’s reign is four years too long if we count to the start of his coregency with Amenemhe II. But when we add the two lengths of reign together, we get a total of 62 years, precisely the number of years ruled by the first two kings in the standard chronology prior to the start of Amenemhe II’s first year.

Manetho’s figures indicate that four years belonging to Amenemhe I were for some reason transferred to the reign of Senwosre I, and if we transfer them back to the first king we have respective reigns of 20 and 42, ending just before the start of the coregency between Senwosre I and Amenemhe II. Why this four-year misallocation occurred we will probably never know, and, again, time constraints prohibit a fuller discussion of this problem. The important point, though, is that Manetho agrees with the archaeological record for the combined lengths of reign for the first two kings.

Amenemhe II, Senwosre II, and Senwosre III

This brings us to Manetho’s problematic arrangement for what should be the next three kings in sequence, Amenemhe II, Senwosre II, and Senwosre III. On the surface, Manetho’s corresponding entries appear to be, respectively, 38 years for Ammanemes, 48 for Sesostris, and 8 for Lachares. As we will see shortly, this correlation doesn’t hold and Manetho’s Sesostris actually combines together the reigns of Senwosre II and Senwosre III.

In the standard chronology, Amenemhe II has a 35-year reign and Senwosre II has a 19-year reign, but they share a 3-year coregency. In addition, Senwosre III has a reign of 39 years but he begins a coregency in Year-37. If we sum up the years from the beginning of Amenemhe II to the end of the independent reign of Senwosre III in Year 36, and account for the 3-year coregency between the first two kings in the sequence, we have a total duration of 87 years to the end of Senwosre III’s solo reign.

In the Turin Canon, we have damaged entries for the third and fifth kings (Amenemhe II and Senwosre III.) The first of these entries appears to be 30 + X years, where X can be any number from 1 to 9, and the third of these entries appears to have the same damaged formula. The entry for the fourth king, Senwosre II, is 19 years, which figure is used in the standard chronology. The nature of the damage to the Turin Canon is such that we don’t know if the coregencies of these three kings were accounted for or the full length of reign was given for each of the kings.

Nevertheless, return to Manetho and add together his lengths of reign for the third king and Sesostris. The total is 86 years, only 1 year shorter than in the standard chronology for kings 3-5, a difference that can easily be accounted for by a rounding error. This is an almost incontrovertible clue that Sesostris’s reign did indeed combine together that of Senwosre II and Senwosre III.

Still, though his overall duration adds up to the right number of years and clearly provides chronological consistency between the standard chronology and the Manetho chronology down through the first five kings of the dynasty, a period of 148-149 years, Manetho’s actual lengths of reign for the relevant kings seem to be inconsistent with the correct durations. Let’s see if we can fine-tune his chronology a little further.

Amenemhe II had a total duration of 35 years but 3 of those years overlapped his co-regent, Senwosre II. The combined reign of Senwosre II and Senwosre III through Year 36, after which the latter began a coregency, should be 55 years. But if we assume that initially the Manetho list credited Amenemhe II with his full length of reign, then Manetho’s Sesostris should have combined just the two independent portions of the reigns of Senwosre II and Senwosre III, a sum of 52 years. Also, we noted that the Manetho total was 1 year less than the standard chronology total.

Factoring in this 1-year difference we would expect the Manetho figures to be 35 years and 51 years (if using the standard chronology.) Instead, we have 38 years and 48 years. Since the first figure is 3 years too many and the second figure is 3 years too few, we have an indication that 3 years were wrongly transferred from Sesostris to his predecessor. That this figure corresponds to the number of years in the coregency strongly suggests that Manetho’s redactors may have made an error in accounting for the coregency.

Manetho’s original text, or his source, must have given Amenemehe II credit for ruling during the 3-year coregency and then subtracted that total from Senwosre II. The redactors of Manetho wrongfully believed that Senwosre II and Senwosre III were the same person and counted him as a single king, counting the two reigns as if they were different parts of the same reign. This should have resulted, as noted above, in the 35-51 split. But the text probably went on to note that there was a 3-year coregency between Amenemehe II and Senwosre II.

The redactors, not aware that the 3-year coregency had already been accounted for by shortening the reign of Senwosre II by 3 years, and wanting to credit the apparent 3 year coregency to Amenemhe II, simply transferred 3 years from the Senwosre II-Senwosre III total (combined under the collective name of Sesostris) to Amenemhe II’s reign, changing the 35-51 split to a 38-48 split. In effect, the length of the coregency was twice subtracted from Senwosre II’s reign, and both subtractions were added to the independent portion of Amenemhe II’s reign.


Up to this point, then, the evidence clearly shows that for the first five kings of this dynasty, Manetho’s chronology differs from the standard chronology by only 1 year, 148 years versus 149 years as the overall duration, and we can’t say which of the two is the more accurate. As to the slight variations between Manetho’s lengths of reign for individual kings and that in the independently determined standard chronology, those differences can be seen as the result of minor errors by redactors in the transmission of Manetho’s account.

In one case, a redactor mistakenly transferred 4 years from Amenemehe I to Senwosre I. And in another, a redactor misread information about a 3-year coregency and mistakenly transferred 3 years from Senwosre II to Amenemhe II, and then combined the reigns of Senwosre II and Senwosre III as if they were a single person.

As most of the disputes between proponents of the standard or high chronology and advocates of the shorter low chronology revolve about issues within the reigns of these first five kings, it would seem that Manetho’s chronology, when examined under the above light, provides conclusive proof that the standard chronology coincides with ancient Egyptian records. The alignment between Manetho’s chronology and the high chronology has too many points of correspondence to be dismissed as mere coincidence. Clearly Manetho must have had access to accurate records of Twelfth Dynasty chronology and such records appear to correlate with the high, i.e., standard chronology.


[1] Josef W. Wegner “The Nature and Chronology of the Senwosret-Amenemhet III Regnal Succession: Some Considerations Based on New Evidence from the Mortuary Temple of Senwosret III at Abydos” JNES 55 (October 1996, Number 4), 249.

[2] W. F. Edgerton, “Chronology of the Twelfth Dynasty”, JNES 1 (1942), 310.

[3] Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, (Oxford University Press, Oxford 1961), 439.

[4] Edgerton, 310-311.

[5] Wegner, 264-265.

[6] Wegner, 251-261.

[7] Wegner, 267-268.

[8] Cf. Gardiner, 439.

[9] William J. Murnane, Ancient Egyptian Coregencies, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization No. 40, (Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1977), 2

[10] Murnane 5.

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