fifth king of the twelfth dynasty, Middle Kingdom. Senwosret III was best known for his military achievements, distinctive portraiture, imposing monuments, and administrative reforms; these inspired both deification and his later incorporation into the legendary King Sesostris of classical times. How long Senwosret III ruled and whether he shared his throne remain controversial topics.
After clearing the canal at the First Cataract of the Nile for his fleet, he led four campaigns into Nubia to oppose the power of the Kushites and to protect trade. He extended Egypt's southern boundary to Semna, at the southern end of the Nile's Second Cataract, beyond which Nubians were permitted to pass only to trade or on official business. Stelae at the boundary recorded that Senwosret III surpassed his forefathers, admonished the Egyptians to maintain “my boundary,” and described himself as aggressive, thoughtful, and merciful, whereas he described the Nubians as avoiding confrontations—only to attack when he withdrew. He built or expanded fortresses along the Nile from Buhen to Semna South and his ships advanced at least as far as the Dal Cataract. In the Levant, he captured a district called “Skmm,” perhaps the biblical Shechem.
The pronounced facial features of his statues distinguished Senwosret III from previous Egyptian kings. With heavy eyelids, pouches under the eyes, lined brow and cheeks, and down-turned mouth, he was portrayed as thoughtful and weary, whether as a young or old man, depending on the severity of the modeling. Those images of a concerned king were reflected in hymns that praised Senwosret III for protecting Egypt and extending its boundaries.
Some of his monuments are exceptional. At Deir el-Bahri, statues of Senwosret III are the first that are known to represent an Egyptian king standing in a posture of prayer (with his hands flat on his kilt). A stela there also continued the eleventh dynasty funerary cult of King Nebhepetre Montuhotep. A relief in Senwosret III's temple at Medamud depicted him either anticipating or celebrating the rejuvenation sed-festival (usually after thirty years of rule). Aside from a limestone casing, his pyramid at Dahshur was the first constructed entirely of mud bricks—the complex has many parallels with Djoser's. Exquisite jewelry was discovered in the burials of the female members of his family. He also built a temple complex at Abydos, which included a tomb that was either a cenotaph or his burial place.
Senwosret III further consolidated Egypt's government by ending the authority of all but the last of the nomarchs (the governors of the nomes, or provinces), a process started earlier in the twelfth dynasty. The officials' sons were probably then brought into the bureaucracy at the capital, rather than confirmed in their fathers' local positions.
Senwosret III became a patron deity in Nubia during the Middle Kingdom. Later, during the New Kingdom, temples were dedicated to him there, and the Nubian king Taharqa had an altar erected in his memory. Greek and Roman authors, most notably Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus, combined recollections of Senwosret III, Senwosret I, and Ramesses II into accounts of a king Sesostris—a conqueror, builder, and lawgiver. The length of Senwosret III's reign is uncertain. Some sources indicate that he ruled as many as thirty-nine years and reliefs at Dahshur mention a first sed-festival, but the highest contemporary dates with his name are from the nineteenth year of his kingship. Although it is most unlikely that he was coregent with Senwosret II, he may have shared his throne with Amenemhet III.
- Arnold, D., and A. Oppenheim. “Reexcavating the Senwosret III Pyramid Complex at Dahshur.” KMT 6.2 (1995), 44–56.
- Bourriau, Janine. Pharaohs and Mortals. Egyptian Art in the Middle Kingdom. Cambridge, 1988.
- Delia, Robert D. “A Study of the Reign of Senwosret III.” Ph.D. diss., Columbia University. New York, 1980. The most complete biography of the king; it is being revised for publication.
- Delia, Robert D. “Khakaure Senwosret III, King and Man,” KMT, 6.2 (1995), 18–33. A more general account of the king.
- Franke, Detlev. “The Career of Khnumhotep III of Beni Hasan and the so-called ‘Decline of the Nomarchs.’” In Middle Kingdom Studies, edited by Stephen Quirke, pp. 51–67. New Malden, 1991.
- Simpson, William Kelly. “Sesostris III.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 5: 03–906. Wiesbaden, 1984. The essentials of the king's reign.
- Wegner, J. “Old and New Excavations at the Abydene Complex of Senwosret III.” KMT 6.2 (1995), 59–71.
Robert D. Delia