The Semna dispatches

From Thebes, Egypt
12th Dynasty, reign of Amenemhat III (1854-1808 BC)

Administrative documents from an Egyptian outpost

The kings of the early Middle Kingdom (2040-1750 BC), and in particular Senwosret I (1965-1920 BC), undertook a programme of expansion into Nubia. The entire area as far south as the Second Cataract (near modern Wadi Halfa) was soon under Egyptian control. Egyptian rule remained until at least to the end of the Twelfth Dynasty (about 1795 BC). Control was centred around a series of forts placed at strategic locations along the Nile. The forts had several purposes: to protect and supervise trade on the Nile, to act as a very visible reminder of the Egyptian presence in the region, and to monitor the tribes of the Western Desert and possible hostile incursions.

The texts, found with other papyri in a Middle Kingdom tomb under the Ramesseum (the mortuary temple of Ramesses II at Thebes) in 1896, are detailed administrative records, probably mainly originating mainly from the fort of Semna on the southern border. They record the arrival and departure of various groups of Nubians, and include the reports of various surveillance parties who were tracking in the desert. The texts show that the Egyptians carefully monitored the movement of people and controlled trading activities.

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More information


R.B. Parkinson and S. Quirke, Papyrus, (Egyptian Bookshelf) (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

E.F.Wente, Letters from Ancient Egypt (Atlanta, Scholars Press, 1990)

P.C. Smither, 'The Semnah Despatches', Journal of Egyptian Archaeolog, 31 (1945), pp. 3-10


Height: 16.500 cm
Length: 21.500 cm

Museum number

EA 10752;EA 10753 sheet 3



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