We are used to seeing the mighty pharaohs portrayed in a fairly consistent, idealised way: strong, confident, and ageless.
But around 1870 B.C., during Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, the 12th Dynasty king, Senusret III, had a totally different idea for the image he wanted to present to eternity.
While his body remained athletic and youthful, the king’s expression now held a sombre mood, as though the burdens of caring for his people and the responsibilities of kingship were getting him down.
As this quartz head shows, the lined forehead, heavy-lidded eyes and downturned mouth all combine to make Senusret III look old and tired.
Thoughts vary on the statement Senusret was trying to make; from authoritarian and determined, to pessimistic and anxious, and even old and wise.
The carving is so expressive it has been suggested that this may be one of those rare instances where we can look upon a reasonable likeness of the king.
However, Senusret’s new style is more likely to have been an ideological device; statues of Senusret’s son, Amenemhat III, also look like he took the job rather seriously. Even portraits of early 13th Dynasty kings display elements of Senusret’s innovative style. As time went on, however, royal portraiture started smiling again and drifted back to a more traditional style, where the face and not just the body, showed a stoic, confident man in his prime.
Recently, a team from the Penn Museum, University of Pennsylvania, announced the discovery at Abydos of a large underground vault, built to house a fully-sized boat. The boat burial is close to and contemporary with the subterranean tomb of Senusret III.
Learn more about this fascinating discovery, and why it means the king probably never got to enjoy his pyramid, in the latest issue of Nile Magazine. Subscribe to the print or digital editions from the Subscribe page, and enjoy your Nile time!