The First Intermediate Period (FIP – ca. 2120-1970 BCE) is often described by Egyptologists as a period of “civil war.” In the Egyptological literature, however, little attention is paid to defining this notion (which was first introduced only in the Late Roman Republic, almost 2,000 years later) and to explaining how it could be applicable to ancient Egyptian history.
This thesis contributes to this debate by analyzing the FIP through the lenses of contemporary approaches to civil war, drawn from political science and other cognate disciplines. It first discusses how if the events of the FIP comply with contemporary definitions of “civil war” and how other concepts, such as those of “state collapse” and “economics of war,” may be relevant for explaining Egypt’s political and social predicament during this period. It then applies a hermeneutical approach to the analysis of epigraphic, literary and visual sources from the FIP and Middle Kingdom in order to understand if ancient Egyptians made sense of this phase through interpretive and cognitive strategies comparable to those documented in Roman history.
The thesis concludes that the notion of “civil war” may be applicable to some phases of the FIP, but not to this period as a whole. In applying contemporary social science concepts to the FIP, it also suggests that the early phases of the FIP are best described as an instance of “state collapse” rather than as a “rebellion.” The sections of the thesis on the hermeneutics of civil war develop a model for unpacking such interpretive strategies, focused on the analysis of the language of warfare, the ethical dilemmas raised by internecine violence, and the memory of war. This analysis concludes that the ancient Egyptians did approach the events of the FIP differently from both foreign wars and internal rebellion, even if such difference was arguably articulated through the ethical and ontological concept of ma’at rather than through a notion comparable to the Roman idea of citizenship.
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Sociology, Egyptology & Anthroplology Department
MA in Egyptology & Coptology
Committee Member 1
Committee Member 2
Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval
Not necessary for this item
(2024).Civil War in Ancient Egypt? A Case Study of the First Intermediate Period (ca. 2120-1970 BC) [Master's Thesis, the American University in Cairo]. AUC Knowledge Fountain.
Pinfari, Marco. Civil War in Ancient Egypt? A Case Study of the First Intermediate Period (ca. 2120-1970 BC). 2024. American University in Cairo, Master's Thesis. AUC Knowledge Fountain.
Available for download on Monday, February 09, 2026