Papyrus bearing the hieratic text of one of the Semna Dispatches (British Museum EA 10752.3). These communiques from the Nubian fortresses deal with the close surveillance of the frontier region. Nubia, in direct contrast to Egypt, was heavily militarized in the Middle Kingdom. (ÂŠ Copyright the Trustees of The British Museum)
chain of fortresses between the First and Second cataracts. The purpose of these military establishments appears to have been to gain a stranglehold on the economic resources of Lower Nubia (Wawat) and the lands farther to the south (Kush), including such important commodities as gold, ivory, ebony, livestock and slaves. No more fitting memorial can be found to the resolve of Dynasty XII to dominate the territory between the First and Second cataracts than the chain of fortresses erected between Kuban and Semna. Built late in the dynasty, these were sited with a view to taking complete advantage of the defensive possibilities of the terrain, each positioned in order to control the flow of traffic northwards at points where the Nile was difficult to negotiate. Usually located on high spurs or rock close to the west bank of the river or islands within it, the fortresses were surrounded by massive walls of densely packed sun-dried mudbrick - Nile mud was readily available - and equipped with outworks to protect the river approach. Size varied considerably: Semna was only 50 by 60 metres, whereas Buhen attained 1,000 by 130 metres. The number of people who could live on a permanent basis in these confined spaces was probably small, for instance 25 soldiers and their dependants in the case of the fort at Uronarti, but this small number appears to have been sufficient to do the job. (Redford 2004: 29).