The Hyksos (Egyptian heka khasewet) were an ethnically mixed group of Western Asiatic people who appeared in the eastern Nile Delta during the Second Intermediate Period. They overthrew the weak Egyptian Thirteenth Dynasty , whose capital was near Memphis, and formed the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Dynasties of Egypt, (ca. 1674-1548 B.C.E. See Egyptian chronology), ruling Lower and Middle Egypt for over one hundred years.
Traditionally, only the six Fifteenth Dynasty rulers are called "Hyksos". The Tanach refers to them as Canaanites, as decendents of Ham, son of Noah. Evidence shows that the Hyksos had names that bear strong similarities to those belonging to the Canaanites, and archaeologists in turn, think of the Canaanites as being indistinguishable from the Phoenicians (See also Sea Peoples). The Hyksos introduced new tools of warfare into Egypt, especially the composite bow, the horse, and the horse-drawn chariot.
The numerous Sixteenth Dynasty princes are believed to be a mixed collection of "Hyksos", other Asiatic Semites , and local native Egyptian princes who had no choice but to support their new overlords. The names of the Fifteenth Dynasty Hyksos are known from Egyptian monuments, from scarabs and other small objects, and Manetho's history of Egypt, written during the time Ptolemy II.
Who Were the Hyksos?
The term "Hyksos" derives from the expression heka khasewet (Rulers of Foreign Lands), found in Egyptian texts like the Turin King List to describe the rulers of neighboring lands. This expression begins to appear as early as the late Old Kingdom in Egypt referring to various Nubian chieftains and as early as the Middle Kingdom referring to the bedouin chieftains of Syria-Palestine. It is generally accepted that only the six kings of the Fifteenth Dynasty are to properly be called "Hyksos", because not only do they bear Egyptian royal titles, but they are specifically called Hyksos by Manetho. It is generally agreed that these six Hyksos kings of Egypt ruled a total of about 108 years. Wolfgang Helck attempted to prove that the Hyksos were part of massive and widespread Hurrian and Indo-Aryan migrations into the Near East – even more than this, in fact: That the Hyksos were themselves Hurrians and part of an assumed Hurrian empire which, he claimed, extended over much of Western Asia at this period. However, the decades following the publication of Helck's Hyksos-Hurrian theory served only to reinforce the arguments of those who saw the Hyksos names as overwhelmingly Northwest Semitic, not Hurrian at all, and today the Hurrian hypothesis finds few if any supporters.
The names, the order, and even the total number of the Fifteenth Dynasty rulers are not known with any real certainty. The names appear in hieroglyphs on monuments and small objects such as jar lids and scarabs. In those instances in which Prenomen (The fourth name of an Egyptian pharaoh; it was preceded by the royal title n-sw-bit, or King of Upper and Lower Egypt. See Egyptian royal names ) and Nomen (The fifth name of an Egyptian pharaoh; it was preceded by the royal title sa Ra, or Son of (the sun-god) Ra.) do not occur together on the same object, there is no absolute certainty that the names belong together as the two names of a single person. This period of Egyptian history is a chronological nightmare that only additional datable archaeological material can resolve.
Manetho's history of Egypt is known only through the works of others, such as Flavius Josephus. These sources do not list the names of the six rulers in the same order. To complicate matters further, the spellings are so distorted that they are useless for chronological purposes; there is no close or obvious connection between the bulk of these names, Salitis, Beon/Bnon, Apachnan/Pachnan, annas/Staan, Apophis, Assis/Archles, and the Egyptian names that appear on scarabs and other objects. The hieroglyphic names of the Fifteenth Dynasty Hyksos rulers as they are known from monuments, scarabs, and other objects are:
- 1. Sa-kha-en-ra Shalik (Each name is only found separately.)
- 2. Ma-ib-ra Sheshy (?) (Each name is only found separately.)
- 3. Mer-woser-ra Yaqob-her (Both names are found together on one scarab.)
- 4. Se-woser-en-ra Khayan (Both names are found together.)
- 5. Apopi (Three different Prenomens: Aawoserra, Aaqenenra, and Nebkhepeshra)
- 6. Aa-sech-ra Khamudy (Each name is only found separately.)
Although the good Semitic name "Jacob" appears in the form Yaqob-her as possibly that of the third Hyksos ruler, it is probably best to exercise more caution than Gardiner when, in Egypt of the Pharaohs, he wrote that "it is difficult to reject the accepted view that the patriarch Jacob is commemorated" in this name. Popular names are known to recur again and again over long periods of time.
In the case of ruler 5 on the list above, the Prenomen and Nomen are normally found written together. The question then becomes: Do they represent a single king who changed his Prenomen or do they represent three separate rulers? In the Cambridge Ancient History (CAH), "Aweserra" Apophis is said to have been succeeded by a second "Apophis", who bore the Prenomen Aa-qenen-re. Ruler 1 on the list above is not recognized by CAH (Hayes suggests he may have been identical to Ruler 2 on the list), and Apophis II is added near the end instead. This maintains the total of six Fifteenth Dynasty Hyksos rulers. CAH follows Josephus’ Greek text of Manetho in using the older distorted form "Apophis". Gardiner, on the other hand, writes that there were in fact three kings with the Nomen Apopi. The matter is still being discussed, and any final answer as to whether there were three, two, or only one Apopi, who modified his Prenomen at various times during his reign (a good Egyptian practice which is attested frequently) remains for future discoveries to resolve.
Was There a Hyksos Invasion?
Manetho's account of the appearance of the Hyksos in Egypt calls it an armed invasion by a horde of foreign barbarians who met little resistance and who subdued the country by military force. It has been claimed that new revolutionary methods of warfare insured the Hyksos the ascendancy in their invasion. Herbert Winlock in his book The Rise and Fall of the Middle Kingdom in Thebes describes new military hardware, such as the composite bow and most importantly the horse-drawn war chariot, as well as improved arrowheads, various kinds of swords and daggers, a new type of shield, mailed shirts, and the metal helmet. To say that even some of this military hardware had been brought into Egypt by the Hyksos and was not the result of a native Egyptian development does not necessarily point to a violent armed invasion by Asiatic hordes. Simply put, they had superior military hardware, so when military moves were called for, the Hyksos had the preponderance of military might on their side.
Helck supported the idea of an invasion, because it was part of his Hurrian hypothesis. However, the generally accepted view today is reflected as a peaceful infiltration of several different groups of Western Asiatic peoples, mainly Semites, into the eastern Nile Delta during the closing decades of the Middle Kingdom -- in some cases as slaves of the victorious Egyptians. Von Beckerath adds that to suppose any armed invasion of Egypt by Semites from southern Palestine and the Sinai desert is out of the question because the tribes there simply were not strong enough. Furthermore there was no consolidated state in the region from which such a supposed invasion could have been launched. The Hyksos' realm was not the southern extension of a great Hurrian empire, as Helck thought, for the simple reason that there was never any Hurrian empire. Over the years, then, the numbers of these Asiatics in the eastern Delta increased, and gradually they extended their political control over the local Egyptian towns and princedoms there. Finally a point was reached when one group of leaders came to the same conclusion as Pepin the Short did in the Merovingian kingdom so many centuries later when he posed the question whether it was right that one of royal race and who bore the title king but who exercised no effective power in the kingdom should continue to bear the title of king. These Hyksos leaders thereupon took matters into their own hands, attacked and overran the administrative capital at Memphis, and proceeded to make themselves pharaohs.
Nor was there any great Hyksos empire extending over hither Asia, as was once thought. The chief evidence for such a Hyksos empire in Asia consists of a mass of Hyksos scarabs from southwest Palestine, an alabaster jar-lid from Knossos on Crete, and a small granite lion from Baghdad. Scarabs with Hyksos names have even been found as far south as Kerma in the Sudan. All these items have been satisfactorily explained as items of trade, not as indicators of direct political and military control.
Extent and Nature of Hyksos Rule
The Hyksos kingdom, then, was centered in the eastern Nile Delta and Middle Egypt and remained limited in size, never extending south into Upper Egypt, which was under the evidently firm control of the Theban dynasts. Hyksos relations with the south seem to have been mainly of a commercial nature, although the Theban princes do seem to have recognized the Hyksos rulers and may possibly have submitted for a time to the payment of tribute. The Hyksos Fifteenth Dynasty rulers established their capital and seat of government at Memphis and their summer Residence at Avaris.
Many writers have taken the increasing use of scarabs by the Fifteenth Dynasty Hyksos kings and their wide distribution as an indication of their expanding literacy as they became progressively Egyptianized. Even von Beckerath commented on their writing their names in hieroglyphs, their assuming Egyptian titles associated with traditional Egyptian kingship, and their adopting the Egyptian god Seth to represent their own titulary deity as examples of the Egyptianization of the Hyksos dynasts. Indeed, so far from being the bearers of a distinctive Hyksos "culture", they seem to have borrowed freely and extensively from the Egyptian, as Hayes notes. In fact, it would appear as though Hyksos administration was accepted in most quarters, if not actually supported by many of their Egyptian subjects. The flip side is that in spite of the prosperity that the stable political situation brought to the land, the native Egyptians continued to view the Hyksos as hated "Asiatics". When they eventually were driven out of Egypt all traces of their occupation were erased. History is written by the victors, and in this case the victors were the rulers of the Eighteenth Dynasty, a native dynasty, the direct successor of the Theban Seventeenth Dynasty. It was the latter which started and led a sustained war against the Hyksos. These native kings from Thebes had the incentive to demonize the Asiatic rulers in the North, thus accounting for the ruthless destruction of their monuments. This note of warning tells us that the historical situation most probably lay somewhere between these two extreme positions: The Hyksos dynasties represented superficially Egyptianized foreigners who were tolerated, but not truly accepted, by their Egyptian subjects.
The independent native rulers in Thebes do seem, however, to have reached a practical modus vivendi with the later Hyksos rulers. This included transit rights through Hyksos-controlled Middle and Lower Egypt and pasturage rights in the fertile Delta. One text, Carnarvon Tablet I, relates the misgivings of the Theban ruler’s council of advisors when Kamose proposed moving against the Hyksos, whom he claimed were a humiliating stain upon the holy land of Egypt. The councillors clearly did not wish to disturb the status quo: "…we are at ease in our (part of) Egypt. Elephantine (at the First Cataract) is strong, and the middle (of the land) is with us as far as Cusae [near modern Asyut]. The sleekest of their fields are plowed for us, and our cattle are pastured in the Delta. Emmer is sent for our pigs. Our cattle have not been taken away... .He holds the land of the Asiatics; we hold Egypt..." (This and other texts in English translation may be found in Pritchard (ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ANET), pp. 232f)
The Thebean Offensive
Under Sekenenra Tao (II)
The war against the Hyksos began in the closing years of the Seventeenth Dynasty at Thebes. Later New Kingdom literary tradition has brought one of these Theban kings, Seqenenra Tao (II), into contact with his Hyksos contemporary in the north, Aauserra Apopi. Sekenenra is the father of the ruler above whose advisors counselled against disturbing the accommodation that had been reached with the Asiatics. The tradition took the form of a tale in which the Hyksos king Apopi sent a messenger to Sekenenra in Thebes to demand that the Theban hippopotamus pool be done away with, for the noise of these beasts was such that he was unable to sleep in far-away Avaris. Perhaps the only historical information that can be gleaned from the tale is that Egypt was a divided land, the area of direct Hyksos control being in the north, but the whole of Egypt possibly paying tribute to the Hyksos kings.
Seqenenra Tao II participated in active diplomatic posturing, which probably consisted of more than simply exchanging of insults with the Asiatic ruler in the North. He seems to have led military skirmishes against the Hyksos, and judging from the vicious head wound on his mummy in the Cairo Museum , he may have died during one of them. His son and successor, Wadjkheperra Kamose, the last ruler of the Seventeenth Dynasty at Thebes, is credited with the opening campaigns of the Theban war against the Hyksos.
There is no evidence to support Montet's assertion in his book Eternal Egypt (1964) that Kamose's war of liberation was sponsored by the priesthood of Amun as an attack against the Seth-worshipers in the north (i.e. a religious motive). The Carnarvon Tablet I, does state that Kamose went north to attack the Asiatics by the command of Amun, the titulary deity of his dynasty, but this is simple hyperbole common to virtually all Egyptian royal inscriptions at all periods and should not be understood as the god’s having specifically commanded the attack for specifically religious reasons. Kamose's reason for launching his attack on the Hyksos was nationalistic pride, for in this same text he complains that he is sandwiched at Thebes between the Asiatics in the north and the Nubians (Sudanese) in the south, each holding “his slice of Egypt, dividing up the land with me…My wish is to save Egypt and to smite the Asiatics!” So it was that in his 3rd year on the throne Kamose, he embarked and sailed north from Thebes at the head of his army.
He surprised and overran the southernmost garrison of the Hyksos at Nefrusy, just north of Cusae [near modern Asyut], and Kamose then led his army as far north as the neighborhood of Avaris itself. Though the city was not taken, the fields around it were devastated by the Thebans. A stele discovered at Thebes continues the account of the war broken off on the Carnarvon Tablet I, telling of the interception and capturing of a courier bearing a message from the Hyksos king Aa-woser-ra Apopi at Avaris to his ally the ruler of Kush (modern Sudan), requesting his urgent support. Kamose promptly ordered a detachment of his troops to occupy the Bahriya Oasis in the Western Desert, controlling and blocking the desert route to the south. Kamose, called "the Strong",then sailed back up the Nile to Thebes for a joyous victory celebration after what was probably not much more than a surprise spoiling raid in force which caught the Hyksos off guard. This Year 3 is the only one attested for Kamose.
By the end of the reign of Aawoserra Apopi, one of the last Hyksos kings of the Fifteenth Dynasty, Hyksos forces had been routed from Middle Egypt and had been pulled back northward and regrouped in the vicinity of the entrance of the Fayyum at Atfih. This great Hyksos king had outlived his first Egyptian contemporary, Sekenenra Tao II, and was still on the throne (albeit of a much reduced kingdom) at the end of Kamose's reign. The last Hyksos ruler(s) of the Fifteenth Dynasty undoubtedly had (a) relatively short reign(s) falling sometime within the first half of that of Ahmose, Kamose's successor and the founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty.
Apparently Ahmose, the first king of the Eighteenth Dynasty, may have been on the Theban throne for some time before he resumed the war against the Hyksos.
The details of his military campaigns are taken from the account on the walls of the tomb of another Ahmose, a soldier from El-Kab, a town in southern Upper Egypt, whose father had served under Seqenenra Tao II, and whose family had long been nomarchs (governors) of the El-Kab district. It seems that several campaigns against the stronghold at Avaris were needed before the Hyksos were finally dislodged and driven from Lower Egypt. When this occurred is not known with certainty. Some authorities place the expulsion as early as Ahmose's fourth year, while Donald Redford, whose chronological structure has been adopted here, places it as late as the king's fifteenth year. The soldier Ahmose specifically states that he followed on foot as King Ahmose rode to war in his chariot. This is the first mention of the use of the horse and chariot by the Egyptians. In the repeated fighting around Avaris, the soldier captured prisoners and carried off several hands, which when reported to the royal herald resulted in his being awarded the "Gold of Valor" on three separate occasions. The actual fall of Avaris is only briefly mentioned: "Then Avaris was despoiled. Then I carried off spoil from there: one man, three women, a total of four persons. Then his majesty gave them to me to be slaves" (ANET, pp.233f).
After the fall of Avaris, the fleeing Hyksos were pursued by the Egyptian army across northern Sinai and into southern Palestine. Here, in the Negeb desert between Rafa and Gaza, the fortified town of Sharuhen was reduced after, according to the soldier from El-Kab, a long three-year siege operation. How soon after the sack of Avaris this Asiatic campaign took place is uncertain. One can reasonably conclude that the thrust into southern Palestine probably followed the Hyksos’ eviction from Avaris fairly closely, but, given a period of protracted struggle before Avaris fell and possibly more than one season of campaigning before the Hyksos were shut up in Sharuhen, the chronological sequence must remain uncertain.
The Hyksos were Semitic-speaking Asiatics who filtered into the eastern Egyptian Delta around the middle of the Thirteenth Dynasty during a period of internal Egyptian weakness. The Thirteenth Dynasty rulers had moved the capital of the country north to a centrally located town called It-tawy near Memphis, near the apex of the Delta. Seizing the kingship, the Hyksos ruled Egypt for over one hundred years, composing the Fifteenth Dynasty. The heterogeneous Sixteenth Dynasty was partly Hyksos, but also composed of local Egyptian rulers who had no choice but to go along with their new overlords. This general period of Egyptian weakness and foreign occupation is called the Second Intermediate Period, or more popularly, the Hyksos Period. The local princes in Thebes in the south formed the Seventeenth Dynasty when the Hyksos overran It-tawy and forced the ephemeral rulers there into subservience. These vigorous Theban rulers kept the flame of Egyptian independence alive and finally were able to lead a war of liberation that expelled the Asiatics. The Hyksos rulers and their military forces were driven from Egypt. Egypt was free, and Ahmose and his successors of the Eighteenth Dynasty could turn to the task of reconstruction. Some historians have linked the biblical story of Joseph with the Hyksos regime. As they too were Semitic, it is plausible that a Hyksos ruler could employ a Semitic minister at a high level.
Selected Bibliographic Sources
- von Beckerath, Jürgen. Untersuchungen zur politischen Geschichte der zweiten Zwischenzeit in Ägypten (1965) [Ägyptologische Forschungen, Heft 23]. Basic to any study of this period.
- Gardiner, Sir Alan. Egypt of the Pharaohs (1964, 1961). Still the classic work in English. See pp. 61-71 for his examination of chronology.
- Hayes, William C. "Chronology: Egypt—To End of Twentieth Dynasty." Chapter 6, Volume 1 of The Cambridge Ancient History, Revised Edition. Cambridge, 1964. With excellent bibliography up to 1964. This is CAH’s chronology volume: A basic work.
- Hayes, William C. "Egypt: From the Death of Ammenemes III to Seqenenre II," in Chapter 2, Volume 2 of The Cambridge Ancient History, Revised Edition (1965) (Fascicle 6).
- Helck, Wolfgang. Die Beziehungen Ägyptens zu Vorderasien im 3. und 2. Jahrtausend v. Chr. (1962) [Ägyptologische Abhandlungen, Band 5]. An important review article that should be consulted is by William A. Ward, in Orientalia 33 (1964), pp. 135-140.
- Hornung, Erik. Untersuchungen zur Chronologie und Geschichte des Neuen Reiches (1964) [Ägyptologische Abhandlungen, Band 11]. With an excellent fold-out comparative chronological table at the back with 18th, 19th, and 20th Dynasty dates.
- James, T.G.H. "Egypt: From the Expulsion of the Hyksos to Amenophis I," in Chapter 2, Volume 2 of The Cambridge Ancient History, Revised Edition (1965) (Fascicle 34).
- Montet, Pierre. Eternal Egypt (1964). Translated by Doreen Weightman.
- Pritchard, James B. (Editor). Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd Edition. (1969). This edition has an extensive Supplement at the back containing additional translations. The standard collection of excellent English translations of ancient Near Eastern texts.
- Redford, Donald B. History and Chronology of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt: Seven Studies. (1967).
- Redford, Donald B. "The Hyksos Invasion in History and Tradition" Orientalia 39 (1970).
- Van Seters, John. The Hyksos: A New Investigation (1967). Two reviews of this volume should be consulted: Kitchen, Kenneth A. "Further Notes on New Kingdom Chronology and History," in Chronique d’Égypte XLIII, No. 86, 1968, pp. 313-324; and Simpson, William J. Review, in Journal of the American Oriental Society 90 (1970), pp. 314-315.
- Säve-Söderbergh, T. "The Hyksos Rule in Egypt," Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 37 (1951), pp. 53-71.
- Winlock, H.E. The Rise and Fall of the Middle Kingdom in Thebes (1947). Still a classic with much important information.
See also the works of Immanuel Velikovsky
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