For just over a hundred years, ancient Egypt was dominated by Asian kings until the rulers of Thebes, located in the south of the country, led the reconquest of the territory and managed to expel the foreigners.
“I have rebuilt what was dismembered from the first moment, when the Asiatics were in Avaris, in the land of the North, and in wandering hordes they tore down what was made.”
In this way, Hatshepsut, the great queen of the Eighteenth Dynasty, was referring to a time when the oldest people still lived in their infancy, a period of almost a century in which ancient Egypt was ruled for the first time in its history by a dynasty of foreign origin: the Hyksos people.
The Hyksos Invasion
Ancient historians portrayed the Hyksos as invaders. This thesis has its origin in the work of the Egyptian priest Manetho, who wrote his History of Egypt in the 3rd century BC.
According to his knowledge of the history of the Mediterranean, when power passed into the hands of foreign elements in a country, it was due to an invasion.
This had happened with the Assyrians, the Persians, or the Babylonians, and Manetho believed that the “shepherd kings” (another translation of the Hyksos term) had seized power by force: “The fifteenth dynasty was of shepherd kings. These were six foreign kings from Phoenicia who took Memphis.”
Who were the Hyksos
In reality, the Hyksos entered Egypt gradually and peacefully. The word “Hyksos” is a malformation of the Egyptian words “heqa khasewet”, meaning “rulers of foreign lands”.
This term was used, as far back as the Middle Kingdom, to designate the chiefs of the Semitic tribes of Palestine and Syria who, at the time of the Twelfth Dynasty (2040-1786 BC), entered ancient Egypt at the head of mercenary troops and also as laborers with their families and settled in the Nile delta.
This is reflected in a scene from the tomb of the nomarch (governor) Knumhotep in Beni Hassan, which shows a caravan of Asians with their typical clothing and belongings.
Over time, the number of Asian contingents became very numerous in the Delta area, with some of their members reaching dominant positions in society. Many of them were officials and rulers of different cities, so they had direct access to the government of the area. So much so that some even dared to inscribe their names on cartouches, a privilege reserved for pharaohs.
A century of foreign rule
Given the preeminence that the Hyksos people had achieved in that region, it is not surprising that they took advantage of the situation to seize power during the Second Intermediate Period (1780-1550 BC), when Egypt began to fragment, and two dynasties arose in the Delta, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth.
Apparently, the Asians did not meet with much resistance. In any case, the archaeological levels of the different ancient Egyptian sites do not show traces of destruction corresponding to that period. But even if it took place without serious violence, the foreign seizure of power must have been a tremendous shock to the ancient Egyptians.
The rule of the Hyksos lasted just over a century, according to the Royal Canon of Turin, a text that lists the kings of Egypt and was written 500 years later. The canon mentions two Hyksos dynasties: the Fifteenth and the Sixteenth. Meanwhile, in Upper Egypt, the 17th dynasty emerged, consisting of rulers from the Thebes region who initially declared themselves vassals of the Hyksos.
Although there is no consensus among experts, it is believed that the 16th dynasty, or the Little Hyksos, was composed of vassals of the 15th. The Great Hyksos, the last dynasty, consisted of six kings.
The first four had names of Asian origin (Salitis, Meruserre Yaqub-Har, Seuserenre Khyan, Apepi Apophis), while their fifth king, the most important, adopted an Egyptian name, Apophis, which referred to the most dangerous and feared being in ancient Egyptian mythology: the serpent that attacked the Sun’s boat every night and threatened to destroy the existence of the divine star.
Hyksos rulers introduced some elements into ancient Egypt, such as the chariot and the horse. Egyptian weaponry was also enriched during that period with the incorporation of the curved sword or khopesh and a new type of bow, the compound bow, which, thanks to its greater tension, could shoot arrows at a greater distance.
Expelled from Egypt
During the reign of Apophis I (Apepi Apophis), the Theban rulers became more daring and showed a much more bellicose attitude. Thus, the first confrontation between the Hyksos and ancient Egyptians took place, at the behest of the Theban king Seqenenre Tao, nicknamed “the Brave”.
This combat is attested by an interesting document, “The Dispute between Apophis and Seqenenre”, which narrates how the Hyksos king, from Avaris, sent a messenger to the Theban ruler to complain about the noise produced by the hippopotamuses that were in Thebes.
The reply to the Hyksos king’s letter has not been preserved, but it is evident that there was a confrontation and that Seqenenre Tao was killed in it; this is proven by the different war wounds present in his mummy, discovered in 1881 in the Deir el-Bahari cache, along with other mummies of pharaohs of the New Kingdom. Far from being intimidated, Seqenenre’s son and successor, Kamose, continued the struggle with the Hyksos.
Kamose then started a new war that took him to the gates of Avaris, although he finally had to retreat to Thebes, where he had the account of these campaigns recorded on stelae erected in the temple of Amun at Karnak.
It was Kamose’s brother and successor, Ahmose, who finally defeated the Hyksos. We know about the development of these campaigns thanks to the narration that a nobleman named the same as the king, Ahmose, recorded in his tomb in El-Kab, in Upper Egypt.
With Ahmose’s victory, the New Kingdom began, one of the most glorious times in the history of ancient Egypt, this time ruled by indigenous pharaohs.
Hyksos is the name given by the Egyptian historian Manetho ( III e s. BC.) Asian invaders who dominated Egypt about 1730 to 1560 BC Josephus, a historian of the I st century AD, has preserved the passages where Manetho mentions the invasion of the Hyksos.
“The Hyksos were a people of diverse origins, possibly from Western Asia, , who settled in the eastern Nile Delta some time before 1650 BC. The arrival of the Hyksos led to the end of the Thirteenth Dynasty and initiated the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt”.
All these Hyksos people were called “kings-shepherds.” For hyk in the sacred language means “king” and sôs in the vulgar language means “pastor”.
The meeting of these two words gives Hyksos. This etymology is only partially correct. If hyk comes from heka “chief, prince,” not transcribed Shasu “nomads” is an abbreviation of the word phaseout “foreigners” and the expression hekakhasout gave Hyksos appeared in Egypt in 2000 BC It applies to leaders of nomadic tribes roamed the Syrian-Palestinian desert.
Around 1551 BC In the 3rd century BC, the conqueror of the Hyksos, Ahmose, was crowned Pharaoh. With him began the rule of the 18th dynasty. Under him began the reconstruction of the country.
It was followed by his son Amenhotep I (1526 BC) It followed in 1505 BC. Thutmosis I. He was married to Ahmose, his half-sister.
The new pharaoh was a great strategist who extended the empire far south to the 3rd cataract of the Nile. This was followed by further conquests in Syria to the Euphrates.
The ruler was not just military. In his reign of about 13 years, he organized the reconstruction of the country and was responsible for numerous buildings.
In the temple building, he set standards for the next epochs. He had large gates with mighty pylons built, for the first time obelisks were built.
The obelisks were dedicated to the worship of the sun because at this time the cults around Amun and Re emerged. The pharaoh also built the first rock tomb in the Valley of the Kings.
Dagger with the name of King Apophis
(Egyptian Museum Cairo)
The weapons of the Hyksos have survived mainly in the form of grave goods. The typical war machines include battle axes, javelins, spout lances, and daggers.
Asian Bedouins carried Entenschnabeläxte the will and Tüllenlanzen already in grave Khnumhotep II.
In Beni Hassan displayed. In Stratum F, the earliest find of a sickle sword in Egypt could be made, which was used as a weapon in the early 1800 BC.
In the 13th dynasty, the Hyksos already used an improved metal technology, which was achieved by imported bivalve soapstone models. Previously, only single-shell limestone or ceramic models were used.
The new technology was adopted in the New Kingdom and led to advanced Egyptian metalworking.
The introduction of horses and chariots attributed to Hyksos in Egypt could be confirmed by grave finds, such as horse skeletons were discovered in Auaris.
Chariots and horses are attested in the 17th Dynasty but also textually. Depictions on reliefs in the Ahmose Temple of Abydos, discovered by Stephen Harvey in 1993, are already being used by Ahmos to fight the Hyksos.
Source: Núria Castellano, National Geographic