The Hyksos (/ˈhɪksɒs/ or /ˈhɪksoʊz/; Egyptian heqa khaseshet, "ruler(s) of the foreign countries"; Ancient Greek: Ὑκσώς, Ὑξώς) were a people of mixed origins 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 of Egypt and initiated the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt. In the context of Ancient Egypt, the term "Asiatic" – which is often used of the Hyksos – may refer to any people native to areas east of Egypt.
- Origins of the Hyksos
- Hyksos 15th Dynasty
- Theoretical Hyksos invasion
- Under Seqenenre Tao
- Under Kamose
- Under Ahmose
- Later times
Immigration by Canaanite populations preceded the Hyksos. Canaanites first appeared in Egypt towards the end of the 12th Dynasty c. 1800 BC, and either around that time or c. 1720 BC, established an independent realm in the eastern Nile Delta. The Canaanite rulers of the Delta, regrouped in the Fourteenth Dynasty, coexisted with the Egyptian Thirteenth Dynasty, based in Itjtawy. The power of the 13th and 14th Dynasties progressively waned, perhaps due to famine and plague.
In about 1650 BC, both dynasties were invaded by the Hyksos, who formed the Fifteenth Dynasty. The collapse of the Thirteenth Dynasty created a power vacuum in the south, which may have led to the rise of the Sixteenth Dynasty, based in Thebes, and possibly of a local Abydos Dynasty. The Hyksos eventually conquered both, albeit for only a short time in the case of Thebes. From then on, the 17th Dynasty took control of Thebes and reigned for some time in peaceful coexistence with the Hyksos kings, perhaps as their vassals. Eventually, Seqenenre Tao, Kamose and Ahmose waged war against the Hyksos and expelled Khamudi, their last king, from Egypt c. 1550 BC.
The Hyksos practiced horse burials, and their chief deity, their native storm god, Baal, became associated with the Egyptian storm and desert god, Set. The Hyksos were a people of mixed Asiatic origin with mainly Semitic-speaking components. Although some scholars have suggested that the Hyksos contained a Hurrian component, most other scholars have dismissed this possibility. The Hurrians spoke an isolated language, but were under Indo-European rule and influence, and Hurrian etymologies have been suggested for some Hyksos names while Indo-European etymologies have been suggested for a very few names. If a Hurrian component did indeed exist among the Hyksos, an Indo-European component becomes difficult to explain, as Indo-European peoples only exercised a significant influence upon Hurrians in Syria after the Hyksos were well established in Egypt.
The Hyksos brought several technical innovations to Egypt, as well as cultural infusions such as new musical instruments and foreign loanwords. The changes introduced include new techniques of bronze working and pottery, new breeds of animals, and new crops. In warfare, they introduced the horse and chariot, the composite bow, improved battle axes, and advanced fortification techniques. Because of these cultural advances, Hyksos rule became decisive for Egypt’s later empire in the Middle East.
Origins of the Hyksos
There are various hypotheses as to the Hyksos' ethnic identity. Most archaeologists describe the Hyksos as multi-ethnic, to include all of the peoples who occupied the Nile Delta.
The origin of the term "Hyksos" derives from the Egyptian expression hekau khaswet ("rulers [of] foreign lands"), used in Egyptian texts such as the Turin King List to describe the rulers of neighbouring lands. This expression begins to appear as early as the late Old Kingdom of Egypt to refer to various Nubian chieftains and in the Middle Kingdom to refer to the Semitic-speaking chieftains of Syria and Canaan.
The German Egyptologist Wolfgang Helck once argued that the Hyksos were part of massive and widespread Hurrian and Indo-Aryan migrations into the Near East. According to Helck, the Hyksos were Hurrians and part of a Hurrian empire that, he claimed, extended over much of Western Asia during this period. Most scholars have rejected this theory, and Helck himself abandoned this hypothesis in a 1993 article.
The Hyksos were likely Semites who came from the Eastern Mediterranean. Kamose, the last king of the Theban 17th Dynasty, refers to Apepi as a "Chieftain of Retjenu" in a stela that implies a Canaanite background for this Hyksos king: this is the strongest evidence for a Canaanite background for the Hyksos. Khyan's name "has generally been interpreted as Amorite "Hayanu" (reading h-ya-a-n) which the Egyptian form represents perfectly, and this is in all likelihood the correct interpretation." Kim Ryholt furthermore observes the name Hayanu is recorded in the Assyrian king-lists for a "remote ancestor" of Shamshi-Adad I (c. 1813 BC) of Assyria, which suggests that it had been used for centuries prior to Khyan's own reign.
The issue of Sakir-Har's name, one of the three earliest Fifteenth Dynasty kings, also leans towards a West Semitic or Canaanite origin for the Hyksos rulers—if not the Hyksos peoples themselves. As Ryholt notes, the name Sakir-Har:
is evidently a theophorous name compounded with hr, Canaanite harru, [or] 'mountain.' This sacred or deified mountain is attested in at least two other names, both West Semitic (Yaqub-Har and Anat-her), and so there is reason to suspect that the present name also may be West Semitic. The element skr seems identical to śkr, 'to hire, to reward,' which occurs in several Amorite names. Assuming that śkr takes a nominal form as in the names sa-ki-ru-um and sa-ka-ŕu-um, the name should be transliterated as either Sakir-Har or Sakar-Har. The former two names presumably mean 'the Reward.' Accordingly, the name here under consideration would mean 'Reward of Har.'
As to a Hyksos "conquest", some archaeologists depict the Hyksos as “northern hordes . . . sweeping through Canaan and Egypt in swift chariots”. Yet, others refer to a "creeping conquest", that is, a gradual infiltration of migrating nomads or semi-nomads who either slowly took over control of the country piecemeal or by a swift coup d'état put themselves at the head of the existing government. In The World of the Past (1963, p. 444), archeologist Jacquetta Hawkes stated: “It is no longer thought that the Hyksos rulers... represent the invasion of a conquering horde of Asiatics... they were wandering groups of Semites who had long come to Egypt for trade and other peaceful purposes.” However, since then, it has been acknowledged by Egyptologists that the 14th Dynasty came for trade purposes while the 15th (the Hyksos) came in war.
In his Against Apion, the first-century AD historian Josephus debates the synchronism between the Biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and two Exodus-like events that the Egyptian historian Manetho apparently mentions. It is difficult to distinguish between what Manetho himself recounted, and how Josephus or Apion interpret him. Josephus identifies the Israelite Exodus with the first exodus mentioned by Manetho, when some 480,000 Hyksos "shepherd kings" (also referred to as just 'shepherds', as 'kings' and as 'captive shepherds' in his discussion of Manetho) left Egypt for Jerusalem. The mention of "Hyksos" identifies this first exodus with the Hyksos period (16th century BC).
Josephus provides the earliest recorded instance of the much repeated false etymology of the term Hyksos, as a Hellenised form of the Egyptian phrase Hekw Shasu, meaning "Shepherd Kings". Scholars have only recently shown that the term derives from heqa-khase, a phrase meaning "rulers of foreign lands".
Hyksos 15th Dynasty
Traditionally, only the Fifteenth Dynasty rulers are called Hyksos. The Greek name "Hyksos" was coined by Manetho to identify the Fifteenth Dynasty of Asiatic rulers of northern Egypt. In Egyptian Hyksos means "ruler(s) of foreign countries", however, Josephus mistranslated Hyksos as "Shepherd Kings".
The earlier Fourteenth Dynasty of Egypt had also been West Asian and Semitic-speaking; however, its pharaohs did not style themselves "Hyksos", and they seem to have been vassals of the Thirteenth Dynasty who oversaw a community of Asiatic merchants and shepherds who had been granted land in the Nile Delta. The Hyksos, by contrast, were largely Amoritic invaders who, capitalizing on a weak moment in Egypt's history, managed to conquer the entire country briefly as far south as Thebes (under Khyan, ca. 1582 BC).
The Hyksos had Canaanite names, as seen in those with names from ancient Semitic religion such as Anat or Baal. Several of their pharaohs did in fact adopt the Egyptian title hekw chasut (foreign overlords) for themselves, along with Egyptian throne names. They introduced new tools of warfare into Egypt, most notably the composite bow and the horse-drawn chariot.
The known rulers for the Fifteenth Dynasty are:
The Hyksos kingdom was centered in the eastern Nile Delta and Middle Egypt and was limited in size, never extending south into Upper Egypt, which was under the control of Theban-based rulers, except briefly, for about three years, at the end of Khyan's reign and the beginning of Aphophis'. The Hyksos Fifteenth Dynasty rulers established their capital and seat of government at Avaris.
The rule of these kings overlaps with that of the native Egyptian pharaohs of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Dynasties, better known as the Second Intermediate Period. The first pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty, Ahmose I, finally expelled the Hyksos from their last holdout at Sharuhen in Gaza by the sixteenth year of his reign.
Scholars have taken the increasing use of scarabs and the adoption of some Egyptian forms of art by the Fifteenth Dynasty Hyksos kings and their wide distribution as an indication of their becoming progressively Egyptianized. The Hyksos used Egyptian titles associated with traditional Egyptian kingship, and took the Egyptian god Set to represent their own titulary deity. The native Egyptians viewed the Hyksos as non-Egyptian "invaders". When they were eventually driven out of Egypt, all traces of their occupation were erased. No accounts survive recording the history of the period from the Hyksos perspective, only that of the native Egyptians who evicted the occupiers, in this case the rulers of the Eighteenth Dynasty who were the direct successor of the Theban Seventeenth Dynasty. It was the latter who started and led a sustained war against the Hyksos. Some think that the native kings from Thebes had an incentive to demonize the Asiatic rulers in the North, thus accounting for the destruction of their monuments. Scholars such as John A. Wilson found that the description of the Hyksos as overpowering, irreligious foreign rulers had support from other sources.
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, the 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 councilors clearly did not wish to disturb the status quo:
[W]e 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[.]
Theoretical Hyksos invasion
Manetho's account, as recorded by Josephus, describes the appearance of the Hyksos in Egypt as an armed invasion by a horde of foreign barbarians who met little resistance, and who subdued the country by military force. He records that the Hyksos burnt their cities, destroyed temples, and led women and children into slavery.
It has been claimed that new revolutionary methods of warfare ensured the Hyksos the ascendancy in their influx into the new emporia being established in Egypt's delta and at Thebes in support of the Red Sea trade. Herbert Eustis Winlock describes new military hardware, such as the composite bow, as well as the improved recurve 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.
In recent years the idea of a simple Hyksos migration, with little or no war, has gained support. According to this theory, the Egyptian rulers of the Thirteenth Dynasty were preoccupied with domestic famine and plague, and they were too weak to stop the new migrants from entering and settling in Egypt. Even before the migration, Amenemhat III carried out extensive building works and mining, and Gae Callender notes that "the large intake of Asiatics, which seems to have occurred partly in order to subsidize the extensive building work, may have encouraged the so-called Hyksos to settle in the delta, thus leading eventually to the collapse of native Egyptian rule."
By around 1700 BC (just over a hundred years later), Egypt was fragmenting politically, with local kingdoms springing up in the northeastern delta area. One of these was that of King Nehesy, whose capital was at Avaris; he ruled over a population consisting largely of Syro-Canaanites who had settled in the area during the 12th Dynasty, and who were probably mainly soldiers, sailors, shipbuilders and workmen. His dynasty was probably replaced by a West-Semitic-speaking Syro-Canaanite dynasty that formed the basis of the later Hyksos kingdom, able to spread southwards because of the unstable political situation while aided by "an army, ships, and foreign connections."
Josephus, quoting from the work of the historian Manetho, described more of an Egyptian assimilation to the corrupt ways of the emporia, followed by a rebellion of those who wished to perpetuate native Egyptian centered culture, rather than any kind of military struggle.
By main force they easily seized it without striking a blow; and having overpowered the rulers of the land, they then burned our cities ruthlessly, razed to the ground the temples of gods… Finally, they appointed as king one of their number whose name was Salitis. He had his seat at Memphis, levying tribute from Upper and Lower Egypt and always leaving garrisons behind in the most advantageous positions.
Recent archaeological finds at Edfu could perhaps establish that the Hyksos 15th Dynasty was already in existence at least by the mid-13th Dynasty reign of king Sobekhotep IV. In a 2011 paper by Nadine Moeller, Gregory Marouard and N. Ayers, these three scholars discuss the discovery of an important early-12th Dynasty (Middle Kingdom) administrative building in the eastern Tell Edfu area of Upper Egypt, which was in continual use into the early Second Intermediate Period until the Seventeenth Dynasty, when its remains were sealed up by a large silo court. Fieldwork by these Egyptologists in 2010 and 2011 led to the discovery of a large adjoining hall which proved to contain 41 sealings showing the cartouche of the Hyksos ruler Khyan together with 9 sealings naming the 13th Dynasty king Sobekhotep IV. The secure and sealed contexts of these seals likely demonstrate that Sobekhotep IV and Khyan were contemporaries. This would mean that the 13th Dynasty did not control all of Egypt when Sobekhotep IV acceded to power and that there was a significant overlap between the 13th and 15th Dynasties since Sobekhotep IV was only a mid-Thirteenth Dynasty ruler – although one of its most powerful kings. Therefore, Manetho's statement that the Hyksos Fifteenth Dynasty violently replaced the Thirteenth Dynasty would appear as a piece of later Egyptian propaganda. This analysis of the discoveries in Edfu as well as the conclusions drawn from it are rejected by Robert Porter however, who argues that Khyan ruled much later than Sobekhotep IV and that the seals of a pharaoh were used even long after his death.
The ceramic evidence in the Memphis-Faiyum region of Lower Egypt also argues against the presence of new invading foreigners. Janine Bourriau's excavation in Memphis of ceramic material retrieved from Lisht and Dahshur during the Second Intermediate Period shows a continuity of Middle Kingdom ceramic type wares throughout this era. She finds in them no evidence of intrusion of Hyksos-style wares. Bourriau's evidence strongly suggests that the traditional Egyptian teaching, long espoused by Manetho, that the Hyksos invaded and sacked the Memphite region and imposed their authority there, is fictitious.
Not until the beginning of the Theban wars of liberation during the Seventeenth Dynasty are Theban wares again found in the Faiyum. Some texts indicate that while the Hyksos controlled the delta region administratively, the Thebans were too busy mining gold and making money off the Red Sea trade to care. Lower Egypt and Thebes functioned autonomously, and shared limited contact with each other.
Bourriau argues that Manetho's description of Hyksos rule is confirmed by the evidence in the Kamose texts: Kamose's rejection of vassal status, the strict control of the border at Cusae, the imposition of taxes on all Nile traffic, and the existence of garrisons of Asiatics led by Egyptian commanders.
By the Thirteenth Dynasty, the "foreign warlords" had taken the title pharaoh for themselves and had begun to fight over it. Some argued there was no need to pay tribute, homage or obedience to a weak king, and that began to cause problems.
Supporters of the peaceful takeover of Egypt claim there is little evidence of battles or wars in general in this period. They also maintain that the chariot didn't play any relevant role, e.g. no traces of chariots have been found at the Hyksos capital of Avaris, despite extensive excavation.
As the chariot became an important weapon of the nobles and kings of that period, it became a symbol of power throughout Eurasia, Mycenaean Greece, India, Mesopotamia, Eastern Europe and China. Kings were portrayed on chariots, went to war in chariots, and were buried in chariots.
Under Seqenenre Tao
The revolt which drove the Hyksos from Upper Egypt began in the closing years of the Seventeenth Dynasty at Thebes. Later New Kingdom literary tradition has brought one of these Theban kings, Seqenenre Tao, into contact with his Hyksos contemporary in the north, Apepi (also known as Apophis). The tradition took the form of a tale in which the Hyksos king Apepi sent a messenger to Seqenenre in Thebes to demand that the Theban sport of harpooning hippopotami be done away with; his excuse was that the noise of these beasts was such that he was unable to sleep in faraway Avaris. The real reason was probably that their main god was Set, who was represented as part man, part hippopotamus. Jan Assmann argues that because the Ancient Egyptians could never conceive of a "lonely" god lacking personality, Set the desert god, who was worshipped exclusively according to the tale, represented a manifestation of evil. 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.
Seqenenre participated in active diplomatic posturing, which probably consisted of more than simply exchanging insults with the Asiatic ruler in the North. He seems to have led military skirmishes against the Hyksos, and judging by the vicious head wounds on his mummy in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, he may have died during one of them. His son and successor, Kamose, the last ruler of the Seventeenth Dynasty at Thebes, is credited with the first significant victories in the Theban-led war against the Hyksos.
Kamose sailed north from Thebes at the head of his army in his third regnal year. 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 second stele discovered at Thebes continues the account of the war broken off on the Carnarvon Tablet I, and mentions the interception and capture of a courier bearing a message from Apepi at Avaris to his ally, the ruler of the Kingdom of Kush (modern Sudan), requesting the latter's urgent support against the threat posed by Kamose's activities against both their kingdoms. Kamose promptly ordered a detachment of his troops to occupy the Bahariya Oasis in the Libyan Desert to control and block 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 that caught the Hyksos off guard. His Year Three is the only date attested for Kamose and he may have died shortly after the battle from wounds.
By the end of the reign of Apepi, perhaps the second-to-last Hyksos king of the Fifteenth Dynasty, the Hyksos had been routed from Middle Egypt and had retreated northward and regrouped in the vicinity of the entrance of the Faiyum at Atfih. This Fifteenth Dynasty pharaoh had outlived his first Egyptian contemporary, Seqenenra 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 of the Fifteenth Dynasty, Khamudi, undoubtedly had a relatively short reign that fell within the first half of the reign of Ahmose I, Kamose's successor and the founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty.
Ahmose I, who is regarded as the first pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt 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 Ahmose, son of Ebana, a soldier from El-Kab, a town in southern Upper Egypt, whose father had served under Seqenenra Tao, and whose family had long been nomarchs of the districts. 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 B. Redford, whose chronological structure has been adopted here, places it as late as the king's fifteenth year. The Ahmose who left the inscription states that he followed on foot as his King Ahmose rode to war in his chariot (the first mention of the use of the horse and chariot by the Egyptians); in the fighting around Avaris he captured prisoners and carried off several hands (as proof of slain enemies), 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."
After the fall of Avaris, the fleeing Hyksos were pursued by the Egyptian army across northern Sinai Peninsula and into the southern Levant. Here, in the Negev desert between Rafah 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 Canaan 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 continued to play a role in Egyptian literature as a synonym for "Asiatic" down to Hellenistic times. The term was frequently evoked against such groups as the Semites settled in Aswan or the delta, and this may have led the Egyptian priest and historian Manetho to identify the coming of the Hyksos with the sojourn in Egypt of Joseph and his brothers, and led to some authors identifying the expulsion of the Hyksos with the Exodus. With the chaos at the end of the 19th Dynasty, the first pharaohs of the 20th Dynasty in the Elephantine Stele and the Harris Papyrus reinvigorated an anti-Hyksos stance to strengthen their nativist reaction towards the Asiatic settlers of the north, who may again have been expelled from the country. Setnakht, the founder of the 20th Dynasty, records in a Year 2 stela from Elephantine that he defeated and expelled a large force of Asiatics who had invaded Egypt during the chaos between the end of Twosret's reign and the beginning of the 20th Dynasty and captured much of their stolen gold and silver booty.
The story of the Hyksos was known to the Greeks, who attempted to identify it within their own mythology with the expulsion from Egypt of Belos (Baal?) and the daughters of Danaos, associated with the origin of the Argive Dynasty.