Hyksos Create Second Intermediate Period Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The intrusion of the Middle Eastern Hyksos peoples into Egypt caused the end of the Middle Kingdom and placed Egypt under the rule of conquerors.

Summary of Event

The Second Intermediate Period (c. 1650-c. 1570 b.c.e.) in Egypt succeeded the period of national unification under Theban rulers known as the Middle Kingdom (c. 2055-c. 1650 b.c.e.). In contrast to the preceding and following periods, the Second Intermediate Period was an era of considerable turmoil marked by disorder and conflict. The conflict was both internal and external in nature, probably with its origin in the later part of the Middle Kingdom. Some of the provinces were challenging centralized power, which enabled external forces to make inroads militarily and politically. By 1729, the Hyksos began to challenge the Thirteenth Dynasty’s power through invasions of Lower Egypt. They successfully conquered the eastern Delta by 1700 b.c.e. and set up a capital at Avaris (now Tell el-Babՙa), just northeast of Memphis. Kamose Ahmose I

The Egyptians referred to the Hyksos by the indefinite term Heka-Khaswt (from which the Greek appellation Hyksos is derived), meaning “rulers of the foreign lands.” The exact cultural heritage of the Hyksos remains undetermined, but from all available evidence, they most likely originated from populations in western Asia, the modern Middle East. The Hyksos occupation of the eastern Delta was most likely preceded by a long period of close contact between the Nile Delta and the region to the east from which Hyksos political power came, or where at least there was Egyptian interaction with significant numbers of Hyksos settlers.

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In the Second Intermediate Period, the Egyptian state was politically weak and militarily compromised, as provincial leaders took advantage of central weakness to assert their own autonomy. This general state allowed political division and geographic partition to prevail.

During the Second Intermediate Period, foreign heads of state ruled Egypt for a prolonged period. The Hyksos occupation of Lower Egypt, which at times spread as far south as Hermopolis, had a profound effect on the Egyptian nation because it disrupted the long epoch of political unity. Thus, the Second Intermediate Period demonstrates a relatively disunited era in contrast to the Middle and New Kingdoms, but it is not in complete economic, cultural, or political discontinuity with the preceding or subsequent eras.

In fact, although the Hyksos disrupted Egyptian political life, material culture indicates that they adopted Egyptian language, codes of behavior, laws, regalia, and institutions of monarchical rule, becoming at least somewhat Egyptianized. For example, the Hyksos kept in place the long-established Egyptian institutions of divine kingship and declared themselves pharaohs. Although the Hyksos had their own religion they did incorporate the Egyptian god Set into their religious practices, reinterpreting him as their own god of storms. As often occurs in colonial situations, the conquerors took on customs of the conquered. The Hyksos also contributed to Egyptian society, for instance, by introducing the horse, chariot, bronze weaponry, and body armor into Egyptian notions of military strategy and equipment. The Egyptians eventually turned these newly introduced tools of war against their originators to liberate Egypt from Hyksos rule.

The Second Intermediate Period is depicted by some scholars as having lasted about 285 years, from 1785-1500 b.c.e., and having had as many as 230 different rulers, based on the royal scarab-shaped seals found in excavations. The long king lists have led certain scholars to argue that Egypt in this period in fact was not under the domination of a single monarch, but consisted of several independent states under a variety of native Egyptian dynasties and foreign rulers, including the Hyksos in the north and the Nubians in the south.

Many of the names of pharaohs of the Second Intermediate Period have been lost or remain unclear; most of the names of rulers are controversial, including those from the Fifteenth Dynasty lineages, generally considered to be authentically Hyksos. For example, Sheshi was a king of either the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Dynasty. Some scholars believe that a renowned East Delta ruler, Pharaoh Nehsy of Hyksos ancestry, may have been the son and immediate successor of Sheshi. However, due to the nature of the sources available, the names and chronologies of rulers from the Second Intermediate Period are unclear and often contested by scholars.

It is thought that occupying Hyksos colonists established the Fifteenth Dynasty in the Delta concurrently with the collapse of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dynasties. Despite the discrepancies over the number of Second Intermediate Period rulers, scholars generally agree that there were at least six Fifteenth Dynasty Hyksos kings of Avaris over a period more than one hundred years (c. 1650-1540). The Turin King List represents the popularly cited theory of Second Intermediate Period political chronology; however, the Turin list is by no means universally accepted. Although the Hyksos rulers are known to have existed, they left no tombs, which makes the issue of documenting names and dates of reign difficult. Scholars maintain that the Seventeenth Dynasty kings, who were based in Thebes and controlled southern Egypt, were independent of the Hyksos in the north. The Fifteenth (Hyksos) Dynasty was most likely contemporary with the Seventeenth (Theban) Dynasty and perhaps even another native Egyptian dynasty centered at Abydos, just north of Thebes on the Nile. The Abydos rulers may be, in fact, the Sixteenth Dynasty.

In the mid-sixteenth century b.c.e., during the Seventeenth Dynasty under the Theban rulers of Upper Egypt, native Egyptians fought their Hyksos kings, effectively utilizing the very military technologies introduced by the Hyksos. Pharaoh Ahmose I, son of Sekenenre and brother of Kamose, finally drove the invaders out of the Delta and recaptured Avaris. Ahmose founded the New Kingdom and the Eighteenth Dynasty in the early sixteenth century b.c.e. The transition from an era of foreign rule and conflict to an era of domestic rule was, in this instance, fertile ground for a renaissance and an era of empire building. The rulers of the Eighteenth Dynasty (c. 1570-1295) are among the best known in modern times: Amenhotep I, Thutmose I, Thutmose II, and Queen Hatshepsut. The New Kingdom was an era of reunification and Egyptian expansion south into Nubia and further north into Palestine and Syria. Although the pharaohs of Egypt were relieved of the antagonism of competing power on domestic lands, for Egyptians outside the imperial class and the state bureaucracy, the reassertion of power by indigenous kings most likely signaled little actual change.

Significance

The intermediate periods of Egyptian history are distinctive because the events and rulers of these eras are not well documented. The intermediate periods are also characterized by the disunity of political rule; however, these eras are not in complete discontinuity with previous or following eras. They are not as prominently marked by innovation and expansion, yet these are not eras without their own cultural, political, and economic developments. In fact, it may be these eras filled with political fracture and challenge as well as economic recession that allow for the eras of prosperous revitalization and political rebuilding that are so distinctive in the New Kingdom.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baker, Rosalie F., and Charles F. Baker. Ancient Egyptians: People of the Pyramids. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. An examination of tradition and grandeur of ancient Egyptians. This book covers the various eras including disruption, rebirth, conquest, and decline. Also includes a section on the life and leadership of Ahmose.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Connah, Graham. African Civilizations: Precolonial Cities and States in Tropical Africa, an Archaeological Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. A historical account of ancient African towns which draws from archaeological data. Includes a section on ancient Egypt.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Habachi, Labib. The Second Stela of Kamose and His Struggle Against the Hyksos Ruler and His Capital. Blückstadt, Germany: J. J. Augustin, 1972. An archaeological description of the stela and the inscriptions honoring Kamose.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miosi, F. T. A Reading Book of Second Intermediate Period Texts. Toronto: Benben Publications for The Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities, 1981. A collection of translated Egyptian language and hieroglyphic texts.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Oren, Eliezer, ed. The Hyksos: New Historical and Archaeological Perspectives. Philadelphia: University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, 1997. Contains articles on textual and archaeological sources for the Second Intermediate/Hyksos Period in Egypt and Nubia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ryholt, K. S. B. The Political Situation in Egypt During the Second Intermediate Period, c. 1800-1550 b.c. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 1997. A controversial reexamination and reinterpretation of Egyptian government and political chronology during the Second Intermediate Period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Van Seters, John. The Hyksos: A New Investigation. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1966. This work covers the history of the Hyksos in the ancient Middle East, including the occupation of Egypt.

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