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Avaris

Avaris

Avaris (Egyptian: , Hatwaret, Greek: αυαρις, Auaris), located at Tell ed-Dab'a, was the ancient capital of the Hyksos dynasties in Egypt. Located in the northeastern region of the Nile Delta, Avaris was the base of the Hyksos kings of Egypt's Second Intermediate Period. The city was built atop the ruins of the Middle Kingdom town Rowarty that had been captured by the Hyksos. After their takeover, the Hyksos heavily fortified the city and ruled the country using new technology, specifically the chariot which had never been witnessed before by the Ancient Egyptians.

Overview

The site at Tell el-Dab'a, covering an area of about 2 square kilometers, is in ruins today, but shows that at one point, it was a well-developed center of trade. Artifacts excavated at a temple erected in the Hyksos period have produced goods from all over the Aegean world. The temple even has Minoan-like wall paintings that are similar to those found on Crete at the Palace of Knossos. A large mudbrick tomb has also been excavated to the west of the temple where grave-goods, such as copper swords, have been found.

Towards the end of the Seventeenth dynasty, Ahmose I, the founder of the Eighteenth dynasty, captured Avaris just before the Hyksos were finally expelled from Egypt, after a water-borne siege. The Hyksos capital was razed to the ground in the aftermath of the Egyptian triumph. Soon after, however, a palace compound was constructed in the early 18th dynasty. It consisted partly of mudbricks from the Hyksos citadel and seems to have functioned as a royal residence. The palace area was settled up to the reign of Amenhotep III, or possibly up to the reign of Ramesses II.

The town itself appears to have been mainly abandoned after the Hyksos expulsion but seems to have been reoccupied by the Nineteenth dynasty, at which time it may have taken the name of Pi-Ramesses (also spelled Pi-Ramases).

Evidence has also been unearthed in Avaris that shows contact between early Mediterranean civilizations.

Etymology of the name

Exodus Decoded, a made-for-TV documentary by Simcha Jacobovici reported an unlikely etymology for the place name Avaris (Hatwaret/Auaris), suggesting the place name derives from the Hebrew word for "Hebrew" (Hebrew: עִבְרִי, Tiberian: ʕivɾi, Israeli: Ivri). If so, it would mean something like "the place of the Hebrews", and thus identify the Asiatic Hyksos with the biblical Hebrews. Nevertheless, while a Canaanite/Hebrew origin is plausible, it is difficult to show how the Canaanite/Hebrew word-root ʕ.b.ɾ (עבר), meaning "to pass" (whence a "Hebrew", a "passer-by", one who "goes across"), could linguistically become in Egyptian. The Hebrew to the word Ivri (Israelite) "עברי" has its roots in the words "מעבר הנהר" which translates as "from across the river". i.e. The Hebrews or Israelites as such were commonly known as "those from across the river" (the Nile).

Pi-Ramesses (Per-Ra-mes-su)

In the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt, Avaris regained its past glory when Pharaoh Ramesses II founded his new capital at this old site. The city was now called Pi-Ramesses Aa-nakhtu, meaning "Domain of Ramesses II, Great in Victory though it previously served as a summer palace under Seti I.

The decision by Ramesses II to transfer his government and official residence this far north from Thebes may have been caused by geopolitical reasons. The troublesome Egyptian vassal states in Philistia lay much closer as did the border with the hostile Hittite empire. Intelligence and diplomats would reach the Pharaoh much quicker. The main corps of the army were also encamped in the city and could quickly be mobilized.

Pi-Ramesses flourished for a century and poems were written over its splendour. The demise of Egyptian authority abroad during the Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt made the city less significant and it was largely abandoned by c.1130 BC onwards as a royal residence When the Twenty-first Dynasty of Egypt established their capital of Lower Egypt at another site called Tanis in the Egyptian Delta to the north-west of Pi-Ramesses, stone from the abandoned Ramesside temple in Pi-Ramesses was reused and recycled for the creation of great new temples at Tanis by the 21st Dynasty kings. The Pharaohs of the Twenty-first Dynasty of Egypt also transported many old Ramesside obelisks, stelas, statues and sphinxes from Pi-Ramesses to Tanis. The changing waterways of the Nile river Delta likely also have made the site less accessible for river transports.

The removal of the monuments of Pi-Ramesses to Tanis led early archaeologists to erroneously identify Tanis as the site of Pi-Ramesses based on the "masses of broken Ramesside stonework [which] were visible in the ruins of San el-Hagar (ie. Tanis). However, more recent and thorough excavations at Tell el-Dab´a and Qantir have identified the true site of both the Hyksos capital Avaris and the Ramesside capital Pi-Ramesses. In recent decades, the site has been excavated by an Austrian team of archaeologists headed by the Austrian Egyptologist, Manfred Bietak.

The discoveries here include the foundations of palace buildings, temples, arsenals, storehouses, and tombs. Pi-Ramesses was spread over a vast area of about 18 square kilometers, or 6 kilometres long by 3 kilometrees (2 miles) wide according to the latest estimates. This makes it one of the largest cities of ancient Egypt.

Biblical Ramses

The place name Ramses (Hebrew: רַעְמְסֵס, Tiberian: ɾaʕəmses), sometimes Raamses or Ra'amses, occurs four times in the Tanakh: Genesis 47:11; Exodus 1:11 and Numbers 33:3,5. The Septuagint equates this name with the Egyptian name Ramessu, hellenizing it as Hramessê (Greek: ραμεσση, ʰramɛsːe), whence Latin Ramesses, whence traditional English.

The location is synonymous with Goshen, the land where Joseph and his descendants settled. According to the biblical account, the Israelites departed from Ramses in their exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:37).

Archeologists have not yet pinpointed the time or place of both major cities in the Exodus namely Pithom and Raamses, and some dispute its historicity. The Biblical Raamses is acknowledged to almost certainly be Ramesses II's vast capital city of Pi-Ramesses, located today at the sites of Tell el-Dab´a and Qantir respectively, whereas the Biblical Pithom or Pi(r)-(A)tum, (literally domain or house of the god Atum) is possibly located at Tell er-Retaba--as Kenneth Kitchen argues--rather than Tell el-Maskhuta as some writers previously thought. These two sites, at Qantir and Tell er-Retaba, are 15 to apart.

Minoan civilization connection

Besides Thera and Crete, only two other sites have a record of Minoan civilization besides Avaris. They are Tell Kabri, and Alalakh in Syria. It is speculated by the excavator of Tell Dab'a (Austrian, Bietak), that there was close contact with the rulers of Avaris, and the large building representing the frescoes allowed the Minoans to have a ritual life in Egypt. French archaeologist Yves Duhoux proposed the existence of a Minoan 'colony' on an island in the Nile delta. These finds may also imply the later arrival of the Sea Peoples. It might be of interest that the Minoan hieroglyph system (Linear A) contains some signs bearing a resemblance to Egyptian hieroglyphs.

References

  • Reeves, Nicholas. Ancient Egypt, The Great Discoveries, a Year-by-Year Chronicle, Nicholas Reeves, (Thames and Hudson Ltd, London), c 2000. See 1987, Avaris and the Aegean: Minoan Frescoes in Egypt.
  • International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. IV, pg. 38. Entry on "Rameses" by Dr. R. W. Pierce, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids MI) 1988.
  • Bietak, Manfred. "Avaris : the capital of the Hyksos: recent excavations at Tell el-Dab´a" (British Museum Press for the Trustees of the British Museum, London) 1996.

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