[hik-sohs, -sos]
Hyksos [Egyptian,=rulers of foreign lands], invaders of ancient Egypt, now substantiated as the XV-XVIII dynasties. They were a northwestern Semitic (Canaanite or Amorite) people who entered Egypt sometime between 1720 and 1710 B.C. and subdued the pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom. They used Avaris-Tanis in the Nile delta as their capital rather than the Egyptian capital of Thebes. Under their hegemony, which lasted over a century, they established a powerful kingdom that included Syria and Palestine, and maintained peace and prosperity in their territories. They introduced the horse-drawn chariot and the composite bow, and their successful conquests were furthered by a type of rectangular fortification of beaten earth used as a fortress; archaeologists have uncovered examples of these mounds at Jericho, Shechem, and Lachish. Their most important contribution was perhaps the introduction into Egypt of Canaanite deities and Asian artifacts, which were instrumental in abrogating the despotism and isolationism of the Old and Middle kingdoms. The Hyksos were crushed by Amasis I at the battle of Tanis in 1550 B.C.

Group of mixed Semitic-Asiatics who settled in northern Egypt in the 18th century BC. They seized power circa 1630 BC and ruled Egypt for 108 years thereafter. They were superficially Egyptianized and did not interfere with Egyptian culture. Their chief deity was Seth, whom they identified with an Asiatic storm god. The Hyksos introduced the horse and chariot, the compound bow, improved battle-axes, and advanced fortification techniques. Hyksos pharaohs tried to halt the spread of a Theban revolt, but their dynasty fell to Ahmose in 1521 BC.

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The Hyksos (Egyptian heqa khasewet, "foreign rulers"; Greek , , Arabic: , ) were an Asiatic people who invaded the eastern Nile Delta, initiating the Second Intermediate Period of Ancient Egypt. They rose to power in the 17th century BC, (according to the traditional chronology) and ruled Lower and Middle Egypt for 108 years, forming the Fifteenth and possibly the Sixteenth Dynasties of Egypt, (c. 1648–1540 BC). This 108-year period follows the Turin Canon, which gives the six kings of the Hyksos 15th Dynasty a total reign length of 108 years.

Traditionally, only the six Fifteenth Dynasty rulers are called Hyksos. The Hyksos had Canaanite names, as seen in those which contain the names of Semitic deities such as Anath or Ba'al. They introduced new tools of warfare into Egypt, most notably the composite bow and the horse-drawn chariot.

Hyksos rule in Egypt

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 control by Theban-based rulers. Hyksos relations with the south seem to have been mainly of a commercial nature, although Theban princes appear to have recognized the Hyksos rulers and may possibly have provided them with tribute for a period. The Hyksos Fifteenth Dynasty rulers established their capital and seat of government at Memphis and their summer residence at Avaris.

The known rulers for the Hyksos 15th dynasty are:

Name Dates
Sakir-Har Named as an early Hyksos king on a door jamb found at Avaris.
Regnal order uncertain.
Khyan c. 1620 BC
Apophis c. 1580 BC to 1540 BC
Khamudi c. 1540 BC to 1534 BC

The rule of these kings overlaps with that of the native Egyptian pharaohs of the 16th and 17th dynasties of Egypt, better known as the Second Intermediate Period. The first pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, Ahmose I, finally expelled the Hyksos from their last holdout at Sharuhen in Gaza by the 16th 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 Egyptian god Seth to represent their own titulary deity. It would appear as though Hyksos administration was accepted in most quarters, if not actually supported by many of their northern 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 non-Egyptian "invaders." 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 native Egyptian Eighteenth 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 an 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, the Carnarvon Tablet I, relates the misgivings of the Theban ruler’s council of advisors when Kamose proposed moving against the Hyksos, who he claimed were a humiliating stain upon the holy land of Egypt. The councilors 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…"

Was there a Hyksos invasion?

Manetho's account of the appearance of the Hyksos in Egypt describes it as 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 ensured the Hyksos the ascendancy in their invasion. Herbert E. 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.

The traditional explanation is that there was an invasion; one that took several years and that wasn't a coordinated effort of some foreign kingdom, but mostly a migration of particular groups, tribes or federated tribes, which had access to new and superior weapons developed further away in Asia that helped them conquer a rich piece of land to live in, and were possibly being routed from their own areas.

In the last decades, however, the idea of a simple migration, with little or no violence involved, has gained some support. Under this theory, the Egyptian rulers of 13th Dynasty were unable to stop these new migrants from travelling to Egypt from Asia because they were weak kings who were struggling to cope with various domestic problems including possibly famine. The ceramic evidence in the Memphis-Fayum region of Lower Egypt also strongly argues against the presence of new invading foreigners. Indeed, Janine Bourriau's excavation from Memphis as well as her study 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 with little to no evidence of intrusion of Hyksos-style wares. Bourriau's evidence militates against the traditional Egyptian view--as espoused by Manetho--that the Hyksos invaded and sacked the Memphite region and imposed their authority there. Not until the beginning of the Theban wars of liberation during the 17th Dynasty are Theban wares found in the Fayum-Memphis region which indicates that the Hyksos controlled the Delta region while Middle Egypt and the Thebaid functioned autonomously and shared limited contact with each other.

At some point in time, the foreigners, whose elite might have already been local rulers in the name of the Pharaoh, realized there was no need to pay tribute and obedience to a weak king, and took the title of Pharaoh for themselves. (in the north of the country — the Hyksos never penetrated the south)

Josephus, quoting from the work of the historian Manetho, described the invasion:

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.

Supporters of the peaceful takeover of Egypt claim that 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. there no traces of chariots have been found at the Hyksos capital of Avaris despite extensive excavation. This puts in doubt claims of technological superiority on the Hyksos side. The case for the invasion, on the other side, is based mostly on: (a) the traditional Manetho's explanation; (b) the fact that the chariot was a new technology spreading from Central Asia and that there are other theories of invasions by nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes mounted on chariots in 1700–1300 BC, most notably Hurrians in the Near East (Helck) and Aryans in India (the Vedas), with the Hurrians in particular being active quite near where the Hyksos appeared; and (c) the fact that the chariot became the master weapon of that period, the weapon of nobles and kings, and one of the most important symbols of power in Eurasia, because in Mycenaean Greece, India, Mesopotamia, Eastern Europe and China, kings and gods started to be portrayed on chariots, buried in chariots and always went to war in chariots. With such an important new weapon, the advocates of the invasion theory say, it seems strange to consider that the Hyksos just entered peacefully in the north of Egypt from Asia, with no knowledge of the chariot, or knowing it but choosing not to use it. Hence, the Egyptian description of the Hyksos was likely propaganda.

Theban offensive

Under Seqenenre 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, Seqenenre Tao (II), into contact with his Hyksos contemporary in the north, Auserra Apophis (also known as Apepi or Apophis). The tradition took the form of a tale in which the Hyksos king Apopi 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 far-away Avaris. The real reason was probably that their main god was Seth, who was represented as part man part hippopotamus. 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 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 first significant victories in the Theban-led war against the Hyksos.

Under Kamose

There is little evidence to support Pierre Montet's assertion in his 1964 book Eternal Egypt that Kamose's war of liberation was sponsored by the priests 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 travelled 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 of time and should not be understood as the god’s having specifically commanded the attack itself for 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 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!" Hence, it was native Egyptian nationalism that prompted Kamose to embark and 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 the Hyksos king Aawoserra Apophis at Avaris to his ally the ruler 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 Bahriya Oasis in the Western 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 which caught the Hyksos off guard. His Year 3 is the only date attested for Kamose.

By the end of the reign of Apophis, perhaps the second last Hyksos kings 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 Fayyum at Atfih. This great Hyksos king 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 which fell some time within the first half of the reign of Ahmose, Kamose's successor and the founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

Under Ahmose

Ahmose, who is regarded as 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 of the 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 Ahmose who left the insciption 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 and into southern Canaan. 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.

Later times

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 helped modern historians identify the expulsion of the Hyksos with the Exodus. Significant in this identification is the fact that some Hyksos pharaohs had names familiar from Israelite traditions, such as Jacobaam of the 16th dynasty. It may also indicate that the "expulsion" of the Hyksos reported in the Egyptian records mainly refers to the expulsion of the Semitic rulers and military/political elite and does not indicate a mass expulsion of the lower classes who, in the Ancient World, were traditionally exploited by their conquerors rather than expelled or massacred.

There seems to be slight evidence that the Kings of the 19th Egyptian Dynasty may have had some Hyksos connections:

  • Ramesses I had hereditary estates in the vicinity of Avaris.
  • Ramesses II:
    • Celebrated the 400th anniversary of the worship of Sutekh, in honor of his father, Seti I (Seth was identified by the Hyksos with Baal),
    • Adopted a Semitic name for one of his favourite daughters (Bintanath meaning "the daughter of the goddess Anath"),
    • Dedicated several of his favourite chariot horses to Anath (naming them accordingly), and
    • Pharaoh Ramesses II moved his capital city back to Avaris — and named it after himself (Pi Rameses).
  • The early Ramesside kings promoted Asiatics to positions of prominence in the civil administration.
  • The anti-Hyksos invectives found during the first part of the 18th dynasty are almost wholly lacking.

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 re-invigorated 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 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 of Belus (Baal?) and the daughters of Danaos, associated with the origin of the Argive dynasty.

Who were the Hyksos?

Hyksos in popular culture

The invasion and subsequent expulsion of the Hyksos form an integral part in the fictional 'Egypt' novels by Wilbur Smith, notably River God, The Seventh Scroll, Warlock and The Quest ("Egyptian Series"), in the Lords of the Two Lands trilogy by Pauline Gedge which chronicles the campaigns of Sequenenre, Kamose and Ahmose against them, and in Andre Norton's novel "Shadow Hawk".

Naguib Mahfouz wrote about the Theban wars against the Hyksos in his novel Thebes at War.

The expulsion of the Hyksos was also the basis for Christian Jacqs' fictional 'Queen of Freedom' series.



  • Aharoni, Yohanan and Michael Avi-Yonah, The MacMillan Bible Atlas, Revised Edition, pp. 30-31 (1968 & 1977 by Carta Ltd.).
  • Bimson, John J. Redating the Exodus. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1981. ISBN 0-907459-04-8
  • von Beckerath, Jürgen. Untersuchungen zur politischen Geschichte der zweiten Zwischenzeit in Ägypten (1965) [Ägyptologische Forschungen, Heft 23]. Basic to any study of this period.
  • Ellis, Ralph. (2001) Tempest & Exodus: the biblical exodus inscribed on an ancient Egyptian stele. Edfu: Cheshire ISBN 0953191389
  • Ellis, Ralph. Jesus, Last of the Pharaohs
  • Gardiner, Sir Alan. Egypt of the Pharaohs (1964, 1961). Still the classic work in English. See pp. 61–71 for his examination of chronology.
  • Gibson, David J., Whence Came the Hyksos, Kings of Egypt, 1962
  • 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(ANET), 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).
  • Ryholt, Kim SB. The Political Situation in Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period c.1800-1550 B.C. (1997) by Museum Tuscalanum Press.
  • 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.

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