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