After the end of the Thirteenth Dynasty (around 1633 BC), much of Egypt came under the control of Asiatic people known as Hyksos, from the Egyptian heka-haswt, meaning "the ruler of foreign lands." These people ruled from the city of Avaris, which has not yet been found, although it probably lay near Qatana in the eastern delta. The identity of the Hyksos is not known, and there is no evidence that they invaded Egypt. It is more likely that their takeover was peaceful and came as a result of an increased Asiatic population in the delta, a phenomenon which coincided with the decline of the Thirteenth Dynasty. During the Middle Kingdom, Asiatics were employed by the state, at first in the Sinai mines and increasingly in Egypt itself.

With the disappearance of a strong central government, Egypt was a land divided. Throughout the Thirteenth Dynasty, and for some time afterward, a line of local kings ruled from Xois in the western delta. These Fourteenth Dynasty kings seem to have maintained their independence when much of the country had submitted to the Hyksos, who formed the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Dynasties. In the south, a new line of princes arose at Thebes, and these Seventeenth Dynasty rulers formed a semi-independent state. Although they paid tribute to the Hyksos, they retained their autonomy. And, after about a century, it was these princes who overthrew the Hyksos and drove them from Egypt.

Later tradition, probably based on the propaganda of the Theban victors, claimed that there was anarchy under the Hyksos, who were accused of burning temples and cities. In fact, there is no evidence for this and, indeed, everything points to their respect for Egyptian culture, which they clearly adopted. They used Egyptian titles, wrote their names in hieroglyphs, and appointed Egyptian officials and maintained the administrative system. During this time, many new developments and practical skills were introduced into Egypt. These included advanced methods of bronze making, a vertical loom for weaving, an improved potter's wheel, the lyre and lute, hump-backed cattle, new vegetables and fruits, and most important, new weapons and the horse-drawn chariot.

But whatever the reality of the nature of their rule, the Hyksos' presence was probably not popular. Throughout Egypt's history, as reliefs and inscriptions make clear, foreigners were looked upon unfavorably. However, one of the consequences of Hyksos rule was the dramatic change in Egypt's attitudes to warfare and foreign conquest. From now on, Egypt would pursue an agressive military and foreign policy, backed by a full-time and extremely professional army.

The Theban prince Seqenenre began the struggle against the Hyksos, dying in battle of fatal head wounds. His son Kamose drove them from Middle Egypt and took Avaris. In 1570 BC, he was succeeded by his younger brother Ahmosis, who drove the Hyksos out of Egypt, pursued them into Palestine, and eliminated them in a series of campaigns. He then turned south and fought the Nubians, who had supported the Hyksos.

After a decade of fighting, Ahmosis became the first Eighteenth Dynasty ruler of the New Kingdom. His first task was to restore Egypt's economy after the years of war. Raw materials from other countries appeared again, for silver, gold, lapis lazuli, and turquoise have been found in burials of this time, and they were also presented to the god Amun Re, whose cult Ahmosis fostered. The founder of this most illustrious of Egyptian dynasties died in 1546 BC.

The prevailing theory regarding the origin of the Hyksos is that they were a nomadic Asiatic/Indo-Aryan people that had begun emigrating southward from the Caucasus Mountains around 2000BCE. Along their journey to the south, various splinters of this larger group would opt to settle or to head in a different direction. These splinter groups would go on to form the basis for such early bronze age civilizations as the Hurrians, Mitanni, Hittites and Kassites.

Written references to Hyksos people in Egypt precede their "invasion" by several centuries, though the term's rather sweeping definition of "rulers of foreign lands" makes it difficult to distinguish between the actual Hyksos and other foreign groups such as the Phoenecians. It is still fair to assume that the Hyksos didn't simply appear en masse one morning, hitherto sight unseen. More than likely, they had been slowly appearing and working their way into Egyptian society for decades. Around the year 1730BCE, either the bulk of the Hyksos people or some sort of organized Hyksos army appears to reach Egyptian territory in the Sinai Peninsula and began methodically heading south and west.

Unfortunately for the Egyptians, the Hyksos had three rather massive military advantages:

1. The composite bow.
2. The horse-drawn chariot.
3. Iron weapons and early body armor.

Imagine, if you will, how a battle between the Hyksos and Egyptians would have unfolded. The Hyksos would likely fire on the Egyptians with chariot-mounted archers while the Egyptians' primitive bows were still out of range, simply retreat several hundred yards whenever the Egyptians got too close for comfort, then begin firing anew once safely out of range once again. Assuming the Egyptians made some sort of mad dash for the Hyksos battle lines and managed to make it into melee combat, their bronze weapons would bounce off the Hyksos' early version of chainmail shortly before they got a very personal taste of modern warfare courtesy of a Hyksos soldier's iron mace. If, through overwhelming numbers alone, the Egyptians were able to overrun the Hyksos forces, the Hyksos could simply get on their chariots and retreat or regroup at a speed the Egyptians couldn't even match.

I haven't even mentioned flanking yet.

Given these incredible military advantages, the fact that the Hyksos didn't run roughshod over the entirety of Egypt seems to indicate that their intentions weren't outright hostile. If they'd wanted to take Egypt lock, stock and barrel, it seems very likely that they had the ability to do so. Instead, they were content to settle in the Nile Delta and let the rest of Egypt pay tribute to them as their nominal rulers.

Hyk"sos (?), n. [Gr. &?;, fr. Egypt. hikshasu chiefs of the Bedouins, shepherds.]

A dynasty of Egyptian kings, often called the Shepherd kings, of foreign origin, who, according to the narrative of Manetho, ruled for about 500 years, forming the XVth and XVIth dynasties. It is now considered that the XVIth is merely a double of the XVth dynasty, and that the total period of the six Hyksos kings was little more than 100 years. It is supposed that they were Asiatic Semites.


© Webster 1913

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