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XXI

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Hyksos Period (Egypt), c. 1648 - 1534 B.C.

The Hyksos (Egyptian heqa khasewet, "foreign rulers") were an Asiatic people who invaded the eastern Nile Delta, in the Twelfth dynasty of Egypt initiating the Second Intermediate Period of Ancient Egypt.  The people are shown below wearing the cloaks of many colors associated with the mercenary Mitanni bowmen and cavalry (ha ibrw) of Northern Canaan, Aram, Kadesh, Sidon and Tyre.

The Hyksos first appeared in the Eleventh dynasty of Egypt, began their climb to power in the Thirteenth dynasty of Egypt and came out the other side of the second intermediate period in control of Avaris and the delta. By the Fifteenth dynasty of Egypt they ruled lower Egypt and at the end of the Seventeenth dynasty of Egypt they were expelled. The hiatus in the rule of their own land by the Egyptians extended from the end of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt to the start of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt and the move of the capital to Thebes.

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 the horse-drawn chariot and the careful scribe.

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 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 the 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.