The Origins of the Hyksos

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The Hyksos?

The Hyksos?

The origins of Egypt's Pharaohs during the Second Intermediate Period is an answer that has eluded scholars since antiquity. Egypt between the Middle and New Kingdom had become a complex puzzle in which many missing pieces needed to be ascertained through diligent research of the historical and archaeological record. The label given to these Pharaohs is Hyksos, this is derived from an Egyptian phrase meaning 'rulers of foreign countries.' (Save-Soderbergh 1951:56) The Hyksos, arrived on the heels of a turbulent time in Egyptian history, and managed to gain sovereignty over Lower and Middle Egypt. Who were these people? Where did they come from and how did they manage to overtake Egypt? These are some of the pieces yet to be found, but through examination of society in the New Kingdom and how it evolved from the Second Intermediate Period (i.e. religion, technology, policy) and some contemporary (and not so contemporary) writings I believe this paper can shed some light on this never ending puzzle.

To set the stage let us explore what Egypt would have looked like to the Hyksos. In the nineteenth century B.C. it seemed that nothing in the Near East was accomplished without the touch of Egypt. It was a good time to be Pharoah; occupation of Nubia and a thriving trade at Kerma created a river of gold that followed the the Nile northward. (Save-Soderbergh 1951:53) With this immense wealth the unruly north had become stable, or rather it was hard to squirm under the heavy foot of Pharaoh. The kinglets of Syria and Byblos had become vassals of the Egyptian god-king, which was symbolized at their coronation where they were anointed with oil from a container bearing Pharaoh's seal.(Save-Soderbergh 1951:53). Many rich tombs from this time are found in Nubia, and Kerma seems to enjoy a higher standard of living.(Save-Soderbergh 1951:54) These surrounding countries gained a large amount of wealth very quickly from the incredibly large trade routes made possible by Egypt. Egypt connected the Levant, Syria, Nubia and Libya and controlled the roads between them. However, the tides began to change in Egypt. With this new found wealth the surrounding countries also gained a new found power they never had before. Towards the end of the Middle Kingdom an influx of foreign ceramic wares is evident in tombs.(Save-Soderbergh 1951:54) These finds are significant because, as stated above, Egypt had a firm hold on all of the trade in the area. They were getting rich by selling their wares and buying raw materials such as lumber from the Levant and gold from Nubia. If there are foreign finished products in Egyptian tombs it means a break down of Egypt's conservative self sufficiency.(Save-Soderbergh 1951:54) Soon after Egypt's political system began to break down.

Gunn writes that at this time Egypt was in a state of “anarchy and general disorganization,” in which dynasty struggled with dynasty over rightful control of the country.(Gunn 1918:37) With a struggle over the throne Egypt's focus became the capital cities and their internal workings. Romer writes that when the centralized economy collapsed at the end of the Twelfth Dynasty and the administration of the land was once more conducted at the provincial levels; there were large numbers of non-Egyptians in the country, working in all layers of the administration.(Romer 1982:118) The great conscript armies and ruthless mercenaries of Egypt that had thwarted foreign invasion many times before had no leader, no central voice. Save-Soderbergh likens Egypt at this time to “...a ripe fruit to be gathered by anyone with no great effort.”(Save-Soderbergh 1951:55)

This is the picture of Egypt as seen by the Hyksos at this time, but before we explore the Hyksos' rise to power during the Second Intermediate Period let us first explain what we know about the Hyksos. The bulk of information we know comes from the third century Egyptian Historian...
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