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Herodotus' Corner

This session's topic: The Hyksos

The Hyksos were rulers of Egypt during the 2nd Intermediate Period. They probably came from the area we now know as Palestine or Syria, and were a Semitic people. Anthropological studies of the ancient Hyksos town of Avaris have discovered Canaanite-style temples and Palestinian-type burials and pottery styles during the strata of Hyksos occupation. The names of Hyksos kings of Egypt appear to be Semitic in origin, and resemble several names in the genealogy lists of Assyrian kings. The very name “Hyksos” comes from the Greek corruption of the Egyptian word “heqa-khase” meaning “rulers of foreign lands”. The Hyksos worshiped the Egyptian god Set (Seth), who, to the Hyksos, resembled the storm god Baal from Canaan. The Egyptians believed Seth to be the god of Evil, and the enemy of Osiris and Horus. A seal from the Hyksos capital of Avaris was found with a picture bearing the name of Baal Zaphon. Also, several contemporary Egyptian stelae refer to the Hyksos kings as being Asiatic, not Egyptian. The Jewish scholar Josephus refers to the Hyksos as “our ancestors” implying again that they were Semitic people, not native Egyptian.

There are two views of how the Hyksos became rulers of Egypt: that they took over quickly and from outside of Egypt, or that there was a native population of foreigners that seized control of the country during a period of economic decline. I agree more with the latter theory. There were burials of the type that the Hyksos used as early as the 12th dynasty. If the Hyksos were not in Egypt until they took over, how and why were burials of this type present in Egypt before the 2nd Intermediate Period? Many strata in several sites in the Delta, like and including Avaris, show that there was a sizeable Hyksos population in Egypt in a servile status, such as peasants and merchants, well before the 15th and 16th dynasties. The Egyptians had records of these people, and didn’t record them as a threat because of their “inferior” status. These foreigners to Egypt appear to have lived outside of the native Egyptian population in the cities. During the “takeover” of Egypt by the Hyksos the city of Avaris, and many other sites thought to be mainly populated with Hyksos were not destroyed. One would think that during a hostile take over of a country you would destroy all cities equally, not just certain ones like Memphis. There would have been a lot more destruction and devastation if the invaders had had to take over the entire country and not just certain cities. There also does not seem to be an increase of foreign artefacts, burials, temples, and the like, which leads to having a simple change of local government instead of a foreign take-over. The Hyksos worshiped Egyptian gods, and the Hyksos kings of Egypt often added -re to their name. They appear to have used Egyptian Hieroglyphs, as no evidence of their native written language has been discovered in Egypt. The daily life of Egypt also does not seem to have changed much during the Hyksos occupation, and trade and the local governments seem to have continued much the way they used to, except for the fact that they were controlled by the Hyksos instead of the Egyptians themselves.

There has been much interest in the Hyksos because it is thought that they may be the ancestors of modern Jews, and the people discussed about in the Bible as those who followed Moses out of Egypt. I believe that they got along fine with the other Semitic groups, and traded with them quite often and openly. There are several references to the Hyksos having ships, so trading with peoples outside of Egypt would seem to be quite common for the Hyksos. There is evidence to support that the Hyksos entered Egypt during a period of economic hardship in Mesopotamia, and finding Egypt rich in natural resources it is only logical that the new comers would take advantage of this and settle in a place beneficial to trade and commerce, bringing it to the Egyptians as well as Semitic tribes outside of Egypt. The Hyksos used to be considered a plague on Egypt, but new evidence suggests that they may have ushered in the New Kingdom’s reliance on foreign trade and interest in foreign affairs. The Hyksos may have been hated by the Egyptians, but they did help Egypt become more openly involved in the world outside Egypt.


The International History Project

Brewer, Douglas J. and Emily Teeter. Egypt and the Egyptians. Cambridge University Press: New York, 1999.