Ancient Egypt - The Second Intermediate Period

Updated: Nov 10


The 13th and 14th Dynasties

The transition to the 13th Dynasty seems to have been a smooth one, as they continued to rule from an area just south of Memphis. This dynasty is considered a lost dynasty. We have the names of ten kings who are listed for the dynasty that lasted about 70 years, but little else, other than a few small pyramids at Dahshur and four small pyramids at Saqqara. This 13th Dynasty held control over both Upper and Lower Egypt until about the end of the dynasty when the Eastern Delta in Lower Egypt broke away. They did so under their own petty kings and established the obscure 14th Dynasty, made up of a local Canaanite population. They would rule the Eastern Delta for 57 years.


Now the Delta gets its name from the Greeks when they came into Egypt from the north, traveling across the Mediterranean, and saw this marshy land that was shaped like a triangle. The triangle is the Greek letter Delta... so they called it the Delta. There is very little tangible record from this Delta Dynasty because the area is so moist. There is water everywhere and it is very difficult to excavate. Picture trying to dig in the swamp, it is almost impossible. Whole temples have entirely sunk underwater. As a result, the 14th Dynasty is also considered a lost dynasty.



The Hyksos 15th Dynasty

It appears a prolonged famine struck the Delta region which may have been the cause for the weakened state of both kingdoms. It is at this time that the Hyksos began to assume control in the Delta regions. These Semitic immigrants had been steadily entering Egypt for sometime, as noted in the last episode. Their history is vague due to their illiteracy, and most information about them is negative, as it comes from native Egyptians who hated foreign rule.


The Hyksos established the 15th Dynasty and appeared to take Avaris from the 14th Dynasty as their capital. Because of the Delta conditions, little remains of the temples and fortifications. The problem with tracing the Hyksos in the historical record is that only victories were recorded in Ancient Egyptian chronicles. Defeats and negative press went unrecorded. They did not have the same sense of history that we do, meaning they did not record events for the sake of history, for keeping the historical record straight.


Appropriately for a people associated with the desert, they chose as their main deity the god Seth, the deity of the desert wasteland. Seth was looked upon by the Egyptians as the evil god who hacked up the good god Osiris. But for some reason, which is unclear, he is eventually worshiped by later pharaohs who consider him changed in some way. We'll discuss that ahead in this podcast. But for now, Seth

was considered kind of like the devil and appropriately worshiped by these foreigners, whom the native Egyptians hated. Seth was represented by an animal, called the seth-animal, because there is really nothing like it. Speaking of the devil, interestingly this animal has a forked tail. This animal has the head that looks almost like a goat with the horns like a ram going in the opposite direction, going towards it's back. The body is more like a feline or canine. Its very strange that this animal is so prominent in Egyptian mythology and really how it was adopted by these Hyksos.


The Hyksos also introduced their own foreign gods from their Phoenician homelands, such as the mother goddess, Astarte, and the storm and war god, Reshef. We have no evidence of Hyksos temples to these gods. They don't seem to have integrated with the locals. However, there is evidence that they traded and associated with the Minoans in Crete. A jar with a Hykosos cartouche was discovered in the palace of Knossos on Crete.


The Hyksos were not literate. Their scarabs show only scroll work designs and very few inscriptions. There were very few Hyksos scarabs in the south, which indicates that they most likely stayed in the north.


For our Bible scholars, something to really consider is that these Hyksos may have been related to the story of Joseph. Remember Joseph was sold as a slave who eventually worked his way up to vizier based on his relationship with the pharaoh. That story fits with this time and would only be possible with the Hyksos, since we can prove that they were Semitic immigrants, much like the Biblical Hebrews. For those who study the Bible, this is a really fascinating topic. One that Egyptologist Bob Brier goes into in his series from the Great Courses called 'The History of Ancient Egypt'. He devotes an entire episode on this possibility in lecture 15. This is one of my favorites from the Great Courses collection. It consists of 48 30-minute lectures from one of the world's most exciting and talented instructors. See my media highlight series for more information as I provide reviews on this great material.


In roughly about 1720 B.C., the Hyksos sacked the Egyptian capital of Memphis and removed power from the 13th Dynasty. But the Hyksos still preferred to operate from their Eastern Delta strongholds at Avaris. Their military success was due to their skilled archers. They also introduced the horse and chariot to warfare, giving them a huge tactical advantage. The Egyptians would utilize both of these innovations during the conquests of the New Kingdom.


The 16th and 17th Dynasties

The 16th Dynasty came to power in Thebes after the sack of Memphis, and continued the war against the Hyksos. The 16th Dynasty is completely unknown. They were most likely petty princes who attempted, but failed, to remove the Hyksos. The armies of the 15th Dynasty, winning town after town from their southern enemies, encroached on the 16th Dynasty. They threatened and then conquered the 16th Dynasty while taking Thebes. This 16th Dynasty was apparently succeeded by another ruling family in Thebes that established the 17th Dynasty. These rulers started out at peace with the Hyksos and ruled an area from the Elephantine to Abydos. In spite of the scarce resources available to them, the 17th Dynasty largely succeeded in preserving the culture of the Middle Kingdom.


King Seqenenre Tao

The earlier rulers of the 17th Dynasty made no apparent attempts to challenge the authority of the Hyksos. Evidence for this comes from an interesting fragmentary letter in which the Hyksos king, Apepi I, complains to his Theban counterpart, Seqenenre Tao, that he is unable to sleep in Avaris because of the roaring Hippopotami 500 miles away in Thebes, and suggests that Seqenenre do something about it. Although the end of the letter is not preserved, he apparently did do something about it, resulting in military skirmishes against the Hyksos.


Papyrus is one of Egypt's great contributions. It is the first paper in the history of the world. To make a surface for writing, you take the stalk of the papyrus plant, cut it into thin strips, then pound it with a mallet and leave it in the sun to dry. With a smooth stone, you polish it until the surface is smooth enough to write. To make papyrus rolls, you just add the pages by gluing them together. Now archaeologically, the pages that tended to be the most damaged were the first and last pages. Thus, we

usually lack the beginning and ending of most Ancient Egyptian stories. Almost all papyrus rolls discovered are found in the south, where the climate is dry. This again shows the danger of the Delta region for preserving historical information. Papyrus does not last in the north.


The mummy of Seqenrere Tao was discovered and, judging from the multiple head wounds, he didn't do so well on the battlefield. This most likely led to a truce between parties until his son, Kamose, came to power looking to avenge his father.


King Kamose

The official account of his campaign is preserved on two stele from Karnak. These outline the current situation in Egypt: The country was nominally at peace, with Kamose holding the middle areas, the Hyksos controlling the North, and the princes of Kush controlling the land south of the Elephantine.


Unsurprisingly, the court did not wish to upset the balance of power when Kamose proposed another military engagement against the Hyksos. The king was determined to have his way and the military was called into action. According to the stele, Kamose had some success by virtue of the element of surprise, because the Hyksos had not expected to be outright attacked. His reign was short, however, because he seems to have died in battle during this campaign. The Hyksos were militarily successful and now celebrated a second major defeat of the Theban army.


Kamose was buried at Thebes in a Rishi-type coffin. These large and heavy coffins with vulture-wing feathered decorations, were used to bury many pharaohs of the 17th Dynasty. These pharaohs constructed poorly built tombs at Thebes in the area of the Dra Abu el-Naga in the Western Bank. They were cut into the Theban hillside and were usually marked by steep-sided brick-built pyramids.


The Autobiography of Ahmose, son of Ebana

In a private tomb at el-Kab, just North of the Aswan, an autobiography from a local noble has been discovered. Called, 'The Autobiography of Ahmose, son of Ebana', it is the only contemporary account found describing the final defeat of the Hyksos. Ahmose served in the army under Kamose's brother and successor, Ahmose I. The new king resumed the war with the Hyksos about half-way through his 24-year reign, leading to a series of attacks against Memphis, Avaris, and other Hyksos strongholds. Ahmose I not only placed a siege against Avaris, but pursued the Hyksos into Palestine and laid siege to their native town of Sharuhen.


With the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt, the kings of Thebes established the 18th Dynasty and the rise of the New Kingdom.

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