Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD REFERENCE ( (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2013. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single entry from a reference work in OR for personal use.

Subscriber: null; date: 25 February 2017


The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East

James M. Weinstein


In the reign of Ptolemy II (282–246 bce), the Egyptian priest-historian Manetho used the Greek name Hyksos to identify his fifteenth dynasty, an Asiatic line of kings who ruled northern Egypt. The word itself is derived from an Egyptian term, Ḥḳ3(w)ḫ3swt, meaning “ruler(s) of foreign countries.” On linguistic grounds, a West Semitic background can be inferred for these Asiatics; the archaeological data point to a more southern, Palestinian origin, although a few scholars prefer a Syrian background.

Rise of the Hyksos.

Asiatics migrated down into northern Egypt in increasing numbers during the twelfth (1963–1786 bce) and early thirteenth (c. 1786–1700 bce) dynasties. Their principal focus of settlement activity appears to have been the eastern Delta. Initially, they lived peacefully along-side the Egyptians; some were even in their employ (e.g., at the town of Kahun in the Faiyum region).

The Asiatic population in the eastern Delta expanded simultaneously with the deterioration of Egypt's central authority in the late Middle Kingdom (mid- to late thirteenth dynasty [c. 1700–1633 bce]). This development is reflected in an increase in the number of Delta sites containing Levantine materials whose Middle Bronze II character is especially evident in the area east of the ancient Pelusiac branch of the Nile River, in the region of Khatana-Qantir. Commercial relations between Egypt and Palestine were expanding at the same time. Eventually, the Asiatics may well have taken control of parts of the eastern Delta. In 1648 bce, the Asiatics captured the old administrative capital at Memphis, the event that inaugurates Manetho's fifteenth dynasty. Whether the takeover of Memphis and northern Egypt was quick and violent, as described in the epitomes of Manetho and in some pharaonic documents, or the control the Asiatics assumed was more gradual—taking advantage of Egypt's weakness to fill a power vacuum—remains under discussion. The former explanation seems more likely, however.

Hyksos Period in Egypt.

The Turin king list reports a total of six Hyksos kings who ruled for 108 years (c. 1648–1540 bce). The name of only the last of those rulers, Khamudy, is preserved on the Turin papyrus. There is considerable debate regarding the identification and order of reign of Khamudy's five predecessors. Donald B. Redford (Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times, Princeton, 1992) suggests a dynastic sequence starting with Maaibre Sheshi, followed by Merwoerre Yaqobher, Seweserenre Khyan, Yannass, Apophis, and Khamudy. Many other Asiatic royal names are attested on scarabs from the time of the fifteenth dynasty; some may belong to minor Asiatic princes who held a vassal status to the great Hyksos rulers.

Attempts to reconstruct the internal history and governmental organization of the Hyksos remain largely speculative. The adoption of the Egyptian royal titulary by the Hyksos kings, their dating of events to regnal years in the same manner as the Egyptians (e.g., the dating of the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus to regnal year 33 of Apophis), and the frequent use of the Egyptian administrative title treasurer by their officials suggest that the Hyksos government at least partially imitated that of the Egyptians. At the same time, however, the apparent Hyksos practice of ruling through local vassals (both Asiatic and Egyptian) reflects a more Near Eastern tradition.

Archaeology of the Hyksos Period.

As an archaeological term, Hyksos is often employed to refer to the material remains associated with the Asiatics living in Egypt during the Second Intermediate period, especially at their eastern Delta capital. Avaris (a Greek name derived from the Egyptian term Ḥwt-w῾rt, “mansion of the desert plateau”) was the site of the Hyksos capital; it later became the royal residence of the nineteenth–twentieth-dynasty pharaohs (1295–1069 bce), at which time it was known as Piramesse. The largest surviving portion of Avaris is at Tell ed-Dab῾a, which the Austrian archaeologist Manfred Bietak has been excavating since 1966. This is the only site in Egypt where uninterrupted Asiatic occupation during the Second Intermediate period can be traced—and the only Hyksos urban center discovered so far in Egypt.

Archaeological evidence of Asiatic activity in Egypt in the Second Intermediate period appears at several other sites east of the former Pelusiac branch of the Nile. These include Ghita, Inshas, Tell Basta, Tell Farasha, Tell el-Maskhuta (situated along the Wadi Tumilat), Tell es-Sahaba, and Tell el-Yahudiyeh. Tell el-Maskhuta has produced a small, seasonal Asiatic village and burials, while a cemetery and perhaps a large defensive enclosure were found at Tell el-Yahudiyeh. Only cemetery materials are attested at the other sites.

The material goods, cultic architecture, and religious practices of the Asiatics in the Delta during the Hyksos period reflect an amalgam of Syro-Palestinian and Egyptian features. This is evident in the burials at Tell ed-Dab῾a and Tell el-Maskhuta. The principal grave type at Tell ed-Dab῾a during most of the Second Intermediate period was the vaulted mud-brick chamber tomb. Donkey sacrifices were found outside some of these tombs. Similar tombs with donkey sacrifices are attested at Tell el-Maskhuta and at Inshas, while tombs with brick vaulting but without donkey burials have been found at Tell el-Yahudiyeh. Vaulted Middle Bronze II–III tombs have also been reported from Tell Basta, Ghita, and Tell es-Sahaba, while the equine burials are paralleled at several sites in southern Palestine.

Funerary offerings in these Delta tombs and in the Wadi Tumilat include scarabs, jewelry, pottery (of both Egyptian and Levantine types), and alabaster vessels. Tombs in the later phases at Tell ed-Dab῾a sometimes contain Cypriot pottery and follow Egyptian rather than Asiatic funerary practices (the Asiatics having become highly Egyptianized in late Hyksos times). No royal burials have been excavated at Tell ed-Dab῾a. A rich collection of funerary offerings, possibly from a Hyksos royal tomb, is said to come from es-Salhiya, located about 10 km (7 mi.) southeast of Tell ed-Dab῾a (though this hoard may in fact come from Tell ed-Dab῾a).

An important, though controversial, source of information for the history and chronology of the fifteenth dynasty consists of scarabs inscribed with royal names and private names and titles. Because so few texts survive from that era, our knowledge of most Hyksos rulers and officials derives from the appearance of their names on scarabs and such related items as cylinder seals and seal impressions. The Hyksos adopted the Egyptian hieroglyphic script for writing their documents and transcribing their personal names. Through typological analysis of Hyksos royal-name scarabs, Egyptologists have been able to arrange many of the Hyksos rulers in a relative sequence and to link a few of the royal names to the bleak historical record. A concentration of royal-name scarabs in southern Palestine suggests a connection between this region and the eastern Delta, although the exact nature of this relationship is in dispute. Finally, numerous scarabs inscribed with the names and/or titles of officials who may have been Hyksos officials (e.g., the treasurer, Har) have been found, but the common practice among the Asiatics of using Egyptian names makes it difficult to distinguish scarabs of Hyksos officials who adopted Egyptian names from scarabs belonging to contemporary Egyptian bureaucrats.

Data on Hyksos fortifications in Egypt are limited. The high water table and the activities of local peasants searching for mud brick and lime to use as fertilizer have combined to remove any traces of a defensive system surrounding most of the mound at Tell ed-Dab῾a; however, a fortification wall has been uncovered at the village of Ezbet Helmi, situated at the western end of the site. (In the debris above a garden adjacent to the wall hundreds of fragments were found of Aegean-style frescoes from the seventeenth–sixteenth centuries bce.) Large square earthwork enclosures with brick facing and rounded corners have been found at Tell el-Yahudiyeh and Heliopolis. The similarity between these two structures and those constructed in the Levant in the Middle Bronze Age has led many archaeologists to identify the Delta embankments as Hyksos defense systems. Other archaeologists, however, believe that these embankments are retaining walls for Egyptian temple foundations.

Monuments associated with the Hyksos are rare in the Nile valley, and there is no evidence for Asiatic settlements in that area. The southernmost occurrence of inscriptions, mentioning Hyksos rulers is at Gebelein, located just upriver from Thebes, where a granite block naming Khyan and a lintel containing the name of Apophis were found. It is unclear whether the Hyksos ever controlled Egypt that far south, however. Near the end of the seventeenth dynasty, the border between Theban and Hyksos territory was at Cusae (on the west bank of the Nile, just south of el-Amarna), but it is doubtful that the Hyksos continuously occupied the Nile valley that far south. Instead, they probably maintained authority in Middle and Upper Egypt through local vassals such as Teti, son of Pepi (a local Egyptian ruler at Nefrusy, who is mentioned on the Carnarvon Tablet of the late seventeenth dynasty), and through garrisons positioned at strategic points in the valley. In any event, the history of Hyksos expansion and rule in Egypt cannot be traced in any detail.

The Asiatics in the eastern Delta maintained an active commercial relationship with Cyprus, the Levant, and Nubia. International trade was an important factor in the development of their wealth and power. The seventeenth-dynasty Theban ruler Kamose reports on a historical stela erected at Karnak that he seized several hundred ships in the harbor at Avaris. The goods aboard these ships included numerous Asiatic materials and substances: gold, silver, bronze, lapis lazuli, turquoise, oil, incense, fat, honey, and precious woods. Stone and faience vessels, jewelry, amulets, scarabs, and other Egyptian merchandise were exported to the southern Levant in exchange for such raw materials and finished products. Egyptian objects from this period have been found in considerable numbers at Tell el-῾Ajjul, Gezer, Tell el-Far῾ah (South), Jericho, Megiddo, and elsewhere in Palestine. The distinctive Tell el-Yahudiyeh ware, produced both in Egypt and the Levant and widely distributed from Nubia in the south to Syria and Cyprus in the north, demonstrates the far-reaching nature of this trade network. The presence of Middle Kingdom statuary in Middle Bronze II–III contexts in Palestine, as well as in a few contemporaneous deposits in the Aegean and Nubia, suggests that some trade in the Hyksos period consisted of items plundered from Egyptian cemeteries belonging to the early second millennium bce. As for the small number of monuments containing Hyksos royal names found at Knossos, Baghdad, and the Hittite capital of Ḫattuša (modern Boğazköy), efforts to see in these items evidence for a Hyksos “empire” have long since been abandoned by all but a small minority of academics. The absence of archaeological materials of the Second Intermediate period in the northern Sinai indicates that Egyptian-Levantine trade went by sea rather than over land.

End of the Hyksos Period.

The first effort to dislodge the Hyksos from the Nile valley appears to have taken place in the reign of the seventeenth-dynasty Theban king Seqenenre Tao, a contemporary of Apophis; wounds consistent with those made by an Asiatic battle axe were found in the skull of his mummy, suggesting that he met his death in battle. Seqenenre's successor, Kamose, was perhaps initially a vassal of the Hyksos, but he continued the war of liberation. According to a pair of stelae he erected at Karnak (the text of the first of which is partially preserved on two stela fragments and a writing board known as the Carnarvon Tablet), Kamose recaptured much of the Nile valley and besieged, though did not take, Avaris itself. He was followed by his younger brother, Ahmose, the first king of the eighteenth dynasty, who captured Memphis, thereby completing the reconquest of the Nile valley.

The autobiographical inscription of one of Ahmose's naval officers reports that the king subsequently besieged and plundered Avaris. Occupation in the latest Hyksos-period stratum at Tell ed-Dab῾a appears to have ended abruptly, and the tombs of this phase were looted. After taking Avaris, Ahmose besieged and plundered Sharuhen. That town probably should be identified with Tell el-῾Ajjul in Gaza (although Tell Abu Hureirah [Tel Harar] has also been proposed as the site of Sharuhen), which has produced a large number of Hyksos royal-name scarabs and considerable gold jewelry. It may have served as a Hyksos stronghold and commercial emporium. Numerous other towns in ancient Palestine were destroyed and/or abandoned in the second half of the sixteenth century bce. Whether most of this devastation should be attributed to the Egyptian army has yet to be resolved.


Beckerath, Jürgen von.Untersuchungen zur politischen Geschichte der zweiten Zwischenzeit in Ägypten. Ägyptologische Forschungen, vol. 23. Glückstadt, 1964. Fundamental reference work for the history and archaeology of the Second Intermediate period.Find this resource:

    Bietak, Manfred.“Avaris and Piramesse: Archaeological Exploration in the Eastern Nile Delta.Proceedings of the British Academy65 (1979): 225–290. First major English-language summary of the Austrian excavations at Tell ed-Dab῾a.Find this resource:

      Bietak, Manfred.“Canaan and Egypt during the Middle Bronze Age.”Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 281 (1991): 27–72. Discussion of Egyptian-Levantine relations during the Middle Bronze Age, focusing on the stratigraphy and chronology of Tell ed-Dab῾a. Utilizes the author's low chronology for the Levantine materials.Find this resource:

        Bietak, Manfred.“Minoan Wall-Paintings Unearthed at Ancient Avaris.Egyptian Archaeology: The Bulletin of the Egypt Exploration Society2 (1992): 26–28. Preliminary report, with color photographs, of an important series of Aegean-style frescoes recently discovered at Avaris.Find this resource:

          Dever, William G.“Relations between Syria-Palestine and Egypt in the ‘Hyksos’ Period.” In Palestine in the Bronze and Iron Ages: Papers in Honour of Olga Tufnell, edited by Jonathan N. Tubb, pp. 69–87. University of London, Institute of Archaeology, Occasional Publication, no. 11. London, 1985. Disputes Bietak's low chronology for the Middle Bronze Age materials found at Tell ed-Dab῾a, proposing instead a middle chronology.Find this resource:

            Habachi, Labib.The Second Stela of Kamose and His Struggle against the Hyksos Ruler and His Capital. Abhandlungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts Kairo, Ägyptologische Reihe, vol. 8.Glückstadt, 1972. Translation of Kamose's important historical stela found at Karnak, with textual notes and historical interpretation.Find this resource:

              Hoffmeier, J. K.“Reconsidering Egypt's Part in the Termination of the Middle Bronze Age in Palestine.Levant21 (1989): 181–193. Argues against the idea that the Egyptians were responsible for the demise of the Middle Bronze II cities in ancient Palestine, based on an analysis of early eighteenth-dynasty Egyptian texts.Find this resource:

                Kaplan, Maureen F.The Origin and Distribution of Tell el Yahudiyeh Ware. Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology, vol. 62. Göteborg, 1980. Detailed study of the manufacture, geographic distribution, and chronology of Tell el-Yehudiyeh ware.Find this resource:

                  Redford, Donald B.“[Hyksos] History.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 3, pp. 341–344. New York, 1992. Brief, up-to-date survey of Hyksos history.Find this resource:

                    Tufnell, Olga.Studies on Scarab Seals, vol. 2, Scarab Seals and Their Contribution to History in the Early Second Millennium B.C.Warminister, 1984. Detailed analysis of Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate period scarabs (including those inscribed with Hyksos royal names), employing a very high chronology.Find this resource:

                      Van Seters, John. The Hyksos: A New Investigation. New Haven, 1966. Comprehensive study of Hyksos history and archaeology, based on data available through the early 1960s; must be supplemented by more recent publications.Find this resource:

                        Ward, William A.“Some Personal Names of the Hyksos Period Rulers and Notes on the Epigraphy of Their Scarabs.Ugarit Forschungen8 (1976): 353–365. Study of Hyksos royal names written in Egyptian hieroglyphs. Most names are identified as Semitic, although a few Hurrian names may also be present.Find this resource:

                          Weinstein, James M.“The Egyptian Empire in Palestine: A Reassessment.”Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 241 (1981): 1–28. Includes a historical analysis of Hyksos royal-name scarabs found in ancient Palestine and assigns the destructions and abandonments of Middle Bronze sites in southern and inland Palestine to the Egyptians.Find this resource:

                            Weinstein, James M.“[Hyksos] Archaeology.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 3, pp. 344–348. New York, 1992. Short overview of Hyksos archaeology.Find this resource:

                              James M. Weinstein

                              Was This Useful?