Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Hyksos Rise to Power in Egypt (Part 1)

During a period of internal anarchy and weakness known as the Second Intermediate Period foreigners came to control most of Egypt. These foreigners eventually came to claim the title of "King of Egypt". There has been much speculation as to who the Hyksos were and how they came to power in Egypt. Unfortunately we are unlikely to ever know the full set of facts pertaining to either of these questions.

The word Hyksos is the Greek form of the Egyptian words “Hekaw Khasut” or “Rulers of foreign lands. This phrase is used by the Egyptians as early as the Sixth Dynasty and as late as the Ptolemaic period to designate “Asiatics”[1]. Enberg has claimed that Hurrian pottery found in Egypt suggests that the Hyksos were part of the great migration of the Hurrian people into the Middle East[2], but Save-Soderbergh rejects this theory by pointing out that the pottery which Enberg refers to is only decorated like Hurrian pottery, the actual forms of the pottery are not Hurrian[3]. Save-Soderbergh further points out that most of the names of the Hyksos are Semitic, rather than Hurrian and that, furthermore, if pottery was a valid criterion for postulating ethnic make-up of the Hyksos, then a Cypriote element among the Hyksos must be allowed for as Cypriote pottery has been found in Egypt dating to the Hyksos period[4]. I am inclined to believe that there is no such thing as one group of people called the Hyksos. Rather the “Hyksos” were likely any of numerous different groups of people who were living in the Levant[5].

[1] Enberg, R. “The Hyksos Reconsidered” in Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939), p. 6.

[2] Enberg, R. “Hyksos Reconsidered”, p. 6.

[3] Save-Soderbergh, T. “The Hyksos Rule in Egypt” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 37 (1951), p. 58.

[4] Save-Soderbergh, T. JEA, 37, pp.58-9.

[5] Gardiner, Alan. Egypt Under the Pharaohs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 156, agrees with the present author.

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