Egypt, antiquities from the Second Intermediate Period (1786-1567 B.C.)

    The actual history of this period has not been completely established despite hundreds of years of scholarship. At the end of the Twelfth Dynasty, the central Egyptian government broke down and the power of the pharaoh diminished considerably. At the beginning of the Thirteenth Dynasty, the system of forts that kept out Asiatic invaders broke down.

    Cedar coffin of the steward Seni, Twelfth Dynasty; the profusion of objects, birds, etc. on the right are offerings for the afterlife; British Museum, London, U.K.

    Asian immigrants moved in large numbers to the eastern part of the Nile Delta, they were probably originally from Lebanon and Syria. Many of them were craftsmen and traders. They were the first to bring the use of the wheel as a means of transportation for Egypt; because of the Hyksos chariots were now used in battles in Egypt. They also raised the level of bronze craftsmanship considerably. They created their own government. The kings of this period were called Heqan khasot, which translates as "princes of foreign countries." The Greeks abbreviated this as Hyksos. The Hyksos kings prevailed during the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Dynasties.

    Funerary stela of the sculptor Userwer, Twelfth Dynasty, British Museum, London, U.K.

    The Hyksos adapted to Egyptian society quite successfully. They called themselves Egyptian names, were adherents of the Egyptian religion. Because they were originally from the East, they worshipped the god Baal. In Egypt Baal was connected with the Egyptian god Set, so the Hyksos were closely tied to Set-worship.

    Gold, lapis lazuli, turquoise pectoral necklace, Mereret, an aristocratic woman; pyramid of Senwosret III, late Twelfth Dynasty; Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

    By the beginning of the Thirteenth Dynasty (1786-1633 B.C.) Lower Egypt was for all intents, independent of the formerly central Egyptian government. There were sixty recorded kings for the Thirteenth Dynasty. The bureaucracy continued to function, temples and monuments continued to be built. Standards of craftsmanship did not appreciably decline. The Fourteenth Dynasty (1786-1603) was characterized by more political volatility: seventy-six kings are in the king list of Manetho. But the reasons for this remain enigmatic. The Fourteenth Dynasty's capitol was Xois, the principal city of the sixth nome of Lower Egypt.

    The Fifteenth Dynasty, with its six Hyksos kings, seems to have started in about 1670 B.C. The capitol was now at Avaris in the eastern portion of the Nile Delta.

    Map showing Avaris

    Relics from this period have been excavated in Israel, Crete, Iraq, and far into the Sudan. However, the Hyskos never completely controlled Thebes.

    Granite statue of lion, inscribed with name of Hyksos king Khyan, Fifteenth Dynasty; 500 mm x 260 mm; British Museum, London, U.K.

    Stucco and painted plaster mummy mask, ca. 1750-1650 B.C., excavated at Mirgissa; Louvre, Paris, France.

    In later times, the Hyskos were characterized as brutes who terrorized Egypt. This reflected the xenophobia of ancient Egyptian culture more than the reality of politics or society under the Hyksos. This was a time of scientific as well as cultural advancement. The earliest extant mathematical document--the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus--dates from the rule of King Auserre Apophis I during Hyksos times. (Auserre Apophis I ruled for forty years.) This Papyrus is an elaborate combination math test, multiplication table and geometry guide. Here are some of the problems it illustrates: (1) A pyramid is 140 units inlength on one side, and 5 palms and one finger in its slope. What is its vertical height? (2) There is a container shaped like a circle that is 9 cubits high. It is 6 cubits wide. How much corn will fit into it?

    Detail; Rhind Mathematical Papyrus; Fifteenth Dynasty, 32 cm; British Museum, London, U.K.

    During the Hyksos period, other immigrant groups found a temporary home in Egypt, among them the C-Group and Kerma people. Another group, the pan-grave people originally came into Upper Egypt as cattle-herders.

    Map of Nubia

    The pan-grave people were Nubian semi-nomads who immigrated to Egypt in the late Middle Kingdom (ca. 2035-1668 B.C.) and Second Intermediate Period (1720 - 1550 B.C.) They were mercenaries who acted as a police force in the Valley of the Kings. They are called pan-grave people because their graves were circular, shallow, pit graves. (B.J. Kemp, Ancient Egypt: a social history, Cambridge University Press, 1983, pp. 169-71.)

    Bone with painted horn; Bucranium, ca. 1640-1550 B.C.; 41.5 cm x 75 cm; Pan Grave, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

    In about 1650 B.C. the Thebans began to rebel against the Hyskos rulers. At the start, the movement was probably confined to Upper Egypt. The chief politicians were called king, prince, and other royal titles, but still paid taxes to the Hyksos authorities.

    Detail, Priest Amenhotep's wooden coffin, exterior, 200 cm in length; ca. Twelfth to Thirteenth Dynasties; British Museum, London, U.K.

    Political discontent finally evolved into violent conflict at the end of the Second Intermediate Period. Brutal wounds can been seen in the mummified remains of the Theban king Seqenera Taa II, who fought the Hyksos. Kamose, Seqenera's son, became even more zealous in his campaign against the Hyksos king Apopi. Kamose took the title "He who bends the Two Towers," one of the names of the god Horus. Kamose was extremely successful until he reached the Hyksos capitol Avaris. At that point, the Nubians, allies of the Hyksos regime, attacked the Thebans from the south. The valiant story of Kamose's victories and escape from the Nubians was inscribed on a stele at the temple of Amun.

    Sandstone statue of Queen Ahmose-Nefertari, daughter of King Kamose last king of the Seventeenth Dynasty; wife of King Ahmose; 21 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

    The statue below demonstrates that even during civil war, the Thebans managed to create pieces of high aesthetic and technical quality. Originally, the statue was about 1.8 m high. The statue once has eyes of inlaid jewels. The back of the statue has a unique feature. There are two small figures of the goddess Ipi. Ipi is typically depicted on magic wands to protect newborn babies. Here she protects the king.

    Red granite statue of King Sekhemrawadjkhau Sebekemsaf, from Karnak; Seventeenth Dynasty, 180 cm; British Museum, London, U.K.

    Ahmose, the son of Kamose, was the first king of the New Kingdom and the Eighteenth Dynasty. He achieved what his father could not, the expulsion of the Hyksos from northern Egypt. But when this happened and the circumstances under which it happened are unknown. Ahmose also had great military successes in Nubia and Palestine. Almost immediately after the expulsion of the Hyksos, Ahmose undertook enormous building and rehabilitation projects in Thebes and Abydos, however, his tomb has never been identified.

    The earliest known Shabti (small funerary statue in the casket of the deceased) of a king, limestone figure of King Ahmose, ca. 1520 B.C.; Eighteenth Dynasty; 28.7 cm.; British Museum, London, U.K.

    The first heart scarab found intact, tomb of King Sobhekemsaf, Thebes, Egypt. Scarab with head of a man mounted in gold; ca. 1590 B.C. 3.8 cm. long x 2.5 cm. wide. The purpose of such a scarab was to protect the heart for the afterlife. It was put over the heart of the mummy during the funerary rites. British Museum, London, U.K.