Foreign rulers of the Nile : a reassessment of the cultural contribution of the Hyksos in Egypt

Bronn, Johanna Aletta (2006-03)

Thesis (MPhil (Ancient Studies)--University of Stellenbosch, 2006.


The time between the Middle and New Kingdoms in Ancient Egypt is known as the Second Intermediate Period. It was the time during which Egypt, for the first time in its history, lost autonomy and the inhabitants of Egypt became the vassals of the Hyksos, a name transcribed by Manetho, a historian of the third century BCE as 'shepherd kings', but which actually designated 'princes of foreign lands'. The term 'Hyksos' at first referred to the rulers only, but later became the accepted word to indicate the rulers, the people themselves and everything pertaining to them. The Hyksos were not a homogenous race, but were a conglomerate of peoples from the Near East. For centuries people from the east had been filtering into Egypt. Transhumants and nomads came in search of pasture for their animals and elected to stay. Others were employed by the Egyptian administration as ship-builders and mining engineers or as workers in the copper and turquoise mines in the Sinai. These workers were all settled in the Delta, the hub of mining and shipbuilding activities. Others were slaves who were dispersed all over Egypt as workers in households and on farms. Despite Egypt's best efforts to keep out Asiatics who wanted to enter the country of their own volition, their fortresses on the border between Egypt and Sinai proved ineffective, especially when the Egyptian administration faltered and collapsed during the Seventeenth Dynasty. It is still a point debated by historians whether a strong military force from the East overran Egypt in c.1658 BCE or whether the transition from Egyptian rule to Hyksos rule was a gradual and comparatively peaceful process. There is evidence that the Hyksos were supported by many Egyptians who collaborated with the Hyksos and who even served in the Hyksos administration which lasted from c. 1658 – 1550 BCE. However, the vassal princes in Upper Egypt saw the Hyksos as usurpers and amassed forces to expel the enemy. This they achieved in c. 1550 BCE, after which it was possible to once again unite Upper and Lower Egypt. This thesis probes the rule of the Hyksos and the influence they might have had on Egyptian culture. Part One (chapters 2-7) deals with the Hyksos per se: their origin, their rise to power, their rule, and how they were expelled. Part Two (chapters 8-12) investigates the Hyksos culture and has a close look at their architecture, arts and crafts, burial practices, warfare and weapons, and religion. Part Three (chapter 13) examines the influence the Hyksos might have had on Egyptian culture, with special attention to architecture, burial practices, arts and crafts, warfare and weapons, and religion. Chapter 14 rounds off the thesis and comes to the conclusion that the Hyksos made very little impact on the Egyptian culture in general, but contributed greatly to Egypt's development in warfare and weapons, and also for a period exerted some influence on religious practices, especially in the Delta. Finally, the Hyksos contributed to Egypt's altered world vision by forcing them to shed their complacency, which in turn opened the way to expansionism in countries in the Near East.

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