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Egypt: History - Second Internediate Period (13th to 17th Dynasties)


Second Intermediate Period

Since the passage of Time shows no break in continuity, nothing but some momentous event or sequence of events can justify a particular reign being regarded as inaugurating an era. What caused Sobeknofru, or Sobeknofrure' as later sources call her, to be taken as closing Dyn. XII will doubtless never be known. But the Turin Canon, the Saqqara king-list, and Manetho are unanimous on the point. The Abydos list jumps straight from Ammenemes IV to the first king of Dyn.XVIII. The date of Amosis I, the founder of Dyn. XVIII, being fixed with some accuracy, the interval from 1786 to 1575 BC must be accepted as the duration of the Second Intermediate Period. This is an age the problems of which are even more intractable than those of the First. Before entering upon details, it will be well to note that the general pattern of these two dark periods is roughly the same. Both begin with a chaotic series of insignificant native rulers. In both, intruders from Palestine cast their shadow over the Delta and even into the Valley. Also in both, relief comes at last from a hardy race of Theban princes, who after quelling internal dissension expel the foreigner and usher in a new epoch of immense power and prosperity.


Some account has already been given of the formidable difficulties here confronting us, but these must now be discussed at length. As usual we start with Manetho. The THIRTEENTH DYNASTY according to him, was Diospolite (Theban) and consisted of sixty kings who reigned for 453 years. The FOURTEENTH DYNASTY counted seventy-six kings from Xois, the modern Sakha in the central Delta, with a total of 184 or, as an alternative reading, 484 years. For Dyns. XV to XVII there is divergence between Africanus and Eusebius, while a much simpler account is preserved by the Jewish historian Josephus in what purports to be a verbatim extract from Manetho's own writing. For our present purpose the data supplied by Africanus must suffice. His FIFTEENTH DYNASTY consists of six foreign so-called 'Sheperd' or Hyksos kings, whose domination lasted 284 years. The SIXTEENTH DYNASTY consisted of Shepherd kings again, thirty-two in number totaling 518 years. Lastly, in the SEVENTEENTH DYNASTY Shepherd kings and Theban kings reigned concurrently, forty-three of each line altogether 151 years. Adding these figures, but adopting the lower number of years given for Dyn. XIV, we obtain 217 kings covering a stretch of 1590 years, over seven times the duration to which acceptance of the Sothic date in the El-Lahun papyrus has committed us. To abandon 1786 BC as the year when Dyn. XII ended would be to cast adrift from our only firm anchor, a course that would have serious consequences for the history, not of Egypt alone, but of the entire Middle East.

Of the three monumental king-lists that of Karnak alone enumerates rulers of the period. In its undamaged state it may have mentioned as many as thirty, about half that number being authenticated by actual remains, building blocks, stelae, or the like, mostly from the Theban area. Unfortunately these names are interspersed among those of Old or Middle Kingdom kings in so disorderly a fashion that not trustworthy sequence is obtainable. The Turin Canon, despite its fragmentary condition, is a source of great value. As remounted by Ibscher, the papyrus fragments distribute the kings from Dyn. XIII until far down in the direction of Dyn. XVIII over no less than six columns, each containing up to thirty entries. It would be unwise, however, to assume that the manuscript, when intact, named as many as 180 distinct kings. Columns 10 and 11 are somewhat doubtful quantities, and some of the names mentioned in them, as well as in column 9, have a very suspect appearance. Not more than about sixty names are still sufficiently well preserved to make their identity certain, only about a third of these being authenticated by external monuments. On the other hand, the monuments acquaint us with a considerable number of names which must belong to this period but for one reason or another--some no doubt on account of the Canon's defective condition--are not to be found in that document. Immense labor has been devoted to collecting this material, and to seeking to place the different reigns in correct chronological order. For this purpose the style of the scarabs found bearing royal cartouches, the appearance and structure of the names themselves, and other evidence equally tenuous, have all been employed. When all is said and done the results have been of a hypothetical character ill calculated to commend itself to any but the most venturesome scholars. Here we will content ourselves with little more than a scrutiny of the Turin Canon itself. Indubitably the Ramesside compiler believed himself able to present the hundred or so kings known to him in a single continuous series, with the exact length of each reign correctly stated. The number of years is preserved in some twenty-nine cases, these totaling in all 153 years without counting the odd months and days. Included in that total are six kings (mostly to be named hereafter) whose reign in each instance exceeds ten years, amounting together to 101 years, though the reading of the numerals is not always as certain as one could wish. This leaves for the remaining twenty-three kings a sum of no more than fifty-two years, an average of little more than two years apiece. It is conspicuous that in the rare occurrences of dated monuments the date is more often than not in the first, second, or third year. Remembering the contention that in Egypt prolonged length of reign is a sure indication of the country's prosperity, we can now maintain the converse and argue that during the period which in the Turin Canon corresponds to Manetho's Dyns. XIII and XIV the land was in a state of dire havoc and confusion, its rulers murdering and replacing one another with extreme rapidity. In two, if not three, cases the Canon mentions a kingless interval, in one case of six years' duration. On four occasions a formula is found which Ed. Meyer without solid ground interpreted as marking the advent of a new dynasty, but twice there occur words summing up a preceding one' of far greater interest than the isolated '[Total], five kings....' in II. 15 is an unnumbered fragment known already to Seyffarth and rediscovered by Botti, which Ibscher and Farina placed in the middle of column 10. Immediately following a line which must be restored as '[Chieftain of a foreign country] Khamudy' comes another giving '[Total, chieftains of ] a foreign country, 6, making 108 years'. These are obviously the foreign usurpers referred to by Africanus in connection with Manetho's Dyns. XV, XVI, and XVII. But more of them later. Here we are concerned only with chronology. The entry just quoted practically compels us to conclude that the Canon embraced contemporary dynasties ruling in different parts of Egypt, even if the compiler was unaware of the fact. For when 108 years are subtracted from the 211 which are all that can be allowed for the Second Intermediate Period, we find a hundred or more kings huddled into little more than a century, which is, of course, absurd and becomes still more so when account is taken of the above-mentioned 101 years assigned to six reigns. It follows that the 108 years of the Hyksos rulers cannot be subtracted in this way, and must refer to domination somewhere in the Delta. The alternative, therefore, which all recent Egyptologists accept, is that the Canon's enumeration comprised many kings existing simultaneously, but presumably in widely distant parts of the country. Manetho, as may be seen from his reference to Xois, was not entirely unaware of the fact, though he too regarded his dynasties as consecutive. Unhappily is only seldom that a king of the Turin list can be pinned down to a restricted area. Perhaps the dynast who took the Nomen of Mermesha 'the General' held sway only in the extreme north. Outside the Canon he is known only from two statues found at Tanis, and the like may be true of Nehasy 'the Nubian' who despite his name seems to have belonged to the Delta. It is possibly significant that nearly half of the kings of column 6 have left monuments or fragments in Upper Egypt. Only very few have been found of the kings of the remaining columns. It will be seen how sadly, in discussing matters such as these, we are reduced to guessing.

Much ingenious argument has been used in the attempt to group the kings of the period differently from the way in which the Turin Canon presents them. It would be unjust to dismiss all such hypotheses as failures. But nowhere apparently has its ordering of names been definitely proved at fault. In the observations that follow the sequence of the Canon is accepted only for the lack of one more solidly founded. There is no doubt, at all events, about the first two rulers of Dyn. XIII. They are respectively Sekhemre'-khutowe and Sekhemkare', the last kings to be mentioned in the El-Lhun papyri, and the last in whose reigns levels of the Nile were recorded at Semna. Between them they ruled no more than ten years, after which came the already mentioned kingless gap of six years. That both exerted their authority over the entire land from the Fayyum to the Second Cataract and beyond is clear, and the facts that the first of the two took the name Amenemhe-Sebehotpe as his Nomen, and that the second may have adopted Amenemhe-sonbef as his, show how desperately they clung to the hope of being recognized as legitimate successors of Dyn. XII. This hope is even more pathetically exhibited in the Nomen of S'ankhibre', the sixth king of the dynasty, who could be satisfied with nothing less pompous than the name Ameny-Inyotef-Amenemhe. Immediately preceding him was an upstart with the very plebeian Prenomen Afnai ('He is mine') and half a dozen places later there occurs another ruler with the equally plebeian name Rensonb--he held the throne for no more than four months. It is remarkable that as many as six kings of the period chose for themselves the Nomen Sobekhotep 'Sobk is satisfied', with a reference to the crocodile-god of the Fayyum first honored in a cartouche by Queen Sobeknofru. Later on, in what we shall find convenient to describe as Dyn. XVII, kings and queens bearing the name of Sobekemsaf ('Sobk is his protection') show that the crocodile-god was still thought of as somehow connected with the monarchy. By that time, however, the link with the Fayyum was broken, and we discern a tendency to associate the deity with another Crocodilopolis not more than 15 miles south of Thebes. This continuity of nomenclature has sometimes been used, and probably rightly, as evidence of the shortness of the Second Intermediate Period. Other features like the trifling changes in art and material remains are equally cogent testimony.

At this point we will call a temporary halt to the dreary discussion of the period's ephemeral king, and turn our attention to a document that transports us into the very midst of the vital realities. This is a papyrus discovered at Dra'Abu 'n-Naga a hundred years ago in the tomb of a scribe of the Royal Harem. It is nothing less than the accounts of the Theban court extending over twelve days in the third year of one of the Sebekhotpe kings. Here the receipts and distribution of bread, beer, vegetables, and so forth are meticulously recorded from day to day. Two sources of revenue are distinguished. Firstly, there is the fixed income required for the sustenance of the king's womenfolk, officers of state, and so forth. This was supplied jointly by three departments (wa're), namely, the Department of the Head of the South, the Office of the People's Giving, and the Treasury, the first of the three contributing nearly twice as much as either of the other two. Secondly, there were very considerable additions called inu, a term elsewhere used for 'tribute' or 'complimentary gifts', which were utilized for exceptional purposes such as banquets for the chief dignitaries and the staff of what is curiously styled 'the House of the Nurses', or else as rewards for special services. The latter kind of income, for which the vizier or some other prominent functionary might be responsible, varied from almost as much as the former down to absolutely nil, so that no generalization can be given as to its amount. On the other hand, we learn that the daily needs of the royal household demanded nearly 2, 000 loaves and different kinds of bread and between 60 and 300 jugs of beer. Meat seems to have been reserved for special occasions. A surprising detail is that by the king's command the temple of Amun had to supply 100 loaves per diem. The actual amounts distributed varied slightly according to the balance brought forward form the previous day. All manner of interesting information is obtainable from this fascinating text, or would be but for the usual obstacles of ragged condition and difficulties of decipherment. For instance, there extended over a fortnight the entertainment of a small body of Medja Nubians, including two chieftains later joined by a third, who had come to make their submission. These barbarians do not seem, however, to have been admitted to a great banquet in the columnar hall of the palace which counted as many as sixty participants, including the musicians. The queen and the king's sisters were not present on this occasion, which was the culmination of the festival of the god Mont of Medamud, on the eve of the departure of his visiting statue from the capital. All the guests mentioned were males, with the vizier, the commander of the army, and the overseer of fields at their head. Elsewhere mention is made of the reception at the Court of the leading men of Hermonthis and Cusa, the latter 25 miles north of Asyur. It is important to note that by this time there is no longer mention of feudal princedoms or nomes, and that towns are referred to in their stead. From her comes the word haty-'o, which earlier has been rightly rendered as 'prince' or 'count', is from now onward best translated as 'mayor'.

The vizier 'Ankhu, who more than once heads the officials receiving gifts of food by the royal command, is known from several other sources. One is a papyrus in the Brooklyn Museum, where a written command is addressed to him by a king who reigned at least five years. The same papyrus mentions another who is usually recognized as Sobekhotep III, and who has left more memorials of himself than most of the petty rulers of those troubled times. The connection between the two references is obscure. Our 'Ankhu figures also on one of two stelae in the Louvre recording the extensive restorations made in the temple of Abydos by a priestly personage of that neighborhood named Amenysonb. This was in the reign of Khendjer, the bearer of a Nomen of outlandish appearance and possibly of foreign origin. Now Jequier in 1931 identified a small pyramid at Saqqara as belonging to a King Khendjer, who unfortunately bore a Prenomen different from that on the Louvre stela. Were there then two Khendjers, one in the north and one in the south? It seems a more probable hypothesis that one and the same monarch vacillated as regards his Prenomen. The problem is typical of the difficulties presented by this period. The Saqqara Khendjer is listed with certainty in the Turin Canon and if, as is believed, Sobekhotep III was intended by the entry four places farther on we might have the strange phenomenon of a single vizier holding office during the reigns of five ephemeral and possibly hostile monarchs. W.C. Hayes has produced evidence that throughout Dyn. XIII (roughly column 6 of the Canon) the Pharaonic capital was still at Lisht, though the Court sometimes moved to Thebes. The pyramid above mentioned and the fact that the vizier's son who assisted Amenysonb in his Abydos operations fared northwards when the work was finished certainly lend color to this hypothesis.

According to the Canon, Sobekhotep III was succeeded by a King Neferhotep, who reigned eleven years. Memorials of him, like those of his predecessor, are relatively numerous. Many rock inscriptions at the First Cataract appear to attest a visit of his, and a steatite plaque found a Wady Halfa at least suggests that his influence extended there. Even more interesting is a relief discovered a far-distant Byblos on the Syrian coast, and depicting the local prince doing homage to his person. A portrait of him survives in a fine statuette in the Bologna Museum. To the student of hieroglyphics, however, the most important relic of his reign is a great stela discovered by Mariette at Abydos, and left exposed on the spot on account of its much damaged condition. The general drift is still clear in spite of the defective copy alone available. It is the second oldest, and quite the most elaborate, telling them that he wishes to fashion in their true forms statues of the god Osiris and his Ennead and asking them to arrange for his inspection of the ancient books where such things are recorded. The courtiers assent with characteristic obsequiousness. An official is sent to Abydos to prepare the way. He arranges for Osiris to appear in procession in his sacred boat, and then the king himself arrives, personally supervises the fabrication of the images, and takes part in the mimic destruction of the god's enemies. The rest of the text is devoted to pious adulation of the deity, and threats to future persons who may thwart the remembrance of so great a royal benefactor.

This Neferhotep--there seems to have been a second of the name whom it is impossible to place--was followed by a Sihathor whose tenure of the throne was only three months. Then came a brother of Neferhotep by the same non-royal parents, a Kha'neferre' Sobekhotep reckoned as the fourth of the name. The length of this king's reign is lost in a lacuna, but a stela of the eighth year is known, and he too was evidently a powerful monarch to judge from the number of his surviving monuments. It is difficult to know what to make of a headless statue of him found at the Island of Argo just south of Kerma, more especially since a damaged inscription in the British Museum alludes to hostilities in that direction. Can the enterprise of this Dyn. XIII king have dispatched his agents or soldiers beyond the Third Cataract? A fifth Sobekhotep is accorded only four years by the Turin Canon, and he was succeeded by a Wahibre'-Iaib with ten years of reign and then by a Merneferre' with as many as twenty-three. Hardly anything, only a stela, a lintel, and some scarabs remain to commemorate these last two kings. They managed to hold the allegiance of their subjects for so long, they cannot have been insignificant. After a Merhotep with the Nomen Inai known elsewhere only from a stela and a single scarab, darkness descends upon the historical scene, leaving discernible in the twilight little beyond royal names for which the list of kings at the end of this work must be consulted. Our next concern here is with the momentous question of the rulers known as the Hyksos.

Concerning these foreigners the Jewish historian Josephus, in his polemic Against Apion, claims to quote the actual words of Manetho:

Tutimaios. In his reign, for what cause I know not, a blast of God smote us; and unexpectedly from the regions of the East invaders of obscure race marched in confidence of victory against our land. By main force they easily seized it without striking a blow. Having overpowered the rulers of the land, they then burned our cities ruthlessly, razed to the ground the temples of the gods, and treated all the natives with cruel hostility, massacring some and leading into slavery the wives and children of others. Finally, they appointed as king one of their number whose name was Salitis. He had his seat at Memphis, levying tribute from Upper and Lower Egypt, and always leaving garrisons behind in the most advantageous places....In the Sethroite nome he found a city very favorably situated on the east of the Bubastic branch of the Nile, and called Avaris after an ancient religious tradition. This place he rebuilt and fortified with massive walls....After reigning for 19 years Salitis died; and a second king Bnon succeeded and reigned for 44 years. next to him came Apachnan, who ruled for 36 years and 7 months; then Apophis for 61, and Iannas for 50 years and 1 month; then finally Assis for 49 years and 2 months. These six kings, their first rulers, were ever more and more eager to extirpate the Egyptian stock. Their race as a whole was called Hyksos, that is 'king-shepherds'; for hyk in the sacred language means 'king' and sos in common speech is 'sheperd'.

Josephus goes on to give from another manuscript a different derivation of the name Hyksos, according to which it signifies 'captive-shepherds'. The Egyptian hyk being a word for 'captive'. This etymology he prefers because he believed, as do many Egyptologists, that the Biblical story of the Israelite sojourn in Egypt and the subsequent Exodus had as its source the Hyksos occupation and later expulsion. In point of fact, although there are sound linguistic grounds for both etymologies, neither is the true one. The word Hyksos undoubtedly derives from the expression hikkhase 'chieftain of a foreign hill-country' which from the Middle Kingdom onwards was used to designate Bedouin sheiks. Scarabs bearing this title, but with the word for 'countries' in the plural, are found with several undoubted Hyksos kings and, as we have seen, the final proof is in the Turin Canon. It is important to observe, however, that the term refers to the rulers alone, and not, as Josephus thought, to the entire race. Modern scholars have often erred in this matter, some even implying that the Hyksos were a particular race of invaders who after conquering Syria and Palestine ultimately forced their way into Egypt. Nothing justifies such a view, even though the actual words of Manetho might seem to support it. It is true enough that for some centuries past there had been a growing pressure of alien peoples downwards into Syria, Hurrians from the Caspian region being among the first, these paving the way for the Hittites who followed from the north-west at the end of the sixteenth century. But of such movements there can have been no more than distant repercussions on the Egyptian border. The invasion of the Delta by a specific new race is out of the question; one must think rather of an infiltration by Palestinians glad to find refuge in a more peaceful and fertile environment. Some, if not most, of these Palestinians were Semites. Scarabs of the period mention chieftains with names like 'Anat-her and Ya'kob-her, and whatever the meaning of the element -her. 'Anat was a well-known Semitic goddess, and it is difficult to reject the accepted view that the patriarch Jacob is commemorated in the other name. It is doubtless impossible to suppress the erroneous usage of the word Hyksos as though it referred to a special race, but is should be born in mind that the Egyptians themselves usually employed for those unwelcome intruders the term 'Aamu, which we translate with rough accuracy as 'Asiatics' and which had much earlier served to designate Palestinian captives or hirelings residing in Egypt as servants.

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Last Updated: June 20th, 2011

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