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Hyksos

Updated on September 4, 2009

The Hyksos were foreign rulers of ancient Egypt, constituting the 15th and 16th dynasties. The name was first applied to them by Manetho, an Egyptian historian of the third century BC, who interpreted it to mean "shepherd kings", although it actually means "rulers of foreign lands".

The six great Hyksos kings of the 15th dynasty (1652-1544 BC) ruled from Avaris in the eastern Nile delta. The roughly contemporaneous 16th dynasty comprised Hyksos vassal rulers in the delta and Middle Egypt.

The Hyksos were formerly pictured as a numerous, ethnically distinct Asian people, with superior organization and armament (notably the horse-drawn chariot), who had taken Egypt by conquest. The evidence now suggests merely a change of rulers in a weakened Egypt at the end of the Middle Kingdom. At first by infiltration and later possibly by the movement of larger bodies of peoples, the Hyksos took control of the eastern delta, from which they eventually dominated all of Egypt for a brief time. The new rulers had close connections with Asia, but on the whole were responsive to Egyptian culture. The subsequent Egyptian version of the Hyksos as cruel barbarians appears exaggerated.

The horse and chariot were introduced late in the period of Hyksos rule, along with bronze weapons and the compound bow, all brought from Asia. The Egyptian rulers of the vassal 17th dynasty (1600-1554 BC) in Thebes eventually adopted these new weapons and used them in their revolt against the Hyksos. Ahmose, founder of the 18th dynasty at Thebes, expelled the Hyksos from Egypt.

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