The Fall of the Hyksos and End of the Second Intermediate Period

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: History of Ancient Egypt

By Bob Brier, Ph.D., Long Island University

Dynasty XIII and XIV marked the decline of Egypt and the end of the Middle Kingdom. Dynasty XV saw the Hyksos, the foreigners, ruling Egypt from their stronghold in the north. Dynasty XVI was a spurious dynasty, with probably no real kings. And it’s Dynasty XVII when the Hyksos were eventually overthrown. Who defeated the Hyksos?

A grand Egyptian temple can be seen in the middle of the frame with sloping paths leading to it, there are twin statues on   either side of the entrance to the temple comples, which are in a state of ruin, and an imposing cliff is the backdrop to   the temple.
The Hyksos mainly stayed in the Delta in Lower Egypt, and about 500 miles south in Thebes. (Image: Mountains Hunter/Shutterstock)

Hyksos King Apophis’ Letter to Theban Prince Seqenenre Tao II

The Hyksos seemed to be pretty happy just staying put in the Delta, but in the south, Thebes, which is a good-sized city, is being ruled by Theban princes. And now our story starts, the story of the expulsion of the Hyksos.

It starts with a letter, an inflammatory letter sent by the Hyksos king Apophis. We have a papyrus, and it’s generally believed or was believed that the papyrus is a literary papyrus. It’s a fiction. It’s a short story. It’s actually a novella, and this is what it says.

It’s an interesting story. Apophis, the Hyksos king, sends a letter to the Theban prince Seqenenre Tao II. We just call him Seqenenre. Now, remember, they’re 500 miles apart. The Delta is in the north. Thebes is 500 miles in the south. The letter says, “The hippopotami in your pools are keeping me awake at night. They have to be silenced.” What does that mean? It’s certainly inflammatory. We just don’t quite understand what it means. But this is the papyrus that we have.

What is Seqenenre’s response? He gets an army to march north. What happens? We don’t know. The papyrus breaks off. We don’t have the ending.

What happened over the thousands of years—and this is common to all our papyri, and this is why we don’t have the ending—the parts of the papyri that are damaged most readily are the first and the last pages.

The first page is on the outside. That gets bumped around, knocked, and the last page is all the way on the inside, and it’s coiled so tightly that sometimes it cracks and breaks. So very often in a papyrus we do not have the beginning and the end. This is a papyrus where we just don’t have the end.

Learn more about the history of ancient Egypt.

The Mummy of Seqenenre Tao II

What happened to the ending of the papyrus letter sent by Apophis to Seqenenre? Is there any way we can figure it out? The answer is, yes, we think so. We have the mummy of Seqenenre Tao II, the prince who marches off to do battle with Apophis. His mummy exists. It’s in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo in the mummy room, and you can go and see it.

It’s an amazing thing to see. It’s not your ordinary mummy. If you look at the mummy’s head, you will see that there are wounds, many wounds on the head. It’s almost hard to orient yourself. You can’t quite make out where the eyes are.

A mummified head placed on some sort of cloth on a table
Seqenenre Tao II’s mummy in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo shows a large opening in the skull on the forehead, and a couple of puncture wounds behind the ear, which suggests the wounds were made by spears being thrust in or perhaps axes, and indicates Seqenenre died a violent death, possibly in the battlefield. (Image: G. Elliot Smith/Public domain)

There’s a large opening in the skull on the forehead. There are a couple of puncture wounds behind the ear. This is a mummy that died violently. There’s no question about it. It’s been suggested that he died in battle.

It is certain that he died violently. The wounds look like they were made from spears being thrust in and perhaps axes. It’s like an ax wound type of thing. Forensic people all would say the same thing. However, usually when people die violently like this, they have broken arms because there is a tendency to put your arm up and fend off the blow with your forearm.

Usually when you get violent head wounds, you also get arm wounds. It may be, though, that perhaps one blow does it. You know, he’s hit from behind, he goes down, and then, while he’s on the ground, people are doing him in. But certainly several people were responsible simultaneously for the death of Seqenenre. Therefore, one may think he may have indeed died in battle.

Now, we have his mummy. It’s interesting. They brought him back to Thebes for burial. He dies probably in the Delta, and they’re bringing him back for a proper burial, but they couldn’t do it properly. They didn’t have the embalmers workshop in the Delta, so they brought back the body as best as they could. They put some spices inside the body cavity, but he’s never really fully embalmed. It’s sort of almost like a battlefield embalming.

So they do the best they can, and they bring their pharaoh back. But it’s going to take a couple of weeks maybe to get him back to Thebes. It’s a long haul. It’s 500 miles. So we have the mummy of Seqenenre, and it suggests he dies in battle.

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Kamose Battles the Hyksos

Not a happy ending to the papyrus that’s damaged. Seqenenre Tao II has two sons, Kamose and Ahmose. Kamose thinks of the name. Ka means ‘the soul’, and mose is ‘born’—’a soul is born’. Kamose goes north and battles the Hyksos, avenging his father. There are records of this battle, of what Kamose did. Kamose carved it on a stela. Stela is a big, round-topped stone. He carved the stela and put it up in Karnak Temple for everybody to see about what he dis in the Hyksos.

Now, how does he do it? He marches north. Avaris is a walled city, so they’re laying siege to the city. They’re not letting Apophis out. Apophis sneaks a messenger out, and the messenger is going south to Nubia, where the gold is, where the Egyptians had always gotten their gold, and where the Egyptians had always gone to beat up the Nubians to make sure they got the gold. So the Nubians are no friends of the Egyptians.

Apophis sends a letter, and it says, send troops, and we’ll divide Egypt between us. So he wants to have a confederation with the Nubians to defeat Kamose. But the messenger never got through. Kamose’s stela tells us they captured the messenger, and the Nubians never learned about it.

Learn more about the Second Intermediate Period.

Ahmose Defeated the Hyksos

So we know that Kamose has besieged Avaris and really done a job on Apophis from this stela. There are actually two versions of the stela, even. One’s very damaged. He must have put it up in various places. This was like a big deal to tell people about. So we know that Kamose goes north and does a number on Apophis, but he doesn’t do the final number. That’s interesting.

Kamose dies, and the final expulsion of the Hyksos is by his brother, Ahmose, and we have records of Ahmose expelling the Hyksos also. The records come, interestingly, from a military man’s tomb, a man called Ahmose, son of Ebana.

Ahmose, son of Ebana, was a career military man. There were lots of those in Egypt. The military was a way to rise up through the ranks and do quite well, because one of the reasons you could do quite well is they had plundering. When you went into a town and you were victorious, you took everything that wasn’t nailed down, and often the pharaoh rewarded you.

Ahmose, son of Ebana’s career spanned three different pharaohs, and he went with Ahmose, the brother of Kamose, north to defeat the Hyksos. What he says is on the walls of his tomb.

It’s a wonderful, wonderful, long narrative of the career of this military guy, who was very proud. He tells about how he was rewarded and what he did. They chased the Hyksos all the way north to Palestine, so the Hyksos were finally kicked out of Egypt.

So we do have a kind of resolution to it. These foreigners, these vile Hyksos, are kicked out, and Ahmose, son of Ebana, the military man, tells us, the pharaoh rewarded me. I was given slaves. In other words, when you’re there you can capture people, and he captured four people, so he’s given four slaves. He’s allowed to keep them.

Sometimes when the Egyptians brought back slaves—they didn’t bring back large numbers, but they brought back slaves—they were given to the temple. These were the people who did the work in the temple. They would clean the temple or do whatever. So we do have a clear, clear picture here that the Hyksos are finally expelled. Kamose starts it. Ahmose finishes it, and Ahmose is going to be the first king of the next dynasty and the New Kingdom.

Learn more about Joseph in Egypt.

Common Questions about Seqenenre Tao II, Kamose and Ahmose

Q: How were the Hyksos driven out of Egypt?

The Hyksos had mostly confined themselves to the Delta in the south, but towards the end the Theban princes in the north had become stronger and there was a battle between the Hyksos king Apophis and the Theban prince Seqenenre Tao II. We don’t know exactly how the battle panned out, but we know a battle did take place. Seqenenre’s sons – Kamose and Ahmose – then further battled against the Hyksos and eventually drove them out of Egypt.

Q: Who defeated the Hyksos?

Theban prince Seqenenre Tao II has two sons, Kamose and Ahmose. After the death of Seqenenre Tao II, Kamose marched to the Hyksos capital Avaris to avenge his father. He succeeds to a great degree in defeating the Hyksos king Apophis, but he couldn’t completely finish him off. The final expulsion of the Hyksos was carried out by Kamose’s brother, Ahmose.

Q: What was Ahmose rise to power?

Ahmose, the brother of Kamose, drove the Hyksos north up to Palestine and truly expelled them from Egypt. He completed what his brother had started, after Kamose’s death. Following this Ahmose became the first king of the next dynasty and the New Kingdom.

Q: What is Ahmose most famous for?

Ahmose, the son of Theban prince Seqenenre Tao II and the brother of Kamose, is most famous for expelling the foreign rulers, the Hyksos out of Egypt.

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