The 2nd Intermediate Period of Ancient Egypt

Illustration of the invasion of the Hyksos in Egypt, c.1650 B.C.
The Hyksos invade Egypt. Nastasic / Getty Images

The 2nd Intermediate Period of ancient Egypt — another period of de-centralization, like the first — began when the 13th Dynasty pharaohs lost power (after Sobekhotep IV) and Asiatics or Aamu, known as "Hyksos," took over. Alternatively, it was when the government center moved to Thebes following Merneferra Ay (c. 1695-1685 B.C.). The 2nd Intermediate Period ended when an Egyptian monarch from Thebes, Ahmose, drove the Hyksos from Avaris into Palestine. This reunified Egypt and established the 18th Dynasty, the start of the period known as the New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. The 2nd Intermediate Period of Ancient Egypt occurred in c. 1786-1550 or 1650-1550 B.C.

There were three centers in Egypt during the second intermediate period:

  1. Itjtawy, south of Memphis (abandoned after 1685 B.C.)
  2. Avaris (Tell el-Dab'a), in the eastern Nile Delta
  3. Thebes, Upper Egypt

Avaris, Capital of the Hyksos

There is evidence of a community of Asiatics in Avaris from the 13th Dynasty. The oldest settlement there may have been built to defend the eastern border. Contrary to Egyptian custom, area tombs were not in cemeteries beyond the residential area and the houses followed Syrian patterns. Pottery and weapons were also different from the traditional Egyptian forms. The culture was mixed Egyptian and Syrio-Palestinian.

At its largest, Avaris was about 4 square kilometers. Kings claimed to rule Upper and Lower Egypt but its southern border was at Cusae.

Seth was the local god, while Amun was the local god at Thebes.

Rulers Based at Avaris

The names of the rulers of Dynasties 14 and 15 were based in Avaris. Nehesy was an important 14th-century Nubian or Egyptian who ruled from Avaris. Aauserra Apepi ruled c.1555 B.C. Scribal tradition flourished under him and the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus was copied. Two Theban kings led campaigns against him.

Cusae and Kerma

Cusae is about 40 km (almost 25 miles) south of the Middle Kingdom's administrative center at Hermopolis. During the 2nd Intermediate Period, travelers from the south had to pay a tax to Avaris to travel the Nile north of Cusae. However, the King of Avaris was allied with the King of Kush, so Lower Egypt and Nubia maintained trade and contact via an alternate oasis route.

Kerma was the capital of Kush, which was at its most powerful in this period. They also traded with Thebes and some Kerma Nubians fought in Kamose's army.


At least one of the 16th Dynastic kings, Iykhernefert Neferhotep, and probably more, ruled from Thebes. Neferhotep commanded the army, but it is unknown whom he fought. Nine kings of the 17th Dynasty also ruled from Thebes.

The War of Avaris and Thebes

Theban king Seqenenra (​also spelled Senakhtenra) Taa quarreled with Apepi and fighting ensued. The war lasted more than 30 years, beginning under Seqenenra and continuing with Kamose after Seqenenra was slain with a non-Egyptian weapon. Kamose — who was likely Ahmose's elder brother — took over the fight against Aauserra Pepi. He sacked Nefrusi, north of Cusae. His gains didn't last and Ahmose had to fight against Aauserra Pepi's successor, Khamudi. Ahmose sacked Avaris, but we don't know whether he slaughtered the Hyksos or evicted them. He then led campaigns to Palestine and Nubia, restoring Egyptian control of Buhen.


  • Redford, Donald B. (Editor). "The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt." 1st Edition, Oxford University Press, 15 December 2000.
  • Shaw, Ian (Editor). "The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt." New Ed Edition, Oxford University Press, U.S.A., 19 February 2004.
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Gill, N.S. "The 2nd Intermediate Period of Ancient Egypt." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Gill, N.S. (2020, August 27). The 2nd Intermediate Period of Ancient Egypt. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "The 2nd Intermediate Period of Ancient Egypt." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 7, 2023).