Second Intermediate Period of Ancient Egypt

Illustration of a Votive Barque Attributed to Kamose
Illustration of a Votive Barque Attributed to Kamose. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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). The 2nd Intermediate Period ended when an Egyptian monarch from Thebes, Ahmose, having driven the Hyksos from Avaris into Palestine, reunified Egypt, and established the 18th Dynasty, the start of the period known as the New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt.

Dates of the 2nd Intermediate Period of Ancient Egypt

c. 1786-1550 or 1650-1550

2nd Intermediate Period Centers

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

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

Ancient Written Sources on the 2nd Intermediate Period

  • Turin Canon and other king-lists
  • Manetho
  • Royal inscriptions
  • Administrative records
  • Contemporary private inscriptions
  • Literary and scientific texts like the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus.

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. 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 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 and 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.

Thebes

At least one of the 16th Dynasty 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.

War Between Avaris and Thebes

Theban king Seqenenra (Senakhtenra?) Taa quarreled with Apepi and fighting ensued. War probably lasted more than 30 years beginning under Seqenenra and continuing with Kamose after Seqenenra was slain with a non-Egyptian weapon. Kamose, perhaps 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.

Sources

The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. by Ian Shaw. OUP 2000.

Stephen G. J. Quirke "Second Intermediate Period" The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Ed. Donald B. Redford. OUP 2001.