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Monarchs of the NileNew Revised Edition$

Aidan Dodson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9789774167164

Published to University Press Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.5743/cairo/9789774167164.001.0001

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The Liberators

The Liberators

(p.67) 8 The Liberators
Monarchs of the Nile

Aidan Dodson

American University in Cairo Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter shows the historical developments from the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth dynasties. Having apparently displaced the previous Palestinian elite (the Fourteenth Dynasty, who had ruled there since soon after the fall of the Twelfth Dynasty), the Hyksos (Fifteenth Dynasty), a group of princes of Palestinian origin, rapidly extended their dominion and ruled there with full pharaonic titles for something over a century. This period marked the beginnings of conflict between the Hyksos and Theban regimes. At the same time, or some time earlier, Egypt's Nubian province became decoupled from the state, and a line of native rulers set up their own kingdom based on the town of Kerma.

Keywords:   Fifteenth Dynasty, Sixteenth Dynasty, Seventeenth Dynasty, Eighteenth Dynasty, Hyksos, Thebes, Nubia, Taa, Kamose, Ahmose I


Around 1650 bc, the rule of northern Egypt passed from the Thirteenth Dynasty, the heirs of the house of Amenemhat, to the Hyksos (Fifteenth Dynasty), a group of princes of Palestinian origin. They exercised their control from the city of Avaris (Tell el-Daba) in the eastern Delta, a place gradually settled by Levantines since the middle of the Twelfth Dynasty. Having apparently displaced the previous Palestinian elite (the Fourteenth Dynasty, who had ruled there since soon after the fall of the Twelfth Dynasty), they rapidly extended their dominion and ruled there with full pharaonic titles for something over a century. Their city displayed many aspects of Palestinian culture, as well as many monuments looted from the Memphite and Fayyum regions. These items included sculptures of Middle Kingdom kings (e.g., that shown in fig. 21), and even the capstone from the now lost pyramid of King Iy.

At the same time, or some time earlier, perhaps soon after Sobek-hotep IV’s campaign, Egypt’s Nubian province became decoupled from the state, a line of native rulers setting up their own kingdom, based on the town of Kerma. Their remains show an interesting mix of indigenous traditions and Egyptian survivals, the former being very clearly visible in the royal tombs at Kerma, huge tumuli under which the king lay on a bed, surrounded by the bodies of his sacrificed servants.

What was probably the rump of the old Egyptian regime reestablished itself at the ancestral city of Thebes (the Sixteenth Dynasty). Ruled by kings bearing such time-honored Theban names as Inyotef and Montjuhotep, they seem to have initially coexisted with their northern (p.68)

The Liberators

22. The head of the mummy of King Taa, showing the horrific wounds that caused his death (Egyptian Museum, Cairo, CG 61051).

neighbors. However, in the time of the Hyksos Khyan, the Palestinians pushed south and for a time controlled the whole of the Nile Valley down to at least Gebelein, if not to the Nubian frontier. It may have been at the same time that the Nubians launched an invasion of Egypt that was, however, repulsed, the rulers of el-Kab playing a key role.

The Hyksos’ southward penetration may have represented overextension by the northerners, since Theban independence was soon reasserted in the form of the Seventeenth Dynasty. Some form of accommodation would appear to have then been reached between the two regimes, perhaps with Thebes accepting the Hyksos’ nominal overlordship for a period of time. However, this was to change in the reign of the penultimate monarch of the dynasty, Taa (possibly an abbreviation of the name Djehutyaa). His mother was Tetisherit, the daughter of the judge Tjenna, and the lady Neferu; although the monuments nowhere state it, his father was presumably his predecessor, Ahmose the Elder, whose name only became known in 2012. Taa married his sisters, Ahhotep, Inhapi, and Sitdjehuty, who together bore him a number of children (see fig. 23).

Our knowledge of the quarrel which broke out between Thebes and Avaris is derived from a later folk tale which tells of a complaint by the Hyksos King Apepy that the hippopotami of Thebes were disturbing his sleep; the origins of this obviously trumped-up charge are clearly in some (p.69) way mythological (the hippopotamus was on occasion a symbol of chaos). Of the war which clearly followed we know little, apart from a fundamental part of its outcome, as among the surviving royal mummies is that of King Taa (fig. 22). It is poorly preserved, largely disarticulated, with only part of the skin preserved, but it is the state of the head that grips one’s attention. The skull is covered with horrific wounds: a dagger thrust behind the ear may have felled the king, after which weapons rained down upon him. Mace blows smashed his cheek and nose, while a battleaxe cut through the bone above his forehead. The mummy’s mouth remains with its lips drawn back, seemingly in the king’s final anguish.

Although some have suggested that the king might have fallen at the hands of assassins, the sheer violence and variety of weapons argues far more clearly for death on the battlefield. What is more, the Palestinian origin of the battleaxe that crushed the king’s skull has been proven by comparison of the wound with actual examples of contemporary weapons of this type. Taa was buried below a small pyramid at Dra Abu’l-Naga in the Theban necropolis, his mummy being removed to a communal place of safety (Theban Tomb [TT] 320) at Deir el-Bahari early in the Twenty-second Dynasty. The body came to rest in the Egyptian Museum in 1881.


Kamose’s relationship to Taa is uncertain: he may have been his elder son, although it has also been suggested that Kamose may have been a younger brother of Taa. The identity of his queen is likewise unclear.

Our knowledge of the events of Kamose’s reign is derived principally from the two stelae that he set up in the temple of Karnak. These tell that in his third year he decided to resume hostilities against the Hyksos, which seem to have been discontinued following the death of Taa, leaving the Thebans in control of only the section of Egypt between Hermopolis in Middle Egypt and Aswan. As the king himself put it: “To what end is my strength, when a chieftain is in Avaris, and another in Kush, and I sit together with an Asiatic and an African, each man holding his slice of this Egypt?” Accordingly, Kamose sent his forces northward, fighting his way through the country until, at length, he reached a point deep inside Hyksos territory, eighty kilometers south of the Fayyum at Sheikh Fadl. During this exercise, a Hyksos royal messenger was captured carrying a letter from King Apepy to his ally, the king of Nubia, calling upon him to come to his aid by attacking the Egyptians from the south while their main forces were engaged in the Delta. It is evident that Kamose had not (p.70)

The Liberators

23. Reconstructed family tree of the Eighteenth Dynasty. (Kings are in bold capitals; women are in italics.)

(p.71) previously feared assault from that direction. Thus warned, he was able to take steps to protect himself against such an eventuality. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that as part of this, Kamose launched a southern offensive, conceivably as far as Buhen.

Although he had pushed the Hyksos back from the Theban heartland, it appears that Kamose died before the next northern campaigning season. He was buried in his small West Theban pyramid, the body later being removed and reinterred in rubble around seven hundred meters away. Regrettably, the mummy collapsed into a mass of bones and dust on discovery: thus we know nothing of the cause of the king’s death.

Ahmose I

A son of Taa and Ahhotep, Ahmose I seems to have been but a boy at Kamose’s death, and it would appear that no attempt to complete his predecessor’s work was made during the first decade of the reign. Ultimately, however, operations began once again, the Thebans managing to launch an attack on Heliopolis before pressing on into the Delta to finally settle scores with the Hyksos in Avaris.

The assaults against Avaris are recounted in the autobiography of Ahmose son of Ibana, a naval officer from el-Kab. The siege was fairly drawn out, interrupted by the need to put down insurrections in already liberated territory; it was finally completed somewhere between Years 12 and 15. This was followed up by a six-year siege of the southwest Palestinian fortress of Sharuhen, whose surrender marked the formal expulsion of the Hyksos. This great victory was accompanied by the decoration of deserving personnel, Ahmose receiving the ‘Gold of Bravery,’ along with captives as slaves.

Having freed Egypt of foreign rule, Ahmose I then turned his attention to Nubia. Kamose may have managed to regain at least some of the area; now, Egyptian forces reasserted rule over the area south of the Second Cataract, enabling the establishment of a new civil administration headed by a viceroy, the first of whom under Ahmose I may have been one Djehuty.

The king’s absence in Nubia may have encouraged rebellions by former Hyksos allies in Middle Egypt. In particular, one Tetien is named, conceivably the same man who had been a foe of Kamose over a decade earlier. This period of uprisings seems to have brought the queen mother, Ahhotep, to the fore, a stela praising her for being “one who cares for Egypt … (who) has pacified Upper Egypt and expelled her rebels.” It was (p.72) perhaps for her role in these events that she received the gold flies, known to be awards for valor, which were found on her mummy.

Having resolved matters within Egypt and the ‘near abroad,’ Ahmose I seems to have returned to Palestine to undertake a further campaign to extend the area of Egyptian power into Asia. It is possible that his advance may have pushed as far as the Euphrates, on the basis of an allusion on a stela of Thutmose I. Thus, by the end of his reign, Ahmose I had expunged the shame of Hyksos domination, restored Egypt’s imperium on the upper Nile, and laid the foundation for his successors’ expansion into Syria–Palestine and beyond.

Like his father, Ahmose married a sister, Ahmes-Nefertiry. They had a number of children, including Ahmose I’s original heir, Ahmose-ankh, his eventual successor, Amenhotep I, the latter’s wife, Meryetamun, the princes Ahmose-Sipairi, Siamun, and Ramose, and the princess Sitamun. The king built a pyramid with an associated tomb and temples to the south of Senwosret III’s Abydos tomb complex; the pyramid, nearly seventy meters square, is the last known royal example to be built in Egypt proper, while the pyramid-temple was decorated with battle scenes that may depict the expulsion of the Hyksos, including the earliest known Egyptian representation of horses. It seems possible that Ahmose I was at first buried here, with his body later being moved to Thebes, perhaps for reburial alongside his son and successor, Amenhotep I, in his tomb. In any case, Ahmose’s body was found in the Third Intermediate Period cache of royal mummies at Deir el-Bahari.