Traditional Enemies of the Ancient Egyptians


Traditional enemies of the Ancient Egyptians were both the Hyksos and later the Hittites but who were these peoples, and were they successful in their quest to invade Egypt? Were they just warlike peoples and did they contribute anything to the ancient civilisation?

We should look firstly at the Hyksos who were an Asiatic group made up mainly of Semites. They actually invaded Egypt and rules over the Egyptians for over 100 years, This happened around 1750 BC during the 12th Dynasty in the Middle Kingdom Period. The name "Hyksos" is said to mean "rulers of foreign lands" and they were finally ousted with the formation of the New Kingdom in 1567 BC. In many ways the Egyptians invited this invasion upon themselves as the power of the Pharaoh's weakened, with decent spreading amongst the Egyptian nobles. The initial invasion was by all accounts a very vicious affair, with towns and villages being destroyed. Once defeated the Egyptians seemed to have accepted their fate and resisted little to outside rule. The Hyksos quickly established law and order but surprisingly continued with a comprehensive building programme including temples and other works. The economy advanced amid certain improvements such as the vertical loom, the well sweep and the composite bow. These advances are directly attributable to the invaders. Advances were also made in agriculture with new breeds of cattle and plants being introduced. On the whole the Hyksos experience can be seen in a positive light in retrospect. Prince Salaris was the most prominent of the six Hyksos rulers at this time and he set up a new capital at Avaris, limiting the power of Memphis. The exact location of Avaris is still a mystery today. Salaris extended his rule as far as Nudia and the name "Salaris" is said to mean "Sultan".

Egypt's other main adversaries were the Hittites and they took their name from the Plain of Hatti, which they settled in having moved southwards from the area around the Caucus mountains. They overran areas of Turkey and Syria around 1900 BC. Our information is very sketchy but we know that Lebarna ruled between 1680 - 1650 BC and he and his successors pushed south through Anatolia to Syria raiding into the old Babylonian Empire. Telipinu ruled around 1500 BC and he established stability and developed law codes on which the new Hittite kingdom was set up. Thutmosis III had defeated them and they began paying tribute to him. In 1380 BC Suppiluliuma (Shubbiluliu) came to the fore and defeated the Mitanni bringing the Hittites back into prominence.

Although they never managed to overcome the Egyptians they did begin to expand their influence due to the weakness of Egyptian rule under Akhenaton. This was during the Armana period when fundamental change occurred as a result of the sun cult. The major flash-point between the two cultures came at the battle of Kadesh on the Orontes river. Ramesses II having save Egypt from the sun cult experiment was anxious to confront the Hittites and defeat them once and for all. Once established, he led his army, mainly composed of Numidian mercenaries northwards to face the enemy. The story of the battle of Kadesh is well known, especially Ramesses version of events. The Hittite king Muwatallis had planted two spies in Ramesses camp and the Hittites attacked Ramesses. At this time Ramesses had moved forward with an advance party, leaving the main part of his army behind. According to the accounts, the Egyptians fought bravely and in particular Ramesses, giving the main army a chance to catch up and save the day. It was not really a decisive victory as the Egyptians would have hoped but more importantly it did lead to a peace settlement in the end. The Hittites recognised Egyptian control of Palastine, while the Egyptians accepted Hittite control of Syria but in effect this meant that Egyptian lands were now safe from invasion. This agreement was cemented by a dynastic marriage and peace prevailed 'til the fall of the Hittite dynasty around 1200 BC.

The main Hittite legacy was there law codes which was based on those of Babylon. Their artwork was also similar to artwork associated with this great civilisation. They were the first to smelt iron while the Egyptians were still using bronze. They used cuniform writing adapted from Mesopotamia and hieroglyphics used in Egypt. Despite all these advances and progress, it was their empire that was to perish, while the Egyptian civilisation progressed on to further phases in its development.


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