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Written by Gregory Iocco

Aamu woman of Canaan overlooks a Levant landscape. Inspired by the Egyptian depiction from Beni Hassan as a group of Asiatics enter Egypt.

They came to Egypt from lands beyond the eastern sand—foreigners from Western Asia who wore colorful garments of dyed wool and kept large herds of dusty cattle and sheep. Some drifted there in search of food and water during times of famine, others arrived with goods to trade, piled high on the backs of lean donkeys. They brought valuable skills, like metallurgy and shipbuilding. Bold seafarers came to the Nile valley with wealth from across the waves, Aamu laborers were hired or coerced to toil beneath the pitiless African sun, and continual border fighting attracted militant foreigners who served in the ranks of Egypt’s formidable armies.

Abisharie, a Hyksos leader enters Egypt. Depicted by Egyptians as the Aamu Canaanites enter to trade or work. From Beni Hassan Egypt Tomb

(ABOVE) - HYKSOS LEADER Abisharie, from the tomb of Khnumhotep III in Beni Hassan, Egypt. The painting depicts a group of Asiatic Foreigners coming to Egypt.

By the zenith of the opulent Middle Kingdom (Dynasty 12)—a golden age of reunification and cultural expansion in Egypt—large numbers of Aamu people were living in the Nile delta. They built houses and stockades, and their chiefs rose to prominence, leading expeditions, and wielding authority in the name of the pharaohs. But eventually the social hierarchy was turned on its head: Egyptian prestige collapsed (Dynasty 13), and the Aamu in the Nile valley seized power for themselves, embracing the old epithet hekau khasut—rulers of mountainous countries—which in Greek is Hyksos.

Map depicting Middle Bronze Levant, and the area that the Aamu people may have come from

Where the Aamu, and their rulers, the Hyksos, originated is one of the fascinating riddles of the ancient world. Evidence from archaeology and linguistics suggests that their homeland was in southern Canaan or perhaps as far north as the highlands of Syria. For example, we know that they spoke western semitic languages, worshiped Set—Egypt’s equivalent to Baal, storm god of the Canaanites—and constructed houses and temples in an obvious Levantine style. Moreover, unlike the Egyptian population, these Asiatic people in the Nile delta buried their dead in domestic courtyards with grave goods that included wide-bladed daggers, duckbill- axes, and javelins, all of a Syro-Palestinian type, as well as sacrificed sheep and goats. In some cases, donkeys were included in the burials—a North Syrian custom that proclaimed the high status of the deceased.

How the Hyksos gained supremacy in Lower Egypt is not known. Was it through war and subterfuge or gradual assimilation? Although scholars continue to debate this question, it is clear that Asiatic rulers dominated the Nile floodplain for several decades (Dynasties 14 and 15). Usurping the titles and privileges of the pharaohs, they overran Egyptian territories to the south, including the city of Memphis, which lay in the shadow of the pyramids. Meanwhile, trade from the Levant— Canaan and Cyprus in particular —flowed into the Hyksos administration center at Avaris (Tell el-Dab’a) and their influence spread across the ancient world, from Kerma in ancient Nubia to Hattusa, capital of the Hittites.

In the end, diplomacy and commerce could not halt the advance of Egypt’s resurgent armies; but the unique culture that briefly brought the proud pharaohs to their knees endured in the hills and valleys of Canaan and Syria. There, like their ancestors of old, men and women adapted to the shifting landscape, wandering with their herds in arid wastes, dying wool and weaving lavish garments. They built farms and settlements, forging weapons from bronze, ornaments from silver and gold, pottery from clay, and ships from towering cedar trees. To the gates of their towns came traders with the produce and artistry of the east and west, and from them went warriors and kings to feud and to make war—and through it all, they left their mark on our world.

procession of Aamu people of Canaan enter Egypt, led by Abisharie the Hyksos Leader. Beni Hassan Egypt

GREGORY IOCCO is a professional artist and independent researcher with a passion for archaeological reconstruction and ancient chronology. His expertise includes dioramas, illustration, and 3D sculpture, with projects ranging from early Mesopotamia to Herodian Israel. His recent work includes contributions to the exhibit and book Borderland: Israel in the Time of Christ.


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