Timeline of Egypt's Second Intermediate Period

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Ancient Egypt covers a 3,000-year period of wealth and power. At least, most of it does. In this lesson, we'll look at one of the periods of major instability as Egyptian pharaohs were replaced by foreign conquerors.

Egypt's Second Intermediate Period

Egypt is one of the great early civilizations of the world. However, this doesn't mean that it was always stable. Technically, Ancient Egypt describes the political and cultural group that controlled the Nile delta from roughly 3100-332 BCE. That's a long time, but again, this wasn't a single 3,000-year long period of stability. In particular, there were two different times where things got a little crazy.

In the First Intermediate Period, from around 2181-2055 BCE, provincial governors across Egypt rose up and seized power as the royal line failed. Eventually, Egypt was reunified under a single pharaoh, resulting in a golden age called the Middle Kingdom. However, that one fell apart too, and Egypt divided during the Second Intermediate Period, from roughly 1650-1550 BCE. But, spoiler alert, Egypt would survive this as well. So, while the Ancient Egyptians ruled a society that lasted for 3,000 years, even they needed a few intermissions.

End of the Middle Kingdom

The Middle Kingdom was a period of growth, expansion, wealth, and power for ancient Egypt. It was championed by two successive dynasties, or lines of royal families. The height of the Middle Kingdom was under Egypt's twelfth dynasty, which came to an abrupt end around 1802 BCE when Queen Sobekneferu died without any heirs. With that, a new family rose to power, starting the thirteenth dynasty. The thirteenth dynasty was never as strong as the twelfth, and Egypt began to divide into factions with the pharaohs losing any real sense of power.

Around this time, non-Egyptian people started moving into the kingdom from the area of Canaan, roughly modern-day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel. Some of these people formed their own kingdom in Egypt, the fourteenth dynasty, which coexisted with the much weaker Egyptian thirteenth dynasty. Finally, around 1720 BCE, a new group entered the region, a mysterious west-Asian group called the Hyksos. Around 1650 BCE, the Hyksos invaded both the thirteenth and fourteenth dynasties and took over most of Egypt.

Objects like this Canaanite scarab show the amount of foreign influence in Egypt during the late Middle Kingdom
Scarab

The Second Intermediate Period

Egypt's Second Intermediate Period is characterized by the rule of the Hyksos kings. The Hyksos conqueror who toppled the Egyptian and Canaanite kings, named Salitis, founded the fifteenth dynasty of foreign princes who ruled over Egypt. Due to the political and cultural chaos of this period, there is a lot that we don't know about life under the Hyksos. Many records are unclear, but it does seem that this period introduced several non-Egyptian practices into the kingdom. For one, the Hyksos practiced a Semitic religion, one native to the Middle East, and introduced several of their deities into the Egyptian pantheon. They also imported artists from across the Mediterranean, notably the Greek island of Minoa, to decorate their temples and palaces, showing an increased participation in the larger Mediterranean world.

Hyksos style sphinx
Sphinx

There were two major Hyksos dynasties, first the fifteenth, and then the sixteenth, under which the Hyksos expanded their control of Egypt. Eventually, there were only a few centers of native Egyptian power left. In the end of the sixteenth dynasty, the Hyksos rulers managed to capture the city of Itjtawy, which had been the capital of Egyptian pharaohs at the end of the Middle Kingdom and was ruled by one of the last royal families of Egypt.

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