What caused the Second Intermediate Period? - Ancient Egypt
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Second Intermediate Period

man diving or falling
Minoan painting on the wall of the Hyksos palace

Around 1786 BC some people we call the Hyksos invaded Egypt, ending the Middle Kingdom and starting the Second Intermediate Period. The Hyksos, who were invaders from West Asia, took over the eastern part of the Nile Delta (North-Eastern Egypt, the part closest to Asia), having their capital at Memphis. Nobody knows for sure who the Hyksos were, but they seem to have been Amorites, who spoke a Semitic language (related to Hebrew and Arabic) and came from the area around Syria and Israel, an area which had traded extensively with the Egyptians during the Middle Kingdom.

The Hyksos built themselves a new capital city at Avaris (modern Tell el-Dab'a) in the Nile delta in Lower Egypt, and brought over Minoan painters to decorate it for them.

The Hyksos did very well for about a hundred years, but then (as in the First Intermediate Period) the southern rulers from Thebes again began to reconquer the north of Egypt. The Hyksos built a thick wall to defend their capital, but they were defeated anyway. In these "wars of liberation," the brothers Kamose and Ahmose fought both the Hyksos and the Nubians, Africans who lived to the south, and succeeded in reuniting Egypt in the New Kingdom.

Learn by doing: Hieroglyphs
Go on to the New Kingdom

Bibliography and further reading about ancient Egypt:

Eyewitness: Ancient Egypt, by George Hart. Easy reading.

The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, by Ian Shaw (2002).

History of Ancient Egypt: An Introduction, by Erik Hornung (1999). A college textbook. On the conservative side - not much on new developments.

Ancient Near Eastern History and Culture, by William H. Stiebing (2002). Expensive for a paperback, but brief and very up to date. And yes, it includes Egypt in the Near East.

Old Kingdom (2686-2160 BC)
First Intermediate Period (2160-2040 BC)
Middle Kingdom (2040-1633 BC)
Second Intermediate Period (1786-1558 BC)
New Kingdom (1558-1085 BC)
Third Intermediate Period (1085-525 BC)
Persian rule (525-332 BC)
Greek rule (332-30 BC) (also called the Hellenistic)
Roman rule (30 BC-700 AD)
Islamic rule (700 AD to present)


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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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