Memphis in the Second Intermediate Period

One of the persistent problems regarding the Hyksos in Egypt has been the application of the sequential dynastic structure to the archaeology of the country with the assumption that it was a cultural unity during this period.  The nature of the Hyksos culture is just now presenting itself in its true light due to the recent work at such places as Avaris and Tell el-Yahudiya.  Additionally, the removal of many monuments from Memphis and the Memphite region in general, and their dispersal to Avaris and other locations in the north, must be assigned to the Hyksos.  Ancient records lead us to believe that the destruction in the north was quick and that Memphis was taken by the Hyksos soon after their appearance and pillaged.  Indeed, later tradition was to credit the Hyksos king Apopis with having founded Memphis.  This may however refer to nothing more than some construction work on a palace in this city.

The archaeological evidence, while still sparse, would seem to lend credence to this scenario.  A new style of ceramic ware appears suddenly at Memphis and becomes well established in a very short period.  It is represented by a transitional phase and corresponds to the historical period under consideration.  From the extant evidence we possess, there appears to be a steady development within the style of the Middle Kingdom ware until this period is reached.  At this point substantial changes can be seen.  The nature of these changes takes the form of a difference in the “fabric,” or type of material used for manufacture and the decoration found on the pottery itself.  Additionally, some general shape changes can be seen in the deposits.

The introduction of this new ceramic style fits well with the period of the Hyksos incursions.  This is a period that must have lasted for at least forty years if we include the first twenty years of Ahmose’s reign and add the supposed periods of his two predecessors who were also engaged militarily with the Hyksos.  It would seem at this point that there is archaeological evidence to support the idea that the Hyksos did inhabit the city of Memphis for a time at least. We should not think this strange that a new pottery type should be associated with a dynastic change and that the workshops which supplied Memphis should suddenly change.  An earlier change like this can be seen at the time of the Middle Kingdom. The site of Lisht exhibits a new style of ceramic ware when it became the capital during the Middle Kingdom.  All of this gives support to the account given in Manetho’s history and cited by Josephis where he describes the ease with which the Hyksos gained control of Egypt.  His account tell us that the Hyksos had appointed one of their number as king.  His name is indicated as Salitis and he was said to have had his seat at Memphis from where he collected tribute from both Upper and Lower Egypt. 

Over a period of some twenty years then this Salitis/Sheshi/Sharek, the historical indications from several sources being that these are names indicating the same king, probably based at Memphis, ruled a kingdom consisting of the Nile delta and the Nile valley as far south as Gebelein (south of Thebes).  The reference here to the extent of the area under Memphite and so Hyksos control, would give some credence to the story of the “Quarrel of Apopis and Seqenenre.”

One archaeological thread that needs to be tied together yet is the appearance of a small number of pieces of Kerma cooking pottery at Memphis and Kerma beakers being found at Saqqara in a burial.  The necropolis of Saqqara has long been regarded as the cemetery of the capital at Memphis.  This pottery hails from far to the south and may be an indication of Nubian mercenaries serving in the Theban army at the end of this period.  These mercenaries were likely part of the army which drove out the Hyksos at the beginning of the Eighteenth dynasty.