Hutwaret (Avaris)

Origins of the City

Hutwaret (Avaris/Tell el-Daba) is an ancient city on the eastern edge of the Delta. The oldest settlement at Hutwaret (Avaris) dates to the 1st Intermediate Period (2160 - 2055 BC). The city was originally built as part of a defensive network to protect Egypt's eastern boundary. It was built during the 10th and 11th Dynasties.

The 13th Dynasty

The site was expanded during the late 12th and early 13th Dynasty and a new town center was formed (which is denoted by strata e through a/2). An eastern town (strata H to D/2) formed around 1800 BC, just before the start of the 13th Dynasty.

A community of Egyptianized Asiatics have lived at Hutwaret since the early 13th Dynasty. Their houses are known for following a Syrian model and their tombs are actually integrated with the rest of the city, rather than being placed outside the city, as good Egyptians do. The pottery and weapons reflect a mix of Egyptian and Palestinian elements. Contemporary accounts refer to 'camps of Asiatic workmen.' It has been suggested that the first influx of settlers in Hutwaret came from Lebanon and Syria and then later from Palestine and Cyprus. The foreign men may have married local women. In time, Hutwaret became rich from seagoing trade along the Levantine coast and from the caravan route across northern Sinai (and the turquoise mines) to Palestine.

The burial goods reflect a mixed society. Some of the burial goods in stratum d/1 (during the 13th Dynasty) in the new town center include cylinder seals executed in a North Syrian style, fragments of Minoan Kamares ware, and a gold pectoral with two opposed hunting dogs. The golden pectoral is thought to be Minoan. The bulk of the pottery from Hutwaret is Egyptian in style, although the percentage of Egyptian pottery dropped from 80 per cent to 60 per cent over time. Middle Bronze Age imported pottery and Egyptian imitations also reflect the mixed nature of Hutwaret during these times. Egyptian style titles were used on scarabs, further reflecting the Egyptianized nature of the society.

The expansion of Hutwaret was stopped at one point by a terrible epidemic (level c in the new town center, level G in the eastern town). The people are said to be buried in large communal graves with little apparent ceremony. By the late 13th Dynasty (from stratum F or b/3) onwards, the settlement remains and the cemetaries suggest a less egalitarian society. Large houses begin to have smaller houses associated with them. The buildings in the center of town become more elaborate than those along the edges. Servants are buried in front of the tombs of their masters.

An official named Nehesy, who was 'beloved of Seth', seems to have ruled at Hutwaret and taken on the title of king even though there was still a king at Lisht. Other "kings" are known from this period, suggesting that the kingdom was beginning to break up.

Sutekh/Seth

The epithet, 'beloved of Sutekh' appears by Hyksos times. Sutekh (Seth) is a local god of Hutwaret just like Amun is a local god of Waset (Thebes). Some suggest Seth's cult evolved from an Egyptian cult at Heliopolis and a cult of the North Syrian weather god Baal Zephon.

The Hyksos Capital

Hutwaret gained notoriety as the Hyksos capital during the Second Intermediate Period. The Second Intermediate Period started when Lisht, 32 km. south of Mennefer (Memphis) was abandoned and the Egyptian royal residence moved to Waset (Thebes). The last pharaoh of Lisht and the 13th Dynasty was probably Merneferra Ay (1695 to 1685 BC). Kamose, a king of Waset (Thebes) who reigned over the region south of Cusae from 1555 to 1550 BC would later write, "Why do I contemplate my strength while there is one Great Man in Hutwaret (Avaris) and another in Kush, sitting united with an Asiatic and a Nubian while each man possesses his slice of Kemet (Egypt)."

The people of our great nation of Kemet (Egypt) usually refer to Asiatics as "Aamu". The term "Aamu" was used before and after the Second Intermediate Period. The term Hyksos comes from a northern language (Greek) from the Egyptian term "hekau khasut" or "rulers of foreign countries." This term was only used for the Asiatic rulers.

During the last Hyksos phase (strata b/1-a/2; E/2-D/2; VI-V, which corresponds to Manetho's 15th Dynasty), there were 6 'rulers of foreign countries' who ruled for 108 years. There names appear to include Sekerher, Apepi, Yanassi the son of Khyan, and Khamudi. A northeastern town was established during this time (strata E/2 to D/2).

At its largest extent, Hutwaret covered almost 4 sq km. This made the city twice as large as it had been during the 13th Dynasty and three times larger than Hazor, the largest Middle Bronze Age II A-C site in Palestine.

In the last Hyksos stratum, D/2, a citadel was built on previously unsettled land on the western edge of the city. A watchtower was built to the southeast to guard the approach from land. An enclosure wall with 6.2 m. wide walls was built. The walls were later enlarged to 8.5 m. and buttressed at intervals. The fortifications replaced extensive gardens which had been part of a large palace complex.

Despite attacks from southern (Theban) kings, Aauserra Apepi or Aqenenra Apepi (c 1555 BC) represents the highpoint of the Hyksos. The Hyksos were rich from trade with Palestine, the Levant, and later Cyprus. The Hyksos imported chariots and horses, ships, timber, gold, lapis lazuli, silver, turquoise, bronze, axes, oil, incense, fat, and honey.

Egyptian scribal traditions were revived. Apepi was called 'a scribe of Ra, taught by Thoth himself'. A shrine was built at Avaris to commemorate Apepi and his sister, Tany. A plate with fine hieroglyphs was made for Apepi's daughter Herit, which was later found in the tomb of Amenhotep I (1525 to 1504 BC).

The Second Intermediate Period ended when Ahmose I, founder of the 18th Dynasty, conquered the Hyksos kings at Hutwaret. Hutwaret was conquered between Ahmose's 18th and 22nd year (c 1532 to 1528 BC). Although earlier Hyksos had weapons made of tin bronze, which had a superior cutting edge, the Hyksos of Ahmose's time had inferior weapons made from unalloyed copper. The people of Waset (Thebes) had weapons of tin bronze. Kamose refers to the enemy as having horses and chariots, which had not appeared in Kemet before the coming of the Hyksos.

The Hyksos left Hutwaret in a mass exodus. If one cared to look at pottery and other common items, there is a clear cultural break between the Hyksos period and the 18th Dynasty in both Hutwaret and Mennefer/Hikuptah (Memphis). New pottery styles appeared and evidence of a mixed Egyptian/Asiatic people disappear. The cult of Sutekh (Seth) was retained, however, with its Syrian trappings.

The Minoan Wall Paintings of Hutwaret

The fortifications of the last Hyksos king were destroyed by Ahmose and replaced by new fortifications and palatial buildings. Lovely Minoan wall paintings were commissioned to cover several monumental buildings. The wall paintings were done according to Minoan styles and technique. They show bull-leapers, acrobats, the bull's head, and the maze pattern (labyrinth) like those found during the Middle Bronze Temple Period in Knossos.

Not all scholars can agree as to exactly when the wall paintings were first painted. Some will tell you that the wall paintings appear in Kemet before surviving comparable examples appear in Knossos. It is not known if the frescoes were completed by Minoans in Kemet or by people of Kemet who imitated Minoan styles. Usually the presence of Minoan and Mycenaean pottery in Kemet is seen as evidence of trade because the currents make it easier to go from Kemet to Crete than vice versa. Minoans usually went to the East and then walked down to Kemet. However, some state there is evidence of Minoan craftsmen in Hutwaret, which suggests the presence of Aegean families in Kemet. Cretan Kamares ware pottery occurs in early 13th Dynasty strata, although there is less evidence for a Minoan presence during the time of the Hutwaret frescoes. Nevertheless, Minoans must have lived at Hutwaret as either artists or supervisors of local artists.

Some have suggested that Thera erupted around 1530 BC during the reign of Ahmose. A stele of Ahmose describes a destructive upheavel that took place during his reign. Pumice was used in workshops from the time of Amenhotep I to Thutmose III however there is no evidence for ash fall-out at Hutwaret. Pumice was not used at Hutwaret before the time of Amenhotep I. Some scholars have studied such things as tree rings and even stranger things (ice cores). These scholars believe that Thera erupted around 1628 BC.

The New Kingdom

Ahmose rebuilt Hutwaret and clearly planned for it to be a major commercial center. Mennefer (Memphis) was also rebuilt at this time. Royal seals from Ahmose through Amenhotep II have been found in various places (strata) at Hutwaret, indicating that the city was inhabited through the reign of Amenhotep II. After the time of Ahmose, trade with the Aegean may have continued via intermediaries in Cyprus and the Levant. During the time of Hatshepsut, tomb paintings record delegations from the Levant. Indirect trade via the Levant seems to have resumed after her reign.

For Hutwaret's resurgence during the time of the Ramessids, please visit Pi-Ramesse

Also visit McMentuhotep's in Downtown Hutwaret.

Back to Khent Abt, the 14th nome of Lower Kemet.

Sources:

The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson, NY, Harry N Abrams Inc., 1995.

The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, ed. Ian Shaw, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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Last Updated November 30, 2009