When people think of Egypt, most people would think of Ramses the Great or King Tut or maybe Cleopatra. Yet, many great pharaohs have existed throughout Egyptian history and personally, one in particular unites the three aforementioned rulers of Egypt. His name was Ahmose I (ca. 1550 - 1525). In some texts, he may be known by his Greek name - Amosis. Although he did not build one of great pyramids of Egypt at Giza, he did build the last pyramid before the transition to Valley of the Kings. Hence, I always believed that Ahmose was the transition of one period of Egyptian history to another and his significance cannot be overlooked.
Ahmose I was the founder of the 18th Dynasty which also marked the first of the many dynasties that follow in the New Kingdom. His reign began the era during which pharaohs were no longer content with their kingdom and began conquest of neighboring regions thus sparking another Egyptian golden age - Egypt as an Empire. However, the beginning of Egyptian imperial ambitions was actually very humble. Ahmose I initially did not seek to create a warrior state of military expansionism but instead craved an Egypt once again united.
Egypt had been occupied by foreign invaders for the better part of a century before Ahmose's birth by foreigners deemed Hyksos by the Egyptians. The origins of these warriors are lost to history and even their name, Hyksos, comes from Egyptian records that referred to them as "hekau khasut" (the Shepherd Kings) and Hyk-Khase (rulers of a foreign land). After extensive interactions along the border between Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula, the Hyksos had invaded northern Egypt and became the first Asiatic pharaohs of Egypt.
|(Head of Ahmose I - Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art)|
Originally being a prince of the Theban house, Ahmose I’s feud with his Asiatic enemies had been a family tradition as both his father and brother were committed to eradicating the Hyksos’ presence in Egypt. With Egyptian national pride destroyed by foreign invasion and family tradition to upkeep, Ahmose I began a long battle to defeat the alien aggressors and recuperate Egypt’s golden age through readapting of Middle Kingdom culture and architecture. His legacy both as a liberator and as an initiator of art reverberated throughout his dynasty up beyond his last successor, Tutankhamen’s, death.
After extensive interactions along the border between Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula, the Hyksos had invaded northern Egypt and became the first Asiatic pharaohs of Egypt. Originally being a prince of the Theban house, Ahmose I’s feud with his Asiatic enemies had been a family tradition as both his father and brother were committed to eradicating the Hyksos’ presence in Egypt. With Egyptian national pride destroyed by foreign invasion and family tradition to upkeep, Ahmose I began a long battle to defeat the alien aggressors and recuperate Egypt’s golden age through readapting of Middle Kingdom culture and architecture. His legacy both as a liberator and as an initiator of art reverberated throughout his dynasty up beyond his last successor, Tutankhamen’s, death.
Ahmose I comes from a long tradition of opposition against the Hyksos occupation. His father Seqenenre Tao, in a political symbolic act of rebellion, had reintroduced the ancient Egyptian ritual of Edfu in which participants would harpoon hippopotami during Hyksos king Apophis’ reign. This ritual was to symbolically legitimize Horus’ claim to the throne by avenging his father’s death through killing Seth. Since Horus was the representative of the Egyptian monarchy and the Hyksos, despite being ‘rulers of foreign lands’, had actually adopted the Egyptian deity Seth as their patron god, Seqenenre’s act would have angered them and likely began the war between Avaris and Thebes.
Sequenenre was likely killed in this conflict because his mummy was recovered with five obvious axe wounds to the head reminiscent to the weapons used by the Hyksos and he was succeeded by his son (and Ahmose’s brother), Kamose. Kamose led a campaign against the Hyksos in which he claimed a victory, but the success was likely indecisive since Avaris successfully resisted Ahmose I’s attack for more than two decades after this campagin. Yet, after this campaign in his third year, there were few other confirmed sources of his reign. Moreover, his tomb was hastily prepared without sufficient royal decorations or an appropriate coffin. Inferring from these two factors and Ahmose I’s ascendancy to the throne two years after Kamose’s campaign, historians tend to believe that Kamose died in battle after a five-year reign as absolute evidence had been lost with the destruction of his mummy during excavation.
(The mummified head of Seqenenre Tao II - Source: Cairo Museum & Getty Images)
(Source: Tupper Scrapbooks Collection)
The Liberation of Egypt
Upon Kamose’s death, Ahmose I ascended to the throne but since he was still in minority, his mother, Ahhotep, ruled as regent until he was of age a decade later. When he was finally able to personally rule Egypt, he embarked upon what his father and brother left off and began his expedition to expel the Hyksos from Egypt while leaving his wife, Ahmose-Nefertari, in charge of the Theban domestic government.
(Face of Ahhotep from her sarcophagus - Source: Cairo Museum)
Unlike the attacks launched by Kamose which were likely indecisive raids, Ahmose I’s siege on Avaris spanning a period of decades was relentless. During this time, there were constant interruptions due to local dissidents in different regions already liberated from Hyksos control. Contemporary historians cannot be sure of exactly how the battles were fought but it is known from the records of a soldier in the pharaoh’s army known as Ahmose, Son of Ebany, that many battles were fought before Avaris was captured.
(To avoid confusion as the two shares names, the pharaoh will be referred to Ahmose I while the soldier will be referred to as Ahmose, Son of Ebana)
Ebana had served in the Theban army under Ahmose I’s father, Seqenenre Tao, and his son, Ahmose, son of Ebana, rose through the ranks and became a captain in Ahmose I’s navy because of an act of bravery in the king’s presence. Although the exact deeds of this act during the first siege were unrecorded in the Autobiography of Ahmose, the text did depict the four sieges of Avaris where Ahmose, son of Ebana, had received many honors as a result of his courage and contributions.
(Ahmose, Son of Ebana - Source: St. Louis University)
This included the valiant slaying of a Hyksos warrior in the Pa-Djedku canal during the second siege of Avaris. To validate his accomplishments, he had cut off his enemy’s hand and shown it to the royal herald and Ahmose I, upon hearing Ahmose, son of Ebana,’s success, rewarded him a Gold of Valor which was a medal endowed to warriors demonstrating great courage. After these battles, the siege of Avaris was interrupted due to a rebellion to the South of the Hyksos capital but its exact location remains unclear as Autobiography of Ahmose focused upon Ahmose, Son of Ebana,’s deeds instead of exact information. However, it was known that Avaris was not captured until the campaign was south was effectively won and in the final battle for Avaris, Ahmose, son of Ebana, successfully captured four prisoners alive which he was allowed to keep as slaves. According to the Autobiography of Ahmose, the sacking of Avaris was monumental as it finally ridded the century-long Hyksos rule in Lower Egypt.
The Expansion of the Egyptian Empire
Despite, his resounding victory in Avaris, Ahmose I’s concern about the Hyksos resurrection did not die down and he decided to pursue them into southwest Palestine. This marked a change in Egyptian foreign policy as the preceding dynasties rarely expanded militarily beyond its borders despite the prosperity of the Old and Middle Kingdom. Ahmose I began the tradition of the New Kingdom pharaohs as warriors and his attacks in Palestine was arguably the first instance of Egypt’s imperial expansion. He laid siege to and captured the final Hyksos stronghold in Sharuhen, which is likely to be Tel Far’ah, in three years. This effectively eliminated the Asiatic threat from the Sinai Peninsula and enhanced Egypt’s domestic security. Moreover, the Egypt economy was ameliorated due to the control they could now exercise upon the trade routes from Asia.
After successfully defeating the Hyksos in Palestine, Ahmose I began expanding further northwards. Unlike the invasion of Sharuhen which could be justified as a pre-emptive strike against an enemy, Ahmose’s entry into Lebanon personified Egyptian expansionism which endured through the rest of the New Kingdom era. It also allowed Ahmose to capture vital materials that were limited in supply Egypt such as cedar wood and copper. Although Ahmose did not occupy too much of the Middle-East through irregular incursions, he established a foothold for his successors to extending the Egyptian frontier. Amenhotep I, Ahmose I’s successor, invaded the Orontes river region while Thutmose I, Amenhotep I’s successor, occupied Syria and Lebanon.
Ironically, it was the Asiatic Hyksos themselves who prompted this new-found Egyptian aggression begun by Ahmose I. Originally, the Egyptian efforts to repel their foreign occupiers proved disastrous as the Hyksos possessed comparatively greater technology because of the aforementioned Egyptian racial supremacy perspective. Because of this, the advanced composite bows utilized to great success by the Hyksos destroyed the ‘Egyptian’ (they were actually Nubian mercenaries) archers which used the Egyptian wooden bow. The composite bow’s effects on the Late Bronze Age was comparable to the introduction of firearms during the Middle Ages as it was far more effective in both range and power. Moreover, the Egyptians also gained skill in chariotry which was nearly unknown to Egypt prior to the Hyksos occupation but became the cream of their army by the New Kingdom. Egypt also developed great equestrian skills (despite the lack of a cavalry) for chariot and dispatch horsemen. Moreover, the Hyksos destroyed the Egyptian sense of security which compelled the revamping of administrative procedures and military structure.
Civil Governance under Ahmose I
In order to consolidate his power, Ahmose I reorganized civil administration and the leadership role was given the two Viziers with the duty to govern Upper and Lower Egypt respectively. Yet, he also took preventive measures to ensure that the local governments would not disobey him by installing royal stewards.
This new system rejuvenated the decentralized governance during the Middle Kingdom which was more analogous to a series of feudal states rather than a single collective kingdom. Ahmose I also placed irrigation and other agricultural procedures under governmental supervision which heightened the central authorities’ effectiveness. This was further demonstrated by Ahmose I’s ability to rent out lands in the Nile delta which he had not captured until his 13th renal year. If the local governors had not proven loyal and competent, it would have been impossible for Ahmose to have sufficient control over these territories to lease them.
In order to maintain political stability during his expeditions away from Thebes, he endowed his principal wife (and sister), Ahmose-Nefertari, with the title of ‘one who presides over the whole of the Two Lands’ and the role of co-regent. As the 18th Dynasty was Theban, its patron deity, Amun, also took on great importance. Because of this, Ahmose I instilled the title ‘god’s wife of Amun’ upon her which was a senior Theban priestly title. With the appointment, she received an endowment of many goods and lands providing her with the prestige and authority to gain a status close to Ahmose I’s own mother, Ahhotep. The empowerment of a centralized bureaucracy with both local and royal authorities along with the stabilizing presence of the Queen allowed improved domestic governance.
With an effective government fully functioning in Thebes, Ahmose was able to focus resources upon political reforms in his colonies in Nubia as well. Originally, during the early years of Hyksos rule, the Nubians and Hyksos were in a close alliance. In fact, Hyksos pharaoh Apophis had intended to request assistance against Kamose who he claimed has “set upon [him] on [his] own soil… chosen to ruin these two lands, [his] land and [Nubia’s], and [Kamose] has already devastated them.” Yet, with the recapture of Nubia by Kamose and the subsequent destruction of the Hyksos by Ahmose I, Nubia was secure in Egyptian hands. Despite the occurrence of a rebellion commanded by Nubian leader Aata which he suppressed, Nubia was relatively stable which allowed Ahmose to reopen the mines and quarries. This played a significant part in the revamping of architectural and cultural aspects of Ahmose’s legacy.
During the Hyksos period, the artistic traditions dating back to the Old Kingdom were severed. The most obvious of this was shown the usage of hieratic script by the late 1600s BC in funerary text despite the sacredness of hieroglyphic writing in funeral complexes because of the lack of specialized scribes who were literate in the traditional esthetical hieroglyphics. Hence, the artistic and cultural aspects of the Egyptian writing were neglected in favor of the simpler hieratic text which was originally used for administrative tasks. This continued throughout Ahmose’s attacks against the Hyksos as increased national coherency gave him the opportunity to launch of artistic renaissance with works comparable to that of the Middle Kingdom. Although many of his temples dedicated to Amun did not survive, their remnants still demonstrates improved craftsmanship and materials when compared to the Second Intermediate Period.
Because of his accomplishments culturally, politically and militarily, Ahmose I is viewed as the founding father of the 18th Dynasty and the New Kingdom despite his direct linkage to the Theban 17th Dynasty. The expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt and their eradication in Palestine began the tradition of Egyptian warrior-pharaohs later personified by Ahmose I’s successor Amenhotep I who had the Horus names ‘Bull who Conquers the Lands’ and the Two Ladies Name ‘He who Inspires Great Terror’.
With increased military prowess, the succeeding New Kingdom pharaohs could dedicate increased efforts into the construction of temples and other religious architecture. Without the establishment of Eygptian military by Ahmose I, later warrior pharaohs such as Ramses the Great would not have been possible.
However, despite the architectural renaissance subsequent to Ahmose’s death, the tradition of pyramids was no longer continued because of security reasons and the remains of the pharaohs were instead interred at the Valley of Kings and Ahmose I’s pyramid became the last native Egyptian pyramid. The accomplishment of building the last pyramid ranked least upon his many achievements as Ahmose the Liberator not only began the golden age of Egyptian expansionism but also incorporated Hyksos advantages to improve the governmental system and therefore, leaving a legacy that shaped the rest of New Kingdom.
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