Ancient History & Civilisation



Between 2300 and 2000 B.C. – the period of the Akkadian, Gutian and Ur III dynasties in Mesopotamia – important events took place beyond the Taurus and the Zagros mountains. Peoples coming from far away regions entered Asia Minor and founded in the heart of Anatolia what would be known later as the Hittite Kingdom. About the same time, in Armenia and in Iran other foreigners settled among the Hurrian and Kassite tribes as a ruling aristocracy. Four hundred years later the Hittites raided Babylon, the Kassites overthrew the great kingdom painstakingly built by Hammurabi, and the Hurrians, under their ‘Mitannian’ leaders, firmly occupied the northern half of Mesopotamia.

Hittites, Mitannians and the ruling class of the Kassites belonged to a very large ethno-linguistic group called ‘Indo-European’, and their migrations were but part of wider ethnic movements which affected Europe and India as well as Western Asia. In all these regions, the arrival of these peoples had multiple, deep and lasting consequences, the most important of which, in the field of this study, were the emergence in Mesopotamia and on its northern and western flanks, of young and energetic nations and the involvement of Egypt in Near Eastern politics. From 1600 B.C. onwards political issues in the Orient are raised to truly international scale, and it is no longer possible to treat Iraq as though it were isolated – or almost isolated from the rest of the world. Mesopotamian history will have to be drawn against an increasingly wider background, including now Egypt and Anatolia, tomorrow Iran with the Medes and Persians, and finally Europe with the Greco-Macedonian conquerors. If we want to understand the next sequence of events we must at this stage broaden our horizen considerably. The present chapter will attempt to give a bird's-eye view of Indo-European migrations, followed by an outline of Hittite, Hurrian, Syrian and Egyptian history from the twentieth to the sixteenth century B.C. in round figures.

The Indo-Europeans

The adjective Indo-European applies to a vast linguistic family comprising languages now spoken in countries as far apart as America and India, Scandinavia and Spain. All modern European languages (with the exception of Basque, Finnish and Hungarian), as well as Armenian, Persian and several Hindu dialects, belong to this group as belonged to it in antiquity Hittite, Sanskrit, Greek, Latin and several other tongues. In spite of obvious differences, it is easy to demonstrate that these languages are closely interrelated, and it is generally believed that they all derive from a ‘Common Indo-European Language’ which has left no written trace.1 Moreover, a comparative study of vocabularies had led certain scholars to the conclusion that all Indo-European-speaking peoples had originally similar ways of life and institutions: essentially herdsmen and skilled in horse-breeding, they practised intermittent agriculture, knew the wheel, the boat and metal techniques, were organized in families and tribes, worshipped anthropomorphic gods and obeyed chiefs issued from a martial aristocracy. Finally, it has been inferred from the distribution of linguistic provinces in early historical times that the homeland of the Indo-Europeans, before they divided into several branches, lay somewhere between the Baltic and the Black Sea, probably in the plains of southern Russia. But difficulties arise when one tries to correlate the various Chalcolithic cultures which have left traces in Eastern Europe with the Indo-European-speaking peoples, since writing does not appear in those regions until a very late date and precise identifications are impossible. All these ‘Pontic’ cultures, however, have a common feature: the presence of stone or copper battle-axes in tumulus-graves, and most historians agree that the ‘Battle-Axe Warriors’ have more claim than anyone else to represent the ‘original’ Indo-Europeans. These considerations should make it clear that the following reconstruction of Indo-European movements lies, to a great extent, in the realm of speculation, and should be taken with due caution.

The first Indo-European migrations took various forms, reached different countries at different times and were certainly very slow, covering decades and even centuries. As far as can be ascertained, they started about the end of the third millennium B.C. and spread in all directions from the south Russian ‘homeland’. In Europe2 the Battle-Axe folk moved northwards along the Volga and westwards across the open plains of Poland and Germany. By 1600 B.C. they had reached Denmark and the Rhine valley, where they mingled with another ethnic group, the ‘Beaker Folk’ (so called because of their large, bell-shaped drinking vessels), who probably originated in Spain, and the resulting culture is taken by some scholars as being the prototype of the great Celtic (and therefore linguistically Indo-European) civilization which flourished in Central Europe towards the end of the second millennium B.C. But the Battle-Axe warriors cannot be credited with the introduction of metal into Europe, although they certainly hastened its diffusion. Before their arrival copper had already been brought from the Caucasus and from Anatolia by peaceful tradesmen and artisans who followed the Danube valley or crossed the Mediterranean Sea, so that there were, in the middle of a still Neolithic continent, old islands of metal cultures, notably in the Balkans,3 Hungary, Spain, Greece and Crete. The last two countries are of special interest to us, owing to the close relationship which has always existed between the Aegean countries, Egypt and Western Asia.

The first Bronze Age culture of Greece,4 the Early Helladic culture, seems to have been founded at the beginning of the third millennium by immigrants from Anatolia and benefited from intensive commercial intercourse with Asia Minor, the Cyclades and Crete. In about 1900 B.C., however, the Greek peninsula was the setting for a large-scale invasion followed by radical changes in architecture, burial customs and ceramics. Sizeable towns were built on the ruins of humble villages; a grey, wheel-made pottery replaced the dark, hand-made ware of the preceding period, and as the new settlers were buried with numerous bronze weapons, including occasional battleaxes, it has been suggested that the Middle Helladic culture was introduced by the Indo-Europeans. The following Late Helladic or Mycenaean culture in many respects appears to result from the internal development of Middle Helladic, and as the Mycenaeans spoke an Indo-European (Greek) dialect and were, in fact, Greeks – as proved by Ventris' genial decipherment of their ‘Linear B’ writing5 – one may reasonably conclude that Indo-European migrations reached continental Greece at the beginning of the eighteenth century B.C., i.e. about the time Hammurabi reigned in Babylon.

While Greece was thus conquered and organized, the brilliant Minoan civilization flourished in the island of Crete.6 Crete was the meeting-point of Egyptian and Asiatic influences, and indeed, the development of its civilization had been triggered off by early contacts with Egypt, while the local bronze industry was certainly of Anatolian origin, and the tholoi tombs and double-axe amulets of the Early Minoan culture (? 2500 – 1850 B.C.) recall similar though much older monuments and objects found in proto-historic Mesopotamia. Yet the final product of this mixture was extremely original and surprisingly ‘Western European’ in character. If the palaces erected at Cnossos, Mallia and Phaistos resemble in their layout the contemporary palace of Mari, their architecture and decoration owed no more to foreign arts than did the egg-shell ‘Kamares’ pottery; nor were the Minoan hieroglyphic and ‘Linear A’ writings on clay tablets – both as yet undeciphered – of foreign origin. During this Middle Minoan period (1850 – 1550 B.C.), which corresponds to the Middle Egyptian Kingdom and to the First Dynasty of Babylon, Crete gave more than she received: she exported her products throughout the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean countries and aided the young Mycenaean civilization of continental Greece to mature. In 1450 B.C., however, the Minoan civilization was brutally destroyed – by social and/or political upheavals the nature of which has not yet been fully elucidated. The Mycenaeans landed in the island, in turn impressed their mark on its culture and built an insular empire which spanned the Aegean: the Indo-Europeans had conquered the sea.

Turning now from Europe to Asia, we find another group of Indo-European-speaking peoples – the Aryans or Indo-Aryans – moving southwards from Russia at the end of the third millennium. In the course of a long periple, two branches detached themselves from a common stem: through Iran or the Caucasus the first branch penetrated into the massif of Armenia and hence to the Taurus foothill region, where it mingled with a very old ‘Asianic’ people, the Hurrians; the second branch seized control over other Asianic tribes, the Kassites, established farther south in the folds of the Zagros and on the Iranian plateau. The bulk of the Aryans continued their course in a south-easterly direction and eventually reached the former Indian provinces of Sind and Punjab, now in Pakistan. Fourteen years of excavations at two sites of the Indus valley, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, have shown that during the third millennium B.C. this region was the centre of a flourishing civilization known as the Indus Civilization or Harappa culture.7With its well-planned towns and comfortable brick houses, its attractive painted pottery and its delicately carved and inscribed seals, the Harappa culture is strangely reminiscent of, and can favourably compare with the Sumerian civilization, and indeed there is some evidence of commercial intercourse between the ‘Proto-Indians’ and the inhabitants of Mesopotamia during the Akkadian period. According to the classical theory, the Harappa culture was destroyed c. 1550 B.C. by the Aryans, but other hypotheses have recently been put forward to explain the disaster which brutally plunged the Indus valley in the dark for many centuries. Some authors blame a gigantic flood, while others believe that the destruction occurred at an earlier date (1750 B.C.) and was the work of Chalcolithic tribes of central and southern India.8

Such is the general background against which we must now examine more closely two peoples which, by virtue of their geographical position, had intimate contacts with Mesopotamia and exerted a considerable influence on its history: the Hittites and the Hurrians.

Asia Minor and the Hittites

The earliest settlements discovered so far date back to Neolithic times, (c. 7000 – 5400 B.C.), and are situated on the South Anatolian plateau (Hacilar, Çatal Hüyük, Kizilkaya) and in the plain of Cilicia (Mersin, Tarsus). Roughly contemporaneous with Jericho, Jarmo and Hassuna, they resemble these sites in many respects, such as tool equipment, figurines, architecture, etc., though the findings at Çatal Hüyük have revealed a much more elaborate and original pre-ceramic Neolithic phase.9 Even in Cilicia and in the neighbouring ‘Amuq plain, near Antioch,10 these Neolithic cultures with their buff, brown or black burnished pottery owe nothing to either Syria-Palestine or Mesopotamia, but in the following Early and Middle Chalcolithic periods (c. 5400 – 3500 B.C.) numerous sherds of Halaf and, later, Ubaid ware appear in these areas, whilst an indigenous painted pottery is produced in Çatal Hüyük, Hacilar and, further west, Beycesultan.

During the Early Bronze Age (c. 3500 – 2300 B.C.) other parts of Asia Minor became densely populated and a rather brilliant civilization blossomed in the western half of Anatolia (Troy, Alişar, Alaca, Polatli and many other sites), whence it spread over Macedonia, Thessaly and the Aegean Isles. By comparison, the eastern half of the country as well as Armenia seem to have lagged behind, though this may be a false impression due to the rarity of archaeological excavations in that part of Turkey. The Bronze Age cultures vary in detail from region to region, but a number of features give the whole of prehistoric Asia Minor a certain unity: the pottery is predominantly monochrome, ‘burnished’, dark in colour and attractive; the houses are built of stone and mud bricks, their walls being strenghened by wooden beams, and metal work reaches a high degree of perfection, as illustrated by the so-called ‘Priam treasure’ of Troy II (c. 2600 B.C.) and by the lavish furniture of the ‘Royal Cemetery’ at Alaca (c. 2400 B.C.).11

In about 2200 B.C., a violent and widespread destruction caused by invaders – most probably the Luwians (see page 271) – marks the end of this unnamed civilization. The western part of Asia Minor was plunged into semi-darkness for several centuries, but central Anatolia soon recovered, and the Middle Bronze Age in that region is characterized by important architectural remains of fortified cities and by the increasing use of indigenous painted wares, including the attractive ‘Cappado-cian pottery’. It is also in this period that history begins in Anatolia, though the first written documents are in fact of foreign origin.

Asia Minor was one of the main metallurgic centres of the ancient Near East, and a very old and active trade between Mesopotamia and her northern neighbour had eventually resulted in the foundation of Assyrian trading colonies beyond the Taurus range during the reign of Sargon I of Assyria (c. 1900 B.C.), if not earlier.12 One of these colonies was situated at Boghazkoy, the future capital-city of the Hittites; another – the most important of all – was discovered at Kültepe (ancient Kanesh), near the town of Kayseri in Cappadocia. There German and Turkish excavations carried out over a number of years have unearthed the traders' houses together with hundreds of their ‘business letters’. These, of course, are clay tablets, often contained in a sealed clay envelope, written in a dialectal variety of Akkadian known as ‘Old Assyrian’. Since they cover at least six generations, they tell us a great deal about the merchants and their trade. We learn, for instance, that they exported to Assyria silver, gold and large amounts of copper, and imported tin (annakum) and woven material. Tin, probably obtained by the Assyrians from Azerbaijan, Elam, or perhaps Afghanistan appears to have been used by the Anatolians for making bronze with the copper produced locally. Payments were generally made in silver. The goods were transported by caravans of donkeys, and we can trace the 1,500 kilometre long track they followed from Assur to Kültepe, and vice versa, through Jazirah and the Taurus passes. The activities of the Assyrian communities were financed by rich families of Assur and controlled by an organization called karum, which functioned as Chamber of Commerce, tribunal and consulate under an annually appointed chairman or limmu. But perhaps the main interest of this correspondence is that it is our only source of information on the ethnic and political structure of Anatolia at the dawn of her history. Although they practically held in their hands the whole economy of the country, the Assyrian merchants were generally on good terms with the natives and their chieftains who enriched themselves with taxes levied at almost every stage of the commercial transactions. The country was divided into about ten small kingdoms which seemed to obey one ruler called ‘prince of princes’. Several local names belong to the old ‘Asianic’ layer of population (Hattians), but the presence of Indo-European names in large numbers indicates that the ‘Hittites’ had already crossed the Bosphorus and crept into Asia Minor.

Taken in its broader sense, the word ‘Hittite’ covers the totality of the intruders – three peoples speaking different, though closely related Indo-European languages: Luwian, Palaic and Nesite. The Luwians arrived first and are probably responsible for the destructions which mark the end of the Early Bronze Age; the others came later. Soon they were scattered all over the peninsula. The Luwians, whose language was later written in hieroglyphs, settled to the west of Cilicia, along the coast, the Palaites probably in the hilly region of Sivas, and the so-called Nesites in Cappadocia – indeed, the city of Nesa or Nesha has been tentatively identified with Kanesh-Kültepe. Centuries later those Nesite-speaking invaders conquered the centre of the Anatolian plateau, east of Ankara, the country called Hatti by its indigenous population, and took their name from it. They became the Hittites proper who played such an important part in Near Eastern history during the second millennium B.C.13

From the nearest civilized country, Syria, the Hittites borrowed the cuneiform script invented in Mesopotamia and adapted it to their own Indo-European language. Most of the Hittite texts in our possession are not older than the fourteenth or thirteenth centuriesB.C., but they sometimes refer to events which took place in what was already the remote past. One text, for instance, speaks of Pitkhanas, King of Kussara, and his son Anittas, who subdued five neighbouring kingdoms (including Hatti) and transferred his residence to Nesa. As the names of these rulers also appear in the tablets from Kültepe, and as Anittas' campaigns seem to have put an end to the Assyrian colonies in Cappadocia, it is possible to date these events to c. 1750 B.C. A palace revolution thereafter took place, and another King of Kussara, Labarnas I (c. 1680 – 1650 B.C.) is said to have ‘made the sea his frontiers’ and divided the territories conquered between his sons. The origins of Labarnas are obscure, but he was considered by the Hittite monarchs as their true ancestor, and must be credited with having laid the foundations of what is known as the Old Hittite Kingdom, a period of brief but considerable glory for the Hittites, as will be seen in the next chapter.

Leaving, for the time being, the Hittites, we must now turn to one of their most interesting neighbours: the Hurrians.

Hurrians and Mitannians

Known ninety years ago from one single cuneiform text (a letter found at el-Amarna in Egypt) and from a reference in the Bible (the ‘Horites’ of Genesis xxxvi. 20 – 30), the Hurrians have become a subject of considerable interest to historians and archaeologists. Unlike the Hittites, they played little part in Near Eastern politics until the fifteenth century B.C., and then only for a short period, although there is now ample evidence that they formed an important and active element in the population of Mesopotamia and Syria during the second millennium B.C. Yet they still remain in many respects an elusive people, and what we know of them can be told in a few words.14

Their language, written in cuneiform script, is neither Semitic nor Indo-European, but belongs to the vague so-called ‘Asianic’ group, its nearest relative being Urartian, the language spoken in the country of Urartu (Armenia) in the first millennium B.C. Their national gods were Teshup, a storm-god of the mountains, and his consort Hepa, a form of mother-goddess. Whether the Hurrians had an art of their own is open to discussion, but the ceramics associated with their presence in certain sites are most characteristic. These elegant goblets decorated with flowers, birds and geometrical designs painted in buff colour on a dark-grey background contrast with the plain Mesopotamian pottery of the time and date a level as surely as did the Halaf or Ubaid painted wares in proto-historic ages.

Language and religion point to the mountainous north, more precisely to Armenia, as the original homeland of the Hurrians, but they were never strictly confined to that region. We have already seen (p. 156) Hurrian kingdoms established on the upper Tigris and on the Upper Euphrates during the Akkadian period. Under the Third Dynasty of Ur isolated personal names in the economic records from Drehem, near Nippur, suggest that the Hurrians formed in Sumer small groups of immigrants comparable to Armenians in modern Iraq. During the first quarter of the second millennium Hurrian infiltrations in the ‘Fertile Crescent’ amounted, at least in some regions, to a peaceful invasion. In the Syrian town of Alalah, between Aleppo and Antioch, the Hurrians formed the majority of the population as early as 1800 B.C.15 At the same time Hurrian personal names and religious texts in Hurrian are found in the archives of Mari and Chagar Bazar. A century or so later the Hurrians practically possess northern Iraq. They occupy the city of Gasur,near Kirkuk, change its name into Nuzi, adopt the language and customs of its former Semitic inhabitants, and build up a very prosperous Hurrian community.16 Tepe Gawra and Tell Billa,17 near Mosul, equally fall under their influence. After 1600 B.C. the Hurrian pottery replaces the crudely painted pottery peculiar to the Khabur valley, and the Hurrian element dominates in northern Syria, northern Iraq and Jazirah. We should therefore not be surprised to find in those regions, at the beginning of the fifteenth century B.C., a Hurrian kingdom powerful enough to hold in check the Assyrians in the east, the Hittites and Egyptians in the west. The heart of this kingdom lay in the Balikh-Khabur district, in the region called Hanigalbat by the Assyrians and Naharim (‘the Rivers’) by the Western Semites, and it is probable that the name of our ‘Hurrians’ (Hurri) survived in Orrhoe, the Greek name for modern Urfa.

In a number of texts the Hurrian kingdom of Jazirah is called Mitanni, and from this word derives the appellation ‘Mitannian’ applied to the Indo-European element discernible in the Hurrian society at a certain period. We do not know when and how the Indo-Aryans came to be mixed with the Hurrians and took control over them, but there is little doubt that, at least during the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries B.C., they were settled among them as a leading aristocracy. The names of several Mitannian kings, such as Mattiwaza and Tushratta, and the term mariannu, which is applied to a category of warriors, are most probably of Indo-European origin. Moreover, in a treaty between Mitannians and Hittites, the gods Mitrasil, Arunasil, Indar and Nasattyana – which are, of course, the well-known Aryan gods Mithra, Varuna, Indra and the Nasatyas – are invoked side by side with Teshup and Hepa. Undoubtedly it was those ancient nomads of the Russian plains who taught the Hurrians the art of horse-training – a Hurrian living in Boghazkoy wrote a complete treatise on this subject, using Indo-European technical terms – and in this way introduced or rather popularized the horse in the Near East.18


Above: samples of the so-called ‘Khabur pottery’ (16th century B.C.), from Chagar Bazar. Below, samples of the so-called ‘Nuzi pottery' (15th century B.C.), from Alalah and Nuzi.
After M.E.L. Mallowan, Iraq, III (1936) and Sir Leonard Woolley, A Forgotten Kingdom, 1953.

If the contribution of the Hurrians to the civilization of Mesopotamia was negligible, their impact on the less advanced cultures of Syria must have been considerable, though difficult to define. In any case, their large-scale intrusion in the latter country seems to have started a series of political disturbances and ethnic movements, the effects of which were felt as far away as Egypt.

Syria and Egypt

A line corresponding roughly to the present western and southern borders of the Syrian Republic divides ancient Syria* into two parts – the rolling plains of the north and the mountains, hills and deserts of the south – which in prehistory followed a different development. Space does not allow us to describe it, however briefly,19 but what we think is of interest to our subject is the fact that from very early days the north was wide open to Mesopotamian influences, as it was the link between the Tigris–Euphrates valley, the Mediterranean and, to some extent, Anatolia. If the north, with its hundreds of tells, had been as thoroughly explored as Lebanon or Palestine, the discovery at Ebla of a large and powerful kingdom, dating to the middle of the third millennium B.C., and which owed much to the Sumero-Akkadian civilization (see above, page 142) would not have come as a complete surprise. What could not have been expected, however, is that the people of Elba spoke a hitherto unknown Semitic dialect, akin to Akkadian though definitely West-Semitic.

During that time, the south – certainly inhabited by other Semites – looked towards Egypt.20 Relations between that country and Lebanon or Palestine, already attested in the Pre-Dynastic period, are well documented under the Old Egyptian Kingdom (c. 2800 – 2400 B.C.). This was the time of the great pyramids, and Egypt looked like its monuments: lofty, massive, apparently indestructible. Docile to the orders of Pharaoh – the incarnate god who sat in Memphis – and of his innumerable officials, toiled a hard-working people and an army of foreign slaves. But if the Nile valley was rich, it lacked an essential material: wood. The mountains of Lebanon, within easy reach, were thick with pine, cypress and cedar forests. Thus a very active trade was established between the two countries to their mutual profit. Byblos (Semitic Gubla, Egyptian Kepen), the great emporium of timber, became strongly ‘Egyptianized’, and from Byblos Egyptian cultural influence spread along the coast. The relations between the Egyptians and the populations of the Palestinian hinterland, however, were far less friendly. The nomads who haunted the Negeb, in particular, repeatedly attacked the Egyptian copper mines in the Sinai peninsula and on occasion raided the Nile delta, obliging the Pharaohs to retaliate and even to fortify their eastern border. The downfall of the Old Kingdom left Egypt unprotected, and we know of the large part played by the ‘desert folk’, the ‘Asiatics’, in the three hundred years of semi-anarchy which followed.

The first centuries of the second millennium witnessed the expansion of the Western Semites in Syria as well as in Mesopotamia, as proved by a break between the Early Bronze and Middle Bronze cultures, and by the predominance of West-Semitic names among the population of Syria-Palestine. While Amorite dynasties rose to power in many Mesopotamian towns, northern Syria was divided into several Amorite kingdoms, the most important being those of Iamhad (Aleppo), Karkemish and Qatna. Around the palaces of local rulers large fortified cities were built, and the objects and sculptures discovered in the palace of Iarim-Lim, King of Alalah, for instance, are by no means inferior in quality to those found in the contemporary palace of Zimri-Lim, King of Mari. We have already seen that the archives of Mari offer ample proof of intimate and sometimes friendly contacts between Mesopotamia and Syria, and indeed, one cannot escape the impression of a vast community of Amorite states stretching from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. At the same time commercial relations between Syria and Crete were intensified. A colony of Minoan traders established itself in the port of Ugarit (Ras Shamra)21 and the exquisite Kamares crockery found its way to the tables of Syrian monarchs. Egypt, then in the full revival of its Middle Kingdom (2160 – 1660 B.C.), renewed and consolidated the ties which attached it to the Lebanese coast and endeavoured to counter the growing Hurrian influence in northern Syria by lavishing presents on the Amorite courts. This, at any rate, is a possible explanation for the vases, jewels and royal statues sent to Byblos, Beirut, Ugarit, Qatna and Neirab (near Aleppo) by the Pharaohs of the Twelfth Dynasty.22

The region to the south of the Lebanon presents us with a very different picture. Much poorer than northern Syria and less open to foreign influences, Palestine in the Middle Bronze Age (2000 – 1600 B.C.) was a politically divided and unstable country ‘in the throes of tribal upheaval’23 where the Egyptians themselves had no authority and apparently little desire to extend their political and economic ascendancy. The arrival among those restless tribes of Abraham and his family – an event whose after-effects are still acutely felt in the Near East – must have passed almost unnoticed. Small clans or large tribes constantly travelled in antiquity from one side to the other of the Syrian desert, and there is no reason to doubt the reality of Abraham's migration from Ur to HebronviaHarran as described in Genesis xi. 31. A comparison between the biblical account and the archaeological and textual material in our possession suggests that this move must have taken place ‘about 1850 B.C., or a little later’,24 perhaps as the result of the difficult conditions which prevailed then in southern Iraq, torn apart between Isin and Larsa. The historical character of the Patriarchal period was further reinforced – so it was thought some years ago – by the mention in cuneiform and hieroglyphic texts dating mostly from the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries B.C. of a category of people, generally grouped in bellicose bands, called habirû (or ‘apiru in Egyptian), a name which sounded remarkably like biblical ‘Ibri, the Hebrews. There was at last the long-awaited appearance in non-hebraical sources of Abraham's kin! Unfortunately, recent and thorough reappraisals of these sources have shown beyond any doubt that the Habiru have nothing in common with the Hebrews but a similitude of name. They were neither a people nor a tribe, but a class of society made up of refugees, of ‘displaced persons’ as we would now say, who frequently turned into outlaws.25

In about 1720 B.C. the Palestinian chieftains, whose turbulence and hostile attitude had already worried the last Pharaohs of the Twelfth Dynasty, succeeded in invading Egypt, which they governed for nearly one hundred and fifty years. They are known as Hyksôs, the Greek form of the Egyptian name hiqkhase, ‘chieftain of a foreign hill-country’. Although they never occupied more than the Nile delta, their influence on the warfare, the arts and even the language of that country was considerable. In the end, however, the kings of the Eighteenth Dynasty overthrew the Hyksôs, chasing them up to the gates of Gaza, and with this exploit opens what we call the New Empire (1580 – 1100 B.C.), undoubtedly the most glorious period in the history of ancient Egypt. By contrast, Mesopotamia fell, at about the same time (1595 B.C. into the hands of other foreigners, the Kassites, and entered into a long period of political lethargy.

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