A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Battle scenes at Abydos honor a pharaoh's triumph over Hyksos occupiers and his reunification of Egypt.
The pharaoh Ahmose (ca. 1550-1525 B.C.) holds a special place in Egyptian history as the ruler who decisively defeated the Hyksos, the Canaanite occupiers of the Nile Delta. More than a century of Hyksos rule had torn the country apart and its reunification set the stage for New Kingdom (ca. 1550-1070 B.C.) expansion south into Africa and northeast into Asia. Ahmose, descended from a princely Theban family, accomplished this, building on the efforts of his immediate predecessors, Seqenenre Tao and Kamose, and aided by female members of the royal house, such as his mother, Ahhotep, and grandmother, Tetisheri.
Since 1993, I have directed excavation of Ahmose's monuments at Abydos. Our work suggests that the holy site, and not his home town of Thebes, was the primary focus of Ahmose's builders and artists following his conquest of the Hyksos capital of Avaris (modern Tell el-Dab'a). In 1993 we began finding relief fragments, including one representing a group of three tightly massed archers firing arrows, teams of bridled chariot horses, ships with oars descending into water, and fallen men recognizable as Asiatic soldiers (and probably Hyksos subjects) by their characteristic fringed garments and long swords. Small fragments bear the names of Apophis, Ahmose's primary Hyksos opponent, and that of Avaris. We knew as we examined these fragments that we might be looking at the only known contemporary visual record of Ahmose's struggles against the Hyksos.
The Ahmose complex in its entirety presents a unique combination of monuments that must have been extremely impressive in their day, reminding visitors of the achievements of this dynasty's founding men and women. We hope next season to continue to investigate a broad area to the east of the pyramid temple that was used first as a staging area for construction activities, such as brickmaking and stone carving, and later for the production of the bread and beer central to the daily functioning of the temple. On the other side of the temple are remains of a town contemporary with the entire 250-year period during which the pyramid temple functioned. Excavation there might tell us about the rise and fall of Ahmose's cult at Abydos.
Stephen P. Harvey is assistant director of the Institute of Egyptian Art & Archaeology, The University of Memphis. He received his Ph.D. in 1998 in Egyptian archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania. Since 1993 he has been field director of the Ahmose and Tetisheri Project at Abydos.