Diffusions from Mesopotamia to Egypt Hattusas Remains of Hittite capital, Hattusas Amenhotep IV Amenhotep IV (Akhenaton) Hyksos, Hittite and Hurrian Conquests

In the mid-1700s a literate people with a Semitic language moved through Canaan, took control of some cities there, and then conquered northern Egypt. It is not known who they were, except that the Egyptians called them Hyksos (hyk khwsht), which identifies them only as foreigners. Like the Kassites, the Hyksos had horses, and they had lightweight chariots. They introduced Egyptians to the wheel and to new weapons of war. They introduced the Egyptians to new musical instruments, new techniques in making bronze and pottery, new animals, new kinds of crops, and new gods.

Meanwhile, by the year 2000, an illiterate, warlike, Indo-European people called Hittites had migrated on foot southward into Asia Minor, where they overran and conquered tribal, bronze-age farming communities. Like Sargon’s warriors, the conquering Hittites made themselves an aristocratic warrior elite living off the labors of those they had conquered. And like Sargon and others they saw their victories as willed by their gods and as proof of the righteousness of their conquests. Like others, the Hittites made deities of their dead kings, but they saw their living kings as human and expected them to obey their laws. Their neighbors considered them sexually lax. But the Hittites were less brutal than some: they disliked the mutilations of human bodies that they saw among other peoples, and they were less inclined to punish people by killing them.

From those they overran the Hittites learned how to make bronze. And sometime after the coming of the Kassites to Mesopotamia, the Hittites acquired horses and chariots. With horses and light chariots, the well trained, highly disciplined Hittites launched a new conquest of neighboring peoples in Asia Minor. A horse pulling a man on a lightweight chariot was faster than a horse carrying a man on its back, and the Hittites were able to move rapidly, sometimes under the cover of darkness, and spring surprise assaults upon their adversaries.

The Hittite king, Mursilis I, forced a loose federation of city-states into the first Hittite empire. A Hittite army crossed the Taurus Mountains into Mesopotamia, and, in 1593, they sacked Babylon, ending the dynasty that had been created there by Hammurabi. But Babylon was too distant for the Hittites to rule — 1200 miles from their capital at Hattusas — and the Hittites withdrew from Babylon.

The Hittites remained the leading power north of Egypt until 1590, when the Hittite king, Mursilis, was assassinated by his brother-in-law. More palace intrigues and murderous struggles for power followed among Hittite princes, priests, nobles, regents and ambitious widows. It was to be a recurring development elsewhere in the world, and for the Hittites it brought what it would often bring to others: a decline in power.

After the Hittite invasion of Mesopotamia, an Indo-Iranian people called Hurrians, from the Zagros Mountains, poured into Mesopotamia and overran the Assyrians. The Hurrians settled down, gradually adopted civilized ways and became dominant in such cities as Mari, on the upper Euphrates, and Nuzi, which became a thriving commercial center. Then came another wave of Kassites, who occupied Babylon and briefly overran other parts of Mesopotamia. Kassite warriors settled down, adopted Mesopotamian culture and made themselves warrior-aristocrats. A few of them became rulers of great estates from which they dominated surrounding territory. And from this elite came Babylon’s new kings.

Iron, Ethnic Mixing, Morality and Rubbish

More than a century after the Hyksos invaded Egypt, protracted struggles between the Egyptians and Hyksos resulted in a new pharaoh, Ahmose, uniting Egypt and driving the Hyksos across the Red Sea. Egypt’s elite was wounded in pride by what had been the Hyksos conquest, and Ahmose’s successor, Thutmose I, pursed the Hyksos through Canaan and into Syria, with the Egyptians supporting themselves by booty as they went. The Egyptians believed they were on a holy crusade and that they were protected by their gods. Thutmose expanded Egypt’s empire southward into Nubia, and he boasted that he had made Egypt superior to every other land.

Egypt’s advance in Syria was halted by the Hurrians, and in the mid-1400s, Egypt allied itself with the Hittites while it continued to clash with the Hurrians. Egypt gained wealth from booty, but it failed to push the Hurrians out of Syria. Eventually the Egyptian, Thutmose III, negotiated peace with the Hurrians. And two successive Hurrian kings married their daughters to the Egyptian kings Thutmose IV and Amenhotep III.

It was now the Hurrians who weakened themselves with internal conflict, and the Hittites — who had regained their strength — warred with the Hurrians and further weakened them, and this helped Assyrians in northeastern Mesopotamia free themselves from Hurrian domination. Having experienced oppression under the Hurrians, the Assyrians were motivated to build a great military machine, led by their horse-breeding and landed nobility. The Assyrian king, Ashur the Great (who ruled from 1365 to 1330), married his daughter to a Babylonian, and he invaded Babylon after Kassite nobles there murdered his grandchild. Ashur’s successors continued Assyria’s war against the Babylonians and the Hurrians, and by around 1300 the Assyrians controlled all of Mesopotamia.

During the mid-1300s, the pharaoh Amenhotep IV (also known as Akhenaton, or Akhenaten) tried to force his subjects to worship the god Aton, whom he believed was the god of the universe. Egypt, meanwhile, had withdrawn from Syria and Canaan. After 1300 BCE, the pharaoh Ramses I and his son Seti I revived Egyptian imperialism. Seti went with his army into Canaan and re-established Egypt’s imperial administration there. Then he clashed with the Hittites over control of Syria. During the reign of Seti’s son and successor, Ramses II, the Hittites pushed south and retook the city of Kadesh, seventy-five miles north of Damascus. Ramses II tried to retake Kadesh but failed, and a war between Ramses and the Hittites dragged on until the 21st year of Ramses’ reign, when the Hittites saw a growing danger from other enemies. Then Ramses and the Hittites signed a treaty they called an “everlasting peace.” Egypt was to control lands as far north as Lebanon, and the Hittites were to control lands north of there. The Hittites gave Ramses a Hittite bride, and Ramses returned to Egypt, where he portrayed his exploits in Syria as a great victory — for he was supposed to be divine and incapable of failure. To celebrate his victory and create symbols of his glory, Ramses ordered the creation of great buildings and monuments across Egypt. [note]

When warring against the Hittites, Ramses II, it is written, used the torture of prisoners to try to learn Hittite positions.

More Invasions

While the Egyptians had been reestablishing their empire, tribal peoples from Central Asia had been moving westward with their herds, running from droughts. They pushed on other tribal peoples, and around 1200 BCE these tribal peoples pushed into Asia Minor. Around this time, the Hittites suffered from a plague that greatly reduced their population and made them vulnerable to attack. The Hittite capital, Hattusas, was overrun and was burned to the ground, and the Hittite empire collapsed. The heart of Hittite territory became occupied by an illiterate people called Phrygians, while people in Cilicia and Syria held onto their Hittite culture and identity. Migrants overran the island of Cyprus and other copper producing areas. The invasions disrupted trade in West Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean region, and bronze production declined. People sought a substitute for bronze and started producing more iron, which required a higher temperature and a greater sophistication in smelting.

Nomads called Chaldeans pushed against the Babylonians and against the Assyrians. A camel breeding Bedouin people called Aramaeans from northern Arabia marauded their way across Mesopotamia. The Chaldeans settled near what had been Sumer. The Aramaeans settled around the upper Euphrates River and in Syria and established numerous city-kingdoms. Assyria became exhausted from warring against the invaders. Its trade fell, but it held onto much of Mesopotamia and territory as far as the Caucasus Mountains. With the passing of generations, some Aramaeans maintained their nomadic ways and became the foremost traders in West Asia. Their language spread, and in the coming centuries Aramaic would be the most widely spoken language in West Asia — the language resorted to for diplomacy and business, and a language spoken by those called Hebrews.


Centuries of migrations into Mesopotamia had resulted in genetic and cultural blending. Sumerians had integrated with Semites. Hittite queens had Hurrian names. Kassites had integrated with the Amorites. Aramaeans assimilated and intermarried with various peoples. At least one Aramaean married Assyrian royalty, and around the year 1050 another Aramaean became king of Babylon. Cities in Mesopotamia, Syria and Canaan — especially port cities — had become cosmopolitan. And in much of Mesopotamia, Syria and Canaan an ethnic tolerance had developed.

The people of different areas in Mesopotamia had come to worship gods that were similar in character and sometimes in name. The goddess Ishtar was worshiped in various cities, but with different characteristics in different cities. The Sumerian god Enlil was also worshiped among various peoples in Mesopotamia. Enlil was looked upon as the force behind hurricanes and floods, and being the creator of floods he was viewed as the god of punishment. It was to Enlil that the righteous prayed in attempts to inflict punishments on those they thought to be sinners. Another god worshiped across Mesopotamian was Ea, who, as described in the Gilgamesh epic, was a god of knowing, understanding and wisdom. Mesopotamians also believed in a sun god commonly called Shamash, who was the giver of light and life. They saw Shamash as a giver of justice and as able to see wickedness and evil in people.

Morality and Rubbish in Mesopotamia

Mesopotamians continued to believe that not fearing the gods was the greatest of human errors. They believed in discovering what they had done wrong in the eyes of the gods so that they could make amends. Someone suffering from an ailment might ask himself whether he had alienated a son from his father or a father from his son, or a daughter from her mother or a mother from her daughter, or a brother from brother, or a friend from a friend. He might ask whether he had offended his father or mother, sister or brother, or a god or goddess. He might ask whether he had used false scales or had erroneously moved a boundary stone. He might consider whether he had approached his neighbor’s wife, carried off his neighbor’s clothes, told lies or whether his heart had been untrue. To avoid wrongdoing, one scribe suggested charity: responding with kindness to “an evil doer,” or providing an enemy with justice, or honoring and clothing one who begs for alms.

Meanwhile, Mesopotamians living in villages and towns faced the problem of rubbish, sewage and contaminated water. Royal families and some others among the wealthy had indoor lavatories, but most people in villages and within town walls used nearby fields or orchards as their lavatory. Most towns or cities had no rubbish collection. Refuse was often merely thrown into the streets, where pigs, dogs and rats were free to scavenge. Often corpses were buried in very shallow graves. And with rains and a waterlogged ground, sewage and refuse washed into local rivers and contaminated water supplies. The result was typhus and other epidemics, which spread and lasted for years, while people saw disease as the result of sin or the work of demon-gods or someone’s witchcraft.

In addition to appealing to the gods, Mesopotamians saw remedy to illness in sprinkling cleansing water upon the sick. Coincidences led them to believe a variety of specious remedies and things to avoid. In Babylon, the sick were left in the street so that any passerby might advise them. There and other places in Mesopotamia, priests attempted to foretell the course of a disease by examining the livers of sacrificed animals.

Hyksos, Hittite and Hurrian Conquests

In the mid-1700s a literate people with a Semitic language moved through Canaan, took control of some cities there, and then conquered northern Egypt. It is not known who they were, except that the Egyptians called them Hyksos (hyk khwsht), which identifies them only as foreigners. Like the Kassites, the Hyksos had horses, and they had lightweight chariots. They introduced Egyptians to the wheel and to new weapons of war. They introduced the Egyptians to new musical instruments, new techniques in making bronze and pottery, new animals, new kinds of crops, and new gods. Continue reading Hyksos, Hittite and Hurrian Conquests

Seti I Mummies


Seti I is considered to be one of the greatest of pharoahs and warriors, and was also the father of another very notable pharoah, Rameses II (or Rameses the Great). Seti ruled in the 19th Dynasty, several generations after Tutankhamen. Surviving accounts of Seti’s exploits tell us that he was highly successful at protecting Egypt from such invaders as the marauding armies of neighboring Libya. Seti was also known to have extended his powers beyond the boundaries of Egypt as far east as modern-day Syria.

Mummies of Ancient Egypt:Who Were the Mummies? 3

Over time almost all Egyptians who could afford to became mummies when they died — a total of about 70 million mummies in 3,000 years. By the 4th century AD, many Egyptians had become Christians and no longer believed that mummification was necessary for life after death. Eventually, the Egyptians gave up the art and science of making mummies. Continue reading Mummies of Ancient Egypt:Who Were the Mummies? 3

Temples of karnak

The temples of Luxor and Karnak are separated by about three kilometers with the sacred lake between them. The Temple of Karnak is as splendid at that of Luxor, perhaps even more so, and offers visitors some rare glimpses into the ancient past of Egypt. There are many wonderful things to see and enjoy here. Karnak is divided into three areas separated by rough brick walls. The largest area measures approximately 30 hectares and is the best restored area. This temple, dedicated to the god Amon, and is believed to be the oldest of the four temples at Thebes. To its left is the sanctuary of Manatee, the god of war and across from it is the sanctuary to the goddess Mut, Amon’s wife, who, interestingly enough, was symbolically represented as a vulture.

The size of the temple of Amon is amazing. It is the largest temple supported by columns in the world. The most imposing structure is the hypostyle hall which measures over 300 feet long and 159 feet wide. Within its area stands 34 columns, each almost 70 feet high, with open papyrus shaped capitals. Stones resting on top of these columns offer some of the best views of what the temple was like in ancient times. Protected from the Sun the hieroglyphics on their underside are still the brilliant colors they were thousands of years ago. The temple was built by various pharaohs over a long period of time. Amon-Ofis III built the twelve columns architraves, Ramses I began the decoration of this and it was continued by Seti I and Ramses the II. There are a number of obelisks on the temple grounds. Only one remains from Tutmose I and it measures almost 70 feet high and is estimated to weigh 143 tons. Another, higher still, was erected by Hatshepsut, daughter of Tutmose I, and it is said that she provided “bushels of gold as if they were sacks of grain” to build it.

The Temple of Karnak was very elaborately carved with hieroglyphics honoring many different gods. One could spends months just gazing upon these inscriptions and imagining the people who carved them. Continue to the next page to see more of the Temple of Karnak.



The Luxor area of Upper Egypt was the Thebes of the ancient Egyptians – the capital of Egypt during the Middle and New Kingdoms. Today it is famous for its temples and the nearby Valley of the Kings.

On the east bank is the modern town of Luxor. Running alongside part of the river bank and separated from it by the corniche is Luxor Temple. Modified over many centuries, its main pylons, or gates, are on the northern end. In front of them is one obelisk – its companion was given to France and taken to Paris where it was erected in Place de la Concorde on 25 October 1836.

Just south of the temple is the Old Winter Palace Hotel – used early this century by Lord Carnarvon as work proceeded on West Bank excavations and preliminary work on the tomb of Tutankhamun.

At the northern end of town is the sprawling Karnak complex of temples built over a span of about 1,500 years. It is famous for its main Hypostyle Hall with 134 massive columns. One can wander for hours amongst the ruins. Starting at the first pylon, one walks back through time to the earlier constructions toward the rear.

About halfway between Luxor and Karnak temples is located the Luxor Museum – one of the best in Egypt.

West Bank, Luxor The West Bank was the domain of the deceased and it is dominated by mortuary temples and hundreds of tombs.

The major temples include the Ramesseum – the famous mortuary temple of 19th-dynasty pharaoh Ramesses II. Walking amongst its ruins evokes a special feeling and the fallen colossus shows how even the mighty have fallen. This was the site from which Belzoni removed the famous bust now in the British Museum. Belzoni’s signature can still be found carved in stone in a couple of places within the Ramesseum, along with those of other well-known personalities of 19th-century Egypt.

Stories of the Ramesseum and the display of the enormous bust of Ramesses II in the British Museum moved the 19th-century English poet Shelley to write “Ozymandias”:

Ramesseum I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on those lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Medinet Habu was Ramesses III’s attempt to copy his ancestor. The complex was added to over the centuries following, but it is most impressive and shouldn’t be missed. The artisans from the nearby town of Deir el-Medina moved in to the compound when things got unsafe and the construction of Royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings came to a halt.

The mortuary temple of 18th-dynasty Queen Hatshepsut is a masterpiece of design and has been under restoration for about a century. It is built into a natural amphitheatre in the cliffs and does not look out of place in the 20th century, even though it was constructed during the early 15th century BC.

The mortuary temple of 18th-dynasty Queen Hatshepsut is a masterpiece of design and has been under restoration for about a century.It is built into a natural amphitheatre in the cliffs and does not look out of place in the 20th century, even though it was constructed during the early 15th century BC. Hatshepsut1

Most famous of all on the West Bank is the Valley of the Kings. Although its modern paths detract a little from its atmosphere, it is still possible to feel the link to the distant past – especially when most of the tourists have left earlier in the day.

Tutankhamun’s tomb is one everyone wants to visit – and should if possible – just to appreciate how small was the area that contained the riches now partly on show at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

However, there are many other more impressive tombs. There is no guarantee which ones will be open during a visit, but try to see those belonging to Thutmose III (the Napoleon of Ancient Egypt), Ramesses III, IV and VI, and Horemheb. That of Horemheb contains examples of how workmen created wall reliefs. The tomb of Seti I is a masterpiece, but structural problems keep it closed these days.