Already during the Twelfth Dynasty in the Middle Kingdom, large numbers of migrants from the Levant (the area of Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria) had started to come into Egypt. Most settled in the north-eastern Delta. A contemporary text names one of their leaders Heqa khasut “the ruler of foreign lands”. This word is more familiar to us today in its Hellenized (Greek) form, Hyksos. It is unknown how they came to power, but the weaker Thirteenth Dynasty was unable to prevent this from happening, and they moved their capital from Itj-Tawy in the north to Thebes (modern Luxor) in Upper Egypt, away from the sphere of influence of the Hyksos.
Thus began the Second Intermediate Period. The Hyksos Fifteenth Dynasty, based in Avaris (modern Tell al-Dab’a) in the north-eastern Delta, controlled most of the country in the north, down to al-Qusiya (ancient Qis, Greek Kusai or Cusae) in Middle Egypt, including even Memphis. The Nubian Kerma culture, on the rise, controlled the south. Between them and the Hyksos, a line of local kings in Upper Egypt, centered around Thebes, remained. An obscure Fourteenth Dynasty, based in Khois (modern Sakha, near Kafr al-Sheikh) in the central Delta, appears to have co-existed with the Hyksos, at least at first, before being absorbed by them. Another, short-lived, dynasty, also appears to have been based in Abydos.
Ancient Egyptian culture thrived under the Hyksos, as did their own, native, West Semitic culture of the Bronze Age Levant. Many aspects of this culture are apparent in Avaris, such as the style of pottery and weaponry, house layout, and burial customs. Their tombs, for example, were located within living areas, rather than in a cemetery outside of the city.
It is not known what marked the transition from the Thirteenth Dynasty, which had moved from Itj-Tawy to Thebes, to the Sixteenth, which itself then transitioned to the Seventeenth. Both of these dynasties were quite militaristic, however, and their power grew over time. The later Seventeenth Dynasty kings were wealthy, experienced, and powerful enough to wage war against the Hyksos. Kings Seqenenre Taa and Kamose, most likely his son, made great progress. The former appears to have died as a result of his campaigning. His son, Ahmose II, captured formerly Hyksos territories, managed to sack Avaris, and expulsed the Hyksos. He then made conquests in southern Palestine, and south in Nubia.
These events mark the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty and beginning of the New Kingdom, Egypt’s age of empire. The Second Intermediate Period had long-lasting effects on Egyptian history. New technologies were introduced into Egypt, such as Near Eastern musical instruments and board games, an improved potter’s wheel, new crops, and new military technology, most importantly composite bows and the horse and chariot. The Hyksos’ control of most of Egypt left an indelible mark on the psyche of the ancient Egyptians: Foreign conquest was a very real threat, and border fortresses alone were insufficient to safeguard Egypt’s borders. The kings of the New Kingdom would pursue an aggressive expansionist policy.