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Dab῾a, Tell Ed-

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East What is This? Provides comprehensive coverage of the history and scope of archaeology in the Near East.

Dab῾a, Tell Ed-

site located in the northeastern Nile Delta in the province of el-Sharqiya, 8 km (5 mi.) north of the market town of Faqus (30°47′15″ N, 31°49′20″ E). The site was the capital of the Hyksos and the southern part of the Delta residence of the Ramessides (nineteenth and twentieth dynasties) under the late name Piramesse (Raamses in the Masoretic Bible text; Ramesse in the Septuagint).

Excavations at Tell ed-Dab῾a were begun In 1885 by Édouard Naville. They were resumed In 1941–1942 by Labib Habachi, who suggested the identification with Avaris. Between 1951 and 1954, Shehata Adam discovered a Middle Kingdom temple at ῾Ezbet Rushdi. From 1966 to 1969 and from 1975 onward, Manfred Bietak carried out systematic excavations at the site for the Archaeological Institute of Austria, Cairo Department.

Stray finds from the Naqada III period and the beginning of the first dynasty show that the settlement was already inhabited in the fourth millennium. However, the real origin of the settlement at Tell ed-Dab῾a was the result of a royal settlement foundation (ḣwt) of King Amenemhat I (c. 1963–1934 BCE) to the east of the Pelusiac branch of the Nile River. It probably replaced an older royal foundation of the Herakleopolitan period with the name Ḥwt R3w3tj H̱tj (“royal settlement”), “the two roads” of the Herakleopolitan king Khety.

The center of this settlement during the twelfth dynasty was a royal temple and a palatial building for local officials. An orthogonal, planned workmen's quarter southwest of the town belongs to the construction of this settlement. In the late twelfth dynasty (c. 1800 BCE) Asiatic immigrants were settled to the south of the Middle Kingdom town (stratum H). The type of Middle Bronze weaponry indicates that the settlers were originally soldiers and probably also ship carpenters and sailors in the Egyptian service. Their tombs were found in cemeteries within the settlement, in a layout that is very un-Egyptian. Foreign architectural types also appeared during this period, including a typical Syrian Mittelsaal (“middle hall”) house and a broadroom house.

During the thirteenth dynasty, the settlement was enlarged to approximately a square kilometer and probably served trading and mining expeditions. A wide palatial building was likely the residence of an Egyptian official, perhaps with the title “overseer of foreign countries” that was found preserved on a magnificent official amethyst and gold seal. While the tombs of the residential officials display Egyptian funerary architectural traditions, the burial customs, such as donkey sacrifices, were Asiatic, as were the Middle Bronze weapons.

During the thirteenth dynasty, one of several kings of Asiatic origin took the throne for a short time. His name was ῾Amusa Hornedjherjotef and he was very likely a native of Tell ed-Dab῾a. His statue was found in a funerary chapel by Habachi, together with statues of the last queen of the twelfth dynasty, Sobeknofru. The above-mentioned palace dates to approximately this time, as does a smashed colossal limestone statue of a seated Asiatic dignitary with a red mushroom-shaped hairstyle who is holding a throw stick against his shoulder. The destroyed statue and the sudden abandonment of the palace suggest internal political turmoil during the thirteenth dynasty. Soon afterward, the material culture and specific tomb types suggest that new immigrants from Palestine, as well as from Syria and Cyprus, had moved in (stratum G). The percentage of foreign pottery rose from 20 to 40 percent.

In the second half of the eighteenth century BCE there is some evidence that a plague decimated the settlers at Tell ed-Dab῾a. Emergency tombs were dug, and bodies were thrown into shallow pits sometimes only 20 cm deep. Changes in the settlement pattern can also be observed between strata G and F, and the eastern part of the town was completely deserted. Soon afterward, an interesting sacred precinct was constructed (stratum F, E/3). In its center was a major Middle Bronze temple of Syro-Palestinian type (approximately 32.7 × 21.4 m). In front of the temple was an altar on which several charred acorns were found. The temple likely belonged to a cult of Asherah, originally the consort of the Canaanite god El, later also considered the consort of Baal. Another broadroom temple in this compound had a separate tower. To judge from inscriptions on door blocks from this area, it seems that this temple precinct, which was surrounded by cemeteries with Egyptian-type mortuary temples, was founded during the reign of King ῾Aasehre῾ Nehesi. (His father, whose name is not known, had split off from the thirteenth dynasty and had founded a small kingdom in the northeastern Delta whose capital was at Tell ed-Dab῾a.) From this time onward, the settlement is known as Avaris (“royal foundation of the desert edge”). Nehesi was the first king with the epithet “beloved of the god Seth, the lord of Avaris” (or “lord of Ro-achet,” “door of the fertile land”).

A cylinder seal found in the earlier palace of the thirteenth dynasty carries a representation of a Syrian storm god. On the basis of this seal, it is assumed that the god Seth of Avaris was syncretized with the northern Syrian storm god Baal, introduced by Asiatic settlers during the late twelfth dynasty. It was only a matter of time before the kingdom of Avaris was replaced by a local Asiatic dynasty that would form the core of the later kingdom of the Hyksos (“rulers of the foreign countries”). Indeed, from the beginning of the Hyksos period (c. 1640 BCE) the town dramatically enlarged to about 2.5 sq km (1.6 sq. mi.)—that is, it was a provincial center that became a metropolis. Very distinct changes appear in the material culture, especially in the pottery. It is tempting to explain the situation as having been created by an influx of new immigrants from Canaan, probably from the southern region around Tell el-῾Ajjul (Sharuhen), except that the settlement pattern shows continuity. If there was a population influx, it took place with the consent of the lords of Avaris.

Before the beginning of the Hyksos period there are already very un-Egyptian cemeteries of families arranged around temples and tombs within house precincts. The construction of the tombs shows types of vaulting that were unknown in Egypt but have parallels in ancient Palestine. In domestic architecture the complete adaptation of Egyptian types had taken place during the thirteenth dynasty. Increasing social differentiation can be observed from stratum F onward, with large houses surrounded by smaller houses belonging to the servant class. Typical for the period shortly before the Hyksos, and for the first half of the Hyksos period, are warrior tombs equipped with weapons. Some contain the burial of pairs of donkeys in front of the tomb entrance. Such burials have Palestinian parallels.

In 1991, at the extreme western part of the town, situated directly at the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, remains of a citadel of the Late Hyksos period and of the early eighteenth dynasty were found (strata D2 and C). Along the river there was a fortification wall, 10 Egyptian cubits (5.25 m) strong, with buttresses set in regular intervals of 45 cubits (23.6 m). It is at present unclear if this was the city wall or the enclosure of the citadel. The wall was later enlarged to 16 cubits (8.4 m) and so were the buttresses. Within this wall two layers of garden remains with tree pits and possibly a vineyard were discovered. This scenario—towering fortification walls and gardens—fits perfectly the one referred to in the insulting speech delivered by Kamose against the Hyksos Apophis during his short campaign to Avaris, known to us from the Kamose stela no. 2. In it he spoke about the wives of the Hyksos peeping through the loopholes in the castle. He also threatens to pull out the trees and to drink the wine from the vineyards of his Asiatic overlord.

At present the structure of the Hyksos citadel is unclear because of the later eighteenth dynasty installations in which older building materials were reused. A part of a monumental doorway of the hitherto unknown Hyksos with the northwestern semitic name Skr-hr (= Sikru Haddu, which means “Memories of god Haddu” according to Thomas Schneider, unpublished) was found in the eighteenth-dynasty level (stratum C). It is the first monumental inscription where the title ḣq3-ḫ3swt (= Hyksos, ruler of the foreign countries) is used officially. Within this precinct also the stela of the Hyksos Yinassi, who can be identified with the Iannas of the Manethonian list, was found. According to this stela he was the son and probably successor of the great Hyksos Khayan. A house altar dedicated to the Hyksos princess Tany, the sister and possibly consort of the Hyksos Apophis was retrieved by recent channel-dredging within this citadel area.

King Ahmose conquered Avaris about 1530 BCE. From this period there is evidence of an intensive reuse of the citadel after a partial destruction. Near the river was found a palatial construction on a raised platform of 135 × 90 Egyptian cubits (70.5 × 47 m) with a doorway and an access ramp cut through the fortification walls from the riverside. The gardens of the Hyksos period were reestablished. Another much larger palatial compound with huge magazines was constructed south of the platform waiting for future investigation. Both buildings were furnished with Minoan wall paintings, executed by Minoan artists in genuine Minoan style and technique. Motifs such as bull leaping, bull grappling, acrobats, hunting scenes, lions and leopards chasing fallow deer and mountain goats, and representations of griffins display Minoan ideology of hierarchy in nature and are an international scholarly puzzle. Dynastic links with the court of Knossos may explain the wall paintings, which would belong only in a royal palace. It cannot be excluded at present that a part of the Minoan paintings, found in a secondary dump, date from the late Hyksos period, but the only securely dated frescoes came from the early eighteenth dynasty palatial quarter. Perhaps the riddle of the title of the mother of King Ahmose, Queen Ahhotep, as hnwt idbw H3w-nbwt, “Mistress of the coasts of Haunebut,” a country sometimes associated with the Aegean islands, can contribute in future toward an understanding of this puzzling evidence.

The raised platform building must have been in use for a very limited time, as against its weathered eastern face was constructed a very humble settlement of the first half of the eighteenth dynasty, using the platform already as a quarry for building materials. It seems at present that the citadel was used as a royal residence only for a very short time, perhaps during the last years of Ahmose during his campaigns in Canaan. At that time and subsequently the citadel must have been used as an army stronghold. The presence of Nubian mercenaries can be established by remains of Sudanese Kerma-household pottery and by numerous arrowheads of bone and silex.

According to numerous finds of royal name scarabs the settlement of the citadel must have continued at least till the time of Amenhotep II. That it probably continued until the Ramesside period is inferred from the discovery In 1993 of a huge temple complex to the north of the former citadel. Early in the eighteenth dynasty foreign trade flourished again, as in the Hyksos period: amphorae with olive oil and wine were imported in large numbers from Canaan, and Cyprus became a strong trading partner. While most of Avaris, except for the citadel, was abandoned, the quarter of the temple to Seth, in the eastern central part of the site, shows continuity (according to the dating of a lintel its use was renewed). This renovation was carried out during the time of the restoration of the traditional cults in Egypt under the kings Tutankhamun and Horemheb, in the late fourteenth century BCE. New building projects at the temple were carried out under Seti I, the last of which was a large temple to Seth. According to Papyri Anastasi II and IV (1.4–5 and 6.4–5, respectively), it is referred to as the southern topographical fixed point of the Ramesside town. According to the archaeological evidence, the area surrounding this temple was covered with groves of trees.

The continuity of the Seth cult from the Hyksos period to the Ramesside period can be documented by the so-called “Four-hundred-years stela” that probably originally stood in Avaris/Piramesse. This stela was commissioned by Rameses II, whose family most likely originated in Avaris; it can be viewed as a kind of propaganda designed to legitimize the rule of the new dynasty. Seth, in the image of an Asiatic god, with horns and a high crown with a pommel, is presented as the “father of the fathers”—as the ancestor of the new dynasty.

In the Third Intermediate period, Avaris was severely plundered. It had the same fate as the Ramesside town of Qantir and served as a quarry for the new residences of the twenty-first and twenty-second dynasties at Tanis and Bubastis. This explains the secondary use of stone monuments in the last two towns. The plundered monuments are important sources for the history of Avaris and Piramesse. In the fourth century BCE, cults of the gods of Rameses II appeared independently in Tanis and Bubastis. The cults originated from the cult statues that had been transported there. This situation obscured what was known about the original location of the Rameses-town, which had serious consequences for attempts to locate the biblical town of Rameses and its environment (Ps. 78:12, 48; Gn. 46:28–29 [Septuagint]).

[See also Delta; and Hyksos.]


  • Adam, Shehata. “Report on the Excavations of the Department of Antiquities at Ezbet Rushdi.” Annales du Service des Antiquités de l'Égypte 56 (1959): 207–226.
  • Bietak, Manfred. Tell ed-Dab῾a. Vol. 2. Vienna, 1975.
  • Bietak, Manfred. “Avaris and Piramesse: Archaeological Exploration in the Eastern Nile Delta.” Proceedings of the British Academy 65 (1979): 225–290.
  • Bietak, Manfred. “Canaan and Egypt during the Middle Bronze Age.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 281 (1991): 27–72.
  • Bietak, Manfred. Tell el-Dab῾a. Vol. 5. Vienna, 1991. Includes an up-to-date bibliography (pp. 17ff.).
  • Bietak, Manfred. “Minoan Wall-Paintings Unearthed at Ancient Avaris.” Egyptian Archaeology 2 (1992): 26–28.
  • Bietak, Manfred, et al. “Neue Grabungsergebnisse aus Tell el-Dab῾a und ῾Ezbet Helmi im östlichen Nildelta, 1989–1991.” Ägypten und Levante 4 (1993): 9–80.
  • Bietak, Manfred, and Nannó Marinatos. “Minoan Wall Paintings from Avaris.” Egypt and the Levant 5 (1995).
  • Bietak, Manfred, et al. Pharaonen und Fremde, Dynastien im Dunkel. Exhibition catalog, Rathaus, City of Vienna, 8 September –12 October 1994. Vienna, 1994.
  • Bietak, Manfred. Avaris, The Capital of the Hyksos: New Excavation Results. The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Distinguished Lectures in Egyptology, no. 1. British Museum Publications. London, 1996.
  • Habachi, Labib. “Khata῾na-Kantir: Importance.” Annales du Service des Antiquités de l'Égypte 52 (1954): 443–559.

Manfred Bietak

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