How three rebel queens of Egypt overthrew an empire and gave birth to a new kingdom

In the 16th century B.C., three steadfast, wise, and powerful queens led Egypt against Hyksos invaders—and won.

Worshipped for centuries after her death, Ahmose Nefertari is depicted on this 20th dynasty stela. British Museum, London
Photograph by BRITISH MUSEUM/SCALA, FLORENCE

In times of trouble, ancient Egypt often looked to its female rulers to restore and maintain power. From Hatshepsut to Cleopatra, women ruled, and ruled well, along the Nile. Some of the first wielded their power rebelling against a brutal occupation. These strong leaders came to power, helped drive out the invaders, and gave birth to a new, stronger dynasty.

Ancient Egypt fell to invaders in the late 18th century B.C., an event described by Egyptian scholar Manetho more than a millennium after it happened. Egypt had been conquered by invaders, a people Manetho called the heqa khasut, foreign rulers—a term that later evolved into the Greek “Hyksos.” Thought to originate from an area in modern-day Israel, the Hyksos arrived on the scene during Egypt’s 13th dynasty.

Egyptian rulers were able to hold them off until about 1650 B.C., when the Hyksos, growing more militarily powerful, captured the ancient royal city of Memphis in a decisive victory that brought Egypt’s Middle Kingdom to an end. Writing in the fourth or third century B.C., Manetho described how the Hyksos overwhelmed Egypt:

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