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Xois: Ancient Egyptian Town

Xois: Ancient Egyptian Town

Xois or Khaset or Khasut as the Egyptians knew it was a large Egyptian town, ancient even by the time of the 14th Dynasty. It enjoyed a Mediterranean-wide reputation for its production of fine wine and the manufacturer of luxury items. It was also home to the cult worship of the ancient Egyptian god Amon-Ra.

Facts About Xois

  • Xois or Khaset or Khasut to the Egyptians was a sizeable ancient Egyptian city set on a swampy island formed between the Sebennytic and Phatnitic branches of the Nile Delta near today’s Sakha
  • It was founded c. 3414-3100 BCE and was continuously inhabited until Christianity emerged around c. 390 CE
  • The invading Hyksos made Xois their capital
  • Ramses III fought a decisive battle against the Sea Peoples and their Libyan allies in c. 1178 BCE

Hyksos Capital

When the enigmatic Hyksos people invaded Egypt around c. 1800 BCE, they defeated Egypt’s military forces, shattering the Egyptian state. By c. 1720 BCE the Egyptian dynasty based at Thebes was reduced to the status of a vassal state and forced to pay tribute to the Hyksos.

While few records survived the turbulence of the time Xois, emerged as a competing centre for mastery over Egypt. After the Hyksos were defeated militarily and expelled around c. 1555 BCE the eminence of Xois declined. Xois’ nobility had produced the founder of Egypt’s 14th Dynasty in 1650 BCE.

Subsequently, Xois failed to compete with the rising power and influence of Thebes following Ahmose I’s defeat of the Hyksos. The dynasty ultimately collapsed and Xois declined. The 3rd century BCE Egyptian historian Manetho named 76 Xoite kings and the world-famous Turin King List papyrus subsequently confirmed seventy-two of these king’s names.

Although Xois had been replaced by Thebes as Egypt’s capital it enjoyed continued prosperity as a trading centre and pilgrimage destination.

The Decisive Battle of Xois

Xois later become famous as the site of the decisive battle between the Egyptian military and the invading Sea Peoples. This battle resulted in the Sea Peoples being finally expelled from Egypt.

In the eighth year of the Pharaoh Ramesses III reign, Xois was one of the sites where Ramesses III mounted his defence of Egypt against the assembled forces of the Sea Peoples and their Libyan allies. The Sea Peoples had previously invaded Egypt during the reign of Rameses II and his successor Merenptah (1213-1203 BCE). While they were defeated and vanquished from the field, Ramesses III recognized the threat these Sea Peoples posed to Egypt.

Ramesses III exploited the local terrain and launched a guerilla strategy against the Sea Peoples. He successfully staged ambushes around the vital Nile Delta above Xois. Ramesses III lined the Nile’s shores with a force of archers who fired upon the Sea Peoples’ ships as they were attempting to land troops, before setting the ships ablaze with fire arrows, destroying the Sea Peoples’ invasion force.

However, while Ramesses III emerged victorious in 1178 BCE from his war against the Sea Peoples, his victory proved to be immensely expensive in terms of manpower, resources and treasure. A subsequent shortage of funds, together with a devastating drought, sparked history’s first recorded labour strike in the 29th year of Ramesses III’s reign when the promised supplies for the construction team at the village of Set building tombs near today’s Deir el-Medina failed to be delivered and the entire workforce employed in the iconic Valley of the Kings walked off the site.

Gradual Decline

Following Ramesses III’s decisive victory, Xois enjoyed continued prosperity for several centuries thanks to its location on the trade routes and as a centre of worship. Its reputation for culture and refinement lasted even after Emperor Augustus formally annexed Egypt as a Roman province in 30 BCE.

For much of the time, Xois’ fame for producing the best wine in Egypt helped sustain its wealth. The Romans greatly favoured Xois wines enabling the city to maintain its commercial network under Roman hegemony.

However, as Christianity found a foothold in Egypt with Roman support, Egypt’s venerable religious traditions, which had seen Xois emerge as a major pilgrimage centre were discarded or were abandoned. Similarly, the early Christians frowned on drinking alcohol causing a massive slump in the demand for Xois’ wines.

By c. 390 CE Xois had effectively been sundered from its economic resources and social prestige. The Roman Emperor Theodosius I’s pro-Christian edicts closed pagan temples and universities causing the city to further decline. By the time of the 7th-century Muslim conquests, Xois was in ruins and home to only passing nomads.

Reflecting On The Past

The fate of Xois was typical of many ancient Egyptian cities from the period of the Sea People invasions to Egypt’s annexation by Rome. War devastated the treasury and depopulated the workforce, while the forces of social and economic change gradually undermined the local power base.

Header image courtesy: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons