Joshua J. Mark
published on 17 February 2014
Xois (as the Greeks called it) was a vast ancient city located on a marshy island in the center of the Nile Delta of Egypt, modern-day Sakha. It was founded c. 3414-3100 BCE and was continuously inhabited until the rise of Christianity c. 390 CE. By the time of the 5th Dynasty, Xois was already regarded as an ancient city.
It was a center of worship of the god Amon-Ra and was well known for the production of fine wine and luxury items. Known as Khasut or Khaset to the Egyptians, the island city is sometimes identified with No-Amon (traditionally a name ascribed to Thebes) mentioned in the biblical Book of Nahum where the Prophet Nahum warns the city of Nineveh of her pride and her coming destruction: “Art thou better than populous No, that was situated among the rivers, that had the waters round about it, whose rampart was the sea, and her wall was from the sea" (Nahum 3:8). That a well-known city such as Nineveh should be compared to Xois testifies to the importance of the Egyptian city and the fame she enjoyed.
When the mysterious Hyksos people invaded Egypt in 1800 BCE, they subjugated the land and, by 1720 BCE, had rendered the Egyptian dynasty at Thebes a vassal state. Xois, then, became the competing center for rule in the land. The scholar John A. Wilson writes:
Some kind of rule continued at Thebes throughout the period, although for a time this rule was subordinated to that of the Hyksos. In addition, the beginning of the period may have seen a native Egyptian dynasty at Xois in the Delta competing with Thebes. Thus the pattern would be Theban dynasties throughout, perhpas a Xoite dynasty at the beginning, and Hyksos dynasties for the latter three quarters of the period. (158).
Wilson makes it clear that it is difficult to understand the significance of the city of Xois at this time owing to the absence of contemporary records. This same lack of records, of course, poses the long-standing difficulty in determining who the Hyksos were and where they came from. The city rallied after the defeat and expulsion of the Hyksos in 1555/50 BCE but declined in prestige. The nobles of Xois had founded the 14th Dynasty of Egypt at the city in 1650 BCE but, with the rise in power of Thebes after Ahmose I defeated the Hyksos, the dynasty collapsed and Xois fell in prominence. The Egyptian historian Manetheo (3rd century BCE) listed 76 Xoite kings. Seventy-two of the names confirmed by the famous Turin King List papyrus are thought to have been prepared under Pharaoh Ramesses II.
The city was one of the sites of the great defense of Egypt by Pharaoh Ramesses III (1194-1163 BCE), in the eighth year of his reign, against the so-called Sea Peoples and the Libyans. Ramesses III lined the shores with archers who fired upon the ships as they tried to land troops. Although Ramesses was victorious in 1178 BCE, so costly was this war with the Sea Peoples that the royal treasury was depleted and this, along with a mysterious drought, lead to the first known labor strike in history (in the 29th year of the reign of Ramesses III) when expected provisions were not supplied to the elite tomb builders at modern-day Deir el Medina.
Xois enjoyed prosperity as a center of worship even after Egypt was made a province of Rome by Augustus in 30 BCE. Its reputation as a production center for the best wine in Egypt helped maintain the city's wealth through the wine trade and kept the city vital. It remained so until the coming of Christianity, after which it steadily declined. The historian Van De Mieroop writes,
The rise of Christianity - which affected the entire Roman empire and beyond in the first centuries AD - may have had a more decisive impact on Egypt's culture...Although some ancient Egyptian concepts influenced the characteristics of Christianity in the country, many of the core ideas of the two cultures were incompatible. The exclusivity of the sole Christian god could not tolerate Egypt's vast pantheon, its sacred animals, and the like.
As Christianity took hold in Egypt, the ancient religious traditions which had made Xois a significant urban center were abandoned and, as drinking alcohol was frowned upon by the zealous adherents of the new faith, the demand for the wines of Xois fell off and the city had lost all of its resources and prestige by c. 390 CE. The pro-Christian edicts of the Roman emperor Theodosius I (reigned 379-395 CE), which closed pagan universities and temples, had an equally detrimental effect on cities and, among them, Xois.
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c. 3414 BCE - c. 3100 BCE
1650 BCE - 1550 BCEXois serves as capital of the 14th Dynasty.