This week’s installment is a little grisly – we’re taking a look at the battle-wounded mummy of Seqenenre Tao II.
Seqenenre Tao II was the penultimate pharaoh of the 17th Dynasty in Upper Egypt, and is believed to have been the son of Senakhtenre Ahmose, his predecessor, and Queen Tetisheri. The exact length and dates of his reign are uncertain, although it is likely that he only ruled for a few years. Seqenenre Tao fathered two future pharaohs with his wife, Queen Ahhotep I: Kamose, his immediate successor and the last pharaoh of the 17th Dynasty, and Ahmose I, the first pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty.
Not much is known about this pharaoh due to his relatively short reign, however, it is believed that he commenced the war that expelled the Hyksos, a Semitic-Asiatic people who ruled in Lower Egypt at Avaris. This war was ended, victoriously, by his son, Ahmose I.
Seqenenre Tao II was unable to embark upon a huge building programme like many of the other pharaohs due to his short reign. It is known that he built a new mud-brick palace at Deir el-Ballas, and the foundations of what is believed to have been a military post were found overlooking the river on an adjacent hillside. Large numbers of Kerma-ware pot sherds were found at this site, which suggests that Kerma Nubians lived at the site. Some archaeologists suggest that these Kerma Nubians could have been allies of Seqenenre Tao II in his war against the Hyksos.
No mortuary temple or tomb is associated with Seqenenre Tao II, probably due to his short reign. The Abbott Papyrus records the inspection of the tombs of two kings named Seqenenre, one of whom is, undoubtedly, Seqenenre Tao II, indicating that he may have had a tomb originally.
The pharaoh’s mummy was found in the Deir el-Bahri mummy cache in 1881, by Gaston Maspero. His mummy was accompanied by those of later kings including the 18th and 19th Dynasty kings Ahmose I (his son), Amenhotep I, Thutmose I, Thutmose II,Thutmose III, Ramesses I, Seti I, Ramesses II, and Ramesses IX, and the 21st Dynasty pharaohs Psusennes I, Psusennes II, and Siamun.
Maspero unwrapped the mummy in 1886, and provided an account of the injuries that the pharaoh incurred upon his death:
“…it is not known whether he fell upon the field of battle or was the victim of some plot; the appearance of his mummy proves that he died a violent death when about forty years of age. Two or three men, whether assassins or soldiers, must have surrounded and despatched him before help was available. A blow from an axe must have severed part of his left cheek, exposed the teeth, fractured the jaw, and sent him senseless to the ground; another blow must have seriously injured the skull, and a dagger or javelin has cut open the forehead on the right side, a little above the eye. His body must have remained lying where it fell for some time: when found, decomposition had set in, and the embalming had to be hastily performed as best it might.”
The burning question of how exactly Seqenenre Tao II died still attracts debate today. The History Channel’s ‘Museum Secrets‘ series focused on this question as a part of its episode on the Cairo Museum. Two main theories are that the king was assassinated while sleeping, or that he was killed while fighting alongside his troops on the battlefield. A third theory, as explored by ‘Museum Secrets‘, is that Seqenenre Tao II was captured during battle – bound and on his knees, he was killed by two violent axe blows to the head, and a third blow to his eye socket with the butt of the handle of the axe.
The mummy of Seqenenre Tao II now resides in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and is the earliest royal mummy on display in the Royal Mummies Hall which was revamped in 2006.
Hayes, W. C. 1973. “From the Death of Ammenemes III to Sequenenre II” in The Cambridge Ancient History Vol. 2. 3rd ed. Cambridge University Press: 42-76.
Shaw, G. J. 2009. “The Death of King Seqenenre Tao”. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 45.
‘Museum Secrets: The Egyptian Museum – Warrior King’: http://museumsecrets.tv/dossier.php?o=80 including a video of the “Axe experiment”.
Maspero, G. History Of Egypt, Chaldaea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, Volume 4 (of 12), Project Gutenberg EBook, Release Date: December 16, 2005. EBook #17324. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17324/17324.txt