Mummy Monday: Seqenenre Tao

We are back! Thank you all for the support during my two-week break. I am rested and prepped for a great 2021.

Our first candidate for Mummy Monday for the year needed to be big. And what is bigger than an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh who most likely died in battle and has the scars to prove it? This week we will be talking about Sequenenre Tao, otherwise known as the Brave.

Life

Seqenenre Tao, also known as Seqenera Djehuty-aa, Sekenenra Taa, or Sequenenre Tao II (after his father), ruled over the last of the local Theban kingdom in the 17th Dynasty of the 2nd Intermediate Period. Seqenenre means “Who Strikes like Re,” and Tao means “brave,” which may have been a name given to him based on his bravery in life.

The center scribal palette in the image (currently located in the Louvre) is inscribed with the name of Seqenenre Tao

He was probably the son and successor of Senakhenre Ahmose and Queen Tetisheri. He would have risen to power either in 1560 to 1558 B.C.E. He had multiple wives including Ahmose Inhapy, Sitdjentui, and Ahhotep I. Through Ahmose Inhapy, he had a daughter Ahmose Henuttamehu, and through Sitdjehuti, he had another daughter named Ahmose. But it was Ahhotep I who bore the next two kings of Egypt, Seqenenre Tao’s sons Kamose and Ahmose I. She also gave birth to Ahmose Nefertari, Ahmose Meritamon, Ahmose Nebetta, Ahmose Tumerisy, Binpu, Ahmose Sapair, and Ahmose Henutemipet, many of whom were married to one of their brothers.

This jar lid (currently located at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, M.80.203.224) is inscribed with the name of Seqenenre Tao

His rule was anywhere from 5 to 3 years, so this left almost no time for monumental building. He did build a new mudbrick palace at Deir el-Ballas. When this site was excavated, a large amount of Kerma-ware pottery was found. Kerman Nubians either traded heavily with the Egyptians or were residents in the palace. This also may indicate that they were allied with the Egyptians in the upcoming battles.

Sometime during his reign, Seqenenre Tao came into contact with the Hyksos people in the north. They were most likely a Canaanite group that settled in the north during this period of instability. They lived in their capital of Avaris in the Delta. It looks like the Egyptians and the Hyksos met in a city called Apepi or Apophis. There is a tale written about this meeting that is called, “The Quarrel of Apophis and Seqenenre.” A portion of this tale is translated below.

“Give orders that the hippopotamus-pool which is in the flowing spring of the city be abandoned; for they (the voices of the hippos) do not allow deep sleep to come to me either by day or by night; but their noise is in mine ear.”

If this letter was actually sent, it is unclear. But the Hyksos king was obviously complaining about Seqenenre’s growing power. But it must be noted that this tale was written by the Egyptians, who notoriously would create propaganda to benefit their own rule. There is always the possibility that the Hyksos king had no quarrel with the Egyptians, but Seqenenre wanted a unified Egypt and chose to attack them.

Death

Seqenenre Tao seemed to have actively participated in the war against the Hyksos, which may have led to his demise. Based on the injuries to his mummy (which I will describe below), Seqenenre Tao was most likely struck down in battle. He was probably around the age of 40 when he died.

Painting of a Queen Ahhotep I recovering her husbands body from the battlefield (Artist’s rendering; there is no evidence of this encounter.) By Winifred Mabel Brunton in 1915.

After Seqenenre Tao’s death, his son Kamose took the throne and continued to battle the Hyksos people. He may have also died in battle (though this is not for certain), but his brother Ahmose I then rose to the throne (after a possible regency of Ahhotep I) to finally defeat the Hyksos, end the Second Intermediate Period and 17th Dynasty and start the New Kingdom and the 18th Dynasty.

This battle axe of Ahhotep I depicts Ahmose I defeating a Hyksos in battle.

Tomb

Although his tomb has not been found, it is presumed that Seqenenre Tao was buried in Dra Abu-el-Naga on the west bank from Thebes. This is where other 17th Dynasty rulers were buried, including the tomb of Ahhotep (still unclear if this was the I or the II).

According to the Abbot Papyrus (British Museum, 10211), which is a document that recorded tomb robberies during the 20th Dynasty, Seqenenre Tao’s tomb was still intact in Year 16 of Ramesses IX.

Image of some of the coffins found in the Deir el Bahri cache

Sometime after this, the tomb was robbed by looters, and in the 21st Dynasty, local priests relocated the coffin and the mummy to the Deir el-Bahri cache in DB320, which we have talked about multiple times. This cache was discovered in 1881 and contained the bodies of several famous kings of the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st Dynasties. Here is a list I have shown before of the mummies found in this cache:

  • Tetisheri
  • Ahmose Inhapy
  • Ahmose Henutemipet
  • Ahmose Henuttamehu
  • Ahmose Mertiamon
  • Ahmose Sipair
  • Ahmose Sitkamose
  • Ahmose I
  • Rai
  • Siamun
  • Ahmose Sitamun
  • Amenhotep I
  • Thutmose I
  • Baket (?)
  • Thutmose II
  • Iset
  • Thutmose III
  • Unknown man C
  • Ramesses I
  • Seti I
  • Ramesses II
  • Ramesses III
  • Ramesses IX
  • Pinedjem I
  • Nodjmet
  • Duathathor-Henuttawy
  • Maatkare
  • Masaharta
  • Tayuheret
  • Pinedjem II
  • Isetemkheb D
  • Neskhons
  • Djedptahiufankh
  • Nesitanebetashru
  • Unknown man E
  • 8 other unidentified mummies; funerary remains of Hatshepsut

As you can see, his mother, one of his wives, several of his daughters, and one of his sons were all moved here after their tombs had been looted. Check out my post on Nodjmet to learn more about the DB320 cache!

Coffin

The mummy of Seqenenre Tao was found in its original coffin (CG 61001). This coffin was decorated with a royal uraeus and eye inlays, which were most likely removed by tombs robbers along with the majority of the gilding. But the inscriptions and symbolic elements have been preserved and even restored, possibly after the gilding was removed.

Mummy

Mummy of Seqenenre Tao

The mummy of Seqenenre Tao (JE 2609/CG 61051) has captured a lot of attention over the years of its appearance. After the discovery of the cache in 1881, his mummy was partially unwrapped by Egyptologist Gaston Maspero on June 9th, 1886. It was completely unwrapped by Eugene Grebaut, who took office in the Antiquities Service after Maspero resigned in 1886, on September 1st, 1906. The mummy was also reexamined in the early 1900s by G. Elliot Smith.

By all indications, the mummy seems to have been hastily embalmed. His mummy is the worst preserved of all the mummies in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. There was no attempt to remove the brain or add linen inside the cranium or eyes. His organs were removed, and the body packed with linen, but there was one thing done wrong – the heart was also removed. Now, this is against every Egyptian tradition. The Egyptians believed that the heart was the most important organ and that you thought with your heart. This was always left within the body to help in the afterlife. In some cases when the heart was removed, a heart scarab amulet was put in its place. While it is unclear why the heart was removed, there is the possibility that it was removed in an attempt to destroy him in the afterlife.

A “foul, oily smell filled the room the moment the case in which his body was exhibited was opened.” This is probably because of the poor embalming process and the absence of the use of natron salts to dry out the body, which left some of the bodily fluids in the mummy at the time of burial.

The mummy’s chest is also broken, and the ribs were hurriedly squeezed together by the embalmers and wrappers. His arms, legs, and vertebrae are also disarticulated, and the pelvis is in pieces. Worms were also found in the shroud and shells of beetle larvae in the king’s hair. This is another indication of a bad or quick mummification.

The Face of Seqenenre Tao with arrows pointing at the wounds to his face

The face of the mummy was what really cause speculation. It is very damaged, and his mouth is open, as some thought in horror. Multiple wounds cover the mummy’s face. There is a small cut above the eye, on the forehead, and a wound behind his ear.

Below is a description of the injuries given by Maspero.

“…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 dispatched 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 back of the Head of Seqenenre Tao with an arrow showing the wound behind his ear

The wound to his forehead fits the shape of an Egyptian battle-axe while the wounds above the right eye and left check fit a Hyksos style battle-axe. His check and nose were smashed in. This may have been done with the blunt end of an axe or by a mace. The wound behind his ear was most likely made by a dagger or spear, possibly while Seqenenre was lying prone. There were no injuries found to his arms or hands, indicated that he was not able to defend himself. But there is some evidence that the wound behind his ear has begun to heal. This may indicate that this injury was caused in battle and then other injuries were made later, possibly in an assassination attempt.

This battle-axe (currently located at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.80.203.43) is inscribed with the name of Seqenenre Tao. The original owner of this piece is unknown.

Until 2009, the main hypothesis was that Seqenenre Tao had died in battle or was assassinated in his sleep, before or after a battle. Egyptologist Garry Shaw and archaeologist/weapons expert Robert Mason reconstructed the death of the king and came up with an alternate theory. They suggested that Seqenenre Tao was executed by the Hyksos king after being captured. This may have been a ceremonial execution at the hands of the enemy commander.

Here you can read a fictionalized account of his death by Shaw, but you can also download his scholarly article on his findings below. Also, check out this video where Shaw and Mason recreate the injuries.

While I have not seen anything to corroborate this, I have a theory that aligns with Shaw and Mason’s theory of the ceremonial execution. If Seqenenre Tao was executed, his body would have been in enemy hands for an unknown amount of time. Maybe the Hyksos people attempted to mummify him?

This would explain why it was done so badly and why the heart was missing. This wasn’t them trying to ruin his chance in the afterlife, just a simple lack of knowledge of Egyptian mummification. They probably assumed that all the organs were removed.

Otherwise, his body may have been returned to his family and the priests just did an extremely quick mummification job. Just a theory, but it would be interesting to look into!

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seqenenre_Tao

https://mummipedia.fandom.com/wiki/Seqenenre_Tao

https://rawi-magazine.com/articles/sequenenre_tao/

https://egypt-museum.com/post/187302666356/mummy-of-seqenenre-tao

https://ancientegyptonline.co.uk/seqenenretao/

https://members.tripod.com/anubis4_2000/17A.htm#Seqnenre-Taa%20II

Image Sources

Photo of skull – Wikimedia Commons – G. Elliot Smith

Photo of mummy in case – Rawi Magazine

Photo of mummy – Egypt Museum.com

Cartouches – ancientegyptonline.co.uk

Photo of Coffin and mummy – members.tripod.com

Photo of battleaxe – Wikimedia commons – LACMA (M.80.203.43)

Photo of scribal palette with his name (Louvre) – Wikimedia Commons – Rama

Jar lid with his throne name – Wikimedia Commons LACMA (M.80.203.224)

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