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.


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.


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.


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!


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 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!


Image Sources

Photo of skull – Wikimedia Commons – G. Elliot Smith

Photo of mummy in case – Rawi Magazine

Photo of mummy – Egypt

Cartouches –

Photo of Coffin and mummy –

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)

Site Saturday: Avaris

The city of Avaris made quite a unique mark on Egyptian civilization. Its prime location in the Nile Delta allowed for both foreigners and Egyptians to co-exist peacefully and foreign groups to establish a capital city. Come and learn about the ancient capital of Avaris!

Tell el-Dab’a Before Avaris

Avaris is in the modern Tell el-Dab’a in the northeastern region of the Nile Delta. This location allowed access to both the Mediterranean Sea and the “Horus Road,” which was a main thoroughfare to the Siani Peninsula and thus to the rest of the Near East. The area was occupied from the end of the Middle Kingdom to the New Kingdom.

The earliest settlement dates to the 1st intermediate period. This settlement was most likely built as a defense system, which would help ensure the eastern border of the Egyptian state. It was then expanded in the 12th dynasty, during the reign of Amenemhet I, around 1930 B.C.E. It was a small planned town that did not expand until around 1830 B.C.E. This site had a temple situated on the banks of the branch of the Nile, while the rest of the settlement was to the north. To the south, there was a planned settlement for workmen.

Reconstruction of some of the structures of Avaris by the Austrian Archaeological Institute.

Around the beginning of the 13th dynasty, a community of Asiatics or Canaanites immigrated to the settlement. They seemed to serve under the Egyptian crown, probably being employed as soldiers, sailors, shipbuilders, or craftsmen. A palatial quarter for officials was constructed during this time. These officials were to supervise trade and expeditions abroad. A cemetery with domed chapels for the officials was found attached to these buildings.

Canaanite Temple

Around 1780 B.C.E. a temple to Seth was built. The Canaanites, who had continued to settle in the city, considered Seth to be their god Hadad or Baa-Zaphon. This was just one indication that there was some intermingling of Egyptian and Canaanite culture within the city. Residences, tombs, and other temples seemed to combine Egyptian and Canaanite architectural styles. In 1700 B.C.E. another temple was built, this time for the Egyptian goddess Hathor and the Canaanite goddess Asherah. Oak tree pits were even found in front of this temple.

History of Avaris

Avaris was the capital of Egypt under the Hyksos people. It was called Hut-waret (Hw.t war.t), which means “Great House.” This denotes that the city was a center of administration. As mentioned previously, Tell el-Dab’a was occupied as Avaris from circa 1783 to 1550 B.C.E. This was during the 13th dynasty and the Second Intermediate Period. This was generally a period of unrest, where multiple dynasties occupied Egypt at the same time.

Click on this Image to learn more about Tel el-Dab’a! On this website, you can click on different parts of the city to learn more.

The Hyksos people arrived sometime around 1650 B.C.E. and the city expanded exponentially. It grew to over 250 hectares (1 hectare = 10,000 square meters, or roughly 1 international rugby field). With those numbers, Avaris could have been the biggest city in the world from 1670 to 1557 B.C.E.! Because of this immigration influx, the city faced overcrowding. During this time, smaller houses were built in cemeteries and burials had to be relocated. Children were buried in the doorways of larger houses and other tombs were incorporated into the structure of the houses.

While the Hyksos ruled from Avaris, a rich elite group began to emerge. Large houses with stairs to upper floors were found in the eastern section of the city, while smaller houses clustered around the large ones. This could indicate that servants or other members of lower social classes built their houses around their masters’ houses. There is also evidence that there may have been an epidemic around 1715 B.C.E. which was both documented in the archaeological record and surviving papyrus records. Large common graves were found with little evidence of ritual ceremonies, indicating that a large number of people may have died in quick succession.

During this period, burials of servants and donkeys were unique to this area. Three servant burials were found during this period. The servants’ bodies seem to have been buried at the same time as their masters’ burial, indicated that the servants could have been sacrificed to serve their masters’ in the afterlife. Donkeys have also been buried in tombs after being sacrificed. Donkeys were associated with expeditions and could relate to the journey between life and death.

At the very end of the Hyksos rule in Avaris, a thick enclosure wall and citadel were built around the city. This may indicate that the city was preparing for an attack from outside forces. Very soon after the city was attacked by Kamose, the last king of the 17th dynasty, though he was unable to dislodge the Hyksos. It wasn’t until eighteen years later, when Ahmose I attacked Avaris, destroyed the citadel, and conquered the Hyksos. The reign of Ahmose I and the defeat of the Hyksos established the 18th dynasty and the New Kingdom of Egypt.

Reconstructed map of turtle-backs and archaeological structures at Tell el-Dab’a.

Who Were the Hyksos People?

The Hyksos people have been misinterpreted by both the Ancient Egyptians and modern researchers. Ancient Egyptian scribes typically describe them as “invaders,” who conquered the land, destroyed the temples, and slaughtered without mercy. There is no evidence of these claims. It is not unlike the Egyptian scribes, who were employed by the King and the State to say whatever they wanted them to say, to exaggerate or even outright lie about certain facts in preserved writing. Since King Ahmose I, reunited Egypt after expelling the Hyksos, it is obvious that Ahmose had to call the Hyksos invaders, or else he would have no legitimate reason to remove them!

Wall painting and reconstruction of the painting from the tomb of Khnumhotep II at Beni Hasan during the 12th Dynasty. This group of West Asiatic foreigners are labeled as “Aamu,” but are most associated with the Hyksos because the leading man with the ibex is labeled as “Abisha, the Hyksos.”

The Hyksos were most likely a Semitic people who immigrated to Egypt slowly over a period of years before gaining a foothold in the Delta around 1782 B.C.E. They may have been kings or nobility that were driven from their home by invasion, which would explain a high influx of people in a short amount of time. They could have also been traders, who came to Avaris and prospered and then sent word to their friends, whose arrival allowed them to exert political and military power over the city.

Avaris After the Hyksos People

After the conquest of Ahmose I, major parts of the city are abandoned. The citadel was destroyed, and enormous storage facilities were set up with silos, presumably for grain. Evidence of an encampment with bonfires, ovens, and tent postholes has been found on top of the storage facility.

Then a new palatial campground was built on top of the camp, constructed mainly from the brick material of Avaris. Three palaces were built on elevated platforms and covered an area of about 5.5 hectares. This settlement was surrounded by an enclosure wall with an entrance pylon in the north. It might have been Peru-nefer, which was a major naval and military stronghold of the Thuthmosids. This settlement dates to the reigns of Thutmose III and Amenhotep II.

Here in this palace, are remains of Minoan frescos. Thousands of fragments of Minoan wall paintings were discovered in 1987 in the ancient gardens that were attached to the palace. The Minoans were a Bronze Age civilization located on the island of Crete, directly north of Egypt across the Mediterranean. These frescos found in Egypt, though fragmented, were remarkably similar to those found in Knossos Palace in Crete. They were both applied as a buon fresco, which means the paint was applied directly to wet plaster. The main image has been reconstructed as a bull-leaping scene, with several individuals with dark skin and wavy hair leaping over a large bull. There are also images of griffins, leopards, and lion hunts.

The image above is a reconstruction of the fresco found in Avaris, while the one below is the fresco found in the Minoan city of Knossos.

The presence of the Minoan frescos has intrigued both Egyptologists and Classicists. Some have speculated that a Minoan colony was founded here and designed the palace and frescos. Others believe that this building could have allowed local Minoans to have a ritual life in Egypt. Nonetheless, the presence of the Minoan frescos indicates a close relationship between the Minoan people and the Egyptians living in Tell el-Dab’a at the time and that the 18th dynasty rulers were open to works and themes from the Eastern Mediterranean.  

The ruins of the Thuthmosis Period were covered by a fortress by Horemheb in the late 18th dynasty. During the 19th Dynasty, the city of Pi-Ramesses was established south of Tell el-Dab’a, which eventually absorbed the surrounding area. And finally, from the 22nd dynasty and on, the area served as a quarry for other building sites.

Excavation History

It is very important to first understand that archaeological excavations are very different in the Nile Delta than excavations in other areas of Egypt. Because of the wide, alluvial fan (or accumulation of sediments shaped like a cone that builds up where a river flows into a larger body of water) of the Nile Delta, the ground is much moister than a typical Egyptian archaeological site. Any site in this area could be damp, wet, or marshy. The delta is also almost completely covered in modern agriculture, which for decades has been turning and churning up the upper layers of stratigraphy (or layers of soil and archaeological remains). These sites have been flooded and ripped apart by modern agriculture and the shifting branches of the Nile.

Avaris rest on several turtle-backs, which are areas of land that typically stay above the annual Nile floods. These turtle-backs are south of the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, which has shifted slightly since antiquity. The Pelusiac branch, which is the easternmost branch of the Nile, used to pass west of the site. Because of the modern agriculture and settlements, the location of Avaris was not known until the 1940s.

Edouard Naville, a Swiss Egyptologist was the first one to excavate in the area in 1885. In 1928, Mahmud Hamza, an Egyptian Egyptologist, first proposed that Tell el-Dab’a was Pi-Ramesses, the capital of the 19th Dynasty. Labib Habachi, another Egyptian Egyptologist, proposed that it was actually Avaris. He conducted excavations from 1941 to 1942 and was able to confirm that it was both Avaris and later part of Pi-Ramesses. The 12th dynasty site was also excavated by Shehata Adam from 1951 to 1954.

From 1966 to 1969 and from 1975 to the present, the Austrian Archaeological Institute has excavated the site led by Manfred Bietak and Irene Forstner-Muller. They have done extensive work and in 2010, they could identify the outline of the city, including streets, houses, ports, and a sidearm of the Nile passing through the city. Many of their excavation reports have been published online and can be found here.

Check out the Austrian Archaeological Institute’s publications here!

Sources and Further Reading

Picture Sources

Wikimedia Commons: Jeff Dahl – Map of the Delta

Wikimedia Commons: Jebulon – Knossos Bull Leaping scene

Wikimeida Commons: NebMaatRa – Wall painting of Hyksos and reconstruction of the painting

Martin Dürrschnabel – Reconstructed Minoan fresco – Reconstruction map of Site

Walter Rehucek (Tell el-Dab’a Homepage) – Map of Site

Manfred Bietak, ÖAW – Excavation photos, Canaanite temple map, and picture of Manfred Bietak