Seqenenre Tao was the pharaoh who ruled southern Egypt in the late 17th dynasty, roughly between 1558 and 1553 BC.
That was a troubled time. The Hyksos (whose name in ancient Egyptian was Heqau-khasut, “the rulers of foreign lands”) occupied the northern part of Egypt and took Avaris (present-day Tell el Dabaa) as their capital during a time called the “second intermediate period” (1650 -1550 BC).
Although the pharaohs maintained power over the south (with capital in Thebes), the entire territory was forced to pay tribute to the invaders.
An ancient papyrus revealed the hostilities between Seqenenre and the King of the Hyksos named Apepi or Apophis.
According to the text, Apophis sent a hostile message stating that noisy hippos in a pond in Thebes were disturbing his sleep in Avaris (400 miles away), and demanding that the Theban sacred space be destroyed.
Although the end of the story is lost, the document ends with Seqenenre calling his advisers, perhaps to initiate hostilities.
Deir el-Ballas, a settlement north of Thebes founded during the reign of this pharaoh, was probably the base of the military campaigns against the Hyksos.
During the war, Seqenenre’s eldest son, named Kamose, died during a battle and it had to be his brother Ahmose who completed the expulsion of the Hyksos, whom he pursued to Sharuhen (in present-day Gaza Strip) to reunify Egypt.
But what about Seqenenre? His figure had suddenly disappeared from the plot.
In 1881, in Deir el-Bahari (Thebes), archaeologists found his mummy. The inscriptions on the original linen wrappers confirmed that this was the body of Seqenenre-Tao.
Tao (or Taa) was his birth name and meant “Thoth is great”, while “Seqenenre” was the name of the throne and meant “He whom Ra has made brave”.
Researchers in the 19th century already witnessed the rotten state of the body due to limited mummification, as well as severe head injuries suggesting violent death.
But there were no injuries anywhere else. Over the years the theories have diversified. Did he die in a battle? Was he the victim of a palace conspiracy? Why was he hastily mummified?
It took more than a century to find the answers to all these questions. A recent CT scan has revealed unknown details of his injuries that embalmers had cleverly concealed, according to specialists in an article published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.
X-rays would confirm that Seqenenre was captured on the battlefield, as his hands showed evidence that they had been tied behind his back, preventing him from escaping or defending against an attack.
“This suggests that (the pharaoh) was in the front line alongside his soldiers, risking his life to liberate Egypt,” says Dr Sahar Saleem, a professor of radiology at Cairo University.
The analyzes carried out suggest that the execution was carried out by multiple attackers. The tests have found samples of up to five different weapons from the Hyksos that matched the wounds of the Egyptian king. “Seqenenre’s death was more of a ceremonial execution,” she says.
“In the normal execution of a tied prisoner, it could be assumed that only one assailant attacks, possibly from different angles but not with different weapons,” explains Saleem, who has worked on this case alongside former Egyptian antiquities minister, archaeologist Zahi Hawass. .
Seqenenre was in his 40s when he died, and his embalmers went to great lengths to hide his injuries.
They used a sophisticated method to cover head injuries under a layer of embalming material that worked similarly to fillers used in modern plastic surgery.
This would imply that the mummification took place in a real mummification laboratory and not in a poorly equipped location, as previously interpreted.
Saleem and Hawass pioneered the use of CT scans to study pharaohs and warriors of the New Kingdom.
“Seqenenre was on the front lines of the battlefield. His death motivated his successors to continue the struggle to unify Egypt and start the New Kingdom,” they conclude.