Seqenenre Tao, (also Seqenera Djehuty-aa or Sekenenra Taa), called The Brave, ruled over the last of the local kingdoms of the Theban region of Egypt in the Seventeenth Dynasty during the Second Intermediate Period. He probably was the son and successor to Senakhtenre Ahmose and Queen Tetisheri. The dates of his reign are uncertain, but he may have risen to power in the decade ending in 1560 BC or in 1558 BC (based on the probable accession date of Ahmose I, the first ruler of the eighteenth dynasty, see Egyptian chronology). With his queen, Ahhotep I, Seqenenre Tao fathered two pharaohs, Kamose, his immediate successor who was the last pharaoh of the seventeenth dynasty, and Ahmose I who, following a regency by his mother, was the first pharaoh of the eighteenth. Seqenenre Tao is credited with starting the opening moves in the war of liberation against the Hyksos, which was ended by his son Ahmose.
New Kingdom literary tradition states that Seqenenre Tao came into contact with his Hyksos contemporary in the north, Apepi or Apophis. The tradition took the form of a tale in which the Hyksos king Apepi sent a messenger to Seqenenre in Thebes to demand that the Theban hippopotamus pool be done away with, for the noise of these beasts was such that he was unable to sleep in far-away Avaris. Perhaps the only historical information that can be gleaned from the tale is that Egypt was a divided land, the area of direct Hyksos control being in the north, but the whole of Egypt paying tribute to the Hyksos kings.
Seqenenre Tao participated in active diplomatic posturing, which went beyond simply exchanging insults with the Asiatic ruler in the North. He seems to have led military skirmishes against the Hyksos and, judging from the vicious head wound on his mummy in the Cairo Museum, may have died during one of them.
His son and successor Wadjkheperre Kamose, the last ruler of the seventeenth dynasty at Thebes, is credited with launching a successful campaign in the Theban war of liberation against the Hyksos, although he is thought to have died in the campaign. His mother, Ahhotep I, is thought to have ruled as regent after the death of Kamose and continued the warfare against the Hyksos until Ahmose I, the second son of Seqenenre Tao and Ahhotep I, was old enough to assume the throne and complete the expulsion of the Hyksos and the unification of Egypt.
The relatively short length of the reign of Seqenenre Tao did not allow for the construction of many monumental structures, but it is known that he had built a new palace made of mud brick at Deir el-Ballas. On an adjacent hillside overlooking the river, the foundations of a building were found that almost certainly was a military observation post.
Interestingly, a relatively large amount of pottery known as Kerma-ware was found at the site, indicating that a large number of Kerma Nubians were resident at the site. It is thought that they were there as allies of the pharaoh in his wars against the Hyksos.
Seqenenre's mummy was discovered in the Deir el-Bahri cache, revealed in 1881. He was interred along with those of later, eighteenth and nineteenth dynasty leaders, Ahmose I (his second son to be pharaoh), Amenhotep I, Thutmose I, Thutmose II, Thutmose III, Ramesses I, Seti I, Ramesses II, and Ramesses IX.
The mummy was unwrapped by Gaston Maspero on June 9, 1886. A vivid description by Maspero provides an account of the injury that was done to the pharaoh at 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 wound on his forehead was probably caused by a Hyksos axe and his neck wound was probably caused by a dagger while he was prone. There are no wounds on his arms or hands, which suggests he was not able to defend himself.
Until 2009 the main hypotheses have been that he died either in a battle against the Hyksos or was killed while sleeping. A reconstruction of his death by Egyptologist Garry Shaw and a weapons expert suggested a third, which they saw as the likeliest, that Seqenenre was executed by the Hyksos king. Garry Shaw also analysed the arguments for the competing hypotheses and other physical, textual and statistical evidence concluding "that the most likely cause of Seqenenre’s death is ceremonial execution at the hands of an enemy commander, following a Theban defeat on the battlefield."
His mummy appears to have been hastily embalmed. X-rays that were taken of the mummy in the late-1960s show that no attempt had been made to remove the brain or to add linen inside the cranium or eyes, both normal embalming practice for the time. In the opinion of James E. Harris and Kent Weeks who undertook the forensic examination at the time the x-rays were taken, his mummy is the worst preserved of all the royal mummies held at the Egyptian Museum, and they noted that a "foul, oily smell filled the room the moment the case in which his body was exhibited was opened", which is likely due to the poor embalming process and the absence of the use of absorbing natron salts, leaving some bodily fluids in the mummy at the time of burial.
- Shaw, Ian. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press, 2000. p.198.
- Shaw, Ian. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press, 2000. p199.
- Maspero, Gaston. History Of Egypt, Chaldaea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, Volume 4 (of 12), Project Gutenberg EBook, Release Date: December 16, 2005. EBook #17324. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/17324/17324.txt
- Shaw, Ian. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. p199. Oxford University Press, 2000.
- Smith, G Elliot The Royal Mummies. Duckworth Egyptology. 2000 (Reprint from original 1912 edition). ISBN 0-7156-2959-X
- "Axe Experiment". Museum Secrets. History Television. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
- Shaw, Garry J. (2009). "The Death of King Seqenenre Tao". Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt. 45.
- Harris, James E., Weeks, Kent R. X-raying the Pharaohs. Charles Scribner's Sons. 1973. SBN 684-13016-5 p.122-123.
- Hawass, Zahi. Dancing with Pharaohs: The New Royal Mummies Halls at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. KMT, Volume 17, Number 1, Spring 2006. p22.
- Gardiner, Sir Alan. Egypt of the Pharaohs. (Oxford, 1964).
- Hayes, William C. Egypt: From the Death of Ammenemes III to Sequenenre II," in Volume 2, Chapter 2 of the "Cambridge Ancient History", Revised Edition (Cambridge, 1965).
- Pritchard, James B. (Editor). Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Third Edition, with Supplement. (Princeton, 1969).