Egyptian Pharaoh Was Brutally Executed On Battlefield In War Over Noisy Hippos

3D Virtual Reality image of the pharaoh's skull reveals the violent death he suffered at the hands of multiple attackers. Image Credit: Sahar Saleem

Computed tomography (CT) scans of a 3,600-year-old mummy have revealed the fascinating, and quite spectacularly brutal, circumstances of the death of an Egyptian pharaoh.
 
Seqenenre Taa-II died from multiple head and face wounds that show he was surrounded by multiple attackers armed with daggers, axes and spears, most likely on a battlefield for a war that was started over hippos. The brutal details of his death and the subsequent attempt to cover up the wounds by ancient embalmers is detailed in a study in Frontiers in Medicine.
 

Pharaoh Seqenenre Taa-II “the Brave” was the 14th pharaoh of the Theban dynasty and leader of southern Egypt during Egypt’s occupation by the Hykso, a dynasty most likely hailing from the Levant that ruled over northern Egypt from around 1650 to 1550 BCE. In an attempt to oust the Hyksos, Seqenenre Taa-II was killed, though scholars have debated the exact nature of his death since the mummy’s discovery in the 1880s.

Previous studies and X-rays of his remains noted the king had severe headwounds, but not other wounds on his body, leading to the theory he had been captured in battle and executed afterwards, possibly even by the Hyksos king himself. The poor condition of the mummy also suggested the embalming was a hasty job not fit for the epic royal mummification rituals and techniques.

Seqenenre Taa II CT scan
Dr Sahar Saleem placing the mummy of Seqenenre Taa II in the CT scanner. Image credit: Sahar Salee

Now, CT scans have revealed new details of these head injuries, including wounds not described before, concealed by the embalmers’ efforts. Analyzing these new details, the researchers have formulated a new theory of the pharoah’s last hours. They posit Seqenenre was indeed captured on a battlefield, but had his hands tied behind his back so he couldn’t defend himself against his attackers.

"This suggests that Seqenenre was really on the front line with his soldiers risking his life to liberate Egypt," said lead author Dr Sahar Saleem, a professor of radiology at Cairo University, in a statement.

The CT scans and other evidence suggest the execution was carried out by multiple attackers, as the wounds matched at least five different known Hyksos weapons.

"In a normal execution on a bound prisoner, it could be assumed that only one assailant strikes, possibly from different angles but not with different weapons," Saleem explained. "Seqenenre's death was rather a ceremonial execution."

X ray of pharaoh Seqenenre-Taa-II's torso
CT scan of Seqenenre's torso revealing his head was severely wounded but the rest of his body wasn't. Image credit: Sahar Saleem

The CT scans also showed that what had been thought about the poor mummification job may not be true. The details showed it was skillfully done, using embalming material as fillers to hide the king’s head wounds similar to today’s plastic surgery. This suggests the mummification took place at a proper laboratory rather than a poorly equipped place.

So, where do the hippos come in?

The war that led to Seqenenre being on the battlefield that fateful day was initiated by a "rude letter" from Apophis, ruler of the Hyksos, complaining about the snoring of the hippopotamuses that dwelled in a sacred pool in Thebes keeping him up at night. His demand that the pool be destroyed was a grave insult to Seqenenre and understandably riled him up, not least because the king lived 640 kilometers (400 miles) away.

Incredibly, this war actually led to the overthrow of the Hyksos and the restoration of rule by the pharaohs in the 16th century BCE, though it came at the expense of the brutal and violent death of Seqenenre Taa-II “the Brave”.

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