Pharaoh Seqenenra Taa ruled southern Egypt around 1545 BC. Nicknamed The Valiant, he was the first Egyptian king to perish on the battlefield, where he was brutally murdered. Scholars have debated the exact nature of his death since his mummy was discovered in 1880. Now X-ray computed tomography has allowed Sahar Saleem, a professor of radiology at Cairo University, and the celebrated Egyptologist Zahi Hawass to produce a more complete account of the fatal fate of this king. Seqenenra Taa’s brief reign coincided with the rise of the Hyksos, the dynasty that held power throughout the kingdom for about a century (c. 1650-1550 BC). It was the struggle to expel them that cost Pharaoh his life. He is considered a key figure in history, since, after his assassination, his son Amosis I managed to expel the Hyksos from the delta and reunify Upper and Lower Egypt, giving rise to the New Kingdom.
Examinations of Seqenenra Taa’s mummy showed that he had suffered several serious head injuries, but no other injuries to his body. The most widespread theory was that he had been captured in battle and later executed, possibly by King Hicso himself. Other scholars have suggested that he was assassinated in his sleep, the victim of a palace conspiracy. In addition, the poor condition of the mummy suggested that the embalming had been carried out hastily, far from the actual mummification workshop. Hidden wounds
However, the CT scan of Seqenenre’s mummified remains has revealed new details about his head injuries, including new ones that had previously been undetected as embalmers had cleverly concealed them.
The authors of the new work, published in the scientific journal ‘Frontiers in Medicine’, offer a novel interpretation of the events before and after Seqenenre’s death. X-ray images reveal that the pharaoh was indeed caught on the battlefield, but his hands had been tied behind his back, so he could not defend himself from the attack. This fact “suggests that Seqenenre was really in the front line with his soldiers risking his life to liberate Egypt,” said Saleem, lead author of the study and specializing in paleoradiology. The images also suggest that the execution was carried out by multiple attackers at the same time. Scientists have corroborated this after identifying five different weapons belonging to the Hyksos that coincided with the pharaoh’s wounds. “In a normal execution of a tied prisoner, it could be assumed that a single assailant hits, possibly from different angles but not with different weapons,” Saleem explained. “Seqenenre’s death was more of a ceremonial execution,” says the specialist.
The skull wounds speak of brutal death. The pharaoh had a 7-centimeter-long gash on his forehead, which would have been caused by an ax or sword blow from above. This wound alone could have been fatal. Another life-threatening cut above the pharaoh’s right eye was 3.2 cm long and was possibly made with an ax. Other cuts to the nose, right eye, and right cheek came from above and could have been made with the handle of an ax or a blunt staff, according to the researchers. The CT study also determined that the pharaoh was in his 40s when he died, based on the detailed morphology revealed in the images, providing the most accurate estimate to date.
Additionally, the CT study has revealed important details about the mummification of Seqenenre’s body. For example, embalmers used a sophisticated method to hide wounds on the king’s head under a layer of material that functioned similarly to fillers used in modern plastic surgery. This would imply that the rite took place in a mummification workshop and not improvised, as had been previously interpreted. Saleem points out that the study of computed tomography provides important new details on a crucial point in Egypt’s long history: “Seqenenre’s death motivated his successors to continue the struggle for the unification of Egypt and to initiate the New Kingdom.
Saleem and study co-author Zahi Hawass, an archaeologist and former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, have pioneered the use of computed tomography to study New Kingdom pharaohs and warriors, including well-known names such as Hatshepsut, Tutankhamun. , Ramses III, Tutmosis III, and Ramses II. However, based on available evidence, Seqenenre appears to be the only one of this illustrious group who was on the front lines of the battlefield. Saleem and Hawass’s earlier work featured the famous “Mummy of the Screaming Woman.
The body was embalmed with its head thrown back and its mouth opens as if it were crying in terror. The CT scan then revealed that she suffered from a severe degree of atherosclerosis and the researchers assumed that the woman had a massive heart attack with a fatal outcome. The position of the remains suggests that the body was not discovered until hours later, so it suffered rigor mortis and the embalmers preserved the body as it was found.