CT Scans Reveal Ceremonial Execution of Pharaoh ‘Seqenenre the Brave’
A professor of radiology from Cairo University has uncovered new and fascinating details about the death of the famed Egyptian Pharaoh Seqenenre-Taa-II (or Seqenenre the Brave), who ruled the southern region of a divided Egypt in the 16th century BC.
Using an innovative technique known as paleoradiology, Dr. Sahar Saleem deployed computer tomography (CT) technology to perform a deep and detailed scan of Seqenenre’s mummified remains, which had been excavated from a necropolis in the ancient city of Thebes back in 1881. The findings have just been published in Frontiers in Medicine magazine.
Extreme Violence in Ritual Execution
From past visual examinations, it was already known that Seqenenre has suffered severe blows to the head that had almost assuredly caused his death. Dr. Saleem’s examination confirmed this hypothesis, but her CT scan also revealed the presence of multiple lesions in the head area that had been skillfully covered during the embalming session that had preserved the murdered pharaoh’s body.
Closer analysis of the CT images proved that the pharaoh had been set on by five attackers carrying five separate weapons, all striking blows from different angles. Based on the locked position of his finger bones, Dr. Saleem was also able to determine that the pharaoh’s hands had been tied behind his back at the time of his execution, meaning he was in no position to offer any kind of defense or resistance in the face of his horrifying fate.
X ray of pharaoh Seqenenre's torso. (Sahar Saleem / Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities )
How Seqenenre The Brave Earned His Name
Previously, there were two competing theories about how Seqenenre the Brave met his demise. One asserted that the presence of his head wounds proved that he had been taken as a prisoner of war and executed by the enemy Hyksos forces, who controlled most of a divided Egypt while Seqenenre ruled from Thebes.
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A second theory disputed that notion, claiming that it was more likely Seqenenre had been murdered in his sleep, assassinated by plotters perpetrating some type of palace intrigue. Proponents of this theory dismissed the story of Seqenenre’s alleged murder at the hands of the Hyksos as apocryphal, as something best confined to the realm of myth or legend.
But Dr. Saleem’s analysis most certainly disproves the latter hypothesis.
"This suggests that Seqenenre was really on the front line with his soldiers risking his life to liberate Egypt," said Dr. Saleem, who co-authored (with Dr. Zahi Hawass) an article about her research that recently appeared in Frontiers of Medicine . "In a normal execution of a bound prisoner, it could be assumed that only one assailant strikes, possibly from different angles but not with different weapons. Seqenenre's death was rather a ceremonial execution ."
Dr. Saleem is a pioneer in the field of paleoradiology. Along with her research partner, the former head of the Egyptian Department of Antiquities, Dr. Hawass, she has used CT scanning techniques to study the mummified remains of many renowned New Kingdom pharaohs and warriors, including Tutankhamun, Rameses II, Rameses III, Hatshepsut, and Thutmose III.
Despite the exalted reputations many of these individuals enjoy, Dr Saleem has confirmed that Seqenenre-Taa-II is the only one of these figures who was killed on the battlefield or while held as a prisoner of war.
It would seem Seqenenre earned the title “Seqenenre the Brave,” and that this was not an empty affectation assumed by an overly prideful or vainglorious man.
A CT scan of Seqenenre’s face shows head wounds. ( Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities )
The Hippopotamus Rebellion And Egyptian Reunification
According to legend, Seqenenre was killed following a battle with the forces of the Hyksos, a Palestinian dynasty that invaded and occupied most of Egypt in the 17 th century BC.
As the story goes, the king of the Hyksos, Apophis, provoked a skirmish with Seqenenre by ordering the slaughter of several noisy hippopotami, which happened to reside in the latter ruler’s territory. It seems these pugnacious animals were keeping the Hykosian king awake at night with their persistent bellowing.
Naturally, Seqenenre the Brave was defiant in support of his hippopotami, and when Apophis’s forces crossed the border to smite the bothersome hippos the battle was on. Seeing a possible opportunity to eject the usurpers and re-unify the country once and for all, Seqenenre used this initial battle as a launching point for an all-out assault on the forces of Hyksos, in hopes they could be permanently vanquished.
As his subsequent capture and execution demonstrates, Seqenenre’s ambitious campaign failed, and the Hyksos were able to maintain their control over massive swaths of Egyptian territory.
But the ill-fated pharaoh’s efforts were not in vain. Reportedly inspired by their father’s personal sacrifice and fearless quest to reunify their nation, Seqenenre’s widow Ahhotep and his sons Kamose (who unfortunately died in battle) and Ahmose marshaled their forces and with a heroic effort finally defeated the Hyksosian invaders in 1550 BC, sending them into permanent retreat.
Ahmose the proud son ultimately became Ahmose I, the first pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty and the official founder of the New Kingdom , which would lift a unified Egypt to the height of its prosperity and power during the next five centuries.
Painting from a tomb featuring the deified queen Ahmose-Nefertari who was the wife of Ahmose I, the first pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty (and the New Kingdom period), and the son of Seqenenre the Brave. (Vassil / CC0)
When A Legend Becomes History
Because of the extreme remoteness of these alleged events, it is impossible to verify their accuracy with anything close to 100-percent certainty.
But the evidence revealed by CT examinations of the Seqenenre the Brave’s mummy strongly suggests that something very much like what was reputed to have happened actually happened.
Dr. Saleem appears to have no doubts about what her discoveries mean.
"Seqenenre's mummy helped us to better understand the circumstances of his violent death,” she asserted in her Frontiers in Medicine article. “His death motivated his successors to continue the fight to unify Egypt and start the New Kingdom.”
Once word of her findings circulates among those who know of the ancient Egyptian legends and are determined to protect their sanctity, Seqenenre’s status as a martyr will only be enhanced.
Top image: Dr Sahar Saleem placing the mummy of Seqenenre in the CT scanner. Source: Sahar Saleem / Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities
By Nathan Falde