Seqenenre Tao II, (also 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 Senaktenre Tao I the Elder 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 II 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 II is credited with starting the opening moves in the war of liberation against the Hyksos, which was ended by his son Ahmose.
Later New Kingdom literary tradition states that Seqenenre Tao II came into contact with his Hyksos contemporary in the north, Aawoserra Apopi.
The tradition took the form of a tale in which the Hyksos king Apopi 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 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 II participated in active diplomatic posturing, which consisted of more than 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 Wadj-kheper-re 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 II 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 II did not allow for the construction of many monumental structures, but it is known
that he 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.
Mummified head of Seqenenre depicting his battlewounds
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, as well as the twenty-first dynasty pharaohs Psusennes I, Psusennes II, and Siamun.
The mummy was unwrapped by Gaston Maspero on June 9, 1886. A vivid description by Gaston 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 hair is thick, rough, and matted; the face had been shaved on the morning of his
death, but by touching the cheek we can ascertain how harsh and abundant the hair must have been. The mummy is that of a fine, vigorous man, who
might have lived to a hundred years, and he must have defended himself resolutely against his assailants; his features bear even now an
expression of fury. A flattened patch of exuded brain appears above one eye, the forehead is wrinkled, and the lips, which are drawn back in a
circle about the gums, reveal the teeth still biting into the tongue. "
It has been convincingly argued that the wound across the forehead of Seqenenre Tao II was caused by an axe, similar to some that have been
found in Tell el-Dab'a. Egyptian axes of the same period are distinctly different in shape and would not have caused a similar wound. That
provides one leg of an argument of a case against an attack by fellow Egyptians.
Given the angle of a neck wound, possibly caused by a dagger, it is most likely that the pharaoh was prone or lying down when the fatal blows
were struck. In addition, the absence of wounds to the arms or hands (which would be expected if the victim were actively defending himself)
indicates that the very first blow must have incapacitated Seqenenra Tao II.
The common theory is that he died in a battle against the Hyksos, although the other long-standing theory is that he was killed while
sleeping; whatever the circumstance, sources agree that he was lying down on his right side when attacked, either asleep, or already wounded
and incapacitated from battle when the final mortal blows were struck.
His mummy was hastily embalmed, likely using the materials that were at hand upon his death, lending further support for having been killed in
battle, rather than at the royal court. 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 Harris and Kent Weeks who
undertook the forensic examination at the time the x-rays were taken, Tao II's 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.
He is the earliest royal mummy on display in the recently revamped (2006) Royal Mummies Hall at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
According to authors Robert Lomas and Christopher Knight, Seqenenre Tao II would have been the mysterious character called Hiram Abif mentioned
in Freemasonic rituals, whose death is described in an extremely similar manner.