Mummies Alive! Program 4: The Pharaoh's Secret (Review)

Did Pharaoh Sequenenre Tao Survive the Battle With Hyksos Apophis?

The Mummy of Seqenenre Tao - Mummies Alive
The Mummy of Seqenenre Tao - Mummies Alive. Smithsonian Channel

Mummies Alive! The Pharaoh's Secret. 2015. Narrated by Jason Priestley, directed and written by Alex Hearle, executive producer Tim Evans. Featuring Egyptologist Chris Naunton, Egyptian Exploration Society; Egyptologist Garry Shaw; consulting forensic pathologist Richard Shepherd; curator Campbell Price, Manchester Museum. Scenes shot at Medinhet Habu, Deir el Ballas, shaft at Deir el Bahri, and the Cairo Museum.

The Mummies Alive series is a production of Impossible Factual Ltd. and Saloon Media in association with Smithsonian Channel and Shaw Media. Executive Producers for Smithsonian Channel are Tim Evans, David Royle and Charles Poe. 45 minutes.

Mummies Alive! The Pharaoh's Secret

This fourth entry into the Mummies Alive! series on the Smithsonian Channel reports on the unusual corpse of the Second Intermediate Egyptian pharaoh, Seqenenre Tao. Seqenenre was the 17th dynasty king who battled the Hyksos, and paved the way for the blossoming of the New Kingdom.

Seqenenre's mummy was found at the mummy cache at Deir el Bahri, where he had been stored with the far more famous and later New Kingdom pharaohs, Seti I and Ramses the Great. But his mummy is different than those tenderly preserved kings and queens. Seqenenre's head and face were horrifically damaged, with the left side of his face basically removed apparently by a Hyksos battle axe.

His mummy was not laid out--his arms are extended--his brain was left intact and his body was not treated with natron. All of that is very atypical.

Who Was Seqenenre?

Seqenenre ruled during the latter part of the Second Intermediate Period in Egypt (1650-1550 BC) at a time when the Hyksos owned lower Egypt from the city of Avaris (Tell el-Dab'a).

According to the histories left behind, it was Seqenenre's battles with the Hyksos that led to the eventual New Kingdom re-unification of Egypt.

Egyptologists have long argued that the king must have been killed during the battle that he fought (and lost) against the Hyksos. But for several decades, at least, forensic pathologists have been arguing that Seqenenre survived the horrific blows on or after the battlefield, was paralyzed there and survived weeks or perhaps months later, when he was killed with an Egyptian axe. That is the subject of the Pharaoh's Secret.

Elements of the Story

The Pharaoh's Secret is shot on several locations in Egypt, including the Cairo Museum, the ruins of Seqenenre's fortress-palace at Deir el Ballas, and Medinet Habu. Medinet Habu is a New Kingdom city where murals display the archaeologists found the by-then codified proper political situation in Egypt: both Upper and Lower Nile portions of the country must be united. That reunification came about because of Seqenenre: and it is strange to think that without Seqenenre, there might not have been a New Kingdom, as Egyptologist/Curator Campbell Price opines.

Some of the discussion centers on a letter written from the Hyksos king Apophis to Seqenenre, which complains about the noise of Seqenenre's hippopotamus.

That letter is widely believed to have been the impetus for the battles between Thebes and the Hyksos. While the program argues the word "hippopotamus" is a mistranslation--the word is close-sounding to "soldier" in ancient Egyptian--I'd like to think that it was a carefully prepared needle from Apophis that set Seqenenre off.

Regardless of the subtleties of the missive, a battle ensued during which Seqenenre was either killed or horrifically maimed. The aftermath was further battles, eventually leading to the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt by Seqenenre's son Ahmose I, the first pharaoh of the New Kingdom.

Bottom Line

The Pharaoh's Secret is a great introduction to a story with which I was unfamiliar. Commentary is provided by Chris Naunton, current director of the Egyptian Exploration Society; writer and archaeologist Garry J.

Shaw; curator Price; and the Mummies Alive! resident forensic pathologist Richard Shepherd.

Although the program does imply that the survival theory is Shepherd's, the theory has been in the pathology community for at least a couple of decades as described by clinical pathologists ten Berge and van de Goot listed below, but that's really the pedant in me talking. The theory remains controversial: although Naunton seems open to it, Shaw remains unconvinced, according to his recent blog entry about the program.

Mummies Alive runs between June 7th and July 12th, on the Smithsonian Channel. The The Pharaoh's Secret premieres Sunday evening June 28, 2015.

Reviews of the Series:

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

Sources and Further Reading

Shaw GJ. 2009. The Death of King Seqenenre Tao. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 45:159-176. doi: 10.2307/25735452

ten Berge RL, and van de Goot FRW. 2002. Seqenenre Taa II, the violent death of a pharaoh. Journal of Clinical Pathology 55(3):232. (free to read online)

Wegner J. 2015. A Royal Necropolis at South Abydos: New Light on Egypt's Second Intermediate Period.

Near Eastern Archaeology 78(2):68-78. doi: 10.5615/neareastarch.78.2.0068

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Hirst, K. Kris. "Mummies Alive! Program 4: The Pharaoh's Secret (Review)." ThoughtCo, Jul. 10, 2015, Hirst, K. Kris. (2015, July 10). Mummies Alive! Program 4: The Pharaoh's Secret (Review). Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "Mummies Alive! Program 4: The Pharaoh's Secret (Review)." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 18, 2017).