Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Seventeenth Dynasty (Part 6)

With the reign of Sekhenenre Ta’o we come to the beginning of one of the most glorious periods of Egyptian history. Sekhenenre has left little to posterity aside from a throwstick bearing the name of Ta’o, which could conceivably belong to Senakhtenre Ta’o, rather than Sekenenre Ta’o (Winlock, Tombs, p. 257), a scribal palette bearing his name (now in the Louvre – see Beckerath, Untersuchungen, p. 188), and a lintel from Dier-el-Ballas (Beckerath, Untersuchungen, p. 188).

There is, however, a legend concerning this King which has survived to modern times. This story was written down during the Ramesside Period and is now known from a partial copy of it which has been preserved on papyrus. The story describes how Sekenenre received a letter from Apopis, alleging that the hippopotami in the sacred lake of Amen at Karnak were making so much noise at night that poor King Apopis was unable to sleep in his palace of Avaris (over 500 miles away!). Sekenenre called his council of nobles together to decide how to deal with this insult. Unfortunately, we do not know the end of the story as the papyrus breaks off before the end of the tale.

There is a problem with this story however. It is completely preposterous! Many scholars attribute it to an attempt to contrast the King’s resolute leadership with the timid behavior of his noblemen. However, Dr. Hans Goedicke has re-translated the text claiming that the word translated as “hippopotami” actually means something like “a group of troops” and that these troops were what was keeping Apopis from sleeping at night (Goedicke, Hans. The Quarrel of Apophis and Seqenenre, Van Siclen Books, 1986). This translation makes better sense to me.

In any event, by a stroke of good fortune, we are able to guess the end of the tale. The mummified corpse of Sekenenre was found in the famous Dier-el-Bahri cache of royal mummies. Edward Wente has estimated Sekenenre’s age at death to be between the age of 35 and 40 based on a medical examination of the mummy (Harris, James and Edward Wente, an X-Ray Atlas of the Royal Mummies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 333). The cause of death is quite clear; Sekenenre died violently. One of the five wounds in the head was made by a battle axe of Syro-Palestinian design, and this surely indicates that Sekenenre was killed in battle with the hated Hyksos. Some scholars disagree with this assessment, preferring to believe that Sekenenre was murdered in a palace conspiracy and citing as evidence the fact that Kamose (Sekenenre’s son) seems to have initiated the battle against the Hyksos (B. G. Trigger, el. Al., Ancient Egypt (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 173 and William Kelly Simpson ed., Literature of Ancient Egypt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), p. 77). This could be true, except that it is highly unlikely that a battle axe of any sort, much less one of Levantine origin, would be used in a palace assassination. It seems more likely that small, easily hidden weapons, such as daggers, would be used in such an assassination. The mummy also has a javelin wound, and battle axes and javelins seem more likely to be involved in a combat situation rather than a palace conspiracy. Also, while it must be admitted that there was some sort of peaceful relationship between the Hyksos and the Thebaid at the beginning of the reign of Kamose (more on this below during the discussion of the Kamose Stela), this does not mean that such a situation must have existed during the reign of Kamose’s predecessor.

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