People - Ancient Egypt: Amenhotep IV / Akhenaten
NEW KINGDOM 18th Dynasty (1350-1334) Extreme prosperity and renaissance
in art and building projects mark the beginning of this period. Towards
the end of the 19th Dynasty the increasing power of the priesthood
corrupts the central government. During the 20th Dynasty tomb robbing is
done by officials. The priesthood becomes hereditary and begins to assume
secular power. The government breaks down.
Akhenaten in Wikipedia
Akhenaten (pronounced /ˌɑːkəˈnɑːtən/; often also spelled Echnaton, Akhnaton, or rarely Ikhnaton;
meaning Effective spirit of Aten) was known before the fifth year of his reign as Amenhotep IV (sometimes
given its Greek form, Amenophis IV, and meaning Amun is Satisfied), a Pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of
Egypt, ruled for 17 years and died in 1336 BC or 1334 BC. He is especially noted for abandoning
traditional Egyptian polytheism and introducing worship centered on the Aten, which is sometimes described
as monotheistic or henotheistic. An early inscription likens him to the sun as compared to stars, and
later official language avoids calling the Aten a god, giving the solar deity a status above mere gods.
Akhenaten tried to bring about a departure from traditional religion, yet in the end it would not be
accepted. After his death, traditional religious practice was gradually restored, and when some dozen
years later rulers without clear rights of succession from the Eighteenth Dynasty founded a new dynasty,
they discredited Akhenaten and his immediate successors, referring to Akhenaten himself as 'the enemy' in
He was all but lost from history until the discovery, in the 19th century, of Amarna, the site of
Akhetaten, the city he built for the Aten. Early excavations at Amarna by Flinders Petrie sparked interest
in the enigmatic pharaoh, which increased with the discovery in the Valley of the Kings, at Luxor, of the
tomb of King Tutankhamun, who has been proved to be Akhenaten's son according to DNA testing in 2010 by
Dr. Zahi Hawass, Cairo. Akhenaten remains an interesting figure, as does his Queen, Nefertiti. Their
modern interest comes partly from his connection with Tutankhamun, partly from the unique style and high
quality of the pictorial arts he patronized, and partly from ongoing interest in the religion he attempted
The future Akhenaten was a younger son of Amenhotep III and his Chief Queen Tiye, his elder brother Crown
Prince Thutmose having died when both were children. Thus, Akhenaten's early education might have prepared
him for the priesthood like his maternal uncle Anen; at any rate, in an inscription dating to his early
reign he emphasized his familiarity with ancient temple documents.
Amenhotep IV succeeded his father after Amenhotep III's death at the end of his 38-year reign, or possibly
after a coregency lasting one to two years. Suggested dates for Akhenaten's reign (subject to the debates
surrounding Egyptian chronology) are from 1353 BC-1336 BC or 1351 BC–1334 BC. Akhenaten's chief wife was
Nefertiti, made famous to the modern world by her exquisitely sculpted and painted bust, now displayed in
the Neues Museum of Berlin, and among the most recognized works of art surviving from the ancient world.
After four years of reign, Akhenaten began building a new city to serve as the seat of the Aten and a
governmental capital of Egypt. Its buildings were decorated in a startling new style which was intended to
express the tenets of the new worship.
Some recent debate has focused on the extent to which Akhenaten forced his religious reforms on his
people. Certainly, as time drew on, he revised the names of the Aten, and other religious language, to
increasingly exclude references to other gods; at some point, also, he embarked on the wide-scale erasure
of traditional gods' names, especially those of Amun. Some of his court changed their names to remove them
from the patronage of other gods and place them under that of Aten (or Ra, with whom Akhenaten equated the
Aten). Yet, even at Amarna itself, some courtiers kept such names as Ahmose ("child of the moon god", the
owner of tomb 3), and the sculptor's workshop where the famous Nefertiti bust, and other works of royal
portraiture, were found, is associated with an artist known to have been called Thutmose ("child of
Thoth"). An overwhelmingly large number of faience amulets at Amarna also show that talismans of the
household-and-childbirth gods Bes and Taweret, the eye of Horus, and amulets of other traditional deities,
were openly worn by its citizens. Indeed, a cache of royal jewelry found buried near the Amarna royal
tombs (now in the National Museum of Scotland) includes a finger ring referring to Mut, the wife of Amun.
Such evidence suggests that though Akhenaten shifted funding away from traditional temples, his policies
were fairly tolerant until some point, perhaps a particular event as yet unknown, toward the end of the
Following Akhenaten's death, change was gradual at first. Within a decade a comprehensive political,
religious and artistic reformation began promoting a return of Egyptian life to the norms it had followed
during his father's reign. Much of the art and building infrastructure created during Akhenaten's reign
was defaced or destroyed in the period following his death, particularly during the reigns of Horemheb and
the early Nineteenth Dynasty kings. Stone building blocks from Akhenaten's construction projects were
later used as foundation stones for subsequent rulers' temples and tombs.
Pharaoh and family depictions
Talatat blocks from Akhenaten's Aten temple in Karnak
Styles of art that flourished during this short period are markedly different from other Egyptian art. In
some cases, representations are more naturalistic, especially in depictions of animals and plants, of
commoners, and in a sense of action and movement—for both nonroyal and royal people. However, depictions
of members of the court, especially members of the royal family, are extremely stylized, with elongated
heads protruding stomachs, heavy hips, thin arms and legs, and exaggerated facial features. Questions also
remain whether the beauty of Nefertiti is portraiture or idealism. Significantly, and for the only time in
the history of Egyptian royal art, Akhenaten's family are shown taking part in decidedly naturalistic
activities, showing affection for each other, and being caught in mid-action (in traditional art, a
pharaoh's divine nature was expressed by repose, even immobility).
Small statue of Akhenaten wearing the Egyptian Blue Crown of War
The depictions of action may correspond to the emphasis on the active creative and nurturing emphasized of
the Aten in the "Great Hymn to the Aten" and elsewhere. Nefertiti also appears, both beside the king and
alone (or with her daughters), in actions usually reserved for a Pharaoh, suggesting that she enjoyed
unusual status for a queen. Early artistic representations of her tend to be indistinguishable from her
husband's except by her regalia, but soon after the move to the new capital, Nefertiti begins to be
depicted with features specific to her. Why Akhenaten had himself represented in the bizarre, strikingly
androgynous way he did, remains a vigorously debated question. Religious reasons have been suggested, such
as to emulate the creative nature of the Aten, who is called in Amarna tomb texts, "mother and father" of
all that is. Or, it has been suggested, Akhenaten's (and his family's) portraiture exaggerates his
distinctive physical traits. Until Akhenaten's mummy is positively identified, such theories remain
speculative. Some scholars do identify Mummy 61074, found in KV55, an unfinished tomb in the Valley of the
Kings, as Akhenaten's. If so—or if the KV 55 mummy is that of his close relative, Smenkhkare—its
measurements tend to support the theory that Akhenaten's depictions exaggerate his actual appearance.
Though the "mummy" consists only in disarticulated bones, the skull is long and has a prominent chin and
the limbs are light and long. However, in 2007, Zahi Hawass and a team of researchers made CT Scan images
of the KV 55 mummy. They have concluded that the elongated skull, cheek bones, cleft palate, and impacted
wisdom tooth suggest that the mummy is the father of Tutankhamun, also commonly known as Akhenaten...
Amenhotep IV / Akhenaten in Tour Egypt
Amenhotep IV-better known as Akhenaten, the new name he took early on in his reign-ushered in a revolutionary
period in Egyptian history. The Amarna Interlude, as it is often called, saw the removal of the seat of
government to a short-lived new capital city, Akhetaten (modern el-Amarna), the introduction of a new art
style, and the elevation of the cult of the sun disc, the Aten, to pre-eminent status in Egyptian religion.
This last heresy in particular was to bring down on Akhenaten and his immediate successors the opprobrium of
later kings. The young prince was at least the second son of Amenhotep III by his chief wife, Tiy: an
elder brother, prince Tuthmosis, had died prematurely (strangely, a whip bearing his name was found in
Tutankhamun's tomb). There is some controversy over whether or not the old king took his son into partnership
on the throne in a co-regency there are quite strong arguments both for and against
A point in favor of a co-regency is the appearance during the latter years of Amenhotep III's reign of
artistic styles that are subsequently seen as part of the 'revolutionary' Amarna art introduced by Akhenaten;
on the other hand, both 'traditional' and 'revolutionary' Art styles could easily have coexisted during the
early years of Akhenaten's reign. At any rate, if there had been a co-regency, it would not have been for
longer than the short period before the new king assumed his preferred name of Akhenaten ('Servant of the
Aten') in Year 5.
The beginning of Akhenaten's reign marked no great discontinuity with that of his predecessors. Not only was
he crowned at Karnak (temple of the god Amun) but, like his father he married a lady of non-royal blood,
Nefertiti, the daughter of the vizier Ay. Ay seems to have been a brother of Queen Tiy (Anen was another) and
a son of Yuya and Tuya. Nefertiti's mother is not known; she may have died in childbirth or shortly
afterwards, since Nefertiti seems to have been brought up by another wife of Ay named Tey, who would then be
her stepmother. The cult of the Aten The tenth king of the 18th Dynasty was perhaps the most controversial
because of his break with traditional religion. Some say that he was the most remarkable king to sit upon
There can be little doubt that the new king was far more of a thinker and philosopher than his forebears.
Akhenaten was traditionally raised by his parents, Amenhotep III and Queen Tiy (1382-1344 B.C.) by worshipping
Amen. Akhenaten, however, preferred Aten, the sun god that was worshipped in earlier times. Amenhotep III had
recognized the growing power of the priesthood of Amun and had sought to curb it; his son was to take the
matter a lot further by introducing a new monotheistic cult of sun-worship that was incarnate in the sun's
disc, the Aten. When early in his reign he changed his name to Akhenaten, meaning “He Who is of Service to
Aten”, he also renamed his queen to Nefer-Nefru-Aten, which is “Beautiful is the Beauty of Aten.”
This was not in itself a new idea: as a relatively minor aspect of the sun god Re-Harakhte, the Aten had been
venerated in the Old Kingdom and a large scarab of Akhenaten's grandfather Tuthmosis IV (now in the British
Museum) has a text that mentions the Aten. Rather, Akhenaten's innovation was to worship the Aten in its own
right. Portrayed as a solar disc whose protective rays terminated in hands holding the ankh hieroglyph for
life, the Aten was accessible only to Akhenaten, thereby obviating the need for an intermediate priesthood.
At first, the king built a temple to his god Aten immediately outside the east gate of the temple of Amun at
Karnak, but clearly the coexistence of the two cults could not last. He therefore proscribed the cult of Amun,
closed the god's temples, took over the revenues. He then sent his officials around to destroy Amen’s statues
and to desecrate the worship sites.
These actions were so contrary to the traditional that opposition arose against him. The estates of the great
temples of Thebes, Memphis and Heliopolis reverted to the throne. Corruption grew out of the mismanagement of
such large levies. To make a complete break, in Year 6 the king and his queen, left Thebes behind and moved to
a new capital in Middle Egypt, half way between Memphis and Thebes. It was a virgin site, not previously
dedicated to any other god or goddess, and he named it Akhetaten-The Horizon of the Aten. Today the site is
In the tomb of Ay, the chief minister of Akhenaten (and later to become king after Tutankhamun's death),
occurs the longest and best rendition of a composition known as the 'Hymn to the Aten', said to have been
written by Akhenaten himself. Quite moving in itself as a piece of poetry, its similarity to, and possible
source of the concept in, Psalm 104 has long been noted. It sums up the whole ethos of the Aten cult and
especially the concept that only Akhenaten had access to the god: 'Thou arisest fair in the horizon of Heaven,
0 Living Aten, Beginner of Life…there is none who knows thee save thy son Akhenaten. Thou hast made him wise
in thy plans and thy power.'
No longer did the dead call upon Osiris to guide them through the after-world, for only through their
adherence to the king and his intercession on their behalf could they hope to live beyond the grave. According
to present evidence, however, it appears that it was only the upper echelons of society which embraced the new
religion with any fervor (and perhaps that was only skin deep).
Excavations at Amarna have indicated that even here the old way of religion continued among the ordinary
people. On a wider scale, throughout Egypt, the new cult does not seem to have had much effect at a common
level except, of course, in dismantling the priesthood and closing the temples; but then the ordinary populace
had had little to do with the religious establishment anyway, except on the high days and holidays when the
god's statue would be carried in procession from the sanctuary outside the great temple walls.
The standard bureaucracy continued its endeavors to run the country while the king courted his god. Cracks in
the Egyptian empire may have begun to appear in the later years of the reign of Amenhotep III; at any rate
they became more evident as Akhenaten increasingly left government and diplomats to their own devices. Civil
and military authority came under two strong characters: Ay, who held the title 'Father of the God' (and was
probably Akhenaten's father-in-law), and the general Horemheb (also Ay's son-in-law since he married Ay's
daughter Mutnodjme, sister of Nefertiti). Both men were to become pharaoh before the 18th Dynasty ended.
This redoubtable pair of closely related high officials no doubt kept everything under control in a discreet
manner while Akhenaten pursued his own philosophical and religious interests. A new artistic style It is
evident from the art of the Amarna period that the court officially emulated the king's unusual physical
characteristics. Thus individuals such as the young princesses are endowed with elongated skulls and excessive
adiposity, while Bek-the Chief Sculptor and Master of Works-portrays himself in the likeness of his king with
pendulous breasts and protruding stomach. On a stele now in Berlin Bek states that he was taught by His
Majesty and that the court sculptors were instructed to represent what they saw. The result is a realism that
breaks away from the rigid formality of earlier official depictions, although naturalism is very evident in
earlier, unofficial art. The power behind the throne? Although the famous bust of Nefertiti in Berlin, the
queen is not subject to quite the same extremes as others in Amarna art, by virtue of being elegantly female.
Indeed, there are several curious aspects of Nefertiti's representations. In the early years of Akhenaten's
reign, for instance, Nefertiti was an unusually prominent figure in official art, dominating the scenes carved
on blocks of the temple to the Aten at Karnak. One such block shows her in the age-old warlike posture of
pharaoh grasping captives by the hair and smiting them with a mace hardly the epitome of the peaceful queen
and mother of six daughters. Nefertiti evidently played a far more prominent part in her husband's rule than
was the norm.
Private collection Tragedy seems to have struck the royal family in about Year 12 with the death in childbirth
of Nefertiti's second daughter, Mekytaten; it is probably she who is shown in a relief in the royal tomb with
her grief-stricken parents beside her supine body, and a nurse standing nearby holding a baby. The father of
the infant was possibly Akhenaten, since he is also known to have married two other daughters, Merytaten (not
to be confused with Mekytaten) and Akhesenpaaten (later to become Tutankhamun's wife).
Nefertiti appears to have died soon after Year 12, although some suggest that she was disgraced because her
name was replaced in several instances by that of her daughter Merytaten, who succeeded her as 'Great Royal
Wife'. The latter bore a daughter called Merytaten-tasherit (Merytaten the Younger), also possibly fathered by
Akhenaten. Merytaten was to become the wife of Smenkhkare, Akhenaten's brief successor. Nefertiti was buried
in the royal tomb at Amarna, judging by the evidence of a fragment of an alabaster ushabti figure bearing her
cartouche found there in the early 1930s. The king's resting place Akhenaten died c. 1334, probably in his
16th reignal year.
Evidence found by Professor Geoffrey Martin during re-excavation of the royal tomb at Amarna showed that
blocking had been put in place in the burial chamber, suggesting that Akhenaten was buried there initially.
Others do not believe that the tomb was used, however, in view of the heavily smashed fragments of his
sarcophagus and canopic jars recovered from it, and also the shattered examples of his ushabtis-found not only
in the area of the tomb but also by Petrie in the city.
What is almost certain is that his body did not remain at Amarna. A burnt mummy seen outside the royal tomb in
the 1880s, and associated with jewelry from the tomb (including a small gold finger ring with Nefertiti's
cartouche, was probably Coptic, as was other jewelry nearby. Akhenaten's adherents would not have left his
body to be despoiled by his enemies once his death and the return to orthodoxy unleashed a backlash of
They would have taken it to a place of safety and where better to hide it than in the old royal burial ground
at Thebes where enemies would never dream of seeking it? It has been suggested that he was buried in tomb
KV55, though other possibilities are also likely.
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