Akhenaten (1353 B.C. to 1336 B.C.): His Life, Wife Nefertiti, Rule and Art from His Reign

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Akhenaten was one of ancient Egypt’s the most influential and divisive pharaohs and one world's most important religious innovators. Considered the father of monotheism, he established a monotheistic cult to Aten (“Sun Disk”) and forced Egyptians to abandon the worship of all other gods. He once boasted "My Lord promoted me so that I might enact His teaching." [Source: Rick Gore, National Geographic, April 2001]

Akhenaten was originally known as Amenhotep IV. Later he changed his name from Amenhotep ("Amun, the Sun God, is content") to Akhenaten ("Light in the Sun Disk"). His father was Amenhotep III. DNA analysis in February 2010 determined that Akhenaten was the son of Amenhotep III and father of Tutankhamun (King Tut). It identified Queen Tiye as the mother of both Akhenaten and his sister-wife (See Amenhotep III).

The statues of Akhenaten are much different than the statues of other pharaohs. He has a long thin face with Asian-style eyes, a prominent nose and full, protruding lips and an oval-shaped head. He is sometimes depicted with a sensuous belly and broad feminine hips. Other times he has a small pot belly and a shallow chest. Some scholars believe his misshapen skull and strange facial features may have been the result a tumor in his pituitary gland. Others have suggest his unusual facial and body features may have been efforts to express the bisexual nature of his single god.

Akhenaten is arguably the second best known pharaoh after his Tutankhamun (King Tut). His image in the Egyptian Museum is among the most memorable there. Agatha Christie wrote a play about him; Phillip Glass penned an opera about him and Nobel-prize-winning Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz wrote a novel “Dweller of Truth” inspired by him. Even Sigmund Freud wrote at length about him and his beliefs, arguing that Moses was an Egyptian priest spreading the word of Aten.

Akhenaten (ruled 1353–1336 B.C.), son of Amenhotep III, began his rule under the name Amenhotep IV. He defied tradition by establishing a new religion based on the belief in one and only god; the sun god Aten. At the time he took the throne, his family had been ruling Egypt for nearly two hundred years and Egypt was a huge empire that embraced Palestine, Phoenicia, and Nubia. Westerners came to know of Akhenaten through material discovered at his capital city at Tell el-Amarna. Consequently “the Amarna Period” is often used to refer to Akhenaten’s entire reign and the period characterized by his devotion to a single deity, the Aten. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com, Jacquelyn Williamson, George Mason University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]

Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “Akhenaten was an intellectual and philosophical revolutionary who had the power and wealth to indulge his ideas. However, the ancient Egyptians were a deeply religious people who loved their ancient traditions and were not ready to embrace such radical changes. It would not be until the Christian era that the Egyptians would finally reject the old gods in favour of a single universal deity. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk

Ancient Egypt in the Time of Akhenaten

A study by team of researchers lead by Gerome Rose and Barry Kemp of the University of Arkansas of people buried in the cemetery of Tell el-Amarna — a city that was the capital of ancient Egypt for 15 years in the 14th century B.C. under the Pharaoh Akhenaten — found that life was short, brutish and tough for the ancient Egyptians. Many suffered from anemia, fractured bones, stunted growth and high juvenile mortality rates. The study found that anemia ran at 74 percent among children and teenagers buried there and 44 percent among adults. Several teenagers had severe spinal injures, thought to have been caused by construction accidents that occurred during the building of the city. The average height was 159 centimeters among men and 153 centimeters among women. Rose said, “Short stature reflect a diet deficient in protein...People are not growing to their full potential.” [Source: Alaa Shahine Reuters, March 29, 2008]

Rose, a professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas, told Reuters adults buried in the cemetery were probably brought there from other parts of Egypt."This means that we have a period of deprivation in Egypt prior to the Amarna phase," he said. "So maybe things were not so good for the average Egyptian and maybe Akhenaten said we have to change to make things better," he said.

Rose displayed pictures showing spinal injuries among teenagers, probably because of accidents during construction work to build the city. The study showed that anemia ran at 74 percent among children and teenagers, and at 44 percent among adults, Rose said. The average height of men was 159 cm (5 feet 2 inches) and 153 cm among women. "Adult heights are used as a proxy for overall standard of living," he said. "Short statures reflect a diet deficient in protein. ... People were not growing to their full potential."

On the appeal of Akhenaten and the Amarna period, Dr Kate Spence of Cambridge University wrote for the BBC: “Some people are drawn by interest in Akhenaten himself or his religion, others by a fascination with the unusual art which appeals strongly to the tastes of modern viewers and provides a sense of immediacy rarely felt with traditional Egyptian representation. The radical changes Akhenaten made have led to his characterisation as the 'first individual in human history' and this in turn has led to endless speculation about his background and motivation; he is cast as hero or villain according to the viewpoint of the commentator. [Source: Dr Kate Spence, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Akhenaten’s Life

Jacquelyn Williamson of George Mason University wrote: “Akhenaten was born Amenhotep, named after his father, Amenhotep III. Other than a jar sealing from the Malqata palace of Amenhotep III that mentions him, we have little evidence for Prince Amenhotep’s early years. His older brother Thutmose may have been heir apparent, but Thutmose predeceased their father, making Amenhotep the crown prince. Note however that there are some questions about the authenticity of Thutmose’s so-called “cat’s-coffin,” which preserves the key title “king’s eldest son”. [Source: Jacquelyn Williamson, George Mason University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]

Dr Kate Spence of Cambridge University wrote for the BBC: “Akhenaten came to the throne of Egypt around 1353 B.C. The reign of his father, Amenhotep III, had been long and prosperous with international diplomacy largely replacing the relentless military campaigning of his predecessors. The reign culminated in a series of magnificent jubilee pageants celebrated in Thebes (modern Luxor), the religious capital of Egypt at the time and home to the state god Amun-Re. The new king was crowned as Amenhotep IV (meaning 'Amun is content') and temple construction and decoration projects began immediately in the name of the new king. The earliest work of his reign is stylistically similar to the art of his predecessors, but within a year or two he was building temples to the Aten or divinised sun-disk at Karnak in a very different artistic style and had changed his name to Akhenaten in honour of this god. [Source: Dr Kate Spence, BBC, February 17, 2011. Dr Spence is a McDonald Post-doctoral Research Fellow in Cognitive Archaeology in the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge University. She has excavated at Amarna as part of the Egypt Exploration Society Expedition to Amarna directed by Barry Kemp]

Akhenaten and Nefertiti

Akhenaten was married to Queen Nefertiti, one of the most famous of all ancient Egyptian women. One inscription shows Akhenaten and Nefertiti with their three daughters. All three daughters have misshapen skulls. King Tut may have been the son of Akhenaten and a secondary queen.

Nefertiti and Akhenaten
Nefertiti was regarded as a great beauty. A beautiful bust of her is the most prized possession of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. If she did indeed look like the bust she has neck like a swan and a dedicate face made up in a style that is not different from the way modern women make up themselves. Her name means “beautiful one to come.” Not all renderings of Nefertiti depict her as a glamorous beauty. In some images she looks haggard and tired, During Nefertiti’s reign ordinary people started wearing wigs. Nefertiti herself favored Nubian style wigs and is thought to have shaved here head so her wigs fit more snugly.

Nefertiti parents are unknown although her father may been a vizier for King Tutankhamun. Akhenaten elevated Nefertiti to divine status. She may have been only 12 when she married Akhenaten. During the 12th year of Akhenaten’s reign Nefertiti disappeared from the historical record. Akhenaten's other wife Kiya was referred to as his "Great Beloved."

Nefertiti was one of the most influential queens. Reliefs show here conducting religious ceremonies with Akhenaten as an equal. She had more power perhaps than any other queen. Many scholars believe that Nefertiti may have ruled Egypt as Akhenaten co-regent and after Akhenaten's death may have ruled outright under the name of Ankhkheprure. A hymn to the god Amen with a prayer for the queen, written in around 1300 B.C., goes: "Prize from the Chief Wife of the King, his beloved...Nefertiti, living, healthy, and youthful forever and ever."

Nefertiti’s mummy was never found. It may have been hidden to keep it from Akhenaten's enemies. In June 2003, archaeologist June Fletcher claimed she found Nefertiti’s badly-mutilated mummy in a side chamber of the Tomb of Amenhotep II in the Valley of the Kings. Evidence that the mummy was Nefertiti includes distinctive double perching of the left ear which only Nefertiti and her daughter are said to have had, a tight fitting brow band (a sign of royalty), locks from a Nubian wig like that worn by Nefertiti and evidence of embalming of the type that was done in Nefertiti’s time. The mutilations were quite severe. Someone hacked her face and dug a sharp instrument into her chest. The damage is consistent with the kind of desecration performed by zealots opposed to Akhenaten’s religious reforms. The revelations were revealed in a Discovery Channel program. Most scholars are not convinced.


Nefertiti is perhaps the best known queen of Egypt. She is depicted in more sculpture and artwork than her husband, King Akhenaten. Dr Kate Spence of Cambridge University wrote for the BBC: “Akhenaten's 'great king's wife' was Nefertiti and they had six daughters. There were also other wives, including the enigmatic Kiya who may have been the mother of Tutankhamun. Royal women play an unusually prominent role in the art of the period and this is particularly true of Nefertiti who is frequently depicted alongside her husband. Nefertiti disappears from the archaeological record around year 12 and some have argued that she reappears as the enigmatic co-regent Smenkhkare towards the end of Akhenaten's reign. [Source: Dr Kate Spence, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]


Queen Nefertiti is thought to have been a princess from Mitanni (a Hurrian-speaking state in northern Syria and southeast Anatolia). She initially encouraged and supported her husband in with his revolutionary religious views but later appeared to have a falling out with him perhaps over the same views. A relief at Aten Temple in Tel el Amarna, shows Akhenaten and wife Nefertiti worshipping Aten. Another relief shows Akhenaten and Nefertiti playing with their daughters beneath the Aten (sun disk). [Source: BBC, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]

Jacquelyn Williamson of George Mason University wrote: “ The translation of her name, “The Beautiful One has Come,” inspired a theory that she was of foreign origin, but no evidence supports that suggestion. Instead, if she is indeed related to the official Aye, who himself may have been a son of the official Yuya, she most likely came from the 9th nome of Upper Egypt, near Akhmim. Although it is difficult to speculate on the exact year of their marriage, it may have occurred at the occasion of Akhenaten’s Sed festival celebrations. Nefertiti is represented frequently in Akhenaten’s art, and it appears Akhenaten used her to substitute for many of the female goddesses such as Hathor that his religion rendered anathema. In fact, integral to the legitimization of his new religion. [Source: Jacquelyn Williamson, George Mason University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]

According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “Little is known about the early years of Nefertiti’s life, and scholars have contemplated whether she truly was of royal lineage. Evidence suggests she was wed to Akhenaten as the daughter of a high official during Amenhotep III’s reign, or of Amenhotep himself. Similarly, debate still remains as to whether or not Nefertiti was in fact the actual mother of Akhenaten, and his wife at the same time. The mystery of Nefertiti’s origins remain a large topic of debate. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com +]

“Some scholars have contemplated Nefertiti’s role in the religious reform of Egypt, contemplating if it was Nefertiti who urged her husband toward the religious reform or if he did so under his own volition. Little has been written about Nefertiti’s role with the king, however, from scribe texts, it is certain that she bore Akhenaten 6 daughters and no sons, and shared a near co-rulership with the king. Unfortunately, the lack of male sons left Akhenaten with no male royal heir to the throne. As a result, Akhenaten appointed an heir outside of the bloodline. Fifteen years after her appointment to the position of Queen of Memphis, and the Eighteenth Dynasty, Nefertiti mysteriously disappeared. Egyptologists have assumed that this was either due to banishment or her death. However, little evidence suggests that she actually died. Similarly, speculation exists as to whether she was the obscure pharaoh Nefernefuaten. +\

The whereabouts of Queen Nefertiti’s remains remain unknown. Archaeologists say she was probably buried in one of Amarna's tombs. Some have speculated that if Nefertiti's body survived the plunder, it is possible she could have been re-buried in the Valley of the Kings, and it is also possible her remains could in one of several mummies found in the valley whose identities have yet not been confirmed. In 2015 British and Egyptian scientists claimed that the secret grave of Nefertiti lay in a secret chamber behind the walls of Tutankhamun’s (King Tut’s) Tomb. But radar scans of the area around the tomb revealed that such a chamber “just doesn't exist."[Source: Owen Jarus, Live Science, May 12, 2016]

Bust of Nefertiti

Dimitri, Laboury of the University of Liège in Belgium wrote: “The world-famous bust of Nefertiti was unearthed” in Amarna “among plaster studies of heads and faces that actually materialize the successive stages through which the official image of a royal (and also of a private) individual was established. These plaster pieces present material evidence of casting as well as of modeling, indicating that they resulted from a work made of malleable material—most probably clay—from which a mold was created to make a plaster reproduction. This process and the fact that most of them were reworked or bear signs of paint for reworking or completion show that these steps were induced by the necessity for control, almost certainly performed by—or at least in agreement with—the self-thematized patron who ordered the statue(s). These operations of modeling, casting, and correction were surely executed by Thutmose himself or his closest collaborators, since the plaster studio was installed not in the actual sculpture workshop area, opened to day workers, but next to the chief sculptor’s private house and was only accessible from the latter . While only two stages are attested for private persons, the official effigies of members of the royal family were produced in four phases, with at least three control steps before finishing the final model, sculpted in stone and adorned with plaster completions, subtle paintings, precious inlays, and even gildings. These valuable model-busts could then be copied and dispatched to the various workshops throughout the empire, in order to ensure consistency in the reproduction of the king’s or the queen’s official image. [Source: Dimitri, Laboury, University of Liège, Belgium, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org ]

“Investigating the perfect beauty of Nefertiti’s Berlin bust, Rolf Krauss recreated its original design as seen through the sculptor’s eyes, when the artist prepared his work on the parallelepiped limestone block, by projecting a grid graduated in ancient Egyptian measuring units (1 finger = 1.875 cm) on a 3D recording of the queen’s effigy. He thus showed that every important facial feature is positioned on a line or at the intersection of two lines. This demonstrates how much the so-called “most lifelike of Egyptian art” was artificially constructed. Moreover, Krauss also showed that the upper part of the face of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, from the bottom of the nose to the beginning of the crown on the forehead, is exactly identical in size as well as in shape. So, even if it is tantalizing to imagine some sort of a physiognomic convergence between Akhenaten’s or Nefertiti’s actual face and their apparently very individualized sculpted portraits, this reveals, without any possible doubt, that their official images idealized them.

“Seen from this perspective, and in the political context of the end of Dynasty 18, it is interesting to note that the effigies of Akhenaten’s two direct successors, Neferneferuaten and Tutankhamen, probably two children of the Atenist royal couple, appear to combine the facial features recognized as those of Akhenaten and of Nefertiti . Are these effigies faithful portraits showing a family resemblance or idealized images with ideological meaning? In the case of Tutankhamen, the rather good preservation of his mummy allows to demonstrate that the king’s sculpted portrayals are not exact copies of his actual face but nevertheless provide a physiognomy consistent with it, as well as with his young age. Besides, this youthful face of a teenager was later on reused as a kind of mask for the next three kings of Egypt, Aye, Horemheb, and Ramesses I, who all ascended the throne after a very long civil career.”

Nefertiti’s Bust and Egyptian Beauty

Joyce Tyldesley, professor at the University of Manchester and author of a biography about Nefertiti, told the BBC: Nefertiti’s bust is not typical of ancient Egyptian art: “It’s an unusual statue in that it’s got all the plaster on and it’s colourful – a lot of the artwork we have is more stereotyped and less personal-looking than that.” [Source: Alastair Sooke, BBC, February 4, 2016. Sooke is Art Critic of The Daily Telegraph |::|]

When this bust of Nefertiti was discovered in 1912 but wasn’t shown in a museum until over a decade later when she queen immediately became a sex symbol of the ancient world. Alastair Sooke wrote for the BBC: “The moment when the bust was unveiled in Berlin – in 1923 – was crucial to its reception. ‘Egyptomania’ was in the air, following the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun the previous year, and Nefertiti’s angular, geometric appearance chimed with fashionable taste. “She’s very modern-looking, very Art Deco,” says Tyldesley. “So everybody seemed to like her. It’s hard to find anybody who didn’t think that Nefertiti was beautiful.” |::|

“During the ’20s, the bust of Nefertiti also benefited from the power of the mass media to turn her into a star. “A hundred years earlier, without newspapers or the cinema, that wouldn’t have happened,” says Tyldesley. “She would have gone into a museum and nobody would have made the fuss they did. I wonder whether the fact that Nefertiti was put on display in Berlin as a major find actually influenced what we saw. After all, beauty, as we know, is in the eye of the beholder.” “|::|

Akhenaten's Rule

Akhenatan’s reign can be divided into two phases: the years before the move to the site of Amarna, when building was centered on Karnak in Thebes (Luxor) and the Amarna years. The former is termed the proto-Amarna phase by scholars.

Jacquelyn Williamson of George Mason University wrote: “Amenhotep was approximately ten years old when he assumed the throne. Many once suggested he served the first years of his young rule in a coregency with Amenhotep III, but current opinion holds that their reigns did not overlap. The first two years of Amenhotep IV’s reign conformed to Egyptian royal traditions. He completed his father’s unfinished building projects at Soleb in Nubia as well as the third pylon at Karnak, decorating each in traditional Pharaonic style. Akhenaten may have even started building himself a traditional mortuary temple on the site that is now the Ramesseum. [Source: Jacquelyn Williamson, George Mason University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]

Akhenaten ruled for 17 years (from the death of his father Amenhotep III in 1353 B.C. to Akhenaten's death in 1336 B.C.). His reign began with great optimism and hope as expressed by the great works of art that were created in that period.

After an unknown event, five years into his reign, Akhenaten moved the capital of Egypt from Thebes to a new location called Akhetatem ("Horizon of the New Sun") in present-day el-Amarna (180 miles north of Thebes on the east bank of the Nile).

Zahi Hawass wrote in National Geographic, “In the fifth year of his reign, he changes his name to Akhenaten — "he who is beneficial to the Aten." He elevates himself to the status of a living god and abandons the traditional religious capital at Thebes, building a great ceremonial city 180 miles to the north, at a place now called Amarna. Here he lives with his great wife, the beautiful Nefertiti, and together they serve as the high priests of the Aten, assisted in their duties by their six cherished daughters. All power and wealth is stripped from the Amun priesthood, and the Aten reigns supreme. The art of this period is also infused with a revolutionary new naturalism; the pharaoh has himself depicted not with an idealized face and youthful, muscular body as were pharaohs before him, but as strangely effeminate, with a potbelly and a thick-lipped, elongated face. [Source: Zahi Hawass, National Geographic, September 2010]

Some scholars believe that a natural disaster provoked the move to Amarna. Some have suggested that Akhenaten founded the new capital to escape the bubonic plague ravaging Egypt’s main urban centers. Others believe that priests in Thebes had enough of him and forced him to leave. Within a year or two, a city with 20,000 people had sprouted up on the Nile.

Foreign Policy in the Amarna Period

Akhenaten renounced militarism, halted foreign military campaigns and dramatically scaled down Egypt's military defenses. His military reforms caused divisions within his kingdom.

Jacquelyn Williamson of George Mason University wrote: “A century before Akhenaten, Thutmose III pushed Egypt’s boundaries to the Euphrates River in Syria and expanded control over Nubia. Akhenaten’s father, Amenhotep III, further cemented alliances with the nation of Mitanni and established a peaceful border. The Amarna Letters, cuneiform tablets found at Tell el-Amarna which record international diplomatic correspondence, indicate that by Akhenaten’s time six northern kingdoms corresponded with Egypt as equals: Assyria (the upper Tigris River region), Babylonia (southern Iraq), Hatti (central Turkey), Mitanni (northern Syria and Iraq), Arzawa (southwestern Turkey), and Alashiya (Cyprus). [Source: Jacquelyn Williamson, George Mason University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]

“This vast territory endowed Egypt with considerable wealth and influence by the time of Akhenaten, but it appears he did not exert himself to maintain the empire he inherited. Akhenaten, unlike his father, was a poor correspondent and stayed isolated from outside affairs, even when Egypt’s holdings abroad were threatened. Perhaps he felt that foreigners were less deserving of his or the Aten’s protections. In the Amarna Letters, Akhenaten seems to negate his father’s diplomacy with Mitanni by ignoring King Tushratta’s pleas for help before

Mitanni fell to the Hittites under King Suppiluliuma. In addition, Akhenaten ignored his foreign vassals’ requests for protection from the Apiru, a group of aggressive nomads. Many of those vassals switched allegiance to Suppiluliuma, further shrinking Egyptian influence and enabling the Hittites to grow in power. This is not to say that Akhenaten was entirely uninvolved; there was a small rebellion he quelled in Nubia, recorded on two stelae from Buhen and Amada, but on the whole he did not work to maintain the empire built by his ancestors.

“Several of the official’s tombs at Tell el- Amarna record a lavish event in year 12 featuring international ambassadors bringing gifts to the royal family. The reason for the event is obscure, but its purpose may have been to reinforce Akhenaten’s flagging international status.”

Letter to Akhenaten

Historian Robert William Rogers wrote: “This letter was found in the mound of Tell-el-Hesy (ancient Lachish) Clay 14, 1.i92, by F. I. Bliss, and awakened great interest because it obviously belongs to the same series as the Tell-el-Amarna letters and possesses the additional interest of having been actually discovered in the soil of Palestine.

Letter of Pabi, Prince of Lachish, to Akhnaton, King of Kemet (i.e. Egypt), circa 1350 B.C.. Reads: To the Great One, thus speaks Pabi, at your feet do I fall. You must know that Shipti-Ba'al and Zimrida are conspiring, and Shipti-Ba'al has said to Zimrida "My father of the city Yarami has written to me: give me six bows, three daggers and three swords. If I take the field against the land of the king and you march at my side, I shall surely conquer. He who makes this plan is Pabi. Send him before me." Now have I sent you Rapha-el. He will bring to the Great man intelligence concerning the matter. [Source: Robert William Rogers, ed., Cuneiform Parallels to the Old Testament (New York: Eaton & Mains, & Cincinnati: Jennings & Graham, 1912), pp. 268-278.

Akhenaten and the Arts

Under Akhenaten’s stewardship Egyptian art blossomed with new freshness. It is believed to have been inspired by the widespread belief that the sun god had come to Earth in the form of the royal family.

Under Akhenaten, sculptures expressed feeling, sensuality and beauty. Ceramics were filled with color and flare. Beautiful jewelry was made from balls of glass and precious stones. Murals with a natural realism were created that flied in the face of stiff Egyptian art.

Because Akhenaten wanted as many temples as possible to be built for his new god and the temples built under him didn’t need roofs a new style of construction was invented. Before Akhenaten walls were constructed of huge stone slabs that had to be strong enough to support a roof. The temples built under Akhenaten were huge open air structures made of 20-x-10-x-10-inch stone blocks. Many of the temples featured color paintings of Akhenaten and Nefertiti

Akhenaten’s Religion and the Arts

Marsha Hill of The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The seventeen-year reign of the pharaoh Amenhotep IV-Akhenaten is remarkable as revealing ideas, architecture, and art that stand out as different against Egypt's long tradition. Shortly after coming to the throne, the new pharaoh Amenhotep IV, a son of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye, established worship of the light that is in the orb of the sun (the Aten) as the primary religion, and the many-armed disk became the omnipresent icon representing the god. The new religion, with its emphasis on the light of the sun and on what can be seen, went together with new emphases on time, movement, and atmosphere in the arts. Exceptional as the new outlook seems, it certainly had roots in the increasing prominence of the solar principle, or Re, in the earlier eighteenth dynasty, and in the emphasis on the all-pervasive quality of the god Amun-Re, developments reaching a new height in the reign of Amenhotep III (ca. 1390–1353 B.C.). Likewise, artistic changes were afoot before the reign of Amenhotep IV / Akhenaten. For example, Theban tombs of Dynasty 18 had begun to redefine artistic norms, exploring the possibilities of line and color for suggesting movement and atmospherics or employing more natural views of parts of the body. [Source: Marsha Hill, Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 2014, metmuseum.org \^/]

“While the art and texts of what is commonly called the Amarna Period after the site of the new city for the Aten are striking, and their naturalistic imagery easy to appreciate, it is more difficult to bring the figure of Amenhotep IV / Akhenaten himself or the lived experiences of Atenism into focus. The courtiers who helped the king monumentalize his vision refer to a kind of teaching that the king provided, to them at a minimum, and the art and particular hymns or prayers convey a striking appreciation of the physical world. \^/

Akhenaten and his family worshipping Aten

“Beautifully you appear from the horizon of heaven, O living Aten who initiates life—
For you are risen from the eastern horizon and have filled every land with your beauty;
For you are fair, great, dazzling and high over every land,
And your rays enclose the lands to the limit of all you have made;
For you are Re, having reached their limit and subdued them for your beloved son;
For although you are far away, your rays are upon the earth and you are perceived.
When your movements vanish and you set in the western horizon,
The land is in darkness, in the manner of death.
(People), they lie in bedchambers, heads covered up, and one eye does not see its fellow.
All their property is robbed, although it is under their heads, and they do not realize it.
Every lion is out of its den, all creeping things bite.
Darkness gathers, the land is silent.
The one who made them is set in his horizon.
(But) the land grows bright when you are risen from the horizon,
Shining in the orb in the daytime, you push back the darkness and give forth your rays.
The Two Lands are in a festival of light—
Awake and standing on legs, for you have lifted them up:
Their limbs are cleansed and wearing clothes,
Their arms are in adoration at your appearing.
The whole land, they do their work:
All flocks are content with their pasturage,
Trees and grasses flourish,
Birds are flown from their nests, their wings adoring your Ka;
All small cattle prance upon their legs.
All that fly up and alight, they live when you rise for them.
Ships go downstream, and upstream as well, every road being open at your appearance.
Fish upon the river leap up in front of you, and your rays are within the Great Green (sea).
[Source: excerpted from the “Great Hymn to the Aten in the Tomb of Aya,” as translated in William J. Murnane, Texts from the Amarna Period in Egypt, edited by Edmund S. Meltzer, Scholars Press, 1995)

“At the same time, Atenism gave the king himself a divine-like role as sole representative and interpreter of the Aten—as stated elsewhere in the above hymn, "there is no one who knows you except your son"—so that any access to and understanding of the god was mediated through the figure of the king and his family. Although there is no reason to think the king's self-promotion was only politically motivated, the differentiation of king and gods was altered.” \^/

Art from Akhenaten’s Karnak Years

Marsha Hill of The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The proto-Amarna phase lasted for about five years. Understanding of this seminal period is aided by the preservation of sculpture dismantled where it stood, and building stones from the Aten's Karnak complexes systematically reused as packing stones inside the Karnak temple pylons shortly after the Amarna Period. Discoveries of fundamental importance have been made by following the clues these building stones hold about the changes that unfolded at Karnak as Atenism emerged, discoveries contextualized and elaborated in a recent biography of the king. [Source: Marsha Hill, Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 2014, metmuseum.org \^/]

“The king at first continued traditional attentions to Amun-Re, but already within his first year revealed a new focus on the falcon-headed god Re-Harakhty, who was given a long name identifying him with the Aten, although the name was not yet written in cartouches. The king undertook a considerable expansion of an area already devoted to Re-Harakhty on the eastern side of Karnak. Year 4 saw several major happenings, more or less in the following sequence: the Aten's name with epithets became fixed and immutable, written in cartouches (termed by scholars the "didactic" name), "Living Re-Harakhty who rejoices on the horizon in his name of Shu who is in the Aten"; a representation of the human figure was introduced that was overall more sinuous and heavy in the hips and evolved hereafter to be more so; the Aten's new icon—a many-handed sun disk represented as very spherical—was created and the falcon-headed image abandoned; Nefertiti emerged as the king's wife; and a vast complex was undertaken for the Aten yet further to the east within the Karnak precinct. \^/

“Nefertiti serves as Akhenaten's religious counterpart from her first appearance in year 4. The representation of their relationship certainly evoked traditional divine pairings. Shu and Tefnut, the children of Re, are alluded to. Scholarship has also drawn attention to Nefertiti's multifaceted relationship to Hathor, counterpart to Akhenaten in his relation to Re. With the move to Amarna, the royal pair were supplemented by the halo of—ultimately—six daughters. \^/

“The focus on Aten corresponded to a radically decreased attention to Amun in particular. By early in year 5, Amenhotep IV had identified a new home for the Aten at the site of Amarna, an area that he claimed belonged to no other god, and by the time his oath was recorded in boundary stelae some time during the ensuing year, his name had been changed to Akhenaten: at that point the focus shifts to the site of Amarna, considered in the second section of this essay.” \^/

Architecture and Statuary in Akhenaten’s Karnak Years

Marsha Hill of The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The new religion unleashed a progression of changes, almost as if by domino effect, in architectural forms and representational organization. Amenhotep IV's initial constructions in East Karnak had employed the huge blocks typical of traditional Egyptian temple architecture, and on the walls the king officiated before the god depicted as a man with a falcon head. But in year 4, when the sun disk with hands appeared as the god's new icon expressing the new focus upward toward the sunlight, a large platform reached by a ramp was erected on which the king officiated in the open air. [Source: Marsha Hill, Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 2014, metmuseum.org \^/]

“With this emphasis on worship taking place toward the light in the sky, solar worship spaces typically dispensed with the roof. Realizing the walls of the primary god's main temples no longer needed massive blocks to bear heavy roofing stones, Egyptian architects switched to the small blocks called talatat that characterize constructions of this period. Measuring about 20 1/2 inches long by 10 1/4 deep by 9 1/2 high (26 x 52 x 24 cm) and weighing about 120 pounds, talatat were considered manageable by one worker. In wall scenes, the displacement of the divine image to the top of scenes left the king or the king and queen alone under the Aten's rays without a divine figure placed in symmetrical opposition, creating a static appearance. This aesthetic quandary played a role in the changes in scene organization that evolved along with new subject matter introduced into temple scenes—scenes of the lives of the royal family, the royal entourage, and surroundings teeming with activity. \^/

Stela from the Great Temple of Aten

“To the north of the platform temple, a gigantic court was built that was surrounded by sandstone colossi, depicting the king and probably Nefertiti, with some other smaller royal statuary. The court seems to have been connected with a Heb Sed, or rejuvenation festival, celebrated by the king and the Aten probably again in year 4. Discovered in the early years of the twentieth century, and before Amarna became otherwise well known, the colossi have evoked the radical nature of the Amarna experiment for moderns. The figures have the heavy hips that characterize Amarna depictions. These have been recognized as feminized proportions, and this may have been intended to characterize the king and queen, and indeed the entire world as it is represented in this way in Amarna art, as recipients of life and divine inspiration in relation to the Aten.

“More difficult to comprehend are the facial features of the colossi: slit-like eyes, swollen noses, and bulbous drooping chins that are dramatically stranger than most faces known from the reign, a difference that has been attributed to an evolution in the art. A recent insight has tamed this appearance in some measure by reminding the modern viewer that these faces, which were on statues that stood plus or minus 15 feet high, were never meant to be seen at eye level as they now tend to be photographed; rather, they seem to have been carved in this way with the perspective of the viewer far below in mind. With this corrective, the features of the king still strongly suggest a very particular picture of the divine and the king's relation to it, but are more in accord with the range of variability one sees in the Karnak reliefs of the period. A more coherent picture of Amarna style is the result.” \^/

Decline During Akhenaten's Rule

Within a two or three year period beginning in the 9th year of his reign, Akhenaten lost his mother, three daughters and maybe one of his wives. Scholars believed that so many death in such a short period of time may have been the result of a plague or epidemic.

The kingdom itself was neglected and Egypt's arch enemies the Hittites began encroaching from the east. There was also trouble with Mitannians. One ruler wrote a letter to Akhenaten's mother asking why the Egyptian king had not sent gifts as he had promised. "I had asked your husband for statues of solid cast gold...But now...your son has [sent me] plated statues of wood. With gold being like dirt in your son’s country, why have they have been a source of such distress to your son that he has not given them to me?...Is this love?"

Dr Kate Spence of Cambridge University wrote for the BBC: “Early in his reign Akhenaten used art as a way of emphasising his intention of doing things very differently. Colossi and wall-reliefs from the Karnak Aten Temple are highly exaggerated and almost grotesque when viewed in the context of the formality and restraint which had characterised Egyptian royal and elite art for the millennium preceding Akhenaten's birth. Although these seem striking and strangely beautiful today, it is hard for us to appreciate the profoundly shocking effect that such representations must have had on the senses of those who first viewed them and who would never have been exposed to anything other than traditional Egyptian art. [Source: Dr Kate Spence, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“With the move to Amarna the art becomes less exaggerated, but while it is often described as 'naturalistic' it remains highly stylised in its portrayal of the human figure. The royal family are shown with elongated skulls and pear-shaped bodies with skinny torsos and arms but fuller hips, stomachs and thighs. The subject matter of royal art also changes. Although formal scenes of the king worshipping remain important there is an increasing emphasis on ordinary, day-to-day activities which include intimate portrayals of Akhenaten and Nefertiti playing with their daughters beneath the rays of the Aten. Animals and birds are shown frolicking beneath the rays of the rising sun in the decoration of the royal tomb. While traditional Egyptian art tends to emphasise the eternal, Amarna art focuses on the minutiae of life which only occur because of the light-and life-giving power of the sun. |::|

“In addition to the changes he made to religious practices and art, Akhenaten also instigated changes in temple architecture and building methods: stone structures were now built from much smaller blocks of stone set in a strong mortar. Even official inscriptions changed, moving away from the old-fashioned language traditional to monumental texts to reflect the spoken language of the time.” |::|

Disappearance and Death of Akhenaten’s Family

20120211-Nefertiti.tiff Meketaten-.jpg
Nefertiti and Meketaten
In Year 13 and 14 of Akenaten’s rule three his six daughters, the two youngest, Neferneferure and Setepenre, and the second eldest Meketaten, died suddenly. Engravings in a royal tomb show the royal family grieving, either weeping before the princesses' (non-mummified) corpses or paying homage to them via their statues. Around Year 16 Akhenaten's second wife, Kiya disappears from documents. It is believed she might have died around that time. [Source: Dr. Marc Gabolde, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Jacquelyn Williamson of George Mason University wrote: “Between Akhenaten’s regnal years 13 and 17 several members of the Amarna royal family disappear from the archaeological record. At the same time the people of Hatti were suffering from a fatal illness that they believed was brought to them by their Egyptian prisoners of war. If it is true that there was a fatal epidemic disease in Egypt, it may be the cause of the disappearance of these members of the royal family. [Source: Jacquelyn Williamson, George Mason University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]

“For example, Akhenaten had a second wife, Kiya. Although she was called “the Greatly Beloved Wife,” around Akhenaten’s year 16 her name and image were removed from several monuments at Amarna, including the Maru Aten, and replaced with the names of Akhenaten’s daughters Meritaten and Ankhsenpaaten. On “talatat “Ny Carlsburg Glyptotek Copenhagen AEIN 1776, Kiya’s name is replaced with Meritaten’s. Although some have suggested she suffered a fall from Akhenaten’s grace, she may have been a victim of the epidemic instead. Her tomb may have been located in the royal necropolis at Tell el-Amarna. In years 13 or 14, three of Akhenaten’s six daughters—Meketaten, Neferuneferura, and Setepenra—disappeared from the record as well.

“However there is a debate surrounding Meketaten’s death in particular, due to the enigmatic nature of a scene in the burial annex assigned to her in the Royal Tomb. The scene shows the royal family mourning Meketaten’s death, accompanied by a nurse holding an infant. This has lead many to suggest the princess died in childbirth. Gabolde’s reconstruction of the scene’s inscriptions indicates that the infant is described as Nefertiti’s child, not Meketaten’s. If so, this may be one of the few representations of the future king Tutankhamen, born Tutankhaten. Still others believe the infant may instead represent Meketaten reborn.

“In year 14 Akhenaten’s mother Queen Tiy died and was buried in the royal necropolis at Amarna. Akhenaten died in year 17 of his reign and was also buried at Amarna, although evidence from KV 55 suggests his mummy was later moved to Thebes.”

Princess Kiya and the Mystery of the Two Princes and Coffin in KV Tomb 55

Princess Kiya was Akhenaten’s second wife. Dr. Marc Gabolde, wrote in for the BBC: “In texts, Kiya is given the lengthy title 'the greatly beloved wife of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Neferkheperure-Wa'enre, child of the Aten, who lives now and forever more'. She is never referred to as 'Royal Wife', as this was a title reserved exclusively for Nefertiti. Kiya's abnormally elaborate title, as long as Nefertiti's, may have been given to her to compensate for what was in fact a secondary status. On jar inscriptions, Kiya is mentioned simply as 'the Great Lady (of Naharina)'. As Naharina was also known as Mitanni, there is strong reason to believe that Kiya was princess Tadukhipa of Mitanni (Syria, southwest Anatolia), sent to the Egyptian court late in the reign of Akhenaten's father, Amenhotep III, by Tushratta of Mitanni (Naharina). After a few years in the old pharaoh's harem, she was put into that of his son.” [Source: John Ray, BBC, February, 17, 2011]


John Ray wrote for the BBC: “Princess Kiya is a shadowy figure, whose life has been pieced together from fragments of inscriptions, some of which were erased by her contemporaries. She is now believed to be the subject of some of the inscriptions found in the most mysterious of royal tombs, number 55 in the Valley of the Kings. [Source: John Ray, BBC, February, 17, 2011]

“We encounter her only through her husband, Akhenaten, often referred to as 'the heretic king'. He came to the throne as Amenophis IV, but broke with established religion and devoted himself to a single deity known as the Aten. He was married to the beautiful Nefertiti. On many of their monuments Akhenaten and Nefertiti are accompanied by their daughters. It appears that the pair had no sons. |::|

“There are, however, two spare princes who appear in the records from Amarna, the capital city that Akhenaten founded for himself. These are Smenkhkare and Tutankhaten (the latter means 'Living image of the Aten'). They are brothers, and the likelihood is that their father is Akhenaten. |::|

“Egyptologists are coming to the conclusion that Kiya was the mother of these princes, and it is to this that she owed her influence with the king. Pharaohs were allowed several wives, and Nefertiti may have accepted this, but the situation has the potential to turn nasty. Somebody is responsible for the erasure of Kiya's names from most of her inscriptions, but we do not know who this is. Kiya died before Akhenaten. |::|

“When Akhenaten did die, he was succeeded briefly by Smenkhkare, and then by his second son, who changed his name to Tutankhamun. The discovery of the latter's tomb in 1922 made him famous, but the fate of Smenkhkare is more obscure. |Tomb 55 in the Valley of the Kings contained objects from the Amarna court, among them a damaged coffin designed for a woman, although the badly preserved body inside this turned out to be male. This may be Akhenaten, but it is more likely that the body is that of Smenkhkare. The inscription at the foot of the coffin is one originally appropriate for a woman, but later changed to refer to a man. We now suspect that the original subject is Kiya. The inscription is unique both for its poetic imagery and for the light it sheds on Akhenaten's religion. |::|

Akhenaten's Death and Legacy

In the middle of tense period with the Hittites, when Egypt’s possessions in Syria were being threatened, Akhenaten died. Historians are not sure how he died or when other than it was in the 17th year of his rule. He was buried in a Valley-of-the-Kings-style tomb cut into a cliff east of Amarna.

Akhenaten's revolution came to an end after his death. Pharaohs that succeeded him regarded him as a heretic. The temples he created for his new religion were destroyed and his name was expunged from historical records. His ideas about religion were quickly forgotten and things went back to the way they were before.

After Akhenaten’s death there was a scramble for power. A mysterious Pharaoh named Smenkhkare may have ruled briefly, for a year ir two, before dying himself. Zahi Hawass wrote in National Geographic, “The end of Akhenaten's reign is cloaked in confusion — a scene acted out behind closed curtains. One or possibly two kings rule for short periods of time, either alongside Akhenaten, after his death, or both. Like many other Egyptologists, I believe the first of these "kings" is actually Nefertiti. The second is a mysterious figure called Smenkhkare, about whom we know almost nothing.” [Source: Zahi Hawass, National Geographic, September 2010]

Intrigues Around the Time of Akhenaten’s Death

Little is known about the last five years of Akhenaten's reign, or the three year period after his death leading up to Tutankhamun's accession to the throne. Dr Marc Gabolde wrote for the BBC: “Many theories have been advanced and the uncertainty has been compounded by the appearance during these years of new royal personages whose origins and identity remain a matter for debate....The evidence that survives from the Amarna period is often badly damaged and in many cases throws up more questions than answers.” [Source: Dr Marc Gabolde, BBC, February 17, 2011]

Marsha Hill of The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Akhenaten's last years and certainly the period after his death give evidence of a troubled succession. Nefertiti, Meritaten, the mysterious pharaoh Smenkhkare, and the female pharaoh Ankhetkhepherure—for whom the chief candidates in discussions so far have been Nefertiti and Meritaten, the eldest daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti—and ultimately Tutankhaten all have roles. Energetic scholarly discussion of the events of this period and the identity, parentage, personal history, and burial place of many members of the Amarna royal family is ongoing. It is clear that already during the succession period, there was some rapprochement with Amun's adherents at Thebes. With the reign of Tutankhaten / Tutankhamun, the royal court left Akhetaten and returned to Memphis; traditional relations with Thebes were resumed and Amun's priority fully acknowledged. With Haremhab, Akhenaten's constructions at Thebes were dismantled, and dismantling began at Amarna. Apparently in the reign of Ramses II, the formal buildings of Akhetaten were completely destroyed, and many of their blocks reused as matrix stone in his constructions at Hermopolis and elsewhere. The site had presumably been abandoned. [Source: Marsha Hill, Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 2014, metmuseum.org \^/]

Jacquelyn Williamson of George Mason University wrote: “The years before and after Akhenaten’s death generate much discussion, especially concerning the figures known as Semenkhkara and Neferneferuaten. In the Amarna tomb of the official Meryra II, Akhenaten’s daughter Meritaten is shown married to a person named Semenkhkara, a new king. Semenkhkara appears suddenly and then vanishes from the record just as quickly. His largest monument is the so-called “coronation hall”—a vast construction at the Amarna Great Palace whose purpose is unknown. Semenkhkara could have been Akhenaten’s son or even his brother, and may have married Meritaten, his sister/niece, sometime after year 12. He may have served briefly as a coregent, crowned alongside Akhenaten and helped him to rule Egypt for a brief time. Semenkhkara may have died early from illness, perhaps the epidemic mentioned above, cutting short his tenure as coregent and king. [Source: Jacquelyn Williamson, George Mason University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]

“An additional controversial royal figure named King Neferneferuaten appeared at the end of Akhenaten’s reign. Although some have argued that Neferneferuaten can be conflated with the male king Semenkhkara, it is clear from several inscriptions that Neferneferuaten was indeed female. The phenomenon of a woman holding the male title of king was not unknown in Egypt; one of the earlier kings of the 18th Dynasty, Hatshepsut, was a woman. King Neferneferuaten could thus have been Meritaten’s throne name if, as some suggest, she succeeded her father to the throne.

“Another possibility is that Neferneferuaten was Nefertiti, who was already using the throne name “Neferneferuaten Nefertiti” from year 5 of Akhenaten’s reign. She may have retained the name Neferneferuaten when crowned king, perhaps as a coregent to fill a power vacuum left by the death of Semenkhkara. However a jar docket dated to Akhenaten’s year 17 was emended to say “year 1,” which could indicate direct succession rather than a joint rule. In other words, according to this jar docket Neferneferuaten was not named coregent after the death of Semenkhkara, but assumed the throne only after Akhenaten’s death. Supporting this last argument, and assuming Neferneferuaten is indeed Nefertiti, an inscription recently found in the Amarna Period quarries near Deir Abu Hinnis indicates that Nefertiti was probably still alive in year 16 and was still using her queenly title and names. If Nefertiti had not yet adopted a kingly identity by year 16, only one year before the death of her husband, she was not a coregent or a king at that time, lending support to the direct accession theory.

“Whatever the identity of King Neferuneferuaten, she ruled only briefly. A graffito from the tomb of Para in Thebes, TT 139, indicates that King Neferneferuaten, whomever she was, spent some of her third regnal year in Thebes. This also indicates that at least some members of the Amarna royal family returned to Thebes very soon after the death of Akhenaten. King Neferneferuaten disappears from the historical records after the graffito in TT 139, so she did not rule for long. However, also based on this graffito, not only did Neferneferuaten return to Thebes, she may have started the process of returning Egypt to its traditional religious practices. She may have also even served as coregent to Tutankhaten / Tutankhamen when he first took the throne.”

After Akhenaten

When Akhenaten died, he was succeeded briefly by Smenkhkare, and then by Tutankhaten who changed his name to Tutankhamun, dropping the Aten and embracing Amun, demonstrating his rejection of Akhenaten’s monotheism and a return to traditional Egyptian religious beliefs. Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “Tutankhamun eventually returned Egypt to its traditional values and Akhenaten’s memory was erased. Later Egyptian historians would refer to him only as “the heretic king.” The city of Akhenaten was abandoned and the court returned to Thebes. Later Horemheb razed the city to the ground and Ramses II reused the stone blocks of its temples for his work at nearby Hermopolis.” [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]

Dr Kate Spence of Cambridge University wrote for the BBC: “Akhenaten died in his seventeenth year on the throne and his reforms did not survive for long in his absence. His co-regent Smenkhkare, about whom we know virtually nothing, appears not to have remained in power for long after Akhenaten's death. The throne passed to a child, Tutankhamun (originally Tutankhaten) who was probably the son of Akhenaten and Kiya. The regents administering the country on behalf of the child soon abandoned the city of Akhetaten and the worship of the Aten and returned to Egypt's traditional gods and religious centres. The temples and cults of the gods were restored and people shut up their houses and returned to the old capitals at Thebes and Memphis. [Source: Dr Kate Spence, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“Over time, the process of restoration of traditional cults turned to whole-scale obliteration of all things associated with Akhenaten. His image and names were removed from monuments. His temples were dismantled and the stone reused in the foundations of other more orthodox royal building projects. The city of Akhetaten gradually crumbled back into the desert. His name and those of his immediate successors were omitted from official king-lists so that they remained virtually unknown until the archaeological discoveries at Akhetaten and in the tomb of Tutankhamun made these kings amongst the most famous of all rulers of ancient Egypt. |::|

Tutankhaten and Akhenaten’s Legacy

Jacquelyn Williamson of George Mason University wrote: “Seven-year-old Tutankhaten began his rule during or after the rule of Neferneferuaten. He changed his name from Tutankhaten “The Living Image of the Aten” to Tutankhamen “The Living Image of Amun” and returned the country to its pre-Amarna status quo. Official decrees announcing the return to orthodoxy were spread throughout the country; the “Restoration Stela” in the Cairo Museum, CG 34183, preserves an example of one such decree. Tutankhamen ruled for nine years, and the tomb of the young king remained largely intact until it was discovered in the twentieth century. At Tell el-Amarna only a ring bezel and a mold bear the name Tutankhamen (rather than his earlier name Tutankhaten), indicating that after he changed his name the king was not very active at his father’s city. His return to the traditional occupation and religious centers of Egypt terminated the use of the necropolis at Tell el-Amarna. The rock-cut tombs at Amarna appear to have been unfinished, likely abandoned by their owners when the royal family reverted to its traditional beliefs. Even the royal burials at Tell el-Amarna may have been exhumed and returned to Thebes. [Source: Jacquelyn Williamson, George Mason University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]

“Tutankhamen was likely too young to orchestrate such sweeping changes. Instead the officials Aye and Horemheb could have been responsible for the return to orthodoxy. Possibly the enigmatic Neferneferuaten, mentioned above, was involved as well. Aye and Horemheb were both military men, and Horemheb was an “jrj-pat “or “hereditary nobleman” and member of the ruling elite. He possessed an extensive list of additional elite titles that gave him the equivalent status to that of regent and the king’s oldest son. Horemheb’s wife, Mutnodjmet, may have been Nefertiti’s sister, which would explain his close association with the royal family. Aye had fewer titles, but he used his title “God’s Father” extensively, which may indicate that he was both Nefertiti’s father, Tutankhamen’s grandfather, and possibly the father-in-law of Horemheb. Certainly he is more prominent in Tutankhamen’s monuments than Horemheb, even appearing on a fragment of gold foil with the image of Tutankhamen from KV58 and on several blocks from Karnak pylon IX, where he is shown following Tutankhamen. Aye’s tomb (TA 25) at Tell el-Amarna indicates that he was also called a “Fan Bearer on the Right Hand of the King” and the “Real Royal Scribe,” both indications of close affiliation with the highest ranks of royal administration.

“Another subject of contention surrounding the end of the Amarna Period and possibly the death of Tutankhamen concerns several letters from an unnamed queen of Egypt to the Hittite king Suppiluliuma at Bogazköy. In these letters the Egyptian queen asks the Hittites to send her a son to marry and make king of Egypt. Accordingly the Hittite Prince Zananzash was sent to Egypt, but a subsequent letter, also preserved from Bogazköy, suggests he was assassinated en route. The Egyptian queen in question is likely to have been either Meritaten, who may have sought a husband following Semenkhkara’s death to fill the power vacuum left by the death of Akhenaten’s new coregent, or her sister Ankhesenamen (born Ankhesenpaaten), the widow of Tutankhamen, who perhaps feared her future without a clear heir to her young husband. Ankhesenamen may have married Aye instead of the Hittite prince, but the ring that bears their two names together is the last attributed mention of the young queen.

“In an attempt to forget this period of iconoclasm the successors to Akhenaten removed his name and the names of Tutankhamen and Aye from the lists of legitimate kings. Horemheb, Ramses II, and many others also used stone from Akhenaten’s monuments as fill for their own building programs. These buildings inadvertently protected Akhenaten’s legacy for thousands of years. As a result, with these “talatat “and the site of Tell el-Amarna, we know more about the Amarna Period than many other periods in Egyptian history.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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