Tombs and mastabas and monuments of Ancient Egypt
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Akhenaten

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1369-1332 BC: Amenhotep IV - Akhenaten
The Pharaoh Akhenaten was known as the Heretic King. He was the tenth King of the 18th Dynasty. Egyptologists are still tying to figure out what actually happened during his lifetime as much of the truth was buried, for all time, after he died.

Akhenaten lived at the peak of Egypt's imperial glory. Egypt had never been richer, more powerful, or more secure. Up and down the Nile, workers built hundreds of temples to pay homage to the Gods. They believed that if the Gods were pleased, Egypt would prosper. And so it did.


Akhenaten and his family lived in the great religious center of Thebes, city of the God Amun. There were thousands of priests who served the Gods. Religion was the 'business' of the time, many earning their living connected to the worship of the gods.

All indications are that as a child Akhenaten was a family outcast. Scientists are studying the fact that Akhenaten suffered from a disease called Marfan Syndrome, a genetic defect that damages the body's connective tissue. Symptoms include, short torso, long head, neck, arms, hand and feet, pronounced collarbones, pot belly, heavy thighs, and poor muscle tone. Those who inherit it are often unusually tall and are likely to have weakened aortas that can rupture. They can die at an early age. If Akhnaton had the disease each of his daughters had a 50-50 change of inheriting it. That is why his daughters are shown with similar symptoms.


Akhenaten was the son of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiy, a descendent of a Hebrew tribe. The largest statue in the Cairo Museum shows Amenhotep III and his family. He and Queen Tiy (pronounced 'Tee') had four daughters and two sons. Akhenaten's brother, Tutmoses was later named high priest of Memphis. The other son, Amenhotep IV (Later to take the name Akhenaten) seemed to be ignored by the rest of the family. He never appeared in any portraits and was never taken to public events. He received no honors. It was as if the God Amun had excluded him. He was rejected by the world for some unknown reason. He was never shown with his family nor mentioned on monuments. Yet his mother favored him.

In 1352 BC. Akhenaten ascended the throne, succeeding his father Amenhotep III who had died. Akhenaten was just a teenager at the time, but it was the desire of Queen Tiy that he rule. In some version of the story, it is written that father and son shared the throne briefly.

Akhenaten's reign lasted 16 years. This was a difficult time in Egyptian history. Many scholars maintain that Akhenaten was responsible for this decline, but evidence suggests that it had already started.

Akhenaten is principally famous for his religious reforms, where the polytheism of Egypt was to be supplanted by monotheism centered around Aten, the god of the solar disc. This was possibly a move to lessen the political power of the Priests. Now the Pharaoh, not the priesthood, was the sole link between the people and Aten which effectively ended the power of the various temples.

Akhenaten 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 Amun'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.

Akhenaten's Great Royal Wife was Queen Nefertiti.

Queen Nefertiti is often referred to in history as "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World." The Berlin bust, seen from two different angles, is indeed, the most famous depiction of Queen Nefertiti. Found in the workshop of the famed sculptor Thutmose, the bust is believed to be a sculptor's model. The technique which begins with a carved piece of limestone, requires the stone core to be first plastered and then richly painted. Flesh tones on the face give the bust life.

Her full lips are enhanced by a bold red. Although the crystal inlay is missing from her left eye, both eyelids and brows are outlined in black. Her graceful elongated neck balances the tall, flat-top crown which adorns her sleek head. The vibrant colors of the her necklace and crown contrast the yellow-brown of her smooth skin. While everything is sculpted to perfection, the one flaw of the piece is a broken left ear. Because this remarkable sculpture is still in existence, it is no wonder why Nefertiti remains "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World."

Nefertiti's origins are confusing. It has been suggested to me that Tiy was also her mother. Another suggestion is that Nefertiti was Akhenaten's cousin. Her wet nurse was the wife of the vizier Ay, who could have been Tiy's brother. Ay sometimes called himself "the God's father," suggesting that he might have been Akhenaten's father-in-law. However Ay never specifically refers to himself as the father of Nefertiti, although there are references that Nefertiti's sister, Mutnojme, is featured prominently in the decorations of the tomb of Ay. We will never know the truth of this bloodline. Perhaps they didn't know either.

This shrine stela also from the early part of the Amarna period depicts Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and Princesses Meretaten, Mekeaten, and Ankhesenpaaten worshiping the Aten as a family. Dorothea Arnold in her article "Aspects of the Royal Female Image during the Amarna Period" discusses the plethora of reliefs depicting intimate family moments. While Akhenaten leans forward to give Meretaten a kiss, Mekeaten plays on her mother's lap and gazes up lovingly.

At the same time Ankhesenpaaten, the smallest, sits on Nefertiti's shoulder and fiddles with her earring. Arnold claims that the shrine stela "relates to the Aten religion's concept of creation" in which the King and Queen are viewed as "a primeval 'first pair." At the top of the composition, the sun-god, Aten, represented by a raised circle, extends his life-giving rays to the Royal Family. The relief uses the concept of the "window of appearances" or a snapshot of life. The figures are framed by a fictive structure which suggests the form of a square window. Aldred in his book Egyptian Art calls this "a brief moment in the lives of five beings as they are caught in an act of mutual affection". In actuality, the royal palace at Akhetaten had a window from which the royal couple could observe the city and address their subjects.

It is accepted that Akhenaten and Nefertiti had six daughters. No son was ever shown in reliefs.

The names of the daughters were; Meritaten (1349 BC) - Meketaten and Ankhenspaaten (1346 BC) - Neferneferuaten (1339 BC) - Neferneferure and Setepenre (1338).

In 1337 BC the official family, with all six of Nefertiti's daughters was shown for the last time.

In 1336 BC Meketaten died in childbirth.

In 1335 Nefertiti seemed to vanish, assumed dead.

This limestone relief found in the Royal Tomb at Amarna depicts Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and two of their daughters making an offering to the sun-disk Aten. Akhenaten and Nefertiti carry flowers to be laid on the table beneath the "life-giving" rays of the Aten. The figures are carved in the grotesque style, a characteristic of the early half of the Amarna period. Nefertiti, sporting the double plume headdress mentioned in the stela dedication, is the petite figure placed behind her larger scale husband. The compostion mirrors early artistic representations of the royal couple. To emphasize the strength and power of the pharaoh, Egyptian iconographical tradition required the female figure to be smaller in scale than the male.Akhenaten's minor wives includeD Merytaten, Kiya, Mekytaten, and Ankhesenpaaten.
It was said that one day Akhenaten had a vision wherein he saw a sun disc between two mountains. He felt that God was guiding him to make change. He was shown the God, Aten, as the Sun Disk - the Light. He felt guided by Aten to build a city between the two mountains.

In the sixth year of his reign Akhenaten rejected the Gods of Thebes. They were never part of his childhood anyway since he had been shunned as a child. Akhenaten had declared for the first time in recorded history that there was only one God - the concept of monotheism. Overnight he turned 2,000 years of Egyptian religious upside down...

In 1346 BC work began on this new city built in middle Egypt, on a site thought to have been chosen as it was not tainted by the worship of the other gods.

In 1344 BC the central section of Akhetaten was completed.

Nefertiti's prominent role in Egyptian royal rule and religious worship reflects her influence in the public sphere. During the early years of her royal reign, Nefertiti as part of her religious conversion changed her name. Nefertiti which means "The-beautiful-one -is come" became Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti or "The-Aten-is -radiant-of-radiance [because] the-beautiful-one-is come". A different interpretation of the name change, translated Neferneferuaten to mean--"Perfect One of the Aten's Perfection".

Following his wife's lead, Amenhotep IV changed his name in the fifth year of his reign to Akhenaten.

In 1342 BC the seat of government was transferred to Akhetaten.

Akhenaten changed thousands of years of art in Egypt.

Gone were the images of Amun and the other gods of Egypt, now replaced by Aten, the solar disc.

When Akhenaten built his monuments with images of the Pharaoh, he moved away from the traditions of a strong, handsome muscular Pharaoh. Images of Pharaohs with idealized bodies were gone.

The Pharaoh was shown as misshapen as was his wife Nefertiti. It became fashionable to show images of the entire royal family with elongated heads, faces, fingers, toes, wide hips, This gave the artists of Amarna new freedom to show scenes of the real life of the Pharaoh, something that had never been done before.

The temple was covered with scenes of the Aten, the sun disc with its rays shining down, ending in hands holding ankhs, the hieroglyph for life.

The people wondered why the images of the other Gods where not represented.

Akhenaten was the first Pharaoh to have images and paintings

made of himself and his family, as they actually looked.

The priests worried about the God Amun and the fact that the 'Rebel Pharaoh' had declared their god extinct and deserted the religious capitol of Egypt. Gone were the royal offerings. The resources of Egypt were flowing out of the established cities of Egypt and into the desert. People who earned their livings based on the old religions - wood carvers, scarab makers, and others were out of business. The people worried about their afterlife and what would happen now that they were not worshipping the traditional Gods. All of the old belief systems into the next world were discarded. The vision of the afterlife changed.

The priests worried about the God Amun and the fact that the 'Rebel Pharaoh' had declared their god extinct and deserted the religious capitol of Egypt. Gone were the royal offerings. The resources of Egypt were flowing out of the established cities of Egypt and into the desert. People who earned their livings based on the old religions - wood carvers, scarab makers, and others were out of business. The people worried about their afterlife and what would happen now that they were not worshipping the traditional Gods. All of the old belief systems into the next world were discarded. The vision of the afterlife changed.
At its height the city grew to more than 10,000 people - bureaucrats, artisans, boatmen, priests, traders and their families. Though most were happy, many were not, especially those who did not like to stand in the open sun. Akhenaten worshipers spent lots of time in the sun.

Akhenaten wanted everyone to be happy. He created a beautiful, idealistic religion and Utopia for his people but many just didn't understand it. Akhenaten was not living in the reality of his worshippers. Though he had found himself and his God but the people were used to Gods they could see, carved in stone with beautiful bodies, many with heads of animals. Akhenaten's God was too much of an abstraction. Aten was the basic principle of the universe, Light! They also wondered why the sun God only shed its rays on the royal family and not everyone.

According to present evidence, however, it appears that it was only the upper echelons of society which embraced the new religion with any fervor. 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 END TIMES

Akhenaten lived in his dream in Amarna for ten years as conditions grew worse in Egypt. He remained isolated from the true problems of the people. Akhenaten apparently neglected foreign policy, allowing Egypt's captured territories to be taken back, though it seems likely that this image can be partially explained by the iconography of the time, which downplayed his role as warrior.

Nefertiti is depicted in her advanced years. She wears a long, white linen dress that allows the contours of her body to be seen. It has been speculated that this small statuette was the model for a life size representation that was never executed. Arnold points out that, although she is past her prime, she is not old. While this may be true, the sagging features of the statuette do indicate that she is no longer the vivacious Queen.

In 1335 BC Nefertiti, Akhenaten's wife and companion, is said to have disappeared and most likely died. His mother Tiy had also died as did his minor wife, Kia. That combined with the loss of his daughter made Akhenaten feel alone and depressed.

Nefertiti's disappearance coincided with the sudden appearance of a young man named Smenkhkare. Smenkhkare, who was given the same title (Neferneferuaten) as the now vanished Nefertiti, was crowned co-regent to Akhenaten when he (Smenkhkare) was about sixteen. He was married to Akhenaten's eldest daughter, Merytaten.

There is uncertainty about the relationship between Akhenaten and his successors, Smenkhkare and Tutankhamun. The biggest mystery associated with Smenkhkare was where he came from. It is possible that both he and Tutankhamun were Akhenaten's sons by another wife, possibly Kiya who was 'much loved' of the Pharaoh. As there was inbreeding to keep the line pure we may never know the relationships within their family.

It is also a matter of great controversy as to whether or not Smenkhkare continued to reign after Akhenaten died. According to Dr. Donald Redford, a professor of Egyptology and the director of the Akhenaten Temple Project, Smenkhkare may have succeeded Akhenaten by a short while, during which he made half-hearted attempts at going back to the old religion (something which probably wouldn't have happened while Akhenaten was alive). Another thing that suggests that he outlived Akhenaten are references to him made in certain tombs. He was also buried in the old capital.

But here one has to consider the way Akhenaten behaved concerning those people who were known to be his children. Every one of his six daughters, whenever referred to in writings from the period, was repeatedly called 'the king's daughter, of his loins, (daughter's name)'.

In Egypt, as with any other kingdom of the ancient or not so ancient world, male heirs were much desired. If Akhenaten had a son, he almost certainly would have repeatedly said so.

Cyril Aldred, a prominent Egyptologist who has written several books about Akhenaten, uses the argument that Smenkhkare must have been born three years before Akhenaten's reign began, thereby reducing the likelihood of his being Akhenaten's child.

Yet another possibility is that one of Akhenaten's many sisters was the mother of Smenkhkare. Because Smenkhkare appeared at the same time that Nefertiti seemingly vanished from view, and because he shared the title "Beloved of Akhenaten" with Nefertiti, some scholars believe that Nefertiti and Smenkhkare were one and the same. Nefertiti did have more power than many of the other queens in Egypt, and is often depicted wearing certain crowns that were normally reserved for kings. Thus, it is perhaps not too out of line to think that she might have disguised herself as a man and shared kingship with Akhenaten. However, Redford notes that, for one thing, it would be odd even for the Amarna family to have Nefertiti posing as a man and marrying her own daughter. Not only that, but to deny the existence of Smenkhkare, one would have to ignore one major finding: the body in Tomb 55.

Tutankhaten came to the throne when he was about eight years old and became known as "The boy king" by modern people. He became quite famous when his tomb was discovered by Howard Carter in the 1920s. Tutankhaten succeeded Akhenaten and Smenkhkare and was married to Akhenaten's daughter Ankhesenpaaten. Th couple soon changed their names to Tutankhamen and Ankhesenamun, moved away from Akhetaten, and reestablished the old religion. Tutankhaten reigned until he was about eighteen when he died.

Tutankhaten's origins are just as hazy as Smenkhkare's. Some would claim that he was Kiya's son by Akhenaten. However, if Tutankhaten and Smenkhkare were really brothers, as the bodies of the two suggest, then this would again bring up the question of the likelihood of Smenkhkare being Akhenaten's son.

One theory is that Tutankhaten was Akhenaten's brother. That would lead to the conclusion that both Smenkhkare and Tutankhaten were sons of queen Tiye.They both bear a strong resemblance to certain portraits of Tiye, but Tiye may have been too old to have children by the time Tutankhaten was born. Another problem is that Amenhotep III was, in all probability, well dead by this time, although there is much speculation about a co-regency between Akhenaten and his father.

One intriguing discovery is an inscription which calls Tutankhaten "The king's son, of his loins". This could be interpreted in a number of ways. One is that Tutankhaten really was Akhenaten's child. However, this possibility has already been mostly ruled out. Another possibility is that Amenhotep III remained virile and active even in his last years and was able to father Tutankhaten just before he died (assuming that there was a co-regency).

Yet a third possibility is that Tutankhaten was Smenkhkare's son. If Smenkhkare fathered Tutankhaten the same year that he married Merytaten, and then went on to outlive Akhenaten by about three years, then that would make Tutankhaten just barely seven when he came to the throne of Egypt (Tutankhaten was thought to have come to the throne when he was eight or nine).

In 1332 BC Akhenaten died, the circumstances never explained. His memory and all that he had created soon to erased from history not to be found for centuries later.

In 1344 BC the building of the Royal Tomb at Akhetaten began. It was completed while Akhenaten was pharaoh.

The Royal Tomb of Akhenaten was very similar to a 'standard' tomb found in the Valley of the Kings - a straight forward design of corridors and rooms along a single axis, but this tomb was to change with the addition of two more separate suites of rooms:

Research at the Royal Tomb has given evidence that Akhenaten was buried in a pink granite sarcophagus - although both this and the remains of another sarcophagus found at the tomb, were smashed to pieces and then scattered over some distance.


Akhenaten's Sarcophagus

However enough of Akhenaten's sarcophagus has been recovered to reconstruct it, the corners had figures of Queen Nefertiti extending protective arms like the guardian of the four quarters.

TOMB 55 IN THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS

Of all the royal mummies ever discovered none has ever caused more controversy then the one found in tomb 55 of the Valley of the Kings.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Theodore Davis, a wealthy American excavating in Egypt, discovered a tomb in which a burial from the Armana period had been reinterred. This tomb was clearly unfinished, and the burial a hasty one. Gilded wooden inlay panels on the floor and against the wall. They bore the damaged image of Akhenaten worshiping the sun disc and the name of Queen Tiy.

In a niche were four beautiful alabaster jars that held the internal organs of the mummies. Lying on the floor was a badly damaged but beautiful coffin made with thousands of paste in-lays and semi-precious stones in the shape of protective wings. The cartouches containing the occupants name had been hacked out.

When they opened the coffin they found a mummy wrapped in gold-leaf. But as they touched the mummy it crumbled to dust leaving the excavators with a pile of disarticulated bones at the bottom of the coffin. But beneath the skeleton, the last sheet of gold, seemed to have the damaged named of Akhenaten written on it. The pelvis was wide like a female's. The head was elongated.

What really became of Akhenaten's mummy still remains a mystery. Fragments of sculpture and carving from the royal tomb at Akhetaten shows that his body was originally put there, but no sign of the mummy remains. It is possible that followers of the Aten feared for it's destruction, which would deny him eternal life, and moved the body to a place of safety.

Akhenaten is perhaps unfairly not credited with being a particularly successful Pharaoh. Records seem to indicate that he allowed Egyptian influence wane but this may not be true. These ideas are based on the famous Amarna Tabletsfound in Akhetaten in many of which Egyptian vassal cities plead for assistance, but no replies are preserved.

As there is no surviving record of Egyptian territory being lost at this time it is possible that Akhenaten was merely skillfully playing one city against the other to achieve through diplomacy what would otherwise require military force.

The el-Amarna letters, a collection of correspondence between various states and Egypt, were found in the remains of the ancient city of Akhetaten, built by Akhenaten around 1370 BCE. Some of the documents belong to the time of Amenhotep III, while others are from the time of Akhenaten. They provide invaluable insight into the foreign affairs of several countries in the Late Bronze Age.

The first Amarna tablets were found by local inhabitants in 1887. They form the majority of the corpus. Subsequent excavations at the site have yielded less than 50 out of the 382 itemized tablets and fragments which form the Amarna corpus known to date.

The majority of the Amarna tablets are letters. These letters were sent to the Egyptian Pharaohs Amenophis III and his son Akhenaten around the middle of the 14th century B.C. The correspondents were kings of Babylonia, Assyria, Hatti and Mitanni, minor kings and rulers of the Near East at that time, and vassals of the Egyptian Empire.

Almost immediately following their discovery, the Amarna tablets were deciphered, studied and published. Their importance as a major source for the knowledge of the history and politics of the Ancient Near East during the 14th Century B.C. was recognized. The tablets presented several difficulties to scholars.

The Amarna tablets are written in Akkadian cuneiform script and present many features which are peculiar and unknown from any other Akkadian dialect. This was most evident in the letters sent from Canaan, which were written in a mixed language (Canaanite-Akkadian).

The Amarna letters from Canaan have proved to be the most important source for the study of the Canaanite dialects in the pre-Israelite period.

The el-Amarna letters, a collection of correspondence between various states and Egypt, were found in the remains of the ancient city of Akhetaten, built by Akhenaten around 1370 BCE. Some of the documents belong to the time of Amenhotep III, while others are from the time of Akhenaten. They provide invaluable insight into the foreign affairs of several countries in the Late Bronze Age.

The first Amarna tablets were found by local inhabitants in 1887. They form the majority of the corpus. Subsequent excavations at the site have yielded less than 50 out of the 382 itemized tablets and fragments which form the Amarna corpus known to date.

The majority of the Amarna tablets are letters. These letters were sent to the Egyptian Pharaohs Amenophis III and his son Akhenaten around the middle of the 14th century B.C. The correspondents were kings of Babylonia, Assyria, Hatti and Mitanni, minor kings and rulers of the Near East at that time, and vassals of the Egyptian Empire.

Almost immediately following their discovery, the Amarna tablets were deciphered, studied and published. Their importance as a major source for the knowledge of the history and politics of the Ancient Near East during the 14th Century B.C. was recognized. The tablets presented several difficulties to scholars.

The Amarna tablets are written in Akkadian cuneiform script and present many features which are peculiar and unknown from any other Akkadian dialect. This was most evident in the letters sent from Canaan, which were written in a mixed language (Canaanite-Akkadian).

The Amarna letters from Canaan have proved to be the most important source for the study of the Canaanite dialects in the pre-Israelite period.

AFTER AKHENATEN'S DEATH

Soon after his death the followers at Amana, unable to understand what their Pharaoh had been preaching, abandoned the city, and returned to Thebes and the familiar Gods. The priests branded the name Akhenaten, as a heretic. It was erased from the monuments of Egypt.

It was his son, a young Pharaoh named Tutankhamen who the world would get to know. King Tut moved the capital back to Thebes and returned to the old religion.

Akhenaten's successors, the generals Ay and Horemheb reestablished the temples of Amun they selected their priests from the military, enabling the Pharaoh to keep tighter controls over the religious orders.

Later Pharaohs attempted to erase all memories of Akhenaten and his religion. Much of the distinctive art of the period was destroyed and the buildings dismantled to be reused. Many of the Talitat blocks from the Aten temples in Thebes were reused as rubble infill for later pylons where they were rediscovered during restoration work and reassembled.

Three thousand years ago, the rebel Pharaoh Akhenaten preached monotheism and enraged the Nile Valley. Less than 100 years after Akhenaten's death, Moses would be preaching monotheism on the bank of the Nile River, to the Israelis. The idea of a single God once the radical belief of an isolated heretic is now embraced by Moslems, Christians, and Jews throughout the world. The vision of Akhenaten lives on!

Amarna was lost in antiquity until the end of the 19th Century. It was uncovered by the founder of modern Egyptology, Sir Flinders Petrie. They discovered a vast lost city in the dessert with temples, palaces and wide streets.

The cult of the Aten is considered by some to be a predecessor of modern monotheism.

 
 

 

 

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