The Pharaoh Amenhotep/Amenophis IV was perhaps the most remarkable manin all of Egyptian history, if not of all of human history. His portrayal is perhaps the most destibtive of any paharaoh. As a young man he became obsessed with religious contemplation and the sun god Aten. After becoming pharaoh he began giving increasng attention to attention to Aten and eventually changed his name to Akhenaten. He supressed the traditional religon and attempted to replace it with a kind of solar monotheism. Amenhotep overturned oiver a milenia of tradition when he renounced the numerous gods worshipped by the Egyptians and abolished the priesthood of Amun. He established a new order based on the worship the sun god Aten and changed his name to Akhenaten, meaning "servant of the Aten." Some Egyptologistd believe he advoacted a kind of universal brotherhood of man under a single god. [Aldred, p. 67.] The main temples of Amun were located at Thebes modern Luxor). The resistance there to the new religion caused Akhenaten to move his court to Akhet-Aten, whivch meant, "Horizon of the Aten." It was located some distance north of Thebes. Akhenaten also advocated a realistic depiction in art. The depictions of him and his Queen Nefertriti which survive are some of the most realistic in Egyptian art. Even more interesting, the depictions of his family of six daughters provide a rare realisic glimse ino the life of an Egyptian royal family. [Aldred, pp. 67-68.] These depictions of the royal family are only of Queen Nefertriti and her six daughters, None of Akhenaten's other wives are depicted. Neither do we see depictions of Prince Tutankhamun with Akhenaten. Akhenaten's tendency toward pacifism greatly weakened Egypt's international position and control over the various client states in what is now Syria and Palestine allowing the Hittites to extend their power south. There are several reasons that Akhenaten is so well remembered several hundred paharaohs over 30 dynasties. Akhenaten's striking appearance combined with his mysterious religious convinctions made him stand out among countles virtually unknown paharaohs. His connection with the hauntingly beautiful Nefertiti and the "boy king" Tutankhamen, the only pharaoh many people can name, make Akhenaten an even more compelling figure.
The Pharaoh Amenhotep/Amenophis IV was perhaps the most remarkable man in all of Egyptian history, if not of all of human history. One biographer focusing on his religious contemplation and theology describes him as "the most rmarkable of all the Pharaohs and the first individual in human history". [Aldred, p. 66.] He is often depicted as an aesthetic monk, but the intimate imagery that has survived his fall from grace shows a devoted husband and father. The fact that he dared to take on the powerful priestly class shows that he was not a weak man. The priests had power to determine even the selection of pharoah as they domonstrated in the choice of Tuthmose III. Some Egyptologists believe that the priests could have prevented the assessiin of a pharaoh, especially a young man. [Aldred, pp. 66-67.] Of course Akhenaten did not fully confront the priests of Amun until well into his reign. Preventing assession and confronting a reigning pharaoh are two very different matters.
Akhenaten had a large extended family. There are many questions about some of these relatinships. His parents are known with certainty, Amenhotep III and Tiye--Amenhotep's chief wife.
Very little is known about Prince Amenhotep's childhood. He wa not the firt born. His brother Prince Tuthmose was expected to be paharoah. There suely were younger brothers, but that is a difficulg subject of Egyptologists. [Aldred, p. 94.] Akhenaten as a young man became obsessed with religious contemplation and the sun god Aten.
His portrayal is perhaps the most destibtive of any paharaoh. His longated face and almost pendulous jaw make him almost a character out of an El Greco painting. And because of his belief in realistic art, perhaps he most accurate.
Amenhotep IV after his father's death appointed as his key advisos his mother Queen Tiye, his Queen Nefertiti, and a priest--Ay. [Aldred, p.65.] There is considerable difference of opinion as to the fanily relationship of Nefertiti and Ay. These seem rather strange appointments giving the deteriorating military situation and increasing pressure from the Hittities. Rather than addressing this challenge, the young Amenhotep IV after becoming pharaoh he began giving increasng attention to Aten and theological questions.
Amenhotep's religious convictions appear to have evolved, even after he became pharoah. Hi religious zeal, however, was notable at a very erly point. [Aldred, p. 66.] He was young when he asscened to the throne and turned to his mother and other advisors for guidance. Akhenaten almost certainly was influenced by his family, especially mother and his wife. [Dunham, p. 4.] It may not be nearly the individual by a phaaraoh as it is often depictd. Some Egyptologists have noted increasing attention to the Aten cult (sun-worship) in the court of Akhenaten's father, Amenhotep III. As Akhenaten's reign progressed, the Aten was depicted increasingly often. He and Queen Nefertiti eventually changed their names. He became Akhenaten, incorporating the name of the sun god Aten into his name only in the 5th or 6th year of his reign. [Aldred, p. 64.] He supressed the traditional religion and attempted to replace it with a kind of solar monotheism. The priests of Atum and other traditional gods were dispossed and official celebrations ended. The names of the old gods were removed from state monuments. References to the plural form of the gods were obliterated. [Aldred, p. 66.] Akhenaten is sometimes portrayed as a religious vissionary. Some maintain that he was inspired by the Hebrews, either Joseph or Moses. [Redford, p. 4.] Joseph if he was an historical figure would have been roughly contemporaneous with Akhenaten. Perhaps he was actually the inspiration for Hebrew monothism or at least influenced it. There are, however, beyond basic monotheism, major theological differences betwen Aten and Jehova (Yaweh). Akhenaten's cult of Aten was the worship of one god. Aten was a visible, tangible god. Akhenaten enphasized truth, but unlike the Hebrews ttached no great emphasis to faith. Akhenaten religious conversion was unprecedented. He turned over a milenia of tradition when he renounced the numerous gods worshipped by the Egyptians and abolished the priesthood of Amun. He established a new order based on the worship the sun god Aten and changed his name to Akhenaten, meaning "servant of the Aten." Some Egyptologists believe he advoacted a kind of universal brotherhood of man under a single god. Indeed the sun god and disk symbol potentially had a universal appeal in Egypt's foreign dominions that Egypts zoomorphic gods good never hope to achieve. [Aldred, pp. 66-67.] Akhenaten's religious beliefs, however, are a matter of considerable debate among Egyptologists. Some see him not as a monotheist visionary, but rather a relgious fanactic. There is some evidence that aat least some officials used the religious turmoil to take advantage of the peasantry. Mote than theology may have been involv in the confrontation between Akhnaten. Some Egyptologists believe that the conflict was more of political struggle. The priesthood of Amen has acquired great economic and political power threatening the dominance of pharaoh himself. [Tuthill] Similar struggles occurred in medieval Europe between royal national centralism and a pan-European church. Not all Egyutologists are convincd that Akhentan persued an esentially political struggle. [Mertz, p. 269.] Indeed some of the artifacts of the Aten cult, such as poetry written by Akhenten seem to reveal religious passion. Still political factors should not be discounted and may well have been contributing factors.
The main temples of Amun were located at Thebes (modern Luxor). The resistance there to the new religion caused Akhenaten to move his court to Akhet-Aten, which meant, "Horizon" or Resting place" of the Aten. Akhenaten moved shortly after changing his name in the 6th year of his reign. The Great Temple of the Sun Disk was built at Akhet-Aten in a huge enclosure. Ths was the center of the Aten cult in Egypt. Akhenaten with his vision of a universal religion saw it as becoming a world-wide center. Massive palace complexes were also built at Akhet-Aten for Pharaoh Ankenaten, Quen Nefertiti, and Queen Mother Tiye. Akhet-Aten was located some distance north of Thebes. The site is located at modern day Tell el-Amarna, normally referred to as just Amarna. [Aldred, p. 67.] Egyptologists sometimes refered to Akhenaten's Aten sun god cult as the Amarna heresy. Akhet-ten after the death of Akhenaten, a the supression of the Aten cult, Akhet-Aten was abandoned. When Haremhab (Akhenten's military commander) became pharoah he not only ordered references to his succesors (Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, and Ay) obliterated, but the physical demolition of Akhet-Aten. The stones and other materials were used to build new temples and palaces elsewhere.
Akhenaten also advocated a realistic depiction in art. The depictions of him and his Queen Nefertriti which survive are some of the most realistic and natural in Egyptian art. Even more interesting, the depictions of his family of six daughters provide a rare realisic glimse ino the life of an Egyptian royal family. [Aldred, pp. 67-68.]
We know a great deal about Aknenaten's family. He surely had one of the most interesting and thanks to the realistic art that he championed, a family that we can view in intimate detail. His wife Nefetiti was perhapd the most beautiful woman of all time. They had six daughters who are depicted playng with their parents. Extensive artistic depections of royal children, especially princesses, in the ancient world is very rare. Intimate family images of the monsrchs playing with their children simply do not exist. And then there was, the boy king Tutankhamun, his son with a lesser wife who because his tomb was discovered undisturbed, is perhaps the best known pharaoh of all time.
Akhenaten married Nefertiti, the only well-known Eguptian queen other than Cleopatra. Some judged Nefertiti to be the most beautiful woman of all time because of the magnificent bust of her found at Amarna. It is one of the great treasures of world art. Nefertiti's origins are, however, a matter of some conjecture. Some believe that she was an heiress princess (daughter of a former pharoah, in this case Amenhotep IV and Queen Tiye). Other scholars are convinced that she could not have been an heiress princess, but was a member of the royal family--most likely the daughter of Ay. He is normally referrd to a the husband of her nurse, perhaps because Nefertiti was raised by another wife of Ay after the death of her mother. [Aldred, pp. 90-92.]. Some historians believe that she was a foreign princess, pointing to susposed foreign features. This seems unlikely because forign princesses rarely achieved any status in Egyptian society. Other maintain that Nefertiti was as most chief wives related to Akhenaten. The fact that Haremhab may have married a sister of Nefertiti is furher confirmation of her realtionship to the royal family. [Aldred, p. 92.]
Akhenaten and Nefertiti had six daughters, named Merytaten, Meketaten, Ankhesenpaaten, Neferneferuaten-tasharit, Neferneferure, and Sotepenre. There are many depictions of Akhenaten and Nefertiti with their daughters (figure 1). These depictions of the royal family are only of Queen Nefertriti and her six daughters None of Akhenaten's other wives are depicted or their children. Neither do we see depictions of Prince Tutankhamun with Akhenaten. Merytaten married her half-brother Prince Smenkhkare, but disaapers from history along with her husband. Meketaten appears to havedied before her mother. The third daughter Ankhesenpaaten is best known. She married her half-brother Tutankhamun and also changed her name to Ankhesenamun. She and her husband had two stillborn children which were found in his toumb. After Tutankhamun's death, she tried to marry a Hittite prince. When that failed she is believed to have married Ay, probably her grandfather. Not all Egyptologists accept this marrige. It would, however, have legitimized Ay's accesion to pharoah. Given his age, it was a formality. Little is known of the three youngest daughters--Neferneferuaten-tasharit, Neferneferure, and Sotepenre. They are believed to have all died at a young age, prhaps victims of a plague afflicting Egypt at the time.
There are two figures in Akhenaten's court whose family relationship is a matter of considerable conjecture. Smenkhkare was Akhenaten's co-regent and successor. Tutankhaten (renamed Tutankhamun) was another succesor. Many Egyptologists are convinced that Smenkhkare and Tutankhamu were brothers. Their relationship to Akhenaten is less clear. They coild have been half brothers. More likely is that they were Ankhenaten's sons by a lesser wife or wives. Some believe they had the same mothers, perhaps Kia. There is some speculation that their parents were perhaps Amenhotep III and Tiye. [Aldred, pp. 97-99.]
A shadowy figure appears during the later period of Ankhenaten's reign. He is a young prince, Smenkhkare. We know littlke abot him. He certainly is a prnce of royal blood because he is married to Ankhenaten and Nefertiti's oldest daughter, Meryt-Aten, and becomes coregent. Precisely who he is unclear. As a pharoah's eldest son is normally made coregent, it is almost certain that Ankhenaten was his father. Equally sure as he is never pictured with his father and Nefertiti, his mother cannot have been Neferfiti, but instead a lesser wife. He thus seems to have been a brother of Tutankhamun. Wheter they had the same mother is unknown. One Egyptologist believes that as the military situation deteriorated, Smenkhkare was sent to Thebes to make an accomodation with the old priesthood. [Aldred, p. 68.] On Ankhenaten's death, Smenkhkare became co-ruler with Tutankhamun after which he disappears from the archeological record. What became of his is unknown. Perhaps he attempted to maintain his father's Aten cult. Smenkhkare may have died before Ankhenaten, but the fact that he was co-ruler with Tutankhamun suggests that he survived his fathefr and was alive during his brother's early reign.
The old priesthood exerted their influence and were able to restore the old religion after the brief reign of Amenhotep's successor, the boy king Tutankhamun. (It was his unspoiled tomb that was discovered by Harold Carter in the Valley of the Kings during 1922, perhaps the most famous discovery in all of archeology.) Tutankhamun became pharaoh when he was a boy of about 9 years of age. He is believed to be Akhenaten's younger half brother. [Aldred, p. ?] He married his older half sister Ankhes-en-Amun. Normally little is known about minor pharaohs like Tutankhamun, but the fact that his tomb was never disturbed makes him one of the best known pharaohs. Tutankhamun's tomb is very small. It was probably built for some one of lower rank. Tutankhamun's early death may have caused it to have been pressed in to service for the young pharaoh as no more suitable tomb was ready for him. The tomb did not have elaborate paintings like many pharaonic tombs. The only part of his tomb complex that had wall paintings was the actual Burial Chamber. One of the scenes shows the "Opening of the Mouth Ceremony" where the senses of the deceased are restored. The person performing this duty is Ay, who succeeded Tutankhamun as pharaoh. Many of Egypt's imperial possessions were lost as a result of the disorders associated with the reign of Amenhotep IV and Tutankhamun.
The young Amenhotep IV became paroaoh at a very differnt time than his father faced had his assession. Mitanni dad become an Egyptian ally. The Hittites were expanding and pressuring Mitanni as well as extending their influence over former Egyptian client states in Syria. While his father Amenhotep III did not actively persue military conquests, through most of his reign, Egypt's military position was strong. Akhenaten's foreign policy was much weaker. His focus was on domestic affairs and theology. His foreign policy appears to have verged on pacifism, greatly weakening Egypt's international position. Unlike his Tuthmosides ancestors, Akhenaten did not lead an Egyptian army to support Mitanni and Egyptian allies in Syria and confront the foreign threat. Throughout Akhenaten's reign Egypt's control over the various client states in what is now Syria and Palestine continued to deteriorate. This allowed the Hittites to extend their power south toward Egypt. There was also increasing problems from roving bands of Hapiru in Palestine. [Aldred, p. 65.] Tribute payments from many former client states cease. [Aldred, p. 68.]
Haremhab's campaign against the Aten cult is known as the Vengence of Haremhab. Aten temples were destroyed throughout Egypt. Akhet-Aten was demolished. The destruction
obliterated temples with their carvings and paintings, stellas, and official buildings as well as references to the Aten cult and his predecessors has severely resticted our knowledge of Akhenaten and his religious heresy. Many official momuments and temples had the names of Haremhab's predecessors replaced with his. Much of what we know about Akhenaten and the Aten cult, because of all the destruction, comes from the tombs of the suuporters of Akhenaten. Many in Egypt owed their wealth and positioin to Akhennaten. [Aldred, p.67.] Even somes of these tombs were broken into and destroyed, but many tombs over Akhnaten's reign remained untouched. And it is in the chapels of these tombs that we learn about Akhenaten and the Aten cult. [Aldred, p. 67.]
Aldred, Cyril. Akhenaten: Pharaoh of Egypt--A New Study (McGraw-Hill: New York, 1968), 272p.
Dunham, Barrows. Heroes and Heretics (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963).
Mertz, Barbara. Red Land, Black Land (New York: Coward McCann, 1966).
Redford, Donald B. Akhenaten: The Heretic King (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984).
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