When I was introduced to Akhenaton and his beautiful Queen Nefertiti, his relationship to Tutankhamun, his new departure to a monotheistic deity and the naturalness of his Art Revolution a whole new world opened up.
This began my interest with all religions and the possibilities of their beginnings and who controlled the populace with such power.
Akhenaton was in fact the second son of Amenhotep lll and it wasn’t until his elder brother died that he would have found himself the centre of attention. His days would have been very carefree and together with his childhood friend Nefertiti, would have seemed idyllic to us I’m sure. He would of course later marry Neferititi and it is believed he carried on his fathers traditional reign during his co-regency which lasted for around 8 years, before his fathers death.
Around the time of his co-regency he began to study and search for the principles he would later live by and to begin to question the very order of things.
He was crowned Amenhotep lV in Thebes in 1351 BC. He started early in his reign to make small changes, like decorating the Temple of Amun-Ra with scenes of him worshipping Ra-Harakte. He constructed a temple dedicated to the Aten in East Karnak. During this time he did not try to repress the other deities, but by Year 5 of his reign changes were on the way.
THE MOVE TO AKHETATON
In year 5 he took decisive steps to establish the Aten as the exclusive, monotheistic god of Egypt. He disbanded the priesthood of Amun, and moved all monies taken to the Cult of Aten. He changed his name to Akhenaton meaning “The Living Spirit of the Aten”
He constructed a new capital in the desert called “Akhetaton” meaning “Horizon of Aten”, the site we know now as Amarna. Later to be excavated by Sir Flinders Petrie where the now famous Bust of Nefertiti was found in the sculpture studio of Tuthmose.
By year 9, Akhenaton had declared the Aten the only god. He ordered the defacing of Amun Temples throughout Egypt. He had also banned all images oner than “The Sun Disc” to depict his universal deity.
THE ROYAL FAMILY
His chief wife, was of course Nefertiti with whom he had six daughters, alas no sons, and although he honoured her as the highest woman in the land during the end of the reign she disappears from history and we wonder if part of the reason would have been the lack of sons. Her daughters were as follows:-
- MERITATON – later to marry Smenkhare
- ANKHESENPAATON – later to marry Tutankhamun
- NEFERNEFERUATION TASHERI
He also has two sons with lesser wives who you may have heard of :-
ART OF AMARNA
Before Akhenaton the art of Ancient Egypt was highly stylised and remained stable and unchanged from outside influences for the majority of the Ancient Egyptian culture.
Symbolism played an important role. Animals were highly symbolic, colours were expressive rather than natural: red skin implied hard working tanned youth, yellow skin was used for women and middle aged men who worked indoors, blue or gold was used to depict precious metals and stones, black was used for royal figures.
The size of a person indicated their importance in the social order. The Pharaoh, being the largest figure.
Akhenaton and his Amarna art movement changed all that. Amarna art was characterised by a sense of movement and activity in images. The human body was portrayed differently, Akhenaton was given a distinctly feminine quality. Nefertiti is shown sitting at his side, the same size, not as traditionally shown at his knee.
One of the most debated questions today is of the feminine depiction of Akhenaton. Could it have been for religious reasons? Or as suggested an illness?Until Akhenaton’s body is positively identified we will never know.
After Akhenaton’s death in year 17, the Aten cult he had founded gradually fell out of favour. Tutankhaton changes his name in year 2 of his reign to favour the return of Amun and abandoned the city of Akhetaton which fell into ruin. His successors tore down the Aten temples.
Finally Akhenaton, Smenkhare, Tutankhamun and Aye would be excised from all official List of the Pharaohs. Nothing was known of this period until the archaeological discoveries in the late 19th Century.
So was Akhenaton the fore runner of the mono-theistic religions of today?
The idea that Akhenaton was the pioneer of a mono-theistic religion was originally mentioned by Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, in this book “Moses and Monotheism”. Freud argues that Moses may have been an Aten priest, forced out of Egypt with his followers after Akhenaton’s death.
Some scholars and Egyptologists point out the direct connections between Judaism and the other Semitic traditions. They also mention that three of the principal Judaic terms for god namely Yahweh, Elohim and Adonai have a connection to the Aten.
We can only speculate, but it does give us food for thought, on who invented the original mythology, doesn’t it?
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