Akhenaten was Pharaoh during the period referred 2 as the 18th Dynasty, his reign lasted only 16 years but his impact on the HIS-tory of this ancient civilisation is one of the few facts about him that goes undisputed. Many scholars look upon him as an artist, a poet, a mystic and a philosopher whilst others denounce him as an opportunistic religious fanatic who instigated the down fall of one of the greatest of the ancient civilisations.
Born the son of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye very little is known about Akhenaten's early life. He came 2 the throne in the year 1358 BC under the name Amenhotep IV (Amun is content), it was only later in 1344 BC that he changed his name 2 Akhenaten (glory of the Aten). However his preference of the God Aten above all the other Egyptian deities was clear from the start. Akhenaten's 1st action as Pharaoh was 2 build a new temple on the perimeter of the famous Temple of Amun at Kanak (an astonishing building so huge that an amazing 60,000 priests, scribes, servants and religious officials were needed 2 staff it.) and dedicate it 2 Aten. Eventually Akhenaten decreed that there b only one God, Aten (The Sun Disk) and he had the names of all the other Gods erased, he even expunged the plural 'Gods' from the language. Many c this action as the 1st xample of monotheism, Aten was the 1st God 2 b depicted as an abstract force, a sun disc with life bestowing rays, rather than in human or animal form. 4 many years researchers have drawn a parallel between Akhenaten and his Aten faith and the Old Testament's Moses. 4 xample the Hymn 2 The Aten, thought by many 2 have been written by Akhenaten himself is strikingly similar to Psalm 104 (first recorded in 980 BC).
Was this just coincidence?
In 1937, the by then elderly Sigmund Freud, inventor of modern psychology, published an important article which proposed that the biblical figure of Moses had been an Egyptian linked to the court of Akhenaten. He provided much stimulating evidence in support of his argument including the fact that the Jewish word for 'Lord', Adonai, becomes 'Aten' when its letters r transformed in2 Egyptian.
50 years later Egyptian born historian Ahmed Osman went even further in his book Moses Pharaoh of Egypt when he suggested that Akhenaten and Moses were in fact one in the same person, a theory that infuriated both Jewish and Muslim leaders.
In 1346 BC Akhenaten ordered a new city 2 b built in middle Egypt, this city was 2 b called Akhetaten (the horizon, or seat, of the Aten). It was built on virgin soil un tainted by pervious cult worship and the location appears 2 have been carefully calculated 2 fall at xactly half way between the most northerly and southerly limits of Egypt. The dimensions of the city were an exact proportional representation of 106 atur, the figure traditionally given as the length of Egypt from north 2 south on the 24th parallel. The government was transferred 2 Akhetaten in the year 1342 BC and at the peak of Akhenaten's reign over 20,000 people populated the city.
Akhenaten's queen was one of the most famous queens of Egypt, Nefertiti. Famed throughout the ancient world 4 her outstanding beauty little can b traced about the origins of this intriguing woman. It seems unlikely that she was of royal blood although some believe that she may have been the daughter of Ay, an official of both Amenhotep III and Akhenaten who went on 2 bcome Pharaoh after Tutankhamun. Another theory is that she was in fact not Egyptian at all but rather a foreign Princess, possibly a Minoan from the Aegean island of Crete. Nefertiti's name is a very unusual one; it translates as 'A Beautiful Woman Has Come'. One fact that would seem 2 add credence 2 this theory is Akhenaten's continued veneration of the sacred bull, even after he had abandoned all the other traditional deities. The Minoans r known 2 have been bull worshippers and the royal palace of Konossos held numerous paintings of bulls so if Nefertiti was in fact Minoan it could have been at her instance that the worship of the creature continued. In one proclamation Akhenaten even refers 2 himself as 'strong bull beloved of the Aten'.
One of the most beautiful pieces of Ancient Egyptian art ever discovered is that of the limestone bust of Nefertiti found in the ruins of the royal sculptor Djhutmose's work shop in Akhetaten, apparently left behind when the city was eventually abandoned after Akhenaten's death. In it she is pictured wearing her own unique head-dress. This blue, straight-edged, flat topped crown seems 2 have been developed as a female version of the Pharaoh's own blue leather war crown.
Nefertiti was given a level of importance never b4 allowed 2 an Egyptian Queen. In works of art from the time she is often shown with Akhenaten making offerings 2 the God Aten and appears 2 have almost equal status with the Pharaoh. In general the art of this period bcame a lot more realistic and less stylised. In fact some images of the king appear 2 b almost a charicature, his head is shown as being narrow with almond shaped eyes, he is given an elongated neck and fleshy earlobes, a pendulous jaw, a long nose and hollow cheeks with pronounced cheek bones and thick lips. His body is shown with weedy under developed shoulders, arms and lower legs whilst his hips, thighs and breasts r heavy giving him an almost feminine appearance.
He is often given a narrow waist whilst his stomach is bloated and bulging, overall his appearance is the xact opposite of the traditional image of a Pharaoh. Some archaeologists have taken these strange images of Akhenaten 2 suggest that he was suffering from some kind of disease (possibly the feminising Froholich's syndrome). However it is more likely that as the Egyptians saw their Pharaoh as a living incarnation of their God, Akhenaten having denounced the various male and female Gods in favour of the one God had 2 take on a more cross gender appearance. 4 the first time the Pharaoh was allowed 2 b seen as a human being rather than a living God, along with his wife and daughters. New themes also appeared with images of the royal family engaged in normal everyday activities rather than just the more traditional ritual style paintings. It must b assumed that Akhenaten himself was the inspiration bhind these changes as no artist would have been willing 2 take it upon himself 2 make such a sweeping statement.
Like all of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt Akhenaten maintained a large harem. Most of these women remain unnamed however we do know of one whose name has been found on several buildings uncovered at Akhenetaten. Kiya was given the titles 'wife and greatly bloved of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt living in Truth, Lord of the Two Lands Neferkheperure Waenre, the perfect child of the living Aten who shall live 4 ever'. Although Kiya's origins remain even more obscure than those of Nefertiti many believe that it is Kiya who was the mother of Egypt's most famous Pharaoh of all, Tutankhamen. Kiya was never given the title 'Kings wife', she was however obviously a highly favoured member of the harem who was accorded great respect and was allowed 2 take part in the rituals of Aten worship that had previously been restricted 2 Akhenaten and Nefertiti.
The real mystery of Akhenaten begins in the year 1335 BC with the disappearance of Nefertiti, it is not clear if she died or if she was simply replaced by another of Akhenaten's wives but she is no longer mentioned after this date. A year later in 1334BC a co-regency has been 4med and we find Akhenaten ruling along side someone called Smenkhkare. Smenkhkare is the perhaps the biggest mystery of all Egyptian HIS-tory although few have heard of him. Few facts can b found about Smenkhkare, most scholars place him as Akhenaten's son in law, the husband of Meritaten (Akhenaten and Nefertiti's eldest daughter who was also referred 2 by her pet name Mayati) but others hold the theory the Smenkhkare was in fact Nefertiti herself under another name. There is also a growing wave of opinion that Smenkhkare was actually Akhenaten's male lover, both these thories could b backed up by the fact that several of Nefertiti's titles were bstowed on Smenkhkare including 'Beauty of Aton's Beauties'.
Neither Akhenaten or Nefertiti's mummies have ever been found but the un named mummy found in tomb 55 of the Valley of the Kings has been widely acknowledged as that of Smenkhkare. The tomb had been badly desecrated but investigations found the mummy of a young man strangely entombed in a female coffin. All the names in the tomb had been removed but the inscription on the foot board of the coffin shows an intimate address that, by the way it is written, can only have been 2 Akhenaten;
Utterance by (name removed), deceased: 'May I breath the sweet breath that comes forth from thy mouth, may I behold thy beauty daily; my prayer is that I might hear thy sweet, breezelike voice, and my limbs be rejuvenated in life through love of thee! Mayest thou extend me thine arms bearing thy spirit, that I may receive it and live by it. Mayest thou call on my name for eternity, and it shall never cease from thy mouth, O my father (name removed) thou being (text removed) for ever and ever, living like the sun disc (text removed) the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, living in Truth, Lord of the Two Lands (name removed), thou beautiful child of the sun disc, who shall be here, living, for ever and ever.'
Another fragment from the coffin identifies the occupant as 'beloved of Wan-en-re' the throne name of Akhenaten.
A recurring theme throughout the writings of Akhenaten and his contemporaries is that of "The Truth", and "Living in Truth" or "Ma'at"
Just three years after Smenkhkare's co regency began both Akhenaten and Smenkhkare r dead and the boy King Tutankaten has taken the throne. Under the guidance of the ever-present Ay he changes his name 2 Tutankhamun and begins 2 restore the old religions. No real reason is given 4 Tutankhamun's return 2 the old ways. With the death of its only prophet this xperiment, it would seem, came a natural close.
At around this time all traces of Akhenaten were removed, his image and name destroyed and the city of Akhetaten left to ruin. In later years Egypt's official HIS-torians chose 2 not only denounce both Akhenaten and his descendants but in fact 2 deny their very xistence. Akhenaten, Neffertiti, Smenkhkare, Tutankhamen and Ay's names were all omitted from the official King list, and were, eventually, lost to the mists of time.
It is ironic that the attempts made by later Pharaoh's 2 remove Akhenaten from their HIS-tory have in fact created a mystery that has fascinated millions of people 4 hundreds of years.
Suggested further reading;
Act of God - Graham Phillips
Exploring The World Of The Pharaohs Christine Hobos
Gods Of Eden - Andrew Collins
Neffertiti, Egypt's Sun Queen - Joyce Tyldesley