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The History of Egypt (Part 2): The Amarna Revolution

The History of Egypt (Part 2): The Amarna Revolution


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Dr. David Neiman describes the Amarna age in Egyptian history as a revolution in which ideas and attitudes manifested themselves through art. The Pharaohs were no longer depicted as flawless demigods, but as mortals with families and defects.


The History of Egypt (Part 2): The Amarna Revolution - History

Narrator: 1550 BC. For over a hundred years, foreigners have overrun Egypt. Now a new dynasty of warrior pharaohs inspired Egyptians to rise up and reclaim their land.

Narrator: Egypt's armies surged beyond their traditional borders. On battlefields deep in foreign territories, they created the largest empire the world had ever seen. It was an empire controlled with an iron fist. There were clear, bloody warnings to anyone who dared to question the new might of Egypt.

Narrator: Egypt was now the most powerful and feared nation on earth. In 1390 BC, there was a new young pharaoh on the throne. His name was Amenhotep - meaning the god Amen is satisfied. His forefathers had led Egypt into battle and now this young pharaoh faced a completely different challenge. There were no more wars to fight. Egypt was rich, respected, and free. Amenhotep's challenge would be to protect this peace and prosperity - ruling Egypt's vast, sprawling empire, whose riches were the envy of the world.

Nicole Douek, London University: When he comes to the throne, it really marks the beginning of peace. It is a time when the wealth of all the empire pours into the coffers of the pharaoh. You could probably think of it as the golden age of empire and Egypt.

John Ray, Cambridge University: Amenhotep would have been the richest man in the world. He had the gold in Nubia. He had trade running along the Red Sea. There was hardly anything in the known world that Amenhotep couldn't put out his hand and touch.

Narrator: But the world was changing. For centuries, Egypt had been unchallenged. Now Babylonia, Assyria, and Mitani had emerged. These powerful civilizations could rival Egypt. United, they could destroy Amenhotep's empire. Amenhotep wanted to avoid war at all costs. He had to find a new way of dealing with the outside world. His solution was a master stroke, and we know about it because of a remarkable discovery.

Narrator: In 1887 a peasant woman was digging near the Egyptian town of Amarna. She was looking for old mud bricks to use as fertiliser. What she found was not the usual rough blocks, but rows of well-preserved clay tablets.

John Ray: The little bits of mud were covered with writing that looked rather like birds feet. It was as if the birds' footprints had set in the mud after the birds had gone. The lady didn't know what they were, but picked some of them up.

Narrator: These humble clay tablets were not bricks, but letters and they were the key to Amenhotep's success.

John Ray: The peasant lady had stumbled across the diplomatic record office of the capital of the ancient world. The Amenhotep letters throw a flood of light onto the politics of the Near East.

Narrator: These small tablets were the correspondence between Pharaoh Amenhotep and the other rulers of the Near East. The strange marks that cover them are a miniscule writing. They contain as much information as the inscriptions on all of Egypt's greatest monuments. They reveal Amenhotep was controlling his world, not with weapons, but with words. The pharaoh had become a diplomat.

Professor Antonio Loprieno, University of California, Los Angeles: I would describe it as the most important discovery of the ancient world, probably in terms of understanding of political life. It is not the most visible, not the most artistically appealing, but the politically most significant discovery of the ancient world.

Narrator: At a time when most people on earth could not read or write, Egypt was conducting a lively dialogue with her rivals. The king's messengers ran back and forth across the deserts of the Near East carrying letters that reveal Egypt's status as a super power.

Professor David O'Connor, New York University: International diplomacy in the days of the Amenhotep letters would be very familiar to diplomats today. It was really very much like diplomatic interaction between countries even in our own time.

Narrator: The letters show Amenhotep was as good at diplomacy as his ancestors had been at fighting. Ambassadors flocked to pharaoh's court, bringing gifts of friendship. Less powerful countries sent endless streams of tribute to show their loyalty.

John Ray: The principle in the ancient world was quite clear. If somebody was rich, you made them feel even richer. So when you visited them you would turn up with produce of your own country. It's partly to acknowledge that the power of the pharaoh extends even to countries where he has not set foot.

Narrator: Scenes painted in Egyptian tombs show how these dazzling displays of tribute must have looked. Priceless objects flooded in from all over the known world, from Minoan Crete, to Biblical Babylon.

Professor David O'Connor: The Nubians would bring giraffes and lions. The Syrians might bring bears, which were found in the mountains of Syria. People from other places would bring animals and birds characteristic of their countries. It was a very dramatic dynamic expression of what the empire meant for the Egyptians, what it was composed of, and above all, how central the Egyptian king was to this whole system.

John Ray: Amenhotep calls himself the King of Kings, and the King of Kings is what he must have seemed to the rulers who shared his world.

Narrator: Amenhotep knew he was the most powerful man in the world and he knew he had one great advantage. It was not military might, but gold. The letters that went back and forth from pharaoh's court show that even the greatest kings of the Near East were desperate for Egypt's gold. And they were prepared to beg for it.

Reconstruction voiceover: "If you send me the gold I wrote to you about I will give you my daughter. Send me as much as your father did."

Reconstruction voiceover: "In your country gold is like dust and you can just gather it up. If it is your intention that a sincere friendship exists, send much gold."

Reconstruction voiceover: "I have begun a new palace. Send me as much gold as is required for its. "

Narrator: Amenhotep responded shrewdly to their requests. He gave them gold but always left them wanting more. The strategy was a triumph. The kings of the Near East were exchanging gifts not blows. The most precious gift of all was a foreign princess as a wife, plus her dowry, and retinue. Amenhotep employed his personal ambassadors to find him the very best brides. It was about much more than pharaoh's sex life. Amenhotep's harem was full of the most beautiful daughters of the most powerful kings of the age.

Nicole Douek: It is about brotherhood between the great kings. They called themselves brothers. And if you married a daughter of another king, then you really were part of the family.

Narrator: But this was not a two-way process. In one letter, the king of Babylon complains bitterly that Amenhotep has refused to send him an Egyptian princess.

Reconstruction voiceover: "When I wrote to you about the possibility of my marrying your daughter, you wrote to me as follows: 'No daughter of a king of Egypt has ever been given to anyone.' Why not? You are a king, and can do what you like."

Narrator: It was a useless complaint. No Egyptian princess was allowed to marry into a foreign court for fear it would give a foreigner a claim to Egypt's throne. But the Babylonian king suggested a devious compromise.

Reconstruction voiceover: "Send me a beautiful woman as if she was your daughter. Who will be able to say that this is not the king's daughter?"

Narrator: The Babylonian king's second request was denied. Amenhotep saw himself as being able to pick princesses and give none in return.

Nicole Douek: Ranking him, he was a very intelligent man. He obviously used his position extremely carefully, so although there is great respect for the other kings of the time, he is always one cut above everybody else.

Narrator: Amenhotep was more wealthy and powerful than any previous Pharaoh. Soon everyone would know it. He would channel the vast resources of the empire into the largest building programme the world had ever seen.

Professor Antonio Loprieno: To embark on a building programme was one of the best ways for an Egyptian king to present himself as a hero, as an achiever, as a doer.

Narrator: It was work on an epic scale. The countless sandstone blocks hewn from the Egyptian quarries had left caverns that are themselves like temples carved out of the rock. It was a triumph of organisation. Soldiers, cooks, doctors and water bearers were all sent into the desert to support the quarries. Amenhotep's magnificent new temples did more than advertise his wealth. They also honoured the ultimate source of Egypt's glory - her many Gods. Amenhotep thanked one god in particular for his success. Amen-Re, the King of the Gods. To guaranty the support of Amen-Re, the pharaoh donated great portions of his wealth to the god's main temple. As the temple grew richer, the temple priests grew more powerful.

Nicole Douek: The priests who controlled these vast establishments have power. They have financial power and they have political power.

Narrator: The power of the priests of Amen-Re was beginning to rival pharaoh himself. But out in the empire Amenhotep made sure his subjects heard only of his triumphs, not his problems. And he had a surprising new way of communicating directly with his subjects. Stones, carved into the shape of scarabs had long been used in Egypt as amulets, now Amenhotep had these mass-produced. Portable scarabs inscribed with news of his latest achievements, were carried across the empire. These propaganda beetles were the first newspapers in history.

Professor Antonio Loprieno: He wanted to proclaim his power, his richness, and his achievements to the broadest possible strata of the Egyptian population. This new scarab was a way of sending information all over the place.

Narrator: It was by news scarab that the outside world first heard Amenhotep had chosen his queen. In addition to the minor wives in his harem, every pharaoh selected a chief queen. To strengthen the royal line, she was often a sister of close female relatives. Amenhotep chose to ignore this royal custom. He proudly announced that he was marrying a commoner, the daughter of a chariot officer - a woman called Tiy. The Chief Queen Tiy, her father's name was Yuya and her mother's name was Thuya - and she was the wife of a mighty king.

Nicole Douek: We get the sense of a very strong woman. The portraits are extraordinary, and they do convey something of the person - because there is no blandness to Queen Tiy. You look at her and you think, "Oh, she really was something else, this one."

Dr. Zahi Hawass, Under Secretary of State Giza Pyramids: Queen Tiy was not an easy queen. She was so strong and you can see that from the statues of this queen. Hers were equal in size to the king.

Narrator: Queen Tiy was more than just a chief queen. She was Amenhotep's near equal. Far down the Nile in Nubia, Amenhotep made this stunningly clear by building a pair of temples: one for Queen Tiy and one nearby for himself, here at Saleb. These temples were not just built for the royal couple: they were actually dedicated to them. Deep in the southern part of his empire, Amenhotep and Tiy were worshipped as gods.

John Ray: The shadow of pharaoh extends in stone along the Nile to the African provinces of his empire. He is there in a physical presence, looking out over the empire that he controls.

Narrator: Amenhotep's message to his Nubian subjects was clear. At the base of the columns at Saleb are images of captive Nubians. These are a graphic representation of pharaoh's power for all to see. Here in Nubia it was especially important that Amenhotep be in control. Nubia's mines supplied most of Egypt's gold, and gold was what allowed Amenhotep to control his rivals.

Nicole Douek: The request from the foreign kings was for gold, gold, and more gold, because as says one of these kings: "In your land gold is as plentiful as dust." It's the Fort Knox of the ancient world.

Narrator: Amenhotep had secured the gold supply, but more and more of his gold was pouring into the temple of Amen-Re. Amenhotep's priests in Thebes now controlled one-third of Egypt's wealth. They also interpreted Amen-Re's will, which pharaoh had to obey.

Professor Antonio Loprieno: At this stage, the priests of Amen-Re were probably more powerful than they had ever been in the history of Egypt. In fact, the High Priests of Amen at Karnak would probably have a power superior to that of the king.

Narrator: To shift the power away from Amen-Re's priests, Amenhotep began to show interest in another minor god, Aten, the visible sun. It could hardly have seemed important. Yet it was about to change everything. In 1352 BC, Amenhotep III, the great King, the diplomatic genius died. Egypt was plunged into mourning.

Nicole Douek: The death of the king must have been a terrible event. This man had dominated politics, religion, the life of not only his subjects, but the life of the empire for such a long time.

Narrator: Even in the Near East, Amenhotep was mourned by his rivals. Foreign kings wrote to his widow, Queen Tiy, expressing their personal grief.

Reconstruction voiceover: "I cried. I sat. I did not eat or drink. I mourned, saying if only I were dead, or 10,000 were dead in my land, and that my brother whom I love and who loves me, were alive as long as heaven and earth."

John Ray: Amenhotep died in the course of his 39th year. Probably in his last days, he could look out over the empire that seemingly the sun would never set over. He could think of a world at peace, where diplomacy ruled, where the wealth of Egypt was undoubted. And he could leave it all to his son, Amenhotep IV.

Narrator: Amenhotep IV had grown up in the most powerful family on earth. Now he found himself pharaoh and ruler of Egypt's empire. In the first years of Amenhotep IV's reign, it must have seemed like nothing had changed. But at his court, the new pharaoh was encouraging ideas that would soon transform Egyptian society. A radically new style of art was flourishing. According to the artists, it was the pharaoh himself who had taught them. These artists rejected the conventions of traditional Egyptian art. Instead, they celebrated the vibrancy of the real world. Their work was sensual and filled with movement. But what shocked Egyptians most were the new depictions of the royal family. To a modern eye, they seemed peculiar. To conservative Egyptians they must have been staggering.

Dr. Kate Spence, Cambridge University: Suddenly you'd get a sort of celebration of ugliness. The bodies become extraordinarily proportioned. You've got a thin torso, thin shoulders and massive hips on male figures as well as female figures. There are also big buttocks and pendulous thighs, which must be quite extraordinary for an Egyptian to see. Presumably, he was actually just trying to make a statement, "Hey! I'm different!" Doing something, which completely breaks with tradition, must have been very shocking. It's a very good way of getting yourself noticed as someone who is going to do something really quite radical.

Narrator: Amenhotep IV was embarking of a religious revolution. The seeds had been sown in the reign of his father. But nothing could have prepared Egypt for what was about to happen. In the second year of his reign, Amenhotep IV abandoned Egypt's traditional gods. Even Amen-Re, the King of the gods, was discarded. His temples were closed and his priests were evicted.

Nicole Douek: If you want to make a break with the past, you close the temples. You remove the means for these people to use or abuse their power.

Narrator: For this pharaoh, there would be only one god - the Aten, the visible sun. Amenhotep would become the first monotheist in recorded history. He would also be the only priest of his new religion. The pharaoh stands alone, bathed in the rays of the Aten. At a stroke, all the certainties of life that had marked the golden age of his father were swept away. He discarded the name Amenhotep meaning Amen the Satisfied. He would take a new name, Akenhaten, meaning one who is beneficial to the Aten.

Dr. Kate Spence: Akenhaten does seem to have been a very driven person who must have had enormous energy to carry through all the changes he's making. They are much more substantial than just religion and art. At the end of the day, he must have restructured the whole way the country was working.

Narrator: Akenhaten had only just begun. Now he planned another astonishing act. To seal the break with the past, he ordered the construction of an entirely new capital city, far to the north of Thebes. It was a desolate site known as Amarna. He called it the Horizon of the Sun. On vast boundary stelas, cut into the cliffs, Akenhaten claimed the sun god had led him there. And he made it clear that his decision to move was irreversible.

Reconstruction voiceover: "It was my father, the Aten himself who pointed out the site. Before I came here, it didn't belong to any god or goddess or to any king or queen. I will never say I am leaving it, and I have no intention of breaking this oath."

Dr. Kate Spence: Amarna can't have been a very welcoming place for the first people that had to go there and try to create a city. It was desert really. It seems a rather strange place really to build a city.

Narrator: Abandoning Thebes, the new pharaoh could escape the influence of Egypt's high priests.

Professor Antonio Loprieno: We have a situation in which Thebes, the city that was traditionally celebrated in Egyptian hymns, had in fact become a threat to the king, to the most important inhabitant of this city.

Narrator: Everything in Thebes was packed up. Akenhaten and his entire government, officials, scribes, soldiers and artists would move to the new desert site. They were leaving behind their houses and their carefully prepared tombs. They were leaving behind the most cosmopolitan city in Egypt, built by Akenhaten's father.

Dr. Kate Spence: I don't think he would really have had any choice in the matter. If Akenhaten decides he wants to go there, everybody goes. The whole court would have to get up and go there. Everybody who would be part of court life would have had to get up and move to Amarna.

Narrator: Tens of thousands set out for Amarna. Ahead lay a 200-mile journey, up the Nile to a new life in the new city. All followed Akenhaten's great experiment. The new capital city had been built on an unprecedented scale. It was eight miles long and three miles wide. Four huge palaces rose from the desert floor, surrounded by ornamental lakes and gardens. And dominating the city was the great temple of the Aten. The temple was open to the sun, surrounded by wide roads and open spaces.

Professor Antonio Loprieno: To a certain degree, Amarna was conceived very much like an American city. It was planned in a way that would account for openness and freedom.

Narrator: The whole city was one great stage on which pharaoh could demonstrate his devotion to the Aten. With him at the head of these processions, his subjects could see the woman who had helped him realise his wishes. She was one of the most remarkable women of the ancient world, but her face would not be seen again until the beginning of the 20th century. In the winter of 1912, a German archaeologist Ludvic Borchardt came to excavate at Amarna.

Reconstruction voiceover: "On December 6, just before the lunch break, I was called by an urgent note from Professor Borchardt, who was supervising the excavations. There at about knee height in front of us, a flesh coloured neck appeared."

Narrator: As his workers brushed the sand away, Borchardt began to see a stone face looking back at him. It was the most beautiful he had ever seen. It was the face of a queen, whose name meant, "a beautiful woman has come", Nefertiti. Stunned, that evening Borchardt wrote just one line in his diary.

Reconstruction voiceover: "Description is useless, see for yourself".

Narrator: In real life Nefertiti was as remarkable as her statue. Like her mother-in-law, Queen Tiy, Nefertiti played a prominent role in public life. She and Akenhaten stood together at the head of the new regime.

Nicole Douek: If you look at the role Nefertiti plays in the Amarna period, it is almost as important as that of Akenhaten. She is there, present all the time. She is even shown in some of the reliefs smiting the enemy - as a pharaoh is always shown. So Nefertiti is not just a beautiful woman, she is a very important element in this new and incredible experiment.

Narrator: Nefertiti is also the only Egyptian queen intimately described by her husband - in verses of love and devotion, which are over 3,000 years old.

Reconstruction voiceover: "She stands out in the palace, fair-faced and beautiful. At the sound of her voice, rejoicing breaks out. Her appearance fills the king with pleasure. She is the chief queen, the king's beloved. She is the mistress of two lands, Nefertiti."

Narrator: Nefertiti was not the only woman in Akenhaten's life. In the northern apartments of the palace, Nefertiti brought up their six daughters. In the few surviving reliefs, we see the princesses, six little girls growing up in the City of the Sun, well loved by their father and mother. No other royal family in the ancient world seems so human, so real. Stelas even show Akenhaten and his wife playing with their children - a brief moment in time captured 3,300 years ago.

Nicole Douek: The representations of this divine family are unique. Never before do you see the king and the queen with their children climbing all over them, or the king kissing his child. These are family situations, which we would recognise now as very human, and they appear at this time.

Narrator: Freed from the constraints of the old order, life in Amarna was good, at least for now. This success was celebrated in a new type of hymn, which the king himself claimed to have written. The greatest of these hymns was carved in a tomb above the city. It was a hymn so powerful that phrases from it found their way into the Bible. In it, Akenhaten praised the sun as the creator of the natural world - plants, animals, Egyptians, even foreigners.

Reconstruction voiceover: "When you cast your rays, the herds are happy in their pastures. Trees and plants grow green. All the flocks gamble and all the birds come to life because you have risen for them. Even the fish in the rivers leap towards your face. You created the earth to please you - people, cattle and flocks, everything that walks on land or takes off and flies, using wings.

Professor Antonio Loprieno: The general message of the great hymn to the Aten in Amarna is that life comes from the Sun God, and life is distributed equally over the earth - equally among nations, equally among people, equally among animals.

Narrator: Egypt appeared to have accepted the new religion of the Aten. And in the twelfth year of his reign, Akenhaten organised a massive celebration to give thanks to his god with thousands of offerings. Even the elderly Queen Mother Tiy paid a royal visit. Ambassadors came from all over the world to deliver their tribute. At the head of it all was Akenhaten and sitting beside him Queen Nefertiti. There had never been a partnership like it. The incredible experiment appeared to be working. But that same year, in the midst of apparent triumph, Akenhaten's new world suddenly began to fall apart. At the height of her powers, Nefertiti simply vanishes from history. Egyptologists have failed to discover exactly what happened to her. Personal tragedy heaped upon the pharaoh. Nefertiti was gone. His mother, the great Queen Tiy, died soon afterwards. So too did one of his minor wives, and even one of his daughters. After 12 years of tolerance, Akenhaten began to turn his power to destructive ends. Once he had been content simply to replace Egypt's traditional gods, now he actively began to persecute them and Amen-Re bore the brunt of his fury. The reformer had become a fanatic incapable of tolerating other gods.

Professor Antonio Loprieno: Akenhaten was certainly the first monotheist, but also certainly the first religious oppressor in the history of the world.

Narrator: Wherever they could be found, the name and image of Amen-Re were destroyed. No reference to the god was too far away or too inaccessible.

Dr. Kate Spence: He sent out what must have been armies of men with chisels, along with people who could read the walls and find the names of the gods to be removed.

Narrator: Akenhaten even attacked the memory of his beloved father, Amenhotep, gouging out the part of his name that mentioned Amen.

Professor Antonio Loprieno: The name Amenhotep means "Amen is Satisfied". Akenhaten removed the Amen portion of the name, because obviously under his reign, Amen was certainly not satisfied. So he inflicted a punishment on his own father's name in order to comply with his own religious views, with his own religious fanaticism.

Narrator: Consumed by his religious fervour, Akenhaten had lost touch with the outside world. Letters poured in to warn pharaoh that his empire was under threat. Old allies, princes and vassals wrote begging him for help.

Reconstruction voiceover: "The King my Lord should be informed that the King of Hatti has seized all countries that were the vassals of. "

Reconstruction voiceover: "We have been writing to the King our Lord for 20 years, but we haven't heard a single word back."

Reconstruction voiceover: "In Canaan some locals beat my merchants and stole their money. Canaan is your country and its kings are your slaves.

Reconstruction voiceover: "I keep writing to the palace but you have never replied."

Dr. Zahi Hawass: Those princes and those people in the east were crying, "help us", but his ears did not hear anything.

Narrator: Akenhaten ignored the desperate pleas of his subjects. The empire his father had worked so hard to maintain was now in danger. As their world began to fall apart, Akenhaten's oldest officials must have remembered how things had been under his father.

Professor Antonio Loprieno: One could say that Akenhaten did all he could in his power to destroy his father's legacy. So at the end of his reign, what used to be a very cohesive power in the international arena is a country on the verge of crisis.

Narrator: Only the pharaoh's personal charisma held the dream together. Then, in 1336 BC, Akenhaten died. With Akenhaten dead, the keystone of Akenism was gone. In the hills above the deserted city, work was abandoned on the tombs of Akenhaten's courtiers.

Nicole Douek: The tombs at Amarna are all unfinished and unoccupied. The paintings are barely finished in some cases. It's almost as though somebody has just heard the king has died. "We're going away, drop your tools and go."

Narrator: Now with Akenhaten dead, traditional forces took hold of Egypt. Once-loyal courtiers, artisans, even priests of the Aten flocked back to Thebes. They were eager to wrest order from the chaos that threatened to engulf Egypt. After just 20 years, Amarna, the setting for pharaoh's great experiment, was abandoned. Emerging from the chaos came a new king, a 9-year-old boy. This child pharaoh had grown up in Akenhaten's palaces. His son by a minor wife, named Tutankhaten - meaning the living image of the Aten. Tutankhaten inherited a dynasty, a country, and an empire that was staring disaster in the face. But he was only a boy. Those who had lost out under Akenhaten seized their opportunity. They would use the young king to their own ends. First they would have to change his name. Tutankhaten became Tutankhamen - 'a living image of Amen'.

Professor Antonio Loprieno: Tutankhamen is, to a certain extent, a dual personality. He is a personality in between the Amarna and the post Amarna age. He certainly breathed Amarna air. He was imbued with this intellectual innovation. On the other hand, he was also the first pharaoh of the post Amarna era. He was the puppet of the new leaders in Egypt - the priesthood and military.

Narrator: In a carefully scripted decree, Tutankhamen blamed his own father Akenhaten for neglecting Egypt's traditional gods and plunging Egypt into chaos.

Reconstruction voiceover: "When his Majesty's reign began, the temples of the gods and goddesses were in ruins. Their shrines had crumbled into piles of rubble, choked with weeds. Their chapels were little more than footpaths and the land was in chaos because the gods had abandoned it."

Narrator: Tutankhamen's solution to these problems was simple.

Nicole Douek: It is a very important proclamation to the effect that order is being restored, and that things were going to go back to the way they were before. So this is the bringing back of Amen, of the ancient gods, of the old order.

Narrator: The old Gods, the temples, and above all the power of the priests of Amen-Re were restored. The Aten was relegated to a minor place in the Pantheon. No one went to its city, no one spoke of it. Akenhaten's heresy had simply never happened. By the time Tutankhamen was 19 and able to rule in his own right everything seemed to have returned to normal. But that same year Tutankhamen died suddenly and mysteriously.

Nicole Douek: An examination of his skull has recently produced yet another theory concerning the Aten family. It is this: Tutankhamen may have been murdered. By whom? It is a disaster for the royal family - there is no heir.

Narrator: Tutankhamen would only have been a footnote in Egyptian history if it had not been for the perseverance of a 20th century archaeologist named Howard Carter. In 1922, Carter discovered a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, that few else believed existed. In a single breathtaking moment he would bring the age of Tutankhamen back to life.

Reconstruction voiceover: "The dust itself maintained eerie footprints of the last people to breathe that very air 3,500 years earlier. As you note the signs of recent life around you, a blackened lamp, the finger marks on a freshly painted surface, the farewell garland dropped upon the threshold, you feel it might have been put there yesterday. Time is annihilated by such intimate details as these, and you feel an intruder.

Narrator: Carter's find was unique. He had not just rediscovered Tutankhamen he had unearthed the fabulous treasure ever found. Some 32,000 objects and vast quantities of the gold of Egypt's empire were buried with the boy king.

Nicole Douek: There were thousands of objects. Six chariots, four ceremonial beds, endless containers in the ante chamber alone. When Howard Carter describes opening the tomb and eventually removing these objects (and it took 10 years to clear the tomb), he actually tells us that they had to rig up platforms above the ground in order to avoid trampling on these objects and breaking them.

Narrator: In spite of its astonishing contents, Tutankhamen's tiny tomb was not complete. His treasures had not been carefully placed, but were randomly crammed in. This was no normal burial. On the back of the golden throne found in his tomb is a clue. Tutankhamen and his wife are shown sitting beneath the rays of the sun god Aten. Tutankhamen's officials had taken the opportunity to seal away this reminder of his father's reign, and the period they found so shameful. Tutankhamen was doomed to spend eternity with the very god he had renounced. Tutankhamen died without an heir. The backlash could now begin and it was savage. Every mention of the Aten that could be found was destroyed with ruthless efficiency. Every reference to Akenhaten, Nefertiti and their children was hacked out. The entire royal family was torn from the pages of history.

Nicole Douek: Everything is obliterated and Akenhaten, Nefertiti and this period become as though they had never happened. Akenhaten is a non-person. He is referred to, if ever he is mentioned, as 'that heretic'.

Narrator: Amarna, the once great and beautiful city that witnessed the birth of monotheism gradually crumbled back into the sand abandoned for all time.

Professor Antonio Loprieno: I would say that Egyptian society as a whole saw the Amarna experience as one of its most tragic moments. So much so that the Amarna experience left its trace for hundreds of years. The memory of this very dark period of Egyptian history remained in Egyptian conscience.

Narrator: A turbulent episode in the history of Egypt was over. The dynasty of the great pharaohs, who had founded the empire, came to an end. The stage was now set for a new beginning and a new family of pharaohs would struggle to recapture the glory of Egypt's Golden Empire.


Contributors

A. Goetze, C. J. Gadd, F.B.A, Cyril Aldred, W. F. Albright, Margaret S. Drower, C. W. Blegen, H. W. Catling, R. O. Faulkner, J. M. Munn-Rankin, O. Eissfeldt, H. J. Franken, Frank H. Stubbings, R. D. Barnett, René Labat, D. J. Wiseman, W. F. Albright, J. Cerny, V. R. d'A Desborough, N. G. L. Hammond, Glyn Daniel, J. D. Evans, J. M. Cook, John Chadwick, G. S. Kirk, W. K. C. Guthrie

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                                                                                                                                                                                          Ancient Egypt: The New Kingdom Part 2: Religious Revolution

                                                                                                                                                                                          This dynamic presentation on Egypt's New Kingdom provides visuals, video links, guided notes, and reflection questions to keep your students engaged for the entire lesson. Learn the story of this civilization at the height of its power.

                                                                                                                                                                                          The New Kingdom of Egypt produced some of the most remarkable monuments and pharaohs in history. Egypt expanded past its traditional borders and dominated the Bronze-Age World.

                                                                                                                                                                                          ♦ Part 2 - The New Kingdom: Religious Revolution

                                                                                                                                                                                          Topics covered in this lesson include:

                                                                                                                                                                                          ♦ Akhenaten's Religious Revolution

                                                                                                                                                                                          Two versions of this lesson!

                                                                                                                                                                                          The first is a PowerPoint for those teachers who know the material and want to guide their students through the material. This takes approximately 90 minutes to complete. There are 9 links to Youtube in the presentations. The videos total

                                                                                                                                                                                          33 minutes. Youtube links are checked weekly and updated when necessary. There are handouts for note taking along with reflection questions included with this presentation.

                                                                                                                                                                                          The second version consists of the information and images on worksheets that the students can read through at their own pace. This is best done if laptops or tablets are available for the class or for online learning. This version comes with more indepth questions that the students can work through at their own pace.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Check out the entire Egypt series:

                                                                                                                                                                                          Buy the entire Ancient Egypt Bundle and Save

                                                                                                                                                                                          Corresponding Movie Guides

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                                                                                                                                                                                          Why did Akhenaten relocate the Egyptian Capital?

                                                                                                                                                                                          Akhenaten’s artistic and religious reforms were radical indeed, but they were not the most consequential aspect of his plan. In the fifth year of this reign, the pharaoh announced his intention to move the entire Egyptian court to a city he called “Akhetaten,” or “The Horizon of the Aten,” located at Tell el-Amarna in Middle Egypt. Thebes was well established as Amen's city, and Akhenaten claimed that his god required a capital built on virgin land. The foundation of the site was marked by sixteen ornate stelae, now known as the Boundary Stelae, whose inscriptions justify the move, establish strict geographical boundaries and proclaim that Akhenaten is the Aten’s only representative on Earth. [12]

                                                                                                                                                                                          It is hard to imagine how such a plan would have been received, yet it appears that most of the Theban elite did relocate to Tell el-Amarna. However, there is evidence that they did not go quietly. Speeches recorded on the boundary stelae serve as responses to what appears to be derision from the elite toward Akhenaten’s religion and kingship. [13] However resistant they may have been, most of the court did relocate, and some, such as the king’s advisor Parennefer even invested in new tombs at the city’s necropolis. [14] Ultimately their commitment to his cause was fleeting. The site was abandoned shortly after his death c. 1332 BCE. [15] .

                                                                                                                                                                                          After the move to Tell el-Amarna, Akhenaten’s focus on religion intensified, and his attention to other matters waned. Amenhotep III, was a skilled diplomat who maintained peaceful borders and upheld good correspondence with foreign empires. [16] Akhenaten, on the other hand, was apathetic toward correspondence and seemed to have generally been uninterested in foreign diplomatic relations. The Amarna Letters, a collection of cuneiform tablets discovered at Tell el-Amarna, attest to this. Akhenaten repeatedly ignored pleas for help from foreign vassals, many of whom switched allegiances during his reign. [17] One such vassal, the prince Rib-adda of Byblos, repeatedly wrote to Akhenaten for assistance against the Hittite king. Akhenaten ignored his pleas, and the Hittites gained much ground in Syria and Palestine. [18] Content to remain in Egypt and impose his new religion on his subjects, Akhenaten lost territory in the Middle East and Nubia and allowed foreign relations to deteriorate measurably.


                                                                                                                                                                                          3 A New Capital

                                                                                                                                                                                          It was not enough to merely do away with the old religions. Akhenaten also decreed that Egypt needed a new divine city, a place uncontaminated by the worship of false gods. Soon a massive building project was underway at a desert site 200 miles north of Thebes. The resulting city, Akhetaten, was located in modern-day Amarna, near the river Nile. It featured numerous palaces, administrative buildings and royal workshops. The king also laid out a series of royal tombs and sites of worship in the surrounding desert. Finally, about 20,000 people were brought to live in the new capital.


                                                                                                                                                                                          The History of Egypt (Part 2): The Amarna Revolution - History

                                                                                                                                                                                          SECTION 10
                                                                                                                                                                                          Akhenaten and Monotheism


                                                                                                                                                                                          People, Places, Events and Terms To Know:

                                                                                                                                                                                          Monotheism
                                                                                                                                                                                          Akhenaten
                                                                                                                                                                                          Amunhotep (IV)
                                                                                                                                                                                          Amarna Period
                                                                                                                                                                                          El-Amarna
                                                                                                                                                                                          Ramessids
                                                                                                                                                                                          Ramses II
                                                                                                                                                                                          Akhetaten
                                                                                                                                                                                          Amarna Culture


                                                                                                                                                                                          I. Introduction: The History of Monotheism in Antiquity

                                                                                                                                                                                          We in the western world today tend to associate monotheism with our own traditions, as if it were originally the invention of our European ancestors. It wasn't. Ancient Semitic cultures rooted in the Near East and its environs not only explored monotheistic thinking earlier and more fully than any known peoples in Europe but also today embrace the strictest form of monotheism to date, Islam. Historical data are clear that the conception of a universe created and guided by one deity alone is the product of Eastern ideologies exported to, not from, the West.

                                                                                                                                                                                          It's like pants, something we in the West rarely think about as essentially foreign, even though they are. Indeed, a mere glance at costume history shows that people in early Western Civilization—Greeks, Romans, Franks—very infrequently wore tight-fitting garments, especially below the waist. In fact, it wasn't until well after antiquity, when trade and war had opened the way for cultural exchange between East and West, that large numbers of men who lived in Europe began wearing pants and other clothing styles suited to horseback riding. So if not for contact with the East, we might all still be wearing tunics, and worshiping a pantheon of gods.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Many today also assume that the earliest historical evidence for monotheism is to be found among ancient Hebrew scriptures, the accounts of a people who lived in the Near East during the second and first millennia BCE. It isn't. Not only did the Hebrews develop their monotheistic tenets slowly—it took them several centuries, as we'll see in the next section of the class—but long before the Hebrews even existed as a coherent social group, the ancient Egyptians experimented with a form of single-deity worship. The guiding force behind this brief pause in polytheism was a mysterious pharaoh who gave himself the name Akhenaten. Whether or not his theological experiment influenced or in any way stimulated the religion outlined in the Old Testament is not clear. What is certain is that the ancient Hebrews were not the only nor even the first people on record to adopt the notion of a single cosmic entity overseeing everything.

                                                                                                                                                                                          We know both little and much about Akhenaten—that is to say, we know enough to wish we knew much more—but at least the general contours of his biography are clear. Born Amunhotep (IV), Akhenaten ruled Egypt for a mere fourteen years (ca. 1352-1338 BCE), a relatively short reign by the standards of the day. While there is no record of his death nor have any material remains from his burial as yet come to light, it is safe to assume he died in middle age. The cause of his death is not known.

                                                                                                                                                                                          The unique and peculiar phase of Egyptian history he represents is known today as the Amarna Period—the modern Egyptian village of El-Amarna lies near the site that was once Akhenaten's capital city—although the Amarna Period extends beyond his reign, including not only Akhenaten's regency but several of his successors':

                                                                                                                                                                                          • Smenkhare (1338-1336 BCE), about whom next to nothing is known
                                                                                                                                                                                          • Tutankhuaten (later, Tutankhamun ["King Tut"], 1336-1327 BCE), whose current notoriety since the discovery of his tomb in the 1920's far outstrips the boy-king's renown in antiquity
                                                                                                                                                                                          • and finally the very elderly Ay (1327-1323 BCE).

                                                                                                                                                                                          By the time the next series of pharaohs held the throne—Horemheb (1323-1295 BCE) and the Ramessids, a dynasty that included the famous Ramses II—the site near Amarna had been abandoned and destroyed, along with the memory of Akhenaten's religion in the general conscience of the ancient Egyptian public. This deliberate attempt to eradicate all reference in the Egyptian record to the Amarna period was nearly successful, but not quite.

                                                                                                                                                                                          We do know about Akhenaten, in fact, probably quite a bit more than the ancient Egyptians who lived even just a few generations after the monotheist's rule. In spite of the fact that virtually no reference remains in later historical records to Akhenaten's existence, or that of his immediate successors'—it's hard to find even hints of his religion in subsequent Egyptian culture—archaeology has brought Amarna culture back to light with astounding clarity and depth. Just like Pompeii (see above, Section 1), because of its near-total obliteration more is now known about Akhenaten's regime than almost any other period during the New Kingdom of Egypt, a fact Ramses would, no doubt, not be very happy to learn.

                                                                                                                                                                                          To a large extent, our knowledge of Akhenaten's life and times begins in Akhetaten, the city he built for himself and his religion, not that the site is particularly well preserved. In fact, it's not. Later rulers antagonistic to Amarna culture, the social and religious institutions Akhenaten imposed on Egypt, intentionally destroyed Akhetaten along with the records of Akhenaten's reign. Ironically, however, that program of destruction saved the city and its founder's name for posterity, and for the most part its preservation depends on the fact that the city rose and fell very quickly. The reason for that stems from the enormous scope of change which Akhenaten attempted—a dramatic shift in religious, political and social traditions—and that meant he had to have an entirely new, fully functioning capital from which he could run the country without the weight of tradition bearing down on him and holding him back. Revolutions often have to "seize the day" and proceed quickly or else they don't get off the ground at all.

                                                                                                                                                                                          In order to build Akhenaten's city and shrines at such breakneck speed, relatively small blocks were used, stones which are now called talatat—it's easier and faster to raise a structure by using many small pieces rather than fewer large ones—and, to date, more than 45,000 talatat from Akhenaten's buildings have come to light. Indeed, so many have been recovered that today talatat can be found in museums around the world and are a regular item sold on the black market. But small-sized blocks are also easy to deconstruct. One of the reasons the Great Pyramid still stands is the enormous size of the individual stones used to build it, and in part because of that it couldn't be rapidly demolished the way Amarna culture was. It's often the case that what goes up fast comes down the same way.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Other factors played a role in the ready destruction—and preservation!—of Akhenaten's city and religion. The demolitionists who sought to obliterate any memory of Akhenaten by eradicating all traces of Amarna culture used his talatat, as fill in their own construction projects. But by hiding the talatat within the body of other buildings, they inadvertently protected and preserved them for modern archaeologists to find. Because of that, much of Akhenaten's architecture and artwork can be reconstructed. So it also works the other way around: what goes down easily comes back up the same way, too.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Akhetaten, this new hub of Aten worship, was situated along the eastern shore of the Nile in a spot which had never before been settled. That was, no doubt, part of its charm to Akhenaten—it lent the site a sense of austerity and religious purity, the very sort of newness he sought in his own regime—and unlike even the remotest Egyptian village, this locale had not as yet been connected with any cult or deity. Theologically, it was a "clean slate," so to speak. Before Akhenaten's arrival, the place had no name even, allowing the king to dub it as he liked, and the name he chose, Akhetaten, means in Egyptian "the Horizon of the Sun-disk."

                                                                                                                                                                                          And there's a good reason people had never attempted to settle this area before. Its location is near the desert, a place where it's virtually impossible to feed and house a self-sustaining populace of any real size—certainly not one large enough to govern a nation like ancient Egypt—so, maintaining the army of bureaucrats and office-workers needed to run Akhenaten's realm depended on the collection of taxes and importation of food stuffs, an expensive and labor-intensive investment of resources. But Akhenaten didn't have to worry about that. He was the pharaoh, both god and king, and as long as he lived, his will was law. If he wanted to build a castle in the sand, city hall followed.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Nor is it hard to understand why he should want a city like this, if one looks at things from his perspective. To start with, desolate locations like el-Amarna have a long history of attracting religious sectarians of Akhenaten's sort—environments like that certainly appealed to the desert fathers of early Christianity and various groups of American pioneers—all of whom have also felt at home in places distant from traditional communities and accepted practices of government and worship. Furthermore, from Akhenaten's viewpoint, Akhetaten was not without certain charms. Lodged in a recess in the highlands flanking the Nile, the site provides spectacular dawns, and indeed, at certain times of year the sun appears to rise from a yoke in the mountains which embodies beautifully the solar iconography seen in much of the artwork created during the Amarna period. All in all, it's not hard to imagine the morning Akhenaten awoke on his royal barge as he was sailing down the Nile, looking for a place to build a new city, and saw this sight, a site so suited to his solitary nature and obsession with the sun.

                                                                                                                                                                                          B. Akhenaten's Early Reign (1352-1348 BCE)

                                                                                                                                                                                          How that obsession developed and, in general, the path which led to this point in his career are not difficult to reconstruct, either. Although the earliest stages of Akhenaten's life reveal few overt signs of the religious revolution on the horizon, there are several significant hints as to the radical changes about to sunburn Egypt. Even if the clarity of hindsight sometimes makes things look predictable when they're not, these omens are truly telling.

                                                                                                                                                                                          The second son of Amunhotep III, Akhenaten was still called Amunhotep when he succeeded his father to the throne in 1352 BCE. By all appearances, it was a smooth transition of power and, even though he had not always been the heir apparent—his older brother had been groomed for the kingship but had died several years earlier—the young Akhenaten was not unprepared to wield the crook-and-flail because, to judge from his last portraits, his father suffered a lingering malady of some sort which slowly killed him, so it would make sense that, as his health declined, he handed at least some of the reins of government to his chosen successor, even if one chosen largely by default. None of that, however, would have helped Akhenaten feel part of or indebted to the traditional structures of Egyptian government and religion in the day.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Almost as soon as Akhenaten became the sole ruler of Egypt, he began to alter the traditional presentation of the pharaoh and the ways state business was conducted. For instance, he took on a new title, "Prophet of Ra-Horakhte" ("Ra of the Horizon")—note no Amun, the god of mysteries and hidden truth whose name appears in so many Egyptian appellations, e.g. Amunhotep and Tutankhamun—"Prophet of Ra-Horakhte" hints at a certain degree of dissatisfaction with conventional religion, especially since by Akhenaten's day Amun had long been seen as the central deity in the extensive pantheon of Egyptian gods whose center of worship was Thebes, the capital city of Egypt. But soon a new day would dawn and Akhenaten would change all that.

                                                                                                                                                                                          C. The Middle and End of Akhenaten's Reign (1348-1338 BCE)

                                                                                                                                                                                          Just two or three years into his reign, there is clear evidence that a major shift in Egyptian religion has begun. By now the pharaoh had moved the court and capital away from Thebes to Akhetaten and had adopted a new title, the name we know him by, Akhenaten which means in Egyptian "he is agreeable (Akhen-) to the sun-disk (-aten)." To have effectively removed Amun from his name seems like an all-but-open declaration of warfare against the dominant religious authority in the day, the Amun priesthood based in Thebes. And as if that weren't enough, archaeological evidence shows that around this time Akhenaten began closing down Amun temples across Egypt and even had the name Amun erased from some inscriptions. Later, he went so far as to order the word "gods" removed and changed to "god," wherever it occurred in public inscriptions. Whether or not this is monotheism by theological standards, it's certainly grammatical monotheism.

                                                                                                                                                                                          But what was Akhenaten's beef with Amun? Why did he dislike this god so intensely? Scholars have suggested it was because Amun as the god of secrets was too obscure a deity, too inaccessible to the public. Indeed, shrines to Amun are invariably situated in the middle of temple complexes, roofed and dark, where priests alone may enter and then only on special occasions. Perhaps Akhenaten wished to open up Egyptian religion to a wider clientele, not just the clergy, and so he constructed a capital which was the antithesis of Amun worship, exposed as much as possible to the full light of day, as the buildings of Akhetaten are: few roofed structures, little shade, and constant exposure to Akhenaten's true father as far as he was concerned, not Amunhotep III but the aten.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Indeed, a letter found among the remains of Akhetaten confirms exactly this. Writing to Akhenaten, the Assyrian king complains that the emissaries he sent to Egypt nearly died of sunstroke when they were attending some royal ceremony at the pharaoh's capital:

                                                                                                                                                                                          Why are my messengers kept in the open sun? They will die in the open sun. If it does the king good to stand in the open sun, then let the king stand there and die in the open sun.

                                                                                                                                                                                          The heat of the Egyptian midday is, in fact, torturous through much of the year, but standing in the sun and basking in its brilliance is also a natural extension of Akhenaten's religious revolution, something virtually all the art of Amarna culture demonstrates. And this is very different from the way Amun was worshiped, surely an advantage in Akhenaten's mind. It may even help to explain Akhenaten's premature death: skin cancer?

                                                                                                                                                                                          D. Art and Iconography in Akhenaten's Reign

                                                                                                                                                                                          The religious iconography of Akhenaten's new belief system centered around the aten as a divine presence. Representing the life-giving force of the universe, the sun-disk is often depicted in either abstract or personified form, occasionally both at the same time. Though it's most often pictured as a mere circle with rays of light radiating downward, the aten also appears sometimes with little hands appended onto the ends of its solar beams holding out to worshipers the ankh, the Egyptian sign of life. In a few instances, the hands are even shoving the ankh rather unceremoniously up the noses of the blessed, a figurative assertion, no doubt, that the sun offers the "breath of life." It would seem less comical today if this sacrament didn't look so much like an incontinent ear-swab.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Humorous as it may be to some of us, the significance of this symbol is nevertheless profound, indeed probably revolutionary to an Egyptian of the day. The sun-worship Akhenaten was promoting surely reminded many of Old Kingdom theology, by now a millennium old, and its false but pervasive reputation for tyranny (see above, Section 5). More than one Egyptian at the time, particularly those in the Amun priesthood, must have asked themselves, "Sun disks? 'Ra of the Horizon'? What's next? A pyramid?"

                                                                                                                                                                                          But Akhenaten's movement entailed features far stranger than anything which had happened in the Old Kingdom. In fact, it looked forward more than backwards in time, at least inasmuch as the new religion prefigured a very different conception of godhead. Though the aten is sometimes depicted as having human or animal attributes, their frequent absence stands in strong contrast to standard Egyptian practice. The goddess Isis, for instance, is often shown as part-woman, part-cow, and the face of her deceased husband Osiris is sometimes painted green to demonstrate that he represents the rebirth of vegetation in the spring. But unlike either of them, Akhenaten's aten is the font of all being, which means by nature he cannot be restricted in form, and thus is almost always presented as the aptly universal and geometric solar circle. The little hands attached to his sun-rays run counter to this perception of the god and are, no doubt, a reflection of convention and popular taste.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Even to say "he" of the aten is perhaps too restrictive for this universalist conception of deity—gender is clearly not relevant to sun-disks—and stranger yet, to say "he" of Akhenaten himself isn't always valid either. Male and female styles which are usually discrete in traditional Egyptian art blend together in peculiar fashion throughout Amarna culture, extending as far as royal portraiture. Akhenaten, for instance, is shown in a series of colossi (large statues singular, colossus) lacking male genitalia, and in general, his depiction is odd, to say the least. He's often portrayed as pot-bellied, slouching, thick-lipped, with a big chin and pointed head, which has led scholars to suppose he suffered from some sort of birth defect, resulting in eunuchoidism. But if so, how did he sire a family, for in art he appears with as many as six different daughters? And those are only the ones he had by his principal wife.

                                                                                                                                                                                          That raises another fascinating and enigmatic issue concerning Akhenaten's revolution, the centrality of his family in the public presentation of his regime. Not only do we have many depictions of the beautiful Nefertiti, Akhenaten's principal wife—more, in fact, than of Akhenaten himself!—but we can trace the royal daughters' births year by year, and sadly sometimes their deaths as well. Reliefs even show the royal couple playing with the girls. Like no pharaoh before or after him, Akhenaten was family-oriented.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Thus, it seems unlikely he was a eunuch, but instead the real father of the children he professes, at least through his art, to adore so fondly. But the gender-bending portraits of him seem ill-suited for such a family man, by modern standards at least. And Nefertiti's depictions are not immune to cross-gendering, either. She's shown at least once wearing the blue crown, the helmet kings don as they go into battle. She's the only Egyptian queen ever known to have been depicted that way, including Hatshepsut, the woman who ruled Egypt singlehandedly for two decades a century before (see Section 9). There's something very odd, by any standard, about the way the Amarna rulers chose to portray themselves.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Indeed, the entire family is depicted with elongated faces and skulls, wide hips and sagging bellies. The tall hat Nefertiti wears in her famous bust is probably covering—perhaps even accentuating—her pointed head beneath, even though surely she was not congenitally deformed, and as the mother of six daughters, certainly not barren. Nor were the girls, which is all the more evidence Akhenaten also was not. Naturalistic portraiture seems a less likely explanation of the oddities inherent in this family than some sort of stylized rendering. There's doubtless something abnormal about them, but what? And why? That the royal family was the only group ever portrayed this way is surely a clue.

                                                                                                                                                                                          To depict Akhenaten's entire immediate family—and only them—in such an unusual manner must signify something. Perhaps their different look is meant to highlight exactly that, the fact that they're different. Maybe the royal family is supposed to represent something alien, transcendental, not bound to human or earthly distinctions such as gender. It's easy to see why this would appeal to Akhenaten, nor is it hard to understand why Nefertiti might go along with being designated as super-special, and the children would, of course, have been too young to have a choice or even know the difference.

                                                                                                                                                                                          All this concurs well with Akhenaten's religion, where the pharaoh was said to serve as the conduit between humanity and the aten. In other words, it's through and because of him the sun-disk bestows life on the planet. In his own words, a hymn Akhenaten claims to have composed himself about the aten, "There is no other who knows you except your son, Akhenaten." That makes the pharaoh and his family some species of divine beings among humankind, earth-bound extraterrestrials on whose good will the benefits of the sun, and thus all life, depend. One way or another, before Akhenaten's day the Egyptians had always considered the sun a god and the royal family was for the most part seen as divine, but as the only divine presence in the universe? That, indeed, was something different.

                                                                                                                                                                                          The imagery of Amarna culture with all of its strangeness has attracted not only scholars but a wide range of iconoclasts, revolutionaries and weirdos of every ilk, who have latched onto this radiant, unworldly, rebel pharaoh and more often than not caught the reflection of their own oddity in his slouching, fat-lipped silhouette. The many answers posited to the riddle of Akhenaten are, in any case, less important than the few, frail realities clinging to his reign and the questions they leave at our feet. Among them, how did he sustain such a bizarre reordering of the celestial kingdom? For more than a decade, we must remember, Akhenaten kept his divine fantasies afloat even as he faced down the Amun priesthood, traditional cults in Egypt and a nation long nurtured on a pantheon of gods numbering by that day in the thousands. Before we can ask why any of this happened or what happened to it, we must first try to understand how it happened at all.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Akhenaten must have had some supporters, besides the usual lunatic fringe and sycophant wing who will follow any maniac into the wilderness. A hint about their identity comes in one of the Amarna reliefs in which Nefertiti holds up the decapitated head of a foreign captive. That suggests some sort of military activity during Akhenaten's reign, an event history bears no evidence of otherwise. But that's not surprising really, given later pharaohs' destruction of records from this day. Any boast of victory in foreign wars the monomaniacal monotheist might have issued isn't likely to have survived their holocaust. So, if Akhenaten did have the support of the Egyptian army—and there's no real evidence to the contrary—his revolution would make much more sense. Still, an army backing an effeminate, secluded, family-loving, pointy-headed sun freak seems highly improbable by the standards of today. Then again, how much can we rely on our modern sensibilities here where so little else seems logical?

                                                                                                                                                                                          Yet, strange times often make strange bedfellows. If both the pharaoh and the military were seeking the same thing—for instance, to undercut the power of the Amun priesthood which by then was siphoning off a hefty percentage of the taxes collected in Egypt—the aten and the army might have made common cause. Or so some scholars suggest. All the same, it must have been an interesting meeting between the slouching sun-lover and the hardened desert troopers who defended Egypt's frontier. How did they find enough in common even to have a conversation, much less foment a revolution together?


                                                                                                                                                                                          III. The Aftermath of Akhenaten's Reign

                                                                                                                                                                                          Akhenaten died sometime after the fourteenth year of his reign. Initially he was buried near Akhetaten, but later his tomb was desecrated and his body moved to Thebes and reburied in the Valley of the Kings, the traditional resting place for New Kingdom pharaohs. Some scholars believe a badly damaged male mummy found there is Akhenaten's. If so, it shows that he did in fact have an unusually elongated skull, but little else can be gleaned from this body, not even the cause of death.

                                                                                                                                                                                          What killed him? He was still in his thirties or forties, so it can't have been old age. Disease is always a possibility, and there is evidence that a plague struck Egypt around this time. The historical record, however, contains not a single hint of foul play in his death, all of which leaves us to guess its cause. Sunstroke? Mono-theistic-nucleosis? Aten-tion deficit disorder? Above all, what happened in downtown Akhetaten on that gloomy day when the reason the sun-disk shines on the earth, the pharaoh of light and life, departed this world, and the next morning the sun still rose? That must have been a disconcerting moment for the aten-faithful.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Archaeology has, however, made one thing very clear. Akhetaten was not abandoned immediately upon Akhenaten's death. Building continued, at least for a while. How the government continued is less clear. Akhenaten's successor, for instance, is all but a complete mystery. Named Smenkhare, which is close to all we know about him, this pharaoh appears suddenly in the historical record two years before Akhenaten's death. A late relief depicting Smenkhare with Akhenaten is about all there is to track this most cryptic of Egyptian pharaohs, along with a few documents showing that he married one of Akhenaten's daughters, surely an attempt to secure his claim to the throne after Akhenaten's death.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Curiously, Smenkhare's rise coincides almost exactly with another mysterious event, the all-but-complete disappearance of Nefertiti from the art of El-Amarna. Only once in the final two years of Akhenaten's reign is she shown, in a funerary tableau recording the death of one of her and Akhenaten's daughters. One theory is that Akhenaten sensing the approach of death—but how?—married his eldest daughter by Nefertiti to Smenkhare who was the son of a secondary wife. In fact, he had little choice but to do this because Nefertiti had never given him a son—six daughters but no male heir—and Egyptian tradition demanded some sort of "son of the pharaoh" succeed. Thus in the absence of a crown prince, the son of a secondary wife usually stepped in as successor.

                                                                                                                                                                                          But this is not the only explanation that's been offered. Another theory proposes—and in light of the unusual circumstances surrounding the aten-cult at Akhetaten, it's not nearly as unlikely as it might seem at first glance—that Smenkhare was Nefertiti! Knowing his death was imminent and seeing no clear and obvious heir on the horizon since he'd had no sons by Nefertiti and so there was no pointy-headed male to stem the family's aten-uation, Akhenaten created a "son" for himself out of the most obvious candidate there was, not a secondary son but his primary wife.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Family was, after all, of utmost importance in this new world order, and she had held the power of Egypt in her hands—had even worn the blue crown!—best of all, she was already one of the chosen, the long-necked beloved of the aten. So, like any social-climbing secondary son, Nefertiti "married" her own daughter and took the throne as a man, assuming as was traditional a new name, Smenkhare. That would help to explain why she disappears at the very moment Akhenaten's successor enters the picture.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Like many ingenious solutions—and this age does seem to attract them—it didn't work. For whatever reason, Nefertiti couldn't cut it as "king," not that there hadn't been woman kings in Egypt who had taken male guise before. Hatshepsut, for instance, had portrayed herself with masculine attributes in more than one work of art (see above, Section 9). She had maintained herself on the throne with the support of the army, but perhaps the army in this day was willing to back an effeminate male but not a masculinized woman as king. Or perhaps Nefertiti was simply more beautiful than savvy. Despite all their protestations of hope for world peace, beauty pageant winners rarely achieve that aim.

                                                                                                                                                                                          In any case, the elusive Smenkhare disappears two years into "his" reign. No tomb for Smenkhare has ever been located nor have any of his burial goods been found. There is simply no further mention of him at all in Egyptian history. Though it's pure speculation, it's hard to believe Smenkhare wasn't assassinated by someone. After all, he had so many enemies, probably far more than what few supporters he could muster. Perhaps emissaries of the Amun priesthood did him in, or spies sent from an army unwilling to be led by a woman—again!—or even by a disgusted daughter-husband in league with some would-be-pharaoh, an actual man who was not her mother. Or perhaps it was all of them in league together, and with this we are dangerously close to writing the first draft of Murder on the Orient Express.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Whatever the what-really-happened, Amarna culture left behind one of the most famous kings in history today—and one of the least famous kings in his own time—Tutankhamun, popularly known as "King Tut." Originally named Tutankh(u)aten (1336-1325 BCE), the boy-king succeeded Smenkhare to the throne. Fairly early in his reign, he was persuaded to change his name and, doing exactly the opposite of Akhenaten when he assumed power, took the aten out and put "Amun" in. With that alone, the resurgence of the Amun cult is all too apparent. At some point around this time, the royal court left Akhetaten and returned to Thebes, no doubt, into the warm embrace of the reigning priesthood much relieved to have their livelihood back on line. Their gratitude, in fact, would help explain the relative grandeur of Tutankhamun's burial.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Only nineteen years old when he died, Tutankhamun's failure to leave behind a male successor is hardly surprising and paved the way for a new dynasty and a world view far different from Akhenaten's. So, the Amarna Period ends with this boy-king, only to be reborn in the modern excavation of El-Amarna and Thebes, and especially in the American archaeologist Howard Carter's famous discovery in 1922 of Tutankhamun's tomb and its splendors. The magnificence of this hastily assembled burial is astounding, especially when one thinks what a real royal burial, like Ramses II's, must have entailed.

                                                                                                                                                                                          All in all,Tutankhamun's death and funeral is the epilogue of the Amarna Period in antiquity. There is little in the rest of ancient Egyptian history that recalls or even reflects this brilliant, odd moment in the evolution of its religion. Outside of Egypt, well, that's another matter.


                                                                                                                                                                                          IV. Conclusion: Akhenaten and Hebrew Monotheism

                                                                                                                                                                                          In today's world, the pre-eminent issue surrounding Akhenaten is whether or not his religion did—or even could have!—influenced the development of Hebrew monotheism, a theology which the historical data suggest evolved several centuries after Akhenaten's lifetime. The answer to that question depends on two main factors. How alike are Hebrew and Egyptian monotheism? And is there any way in which the Hebrews could realistically have had significant contact with atenism, enough to borrow elements from it or, if not, even just have been influenced by it?

                                                                                                                                                                                          To answer the first question, Hebrew monotheism differs in several significant ways from Akhenaten's religion. While the aten is an omnipotent, stand-alone divinity, it's also present specifically in the light of the sun-disk and the pharaoh's family, so its divinity is limited in a way the Hebrew deity's is not. The God of Israel acts through all sorts of different media: angels, rainbows, floodwaters and, as biblical Egyptians ought to know perfectly well, frogs. Nor was there any real attempt by Egyptian monotheists to extend the aten's power beyond Egypt, the way God's power is seen by later Hebrew prophets to embrace all creation. So, while Akhenaten claims the aten is universal, he speaks of it more like it's a pharaoh at the center of some cosmic court full of fawning, powerless minions—that is, it looks like him.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Still, both cultures share the central notion, if not the details, of monotheism. Could the Hebrews have picked that up from the Egyptians somehow? Any such idea
                                                                                                                                                                                          presumes, of course, that Hebrews existed in some form during Akhenaten's reign—later pharaohs' eradication of all records pertaining to Akhenaten's religion and regime makes later cultural borrowing highly unlikely—and many scholars would say flatly there weren't any Hebrews at all during that time, at least not Hebrews as such. Israel was definitely not an organized nation in the fourteenth century BCE, but then theological notions do not require a political state for their existence. Wandering patriarchs, as attested in the Bible during this age, could easily have borrowed the concept of monotheism from Egypt. But there's no evidence Egyptian monotheism spread beyond the borders of its native land, so if Hebrews borrowed this idea from Amarna culture, they would have to have been living in Egypt around the time of Akhenaten's reign. That, too, seems unlikely, except that biblical sources say they were.

                                                                                                                                                                                          In the so-called Egyptian Captivity which the Bible claims lasted several centuries, Hebrews did, in fact, live in Egypt, enslaved by powerful New Kingdom pharaohs until the Exodus when Moses led them to freedom in the Holy Lands. If that really happened, they must have been in Egypt when Akhenaten had his brief day in the blazing sun. But because the great majority of scholars today downplay the historicity of the Exodus—there is certainly no corroborating evidence massive numbers of Hebrews fled Egypt at any point in ancient history—again this seems unlikely. Still, it doesn't take huge crowds of Hebrews in Egypt to introduce the idea of monotheism into Israelite thinking. All you need is one average Joe, or Joseph.

                                                                                                                                                                                          So, it's possible to weave together from the historical data a scenario in which the idea of monotheism threaded its way somehow out of Egyptian theology and into Israelite culture. But when one looks closely, it's not a very tightly woven tapestry, especially in light of where the Bible says the Hebrews were in Egypt. The city of Goshen in which scripture claims they lived as captives is probably synonymous with an Egyptian settlement in the Nile delta called Pi-Ramesse ("the City of Ramses"). If so, it's many miles from Akhetaten, and there's very little evidence to be found in Egyptian art or history that Akhenaten's revolutionary theology filtered that far north. Nor is it likely it would have fared well in this part of Egypt, a stronghold of Ramses' family. The Ramessids were staunchly opposed to atenistic thinking and later attempted to eradicate all traces it had ever existed. So, how is it even possible Ramses' construction slaves heard about a far-off, out-of-date religious tradition strongly proscribed by their tyrannical overseers?

                                                                                                                                                                                          With that, the evidence seems to weigh heavily against the argument that the Hebrews came into contact with the aten and from that caught the monotheism bug, or even heard about the belief in only one god. With no obvious channels of communication on either side, it's improbable Akhenaten's revolution could in any way have influenced or even been the inspiration for Hebrew one-god thinking. Think about how many of the world's great inventions have cropped up independently in different places. Writing and literature, for instance, arose in both the West and the East with no apparent connection between them, as did agriculture, drama and ship-building.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Thus, proximity in time or space alone is merely circumstantial evidence and doesn't constitute a compelling case from any Amarna-Israelite connection. It's perfectly possible some ancient Hebrew came up with the idea of monotheism all on his own. After all, all he had to say was "Hmmm, I wonder if there's just one god?" Even in a world predicated on polytheistic traditions, how hard is that?

                                                                                                                                                                                          And then you open the Bible to Psalm 104, the great manifesto of God's all-encompassing power, and read how He created grass for cattle to eat, and trees for birds to nest in, and the sea for ships to sail and fish to swim in:

                                                                                                                                                                                          Bless the Lord . . . you who coverest thyself with light as with a garment . . .
                                                                                                                                                                                          Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters . . .
                                                                                                                                                                                          He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and . . . the trees
                                                                                                                                                                                          Where the birds make their nests as for the stork, the fir trees are her house.
                                                                                                                                                                                          The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats . . .
                                                                                                                                                                                          (As) the sun ariseth, (the beasts) gather themselves together . . .
                                                                                                                                                                                          There go the ships: there is that leviathan (whale), whom thou hast made to play therein.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Among the remains of Amarna culture was found a Hymn to the Aten, purportedly written by Akhenaten himself. It reads:

                                                                                                                                                                                          When the land grows bright and you are risen from the Akhet (horizon) and shining in the sun-disk by day, . . .
                                                                                                                                                                                          All flocks (are) at rest on their grasses, trees and grasses flourishing
                                                                                                                                                                                          Birds flown from their nest, their wings in adoration of your life-force
                                                                                                                                                                                          All flocks prancing on foot, all that fly and alight living as you rise for them
                                                                                                                                                                                          Ships going downstream and upstream too, every road open at your appearance
                                                                                                                                                                                          Fish on the river leaping to your face, your rays even inside the sea. (trans. James P. Allen)

                                                                                                                                                                                          The similarity is fairly astounding. Comparing these passages, who could argue against some form of cultural exchange moving from Egypt to Israel—and, given the chronology, one must suppose the sharing took place in that direction—how can we avoid the conclusion that the ancient Hebrew who wrote Psalm 104 has somehow borrowed from Akhenaten's Hymn to the Aten?

                                                                                                                                                                                          With that, the realization begins to dawn that answers to the great question about the origins of Hebrew monotheism are not going to come swiftly or easily. How did a Hebrew psalmist's eyes—or ears?—ever pass near a banned Egyptian hymn? While the psalm is hardly a verbatim copy of its Amarna model, the likeness of these songs, especially in their imagery and the order in which the images come, argues forcefully for some sort of Egypt-to-Palestine contact, however indirect.

                                                                                                                                                                                          And if there is contact there, why not elsewhere? But if we imagine an invisible turnpike of some sort running between Akhetaten and ancient Jerusalem, what are we really creating: a history or a novel? And by doing so, are we not at risk of saying more about ourselves than the odd, beguiling world Akhenaten built, whose slanted light still shines from beneath sand and stone and scripture? Historiai, you'll remember, means "questions," and that is exactly what the history of Akhenaten leaves behind.


                                                                                                                                                                                          Iorwerth Eiddon Stephen Edwards CBE, FBA— known as I. E. S. Edwards— was an English Egyptologist considered to be a leading expert on the pyramids.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Edwards attended Merchant Taylors&apos School where he studied Hebrew and later at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge Cambridge University, gaining a &aposFirst&apos in Oriental Languages. He was awarded the William Wright studentship in Arabic and received his Iorwerth Eiddon Stephen Edwards CBE, FBA— known as I. E. S. Edwards— was an English Egyptologist considered to be a leading expert on the pyramids.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Edwards attended Merchant Taylors' School where he studied Hebrew and later at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge Cambridge University, gaining a 'First' in Oriental Languages. He was awarded the William Wright studentship in Arabic and received his doctorate in 1933.

                                                                                                                                                                                          In 1934 he joined the British Museum as Assistant Keeper in the Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities. He published Hieroglyphic Texts for Egyptian Stellae. in 1939. During World War II he was sent to Egypt on military duty. In 1946 he wrote The Pyramids of Egypt, which was published by Pelican Books in 1947. In 1955 he was appointed the Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum and organized the Tutankhamun exhibition in 1972. He remained there until his retirement in 1974.

                                                                                                                                                                                          On leaving the British Museum he worked with UNESCO during the rescue of the temple complex at Philae. He was also Vice-President of the Egypt Exploration Society, a Fellow of the British Academy (1962) and was awarded the CBE in 1968 for his services to the British Museum. . more


                                                                                                                                                                                          Akhenaten and Nefertiti

                                                                                                                                                                                          Akhenaten and Nefertiti is a catalogue of an exhibition on the Amarna period in Ancient Egypt. Unlike the Pharaohs of the Sun exhibit and catalogue, Akhenaten and Nefertiti is focused squarely on the reign of Akhenaten, as you might have picked up from the title.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Aldred has produced an excellent resource on the Amarna art. Apart from a historical outline, the prefatory essays are all focused around this subject, looking at how the early and later art phases developed, the monuments, and the i Akhenaten and Nefertiti is a catalogue of an exhibition on the Amarna period in Ancient Egypt. Unlike the Pharaohs of the Sun exhibit and catalogue, Akhenaten and Nefertiti is focused squarely on the reign of Akhenaten, as you might have picked up from the title.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Aldred has produced an excellent resource on the Amarna art. Apart from a historical outline, the prefatory essays are all focused around this subject, looking at how the early and later art phases developed, the monuments, and the iconography and character of the Amarna art style. Each item within the catalogue is given a short, but detailed commentary, which includes a description of what is represented and how it looks like (material, size, condition).

                                                                                                                                                                                          Yet, I'm hesitant to give this a five star rating, and this is because of the presentation. A fair number of pages in the catalogue look cramped and even a bit untidy.

                                                                                                                                                                                          The plates are another niggle of mine. All 175 items in the catalogue and a further 55 supplementary illustrations are in black and white. There is an insert of 8 colour plates and Aldred does describe the colour of object, but it's not always easy to visualise what an item looks like in reality. I do understand that there were probably printing/budget constraints, but I can't help but want more colour plates. I also feel like the use of colour plates would help in the presentation and make Akhenaten and Nefertiti even more useful as a resource.

                                                                                                                                                                                          My final issue is that it is the book is dated. For example, Aldred's commentary on the "Co-Regency Stela" is now considered out of date, and it's not the only item description that would need updating. Probably the most obvious sign of the age of the book is that it appears to be written prior to the discovery of Kiya.

                                                                                                                                                                                          All up, Akhenaten and Nefertiti is a valuable visual reference for the reign of Akhenaten and an useful resource on Amarna art. However, readers will have to be careful with taking Aldred's information at face value, and there is definitely room for improvement in the book's presentation. . more


                                                                                                                                                                                          Watch the video: Egypt 24 The Amarna Revolution (June 2022).


Comments:

  1. Conlan

    As a specialist, I can help. I specifically registered to participate in the discussion.

  2. Airleas

    the site in the opera is shown a little incorrectly, but everything is super! Thanks for the clever thoughts!

  3. Nathanael

    Strongly disagree

  4. Mikazil

    As they say .. Do not give not take, transcript!



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