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Statue of Akhenaten's Daughter

Statue of Akhenaten's Daughter

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Head of a princess.

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Meritaten was the first of six daughters born to Pharaoh Akhenaten and his Great Royal Wife, Nefertiti. Her sisters are Meketaten, Ankhesenpaaten, Neferneferuaten Tasherit, Neferneferure, and Setepenre. [3] Meritaten is mentioned in diplomatic letters, by the name Mayati. [2] She is mentioned in a letter from Abimilki of Tyre. The reference usually is thought to date to the period when Meritaten's position at court became more important, during the latter part of the reign of Akhenaten. It is possible, however, that the letter refers to the birth of Meritaten. [4]

Inscriptions mention a young princess named Meritaten Tasherit, who may be the daughter of Meritaten and Smenkhare. [2] [5] Inscriptions from Ashmunein suggest that Meritaten-tasherit is the daughter of Meritaten. The scene dates to the reign of Akhenaten, and this means the father of the young princess could be Akhenaten. If so, this means Akhenaten took his own daughters as wives. Another princess named Ankhesenpaaten Tasherit had been suggested as an additional daughter of Meritaten, but it is more likely that she is a daughter of Ankhesenpaaten. [4]

Early years in Thebes Edit

Meritaten most likely was born in Thebes, early in her father's marriage to Nefertiti, perhaps before he assumed the throne, as she is shown officiating during year five of his reign. The royal family first lived in Thebes and the royal palace may have been part of the Temple Complex of Akhenaten at Karnak. The exact use of the buildings in Karnak is not known, but the scenes decorating the Teni-menu suggest it may have served as a residence. [4] Meritaten is depicted beside her mother Nefertiti in reliefs carved into the Hut-Benben. [5] The Hut-Benben was a structure associated with Nefertiti, who is the main officiant in the scenes, the great royal wife being the highest priestess. Meritaten appears behind her mother shaking a sistrum. Her younger sisters Meketaten and Ankhesenpaaten also appear in some of the scenes, but not so often as Meritaten. [4]

Amarna princess Edit

In year five of her father Akhenaten's reign, Meritaten appears on the boundary stelae designating the boundaries of the new capital to which her father moved the royal family and his administrators. [2] [5] During Akhenaten's reign, she was the most frequently depicted and mentioned of the six daughters. Her figure appears on paintings in temples, tombs, and private chapels. Not only is she shown among images showing the family life of the pharaoh, which were typical of the Amarna Period, but on those depicting official ceremonies, as well. [2]

The two structures most associated with Meritaten at Amarna are the Northern Palace and the Maru-Aten. The Maru-Aten was located to the south of the city limits of Amarna. The structure consisted of two enclosures containing pools or lakes and pavilions set in an area planted with trees. An artificial island contained a pillared construction that held a painted pavement showing scenes from nature. [6]

Meritaten's name seems to replace that of another royal lady in several places, among them in the Northern Palace and in the Maru-Aten. This had been misinterpreted as evidence of Nefertiti's disgrace and banishment from the royal court but, more recently, the erased inscriptions turned out to be the name of Kiya, one of Akhenaten's secondary wives, disproving that interpretation. [2]

Great Royal Wife Edit

At some point, Meritaten married Smenkhare and became his Great Royal Wife. She is depicted with him in the tomb of Meryre II, bestowing honors and gifts upon Meryre. [7] The chronology of the final years of the Amarna Period is unclear, however Smenkhare is believed to have served as a co-regent to Akhenaten. Meritaten was the Great Royal Wife to Smenkhare, while Nefertiti continued as the Great Royal Wife of Akhenaten. [5] Nefertiti still held the Great Royal Wife title in year 16, hence Smenkhare must have been a co-regent at that time, or otherwise ruled with his wife Meritaten sometime after year 16 of Akhenaten. [8]

Meritaten is mentioned on gold daisies that decorated a garment found in Tutankhamen's tomb. She also is mentioned on a wooden box meant to contain linen garments. The box mentions two kings: Neferkheperure-Waenre (Akhenaten) and Ankhkheperure-mr-waenre, Neferneferuaten-mr-waenre and the Great Royal Wife Meritaten. [7]

According to some scholars, such as J.P. Allen, Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare ruled together with Meritaten, but in the year following Akhenaten's death, Smenkhkare died. The theory is, that Meritaten was the 'king's daughter' Akenkeres who is recorded in Manetho's Epitome to have assumed the throne next, in her own right as king and bearing the name Neferneferuaten. [9] Neferneferuaten is assigned a reign of two years and one month and is placed in Manetho's account as the immediate predecessor of the king, Rathothis, who is believed to be Tutankhamun, her half-brother by another, unnamed wife of Akhenaten.

Archaeologist Alaine Zivie asserts that Meritaten also became a foster mother to Tutankhamun, referred to as Maia in some ancient records. Zivie noted that Thutmose, the sculptor appointed vizier by Akhenaten and who was found to be the creator of the famous bust of Nefertiti also created one of Maïa (Bubasteion I.20), the foster mother of Tutankhamun and who, in fact, was "Merytaten, the elder daughter of Akhenaten", "who sat briefly on the throne". [10]

The texts of its boundary stele mention that Meritaten was meant to be buried at Akhet-Aten (modern Amarna). [5]

Let a tomb be made for me in the eastern mountain of Akhetaten. Let my burial be made in it, in the millions of jubilees which the Aten, my father, has decreed for me. Let the burial of the Great King's Wife, Nefertiti, be made in it, in the millions of years which the Aten, my father, decreed for her. Let the burial of the King's Daughter, Meritaten, [be made] in it, in these millions of years. [11]

The royal tomb in Amarna was used for the burial of Meketaten, Tiye, and Akhenaten, and likely was closed after the death and burial of Akhenaten. After that, Meritaten's burial may have been planned for one of the other royal tombs in Amarna.


Akhenaten ruled for 17 years and is famous for abandoning traditional Egyptian polytheism and introducing worship centered on the Aten.

Akhenaten tried to shift his culture from Egypt’s traditional religion, but the shifts were not widely accepted.

After his death, his monuments were dismantled and hidden, his statues were destroyed, and his name excluded from the king lists, and traditional religious practice was gradually restored.

Later rulers without direct of succession from the 18th Dynasty and who wanted to found a new dynasty, discredited Akhenaten and his immediate successors, referring to Akhenaten himself as “the enemy” or “that criminal” in the records.

Thus Akhenaten was all but lost from history. That is until the discovery during the 19th century, of the site of the city. The city he built and designed for the worship of Aten at Amarna.

Modern interest in Akhenaten and his queen Nefertiti comes partly from his connection with Tutankhamun, and from the unique style of the arts he patronized, and partly from ongoing interest in the religion, he attempted to establish.


The bas-relief, or carved panel, in limestone shows two sisters embracing. They are princesses from the family of Akhenaten, the 18th pharaonic dynasty in ancient Egypt, dated to 1349–1336 BCE. This artistic style belongs to the Amarna period, which is unusual because of the affection and intimate portrayal of the sisters. Unlike the more formalistic or highly symbolic style of portraying royalty typical of other periods, this image shows the older and younger daughter of the king in close contact, touching each other tenderly. Depiction of the girls in an informal pose and the older girl's torso facing the viewer are other unusual features. The older sister has her arm draped around her younger sister's shoulder, while the little girl holds her sister's elbow and looks up at her.

Associate Curator Diana Craig Patch notes that the stone block on which the relief was carved is another feature of Akhenaten's reign. His new emphasis on Aten as the chief deity led Akhenaten to build temples at a rapid pace to honor the god. He ordered architects to use smaller blocks than those found in most Egyptian monuments, because they could be carried by one person alone, speeding up the building process. This limestone block is approximately 8 3/4 in. (21.2 cm) high and 11 1/2 in. (29.2 cm) wide. Akenaten's successors, in an effort to erase his innovations, demolished the temples and used the blocks for other projects. This carving was used as fill at another temple site near Amarna, and was recovered by archaeologists in the 20th century.

Two Daughters of Akhenaten, Bas-relief, Amarna period.


"Two Princesses [Egyptian] (1985.328.6)". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (October 2008) (Accessed January 6, 2010). Annotated by Susan Douglass.

The Pharaoh Erased From History

When archaeologists found this bust in the sands of North Africa in the 19th century, nobody knew who this guy was. Well, it is Pharaoh Akhenaten, and almost all evidence of him, his wife Nefertiti and the monotheistic religion they introduced to Ancient Egypt was deliberately erased from history.

Around 1350 BC, Pharaoh Amenhotep IV decided that all the gods of Ancient Egypt were a lie, except for one: the sun God Aten. He build a new capital for him in the desert 200 miles south of Cairo, and changed his name to Pharaoh Akhenaten (“Of great use to Aten”).

Presumably it was the earliest recorded instance of monotheism. Nobody knew about it, until the excavation of his lost city began. Incredible inscriptions and statues have been unearthed there, including these busts of Akhenaten himself .

the famous bust of Nefertiti .

. and this house altarpiece, which shows Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti with their three eldest daughters under the sun disc Aten. His rule must have been strong, his fame widespread and his power seemingly unquestioned. And yet just fifty years after his death, his name had been deleted from the royal lists, his buildings razed .

The Moses Connection to Scota

The story of Scota begins with a Greek king by the name of Gaythelos. In one version of the story which involves Ireland, Gaythelos is known as Gaodhal Glas (the word ‘Gael’ is said to be derived from his name), and was originally from the region of Scythia. It is also said that Gaodhal Glas lived during the time of Moses, andthe latter is said to have cured the former when he was bitten by a serpent.

Gaodhal Glas was also promised by Moses that no serpent or other poisonous creature will inhabit the western island that his posterity would inhabit one day. One of Gaodhal Glas’ grandsons, Niul, was invited into Egypt as an instructor by a pharaoh, and eventually married one of his daughters, Scota (Both ‘Scotland’ and the Roman name for Ireland, ‘Scotia’, are said to be derived from her name).Niul and Scota’s people were later driven from Egypt by a later pharaoh, and wandered around the Mediterranean until they reached Spain.

During the rule of Miled / Milesius (whose wife was incidentally also a pharaoh’s daughter by the name of Scota), these people heard about Ireland, and believed it to be the island foresaw by Moses. Although Miled died in Spain, his wife and children eventually reached and settled in Ireland.


The future Akhenaten was born Amenhotep, a younger son of pharaoh Amenhotep III and his principal wife Tiye. Akhenaten had an elder brother, Crown prince Thutmose, who was recognized as Amenhotep III's heir. Akhenaten also had four or five sisters: Sitamun, Henuttaneb, Iset, Nebetah, and possibly Beketaten. [27] Thutmose's early death, perhaps around Amenhotep III's thirtieth regnal year, meant that Akhenaten was next in line for Egypt's throne. [28]

Akhenaten was married to Nefertiti, his Great Royal Wife. The exact timing of their marriage is unknown, but inscriptions from the pharaoh's building projects suggest that they married either shortly before or after Akhenaten took the throne. [11] For example, Egyptologist Dimitri Laboury suggests that the marriage took place in Akhenaten's fourth regnal year. [29] A secondary wife of Akhenaten named Kiya is also known from inscriptions. Some Egyptologists theorize that she gained her importance as the mother of Tutankhamun. [30] William Murnane proposes that Kiya is the colloquial name of the Mitanni princess Tadukhipa, daughter of the Mitanni king Tushratta who had married Amenhotep III before becoming the wife of Akhenaten. [31] [32] Akhenaten's other attested consorts are the daughter of the Enišasi ruler Šatiya and another daughter of the Babylonian king Burna-Buriash II. [33]

Akhenaten could have had seven or eight children based on inscriptions. Egyptologists are fairly certain about his six daughters, who are well attested in contemporary depictions. [34] Among his six daughters, Meritaten was born in regnal year one or five Meketaten in year four or six Ankhesenpaaten, later queen of Tutankhamun, before year five or eight Neferneferuaten Tasherit in year eight or nine Neferneferure in year nine or ten and Setepenre in year ten or eleven. [35] [36] [37] [38] Tutankhamun, born Tutankhaten, was most likely Akhenaten's son, with Nefertiti or another wife. [39] [40] There is less certainty around Akhenaten's relationship with Smenkhkare, Akhenaten's coregent or successor [41] and husband to his daughter Meritaten he could have been Akhenaten's eldest son with an unknown wife or Akhenaten's younger brother. [42] [43]

Some historians, such as Edward Wente and James Allen, have proposed that Akhenaten took some of his daughters as wives or sexual consorts to father a male heir. [44] [45] While this is debated, some historical parallels exist: Akhenaten's father Amenhotep III married his daughter Sitamun, while Ramesses II married two or more of his daughters, even though their marriages might simply have been ceremonial. [46] [47] In Akhenaten's case, his oldest daughter Meritaten is recorded as Great Royal Wife to Smenkhkare but is also listed on a box from Tutankhamun's tomb alongside pharaohs Akhenaten and Neferneferuaten as Great Royal Wife. Additionally, letters written to Akhenaten from foreign rulers make reference to Meritaten as "mistress of the house." Egyptologists in the early 20th century also believed that Akhenaten could have fathered a child with his second oldest daughter Meketaten. Meketaten's death, at perhaps age ten to twelve, is recorded in the royal tombs at Akhetaten from around regnal years thirteen or fourteen. Early Egyptologists attribute her death to childbirth, because of the depiction of an infant in her tomb. Because no husband is known for Meketaten, the assumption had been that Akhenaten was the father. Aidan Dodson believes this to be unlikely, as no Egyptian tomb has been found that mentions or alludes to the cause of death of the tomb owner. Further, Jacobus van Dijk proposes that the child is a portrayal of Meketaten's soul. [48] Finally, various monuments, originally for Kiya, were reinscribed for Akhenaten's daughters Meritaten and Ankhesenpaaten. The revised inscriptions list a Meritaten-tasherit ("junior") and an Ankhesenpaaten-tasherit. According to some, this indicates that Akhenaten fathered his own grandchildren. Others hold that, since these grandchildren are not attested to elsewhere, they are fictions invented to fill the space originally portraying Kiya's child. [44] [49]

Egyptologists know very little about Akhenaten's life as prince Amenhotep. Donald B. Redford dates his birth before his father Amenhotep III's 25th regnal year, c. 1363–1361 BC , based on the birth of Akhenaten's first daughter, who was likely born fairly early in his own reign. [4] [50] The only mention of his name, as "the King's Son Amenhotep," was found on a wine docket at Amenhotep III's Malkata palace, where some historians suggested Akhenaten was born. Others contend that he was born at Memphis, where growing up he was influenced by the worship of the sun god Ra practiced at nearby Heliopolis. [51] Redford and James K. Hoffmeier state, however, that Ra's cult was so widespread and established throughout Egypt that Akhenaten could have been influenced by solar worship even if he did not grow up around Heliopolis. [52] [53]

Some historians have tried to determine who was Akhenaten's tutor during his youth, and have proposed scribes Heqareshu or Meryre II, the royal tutor Amenemotep, or the vizier Aperel. [54] The only person we know for certain served the prince was Parennefer, whose tomb mentions this fact. [55]

Egyptologist Cyril Aldred suggests that prince Amenhotep might have been a High Priest of Ptah in Memphis, although no evidence supporting this had been found. [56] It is known that Amenhotep's brother, crown prince Thutmose, served in this role before he died. If Amenhotep inherited all his brother's roles in preparation for his accession to the throne, he might have become a high priest in Thutmose's stead. Aldred proposes that Akhenaten's unusual artistic inclinations might have been formed during his time serving Ptah, the patron god of craftsmen, whose high priest were sometimes referred to as "The Greatest of the Directors of Craftsmanship." [57]

Coregency with Amenhotep III Edit

There is much controversy around whether Amenhotep IV acceded to Egypt's throne on the death of his father Amenhotep III or whether there was a coregency, lasting perhaps as long as 12 years. Eric Cline, Nicholas Reeves, Peter Dorman, and other scholars argue strongly against the establishment of a long coregency between the two rulers and in favor of either no coregency or one lasting at most two years. [58] Donald B. Redford, William J. Murnane, Alan Gardiner, and Lawrence Berman contest the view of any coregency whatsoever between Akhenaten and his father. [59] [60]

Most recently, in 2014, archaeologists found both pharaohs' names inscribed on the wall of the Luxor tomb of vizier Amenhotep-Huy. The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities called this "conclusive evidence" that Akhenaten shared power with his father for at least eight years, based on the dating of the tomb. [61] However, this conclusion has since been called into question by other Egyptologists, according to whom the inscription only means that construction on Amenhotep-Huy's tomb started during Amenhotep III's reign and ended under Akhenaten's, and Amenhotep-Huy thus simply wanted to pay his respects to both rulers. [62]

Early reign as Amenhotep IV Edit

Akhenaten took Egypt's throne as Amenhotep IV, most likely in 1353 [63] or 1351 BC. [4] It is unknown how old Amenhotep IV was when he did this estimates range from 10 to 23. [64] He was most likely crowned in Thebes, or less likely at Memphis or Armant. [64]

The beginning of Amenhotep IV's reign followed established pharaonic traditions. He did not immediately start redirecting worship toward the Aten and distancing himself from other gods. Egyptologist Donald B. Redford believes this implied that Amenhotep IV's eventual religious policies were not conceived of before his reign, and he did not follow a pre-established plan or program. Redford points to three pieces of evidence to support this. First, surviving inscriptions show Amenhotep IV worshipping several different gods, including Atum, Osiris, Anubis, Nekhbet, Hathor, [65] and the Eye of Ra, and texts from this era refer to "the gods" and "every god and every goddess." The High Priest of Amun was also still active in the fourth year of Amenhotep IV's reign. [66] Second, even though he later moved his capital from Thebes to Akhetaten, his initial royal titulary honored Thebes – his nomen was "Amenhotep, god-ruler of Thebes" – and recognizing its importance, he called the city "Southern Heliopolis, the first great (seat) of Re (or) the Disc." Third, Amenhotep IV did not yet destroy temples to the other gods and he even continued his father's construction projects at Karnak's Precinct of Amun-Re. [67] He decorated the walls of the precinct's Third Pylon with images of himself worshipping Ra-Horakhty, portrayed in the god's traditional form of a falcon-headed man. [68]

Artistic depictions continued unchanged early in Amenhotep IV's reign. Tombs built or completed in the first few years after he took the throne, such as those of Kheruef, Ramose, and Parennefer, show the pharaoh in the traditional artistic style. [69] In Ramose's tomb, Amenhotep IV appears on the west wall, seated on a throne, with Ramose appearing before the pharaoh. On the other side of the doorway, Amenhotep IV and Nefertiti are shown in the window of appearances, with the Aten depicted as the sun disc. In Parennefer's tomb, Amenhotep IV and Nefertiti are seated on a throne with the sun disc depicted over the pharaoh and his queen. [69]

While continuing the worship of other gods, Amenhotep IV's initial building program sought to build new places of worship to the Aten. He ordered the construction of temples or shrines to the Aten in several cities across the country, such as Bubastis, Tell el-Borg, Heliopolis, Memphis, Nekhen, Kawa, and Kerma. [70] He also ordered the construction of a large temple complex dedicated to the Aten at Karnak in Thebes, northeast of the parts of the Karnak complex dedicated to Amun. The Aten temple complex, collectively known as the Per Aten ("House of the Aten"), consisted of several temples whose names survive: the Gempaaten ("The Aten is found in the estate of the Aten"), the Hwt Benben ("House or Temple of the Benben"), the Rud-Menu ("Enduring of monuments for Aten forever"), the Teni-Menu ("Exalted are the monuments of the Aten forever"), and the Sekhen Aten ("booth of Aten"). [71]

Around regnal year two or three, Amenhotep IV organized a Sed festival. Sed festivals were ritual rejuvenations of an aging pharaoh, which usually took place for the first time around the thirtieth year of a pharaoh's reign and every three or so years thereafter. Egyptologists only speculate as to why Amenhotep IV organized a Sed festival when he was likely still in his early twenties. Some historians see it as evidence for Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV's coregency, and believed that Amenhotep IV's Sed festival coincided with one of his father's celebrations. Others speculate that Amenhotep IV chose to hold his festival three years after his father's death, aiming to proclaim his rule a continuation of his father's reign. Yet others believe that the festival was held to honor the Aten on whose behalf the pharaoh ruled Egypt, or, as Amenhotep III was considered to have become one with the Aten following his death, the Sed festival honored both the pharaoh and the god at the same time. It is also possible that the purpose of the ceremony was to figuratively fill Amenhotep IV with strength before his great enterprise: the introduction of the Aten cult and the founding of the new capital Akhetaten. Regardless of the celebration's aim, Egyptologists believe that during the festivities Amenhotep IV only made offerings to the Aten rather than the many gods and goddesses, as was customary. [57] [72] [73]

Name change Edit

Among the last documents that refer to Akhenaten as Amenhotep IV are two copies of a letter to the pharaoh from Ipy, the high steward of Memphis. These letters, found in Gurob and informing the pharaoh that the royal estates in Memphis are "in good order" and the temple of Ptah is "prosperous and flourishing," are dated to regnal year five, day nineteen of the growing season's third month. About a month later, day thirteen of the growing season's fourth month, one of the boundary stela at Akhetaten already had the name Akhenaten carved on it, implying that the pharaoh changed his name between the two inscriptions. [74] [75] [76] [77]

Amenhotep IV changed his royal titulary to show his devotion to the Aten. No longer would he be known as Amenhotep IV and be associated with the god Amun, but rather he would completely shift his focus to the Aten. Egyptologists debate the exact meaning of Akhenaten, his new personal name. The word "akh" (Ancient Egyptian: ꜣḫ) could have different translations, such as "satisfied," "effective spirit," or "serviceable to," and thus Akhenaten's name could be translated to mean "Aten is satisfied," "Effective spirit of the Aten," or "Serviceable to the Aten," respectively. [78] Gertie Englund and Florence Friedman arrive at the translation "Effective for the Aten" by analyzing contemporary texts and inscriptions, in which Akhenaten often described himself as being "effective for" the sun disc. Englund and Friedman conclude that the frequency with which Akhenaten used this term likely means that his own name meant "Effective for the Aten." [78]

Some historians, such as William F. Albright, Edel Elmar, and Gerhard Fecht, propose that Akhenaten's name is misspelled and mispronounced. These historians believe "Aten" should rather be "Jāti," thus rendering the pharaoh's name Akhenjāti or Aḫanjāti (pronounced / ˌ æ k ə ˈ n j ɑː t ɪ / ), as it could have been pronounced in Ancient Egypt. [79] [80] [81]

"Great of Kingship in Karnak"

"Great of Kingship in Akhet-Aten"

"Crowned in Heliopolis of the South" (Thebes)

"Exalter of the Name of Aten"

"Amenhotep god-ruler of Thebes"

Founding Amarna Edit

Around the same time he changed his royal titulary, on the thirteenth day of the growing season's fourth month, Akhenaten decreed that a new capital city be built: Akhetaten (Ancient Egyptian: ꜣḫt-jtn, meaning "Horizon of the Aten"), better known today as Amarna. The event Egyptologists know the most about during Akhenaten's life are connected with founding Akhetaten, as several so-called boundary stelae were found around the city to mark its boundary. [82] The pharaoh chose a site about halfway between Thebes, the capital at the time, and Memphis, on the east bank of the Nile, where a wadi and a natural dip in the surrounding cliffs form a silhouette similar to the "horizon" hieroglyph. Additionally, the site had previously been uninhabited. According to inscriptions on one boundary stela, the site was appropriate for Aten's city for "not being the property of a god, nor being the property of a goddess, nor being the property of a ruler, nor being the property of a female ruler, nor being the property of any people able to lay claim to it." [83]

Historians do not know for certain why Akhenaten established a new capital and left Thebes, the old capital. The boundary stelae detailing Akhetaten's founding is damaged where it likely explained the pharaoh's motives for the move. Surviving parts claim what happened to Akhenaten was "worse than those that I heard" previously in his reign and worse than those "heard by any kings who assumed the White Crown," and alludes to "offensive" speech against the Aten. Egyptologists believe that Akhenaten could be referring to conflict with the priesthood and followers of Amun, the patron god of Thebes. The great temples of Amun, such as Karnak, were all located in Thebes and the priests there achieved significant power earlier in the Eighteenth Dynasty, especially under Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, thanks to pharaohs offering large amounts of Egypt's growing wealth to the cult of Amun historians, such as Donald B. Redford, therefore posited that by moving to a new capital, Akhenaten may have been trying to break with Amun's priests and the god. [84] [85] [86]

Akhetaten was a planned city with the Great Temple of the Aten, Small Aten Temple, royal residences, records office, and government buildings in the city center. Some of these buildings, such as the Aten temples, were ordered to be built by Akhenaten on the boundary stela decreeing the city's founding. [85] [87] [88]

International relations Edit

The Amarna letters have provided important evidence about Akhenaten's reign and foreign policy. The letters are a cache of 382 diplomatic texts and literary and educational materials discovered between 1887 and 1979 [93] and named after Amarna, the modern name for Akhenaten's capital Akhetaten. The diplomatic correspondence comprises clay tablet messages between Amenhotep III, Akhenaten, and Tutankhamun, various subjects through Egyptian military outposts, rulers of vassal states, and the foreign rulers of Babylonia, Assyria, Syria, Canaan, Alashiya, Arzawa, Mitanni, and the Hittites. [94]

The Amarna letters portray the international situation in the Eastern Mediterranean that Akhenaten inherited from his predecessors. In the 200 years preceding Akhenaten's reign, following the expulsion of the Hyksos from Lower Egypt at the end of the Second Intermediate Period, the kingdom's influence and military might increased greatly. Egypt's power reached new heights under Thutmose III, who ruled approximately 100 years before Akhenaten and led several successful military campaigns into Nubia and Syria. Egypt's expansion led to confrontation with the Mitanni, but this rivalry ended with the two nations becoming allies. Slowly, however, Egypt's power started to wane. Amenhotep III aimed to maintain the balance of power through marriages – such as his marriage to Tadukhipa, daughter of the Mitanni king Tushratta – and vassal states. Under Amenhotep III and Akhenaten, Egypt was unable or unwilling to oppose the rise of the Hittites around Syria. The pharaohs seemed to eschew military confrontation at a time when the balance of power between Egypt's neighbors and rivals was shifting, and the Hittites, a confrontational state, overtook the Mitanni in influence. [95] [96] [97] [98]

Early in his reign, Akhenaten was evidently concerned about the expanding power of the Hittite Empire under Suppiluliuma I. A successful Hittite attack on Mitanni and its ruler Tushratta would have disrupted the entire international balance of power in the Ancient Middle East at a time when Egypt had made peace with Mitanni this would cause some of Egypt's vassals to switch their allegiances to the Hittites, as time would prove. A group of Egypt's allies who attempted to rebel against the Hittites were captured, and wrote letters begging Akhenaten for troops, but he did not respond to most of their pleas. Evidence suggests that the troubles on the northern frontier led to difficulties in Canaan, particularly in a struggle for power between Labaya of Shechem and Abdi-Heba of Jerusalem, which required the pharaoh to intervene in the area by dispatching Medjay troops northwards. Akhenaten pointedly refused to save his vassal Rib-Hadda of Byblos—whose kingdom was being besieged by the expanding state of Amurru under Abdi-Ashirta and later Aziru, son of Abdi-Ashirta—despite Rib-Hadda's numerous pleas for help from the pharaoh. Rib-Hadda wrote a total of 60 letters to Akhenaten pleading for aid from the pharaoh. Akhenaten wearied of Rib-Hadda's constant correspondences and once told Rib-Hadda: "You are the one that writes to me more than all the (other) mayors" or Egyptian vassals in EA 124. [99] What Rib-Hadda did not comprehend was that the Egyptian king would not organize and dispatch an entire army north just to preserve the political status quo of several minor city states on the fringes of Egypt's Asiatic Empire. [100] Rib-Hadda would pay the ultimate price his exile from Byblos due to a coup led by his brother Ilirabih is mentioned in one letter. When Rib-Hadda appealed in vain for aid from Akhenaten and then turned to Aziru, his sworn enemy, to place him back on the throne of his city, Aziru promptly had him dispatched to the king of Sidon, where Rib-Hadda was almost certainly executed. [101]

In a view discounted by the 21st century, [102] several Egyptologists in the late 19th and 20th centuries interpretated the Amarna letters to mean that Akhenaten was a pacifist who neglected foreign policy and Egypt's foreign territories in favor of his internal reforms. For example, Henry Hall believed Akhenaten "succeeded by his obstinate doctrinaire love of peace in causing far more misery in his world than half a dozen elderly militarists could have done," [103] while James Henry Breasted said Akhenaten "was not fit to cope with a situation demanding an aggressive man of affairs and a skilled military leader." [104] Others noted that the Amarna letters counter the conventional view that Akhenaten neglected Egypt's foreign territories in favour of his internal reforms. For instance, Norman de Garis Davies praised Akhenaten's emphasis on diplomacy over war, while James Baikie said that the fact "that there is no evidence of revolt within the borders of Egypt itself during the whole reign is surely ample proof that there was no such abandonment of his royal duties on the part of Akhenaten as has been assumed." [105] [106] Indeed, several letters from Egyptian vassals notified the pharaoh that they have followed his instructions, implying that the pharaoh sent such instructions. [107] The Amarna letters also show that vassal states were told repeatedly to expect the arrival of the Egyptian military on their lands, and provide evidence that these troops were dispatched and arrived at their destination. Dozens of letters detail that Akhenaten—and Amenhotep III—sent Egyptian and Nubian troops, armies, archers, chariots, horses, and ships. [108]

Only one military campaign is known for certain under Akhenaten's reign. In his second or twelfth year, [109] Akhenaten ordered his Viceroy of Kush Tuthmose to lead a military expedition to quell a rebellion and raids on settlements on the Nile by Nubian nomadic tribes. The victory was commemorated on two stelae, one discovered at Amada and another at Buhen. Egyptologists differ on the size of the campaign: Wolfgang Helck considered it a small-scale police operation, while Alan Schulman considered it a "war of major proportions." [110] [111] [112]

Other Egyptologists suggested that Akhenaten could have waged war in Syria or the Levant, possibly against the Hittites. Cyril Aldred, based on Amarna letters describing Egyptian troop movements, proposed that Akhenaten launched an unsuccessful war around the city of Gezer, while Marc Gabolde argued for an unsuccessful campaign around Kadesh. Either of these could be the campaign referred to on Tutankhamun's Restoration Stela: "if an army was sent to Djahy [southern Canaan and Syria] to broaden the boundaries of Egypt, no success of their cause came to pass." [113] [114] [115] John Coleman Darnell and Colleen Manassa also argued that Akhenaten fought with the Hittites for control of Kadesh, but was unsuccessful the city was not recaptured until 60–70 years later, under Seti I. [116]

Overall, archeological evidence suggests that Akhenaten paid close attention to the affairs of Egyptian vassals in Canaan and Syria, though primarily not through letters such as those found at Amarna but through reports from government officials and agents. Akhenaten managed to preserve Egypt's control over the core of its Near Eastern Empire (which consisted of present-day Israel as well as the Phoenician coast) while avoiding conflict with the increasingly powerful and aggressive Hittite Empire of Suppiluliuma I, which overtook the Mitanni as the dominant power in the northern part of the region. Only the Egyptian border province of Amurru in Syria around the Orontes River was lost to the Hittites when its ruler Aziru defected to the Hittites ordered by Akhenaten to come to Egypt, Aziru was released after promising to stay loyal to the pharaoh, nonetheless turning to the Hittites soon after his release. [117]

Later years Edit

Egyptologists know little about the last five years of Akhenaten's reign, beginning in c. 1341 [3] or 1339 BC. [4] These years are poorly attested and only a few pieces of contemporary evidence survive the lack of clarity makes reconstructing the latter part of the pharaoh's reign "a daunting task" and a controversial and contested topic of discussion among Egyptologists. [118] Among the newest pieces of evidence is an inscription discovered in 2012 at a limestone quarry in Deir el-Bersha, just north of Akhetaten, from the pharaoh's sixteenth regnal year. The text refers to a building project in Amarna and establishes that Akhenaten and Nefertiti were still a royal couple just a year before Akhenaten's death. [119] [120] [121] The inscription is dated to Year 16, month 3 of Akhet, day 15 of the reign of Akhenaten. [119]

Before the 2012 discovery of the Deir el-Bersha inscription, the last known fixed-date event in Akhenaten's reign was a royal reception in regnal year twelve, in which the pharaoh and the royal family received tributes and offerings from allied countries and vassal states at Akhetaten. Inscriptions show tributes from Nubia, the Land of Punt, Syria, the Kingdom of Hattusa, the islands in the Mediterranean Sea, and Libya. Egyptologists, such as Aidan Dodson, consider this year twelve celebration to be the zenith of Akhenaten's reign. [122] Thanks to reliefs in the tomb of courtier Meryre II, historians know that the royal family, Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and their six daughters, were present at the royal reception in full. [122] However, historians are uncertain about the reasons for the reception. Possibilities include the celebration of the marriage of future pharaoh Ay to Tey, celebration of Akhenaten's twelve years on the throne, the summons of king Aziru of Amurru to Egypt, a military victory at Sumur in the Levant, a successful military campaign in Nubia, [123] Nefertiti's ascendancy to the throne as coregent, or the completion of the new capital city Akhetaten. [124]

Following year twelve, Donald B. Redford and other Egyptologists proposed that Egypt was struck by an epidemic, most likely a plague. [125] Contemporary evidence suggests that a plague ravaged through the Middle East around this time, [126] and ambassadors and delegations arriving to Akhenaten's year twelve reception might have brought the disease to Egypt. [127] Alternatively, letters from the Hattians might suggest that the epidemic originated in Egypt and was carried throughout the Middle East by Egyptian prisoners of war. [128] Regardless of its origin, the epidemic might account for several deaths in the royal family that occurred in the last five years of Akhenaten's reign, including those of his daughters Meketaten, Neferneferure, and Setepenre. [129] [130]

Coregency with Smenkhkare or Nefertiti Edit

Akhenaten could have ruled together with Smenkhkare and Nefertiti for several years before his death. [131] [132] Based on depictions and artifacts from the tombs of Meryre II and Tutankhamun, Smenkhkare could have been Akhenaten's coregent by regnal year thirteen or fourteen, but died a year or two later. Nefertiti might not have assumed the role of coregent until after year sixteen, when a stela still mentions her as Akhenaten's Great Royal Wife. While Nefertiti's familial relationship with Akhenaten is known, whether Akhenaten and Smenkhkare were related by blood is unclear. Smenkhkare could have been Akhenaten's son or brother, as the son of Amenhotep III with Tiye or Sitamun. [133] Archaeological evidence makes it clear, however, that Smenkhkare was married to Meritaten, Akhenaten's eldest daughter. [134] For another, the so-called Coregency Stela, found in a tomb at Akhetaten, might show queen Nefertiti as Akhenaten's coregent, but this is uncertain as the stela was recarved to show the names of Ankhesenpaaten and Neferneferuaten. [135] Egyptologist Aidan Dodson proposed that both Smenkhkare and Neferiti were Akhenaten's coregents to ensure the Amarna family's continued rule when Egypt was confronted with an epidemic. Dodson suggested that the two were chosen to rule as Tutankhaten's coregent in case Akhenaten died and Tutankhaten took the throne at a young age, or rule in Tutankhaten's stead if the prince also died in the epidemic. [41]

Statue of Akhenaten's Daughter - History

This object is on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Tutankhamun Wearing the Blue Crown, ca. 1336-1327 B.C.E. late Dynasty 18, reign of Tutankhamun, New Kingdom. Indurated limestone H. 5 7/8 in. (14.9 cm) Lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Rogers Fund, 1950 (50.6).

Image Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Statue of Amun with features of Tutankhamun, provenance unknown, possibly Thebes, late Dynasty 18-early Dynasty 19 (1332-1292 BCE), greywacke

Amun typically appears as a man wearing a tall, double-plumed headdress. His tall headdress is missing from this statue, but his crown bears traces of gilding. Amun wears the false beard of a deity, an elaborately beaded broad collar, and a short kilt decorated on the belt with a tyet-amulet, a symbol related both to the goddess Isis and to the ankh, the hieroglyph meaning “life”. The god also holds ankhs indicating his immortality. His hands, which have been intentionally cut back, may represent a deliberate alteration to allow the statue to fit into a shrine or a portable ceremonial boat used to carry it in processions.

Monumental wall relief of the royal family worshipping Aten, possibly from Amarna, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten (1353-1336 BCE), quartzite

This monumental wall relief depicts the solar diety Aten as a disk hovering above the pharaoh Akhenaten and a female member of the royal family. The Aten’s rays descend toward the figures, each terminating in a hand. Some time after the restoration of the traditional religion, this relief was cut down, placed face down on the ground, re-inscribed, and reused, probably as a base for a statue in the shape of a sphinx for the later pharaoh Merenptah (1213-1204 BCE). Ironically, this recycling accidentally preserved the decorated front of the relief from total destruction.

Photo: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Seal of Amenhotep III (top and bottom), provenance unknown, possibly Thebes, Dynasty 18 (reign of Amenhotep III, 1390-1353 BCE), steatite

This seal takes the form of a prostrate king in prayer before the god Atum, whose name appears between the king’s hands. The inscription lists both the king’s birth name, Amenhotep, and his throne name which he received upon coronation, Neb-maat-Re. It also has the following titles: “The good god,” “Lord of the Two Lands,” and “Ruler of Thebes.”

Photo: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Statue of an Amarna Princess, probably from Amarna, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten (1353-1336 BCE), limestone and pigment

Amarna art placed considerable emphasis on the six daughters of Akhenaten and Nefertiti: Meritaten, Meketaten, Ankhesenpaaten, Nefernefruaten Tasherit, Nefernefrure and Setepenre. These princesses appear in scenes of the royal family worshipping the Aten and in domestic settings, as well as in sculpture in the round. The identity of this princess is not known.

Photo: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Relief with Aten, Amarna, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten (1353-1336 BCE), calcite (Egyptian alabaster)

This relief fragment shows the hands at the ends of the Aten's sun rays, one of the deity's few visible human features.

Photo: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Ring bezel, Amarna, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten (1353-1336 BCE), faience

Ring bezel decorated with the cartouche of Tutankhamun.

Photo: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Figurine of Ptah, Memphis, Dynasty 18, reign of Amenhotep III - Tutankhamun (1390-1322 BCE), polychrome faience

Brilliantly colored and designed as part of a larger statue, this figurine was likely set up in a shrine or temple at Memphis. The god Ptah appears seated on a low-back throne, inscribed with the standard epithets or descriptions of the deity. Holding a was-scepter, formed from the hieroglyph meaning “dominion,” he wears a special feathered garment over his usual mummiform costume – a feature found on a few other representations of Ptah from the reigns of Amenhotep III and Tutankhamun. This small masterpiece attests to the skill of the workers in ancient faience workshops.

Statue of Sekhmet, Thebes (Ramesseum), Dynasty 18, reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1353 BCE), granodiorite

As a warlike and protective goddess, imagery of Sekhmet often accompanied the pharaoh into battle. With her fiery arrows, she could send plagues and other diseases against her (and Pharaoh’s) enemies. The Egyptians also invoked her to ward off or cure diseases. Some scholars believe that a plague during the reign of Amenhotep III may have prompted that king to erect numerous statues of this goddess as an appeal for divine help. This Sekhmet statue is one of the less-common standing types.

Statue of Meryma’at, Thebes, Dra Abu el-Naga, late Dynasty 18 or early Dynasty 19 (1332-1279 BCE), limestone

Meryma’at was a barber in the cult of Amun. The inscription on his kilt is a prayer to that god requesting offerings of food and drink and a happy life for his ka, or life force. Barbers had an important function in the temple, since priests had to shave their entire bodies before performing rites. Originally a pair statue, the figure of his wife has broken away. Her hand can be seen on his shoulder. The hieroglyphs on his chest read “Amun”. The fleshy form of his body reflects the Amarna style, influences of which remained even after the period ended.

Comb, Amarna, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten (1353-1336 BCE), wood

Egyptians carved double-sided combs much like modern examples with thick teeth on one side and fine teeth along the other. Ancient hairstyles, especially those of women, were often quite elaborate. Combs like this would have been used for both natural hair and for wigs which were worn by both men and women.

Photo: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Molds, Amarna, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten (1353-1336 BCE), ceramic

Excavators found a huge volume of faience and glass items, including decorative elements like inlays for royal buildings in Akhenaten's new royal city. This industrial activity helped support Amarna’s economy. Thousands of faience molds, such as the ones pictured here, attest to the massive output of small objects in that material. Some may also have been exported and traded throughout Egypt. The popularity of faience and glass at the time may rest in part on their shiny, glittering, and dazzling surfaces, perhaps understood as reflecting elements of the Aten.

Photo: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.


Akhenaten ruled for 17 years and is famous for abandoning traditional Egyptian polytheism and introducing worship centered on the Aten.

Akhenaten tried to shift his culture from Egypt’s traditional religion, but the shifts were not widely accepted.

After his death, his monuments were dismantled and hidden, his statues were destroyed, and his name excluded from the king lists, and traditional religious practice was gradually restored.

Later rulers without direct of succession from the 18th Dynasty and who wanted to found a new dynasty, discredited Akhenaten and his immediate successors, referring to Akhenaten himself as “the enemy” or “that criminal” in the records.

Thus Akhenaten was all but lost from history. That is until the discovery, during the 19th century, of the site of the city he built and designed for the worship of Aten at Amarna.

Modern interest in Akhenaten and his queen Nefertiti comes partly from his connection with Tutankhamun, and from the unique style of the arts he patronized, and partly from ongoing interest in the religion, he attempted to establish.

Watch the video: BIZARRE DISCOVERIES in Ancient Egypt Research Prove Akhenatens Otherworldly Connections (July 2022).


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