Akhenaten


Statue of Pharaoh Akhenaten. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
Akhenaten (alternatively Akhnaten, Akhenaton, Akhnaton, Ikhnaton, and so on), also known as Amenhotep IV at the start of his reign, was Pharaoh of Egypt. He is thought to have been born to Amenhotep III and his Chief Queen Tiy in the year 26 of their reign (1379 BC or 1362 BC). He succeeded his father in year 38 and last of his reign (1367 BC or 1350 BC) at the age of twelve. He reigned from 1367 BC to 1350 BC or from 1350 BC/1349 BC to 1334 BC/ 1333 BC during the Eighteenth Dynasty. His chief wife was Nefertiti, who has been made famous by her bust in the Berlin museum.

The exact dates for Amenhotep IV's marriage to Nefertiti are uncertain. However the couple had six known daughters. This is a list with suggested years of birth:

In year 4 of his reign (1364 BC or 1346 BC) Amenhotep IV started his famous worship of Aten. This year is also believed to mark the beginning of his construction of a new capital, Akhetaten, at the site known today as Amarna. In year 5 of his reign (1363 BC or 1345 BC) Amenhotep IV officially changed his name to Akhenaten as evidence of his new worship. The date given for the event has been estimated to fall around January 2 of that year. In year 7 of his reign (1361 BC or 1343 BC) the capital was moved from Thebes to Amarna, though construction of the city seems to have continued for two more years (till 1359 BC or 1341 BC). The new city was dedicated to the royal couple's new religion.

A religious revolutionary, he eschewed (but did not abandon) the traditional pantheon of deities, and worshipped the sun-god Aten. He oversaw the construction of some of the most massive temple complexes in ancient Egypt in honor of Aten. The idea of Akhenaten as the pioneer of monotheistic religion was promoted by Sigmund Freud (the founder of psychoanalysis) in his book Moses and Monotheism and thereby entered popular consciousness.

Styles of art that flourished during this short period are markedly different from other Egyptian art, bearing a variety of affectations, from elongated heads to protruding stomachs, exaggerated ugliness and the beauty of Nefertiti. Artistic representations of Akhenaten give him a very feminine appearance, giving rise to controversial theories such that he may have actually been a woman masquerading as a man, which had been known to happen in Egyptian politics, or that he was a hermaphrodite or had some other phenotypic sexual disorder. There is circumstantial evidence that he was bisexual and had many lovers of both sexes, after Nefertiti disappeared from the historical record.

Of his known or suggested lovers the most memorable are:

  • Tiy, his mother. Twelve years after the death of Amenhotep III she is still mentioned in inscriptions as Queen and beloved of the King. It has been suggested that Akhenaten and his mother acted as consorts to each other till her death. This would be considered incest at the time. Supporters of this theory consider Akhenaten to be the historical model of legendary King Oedipus of Thebes, Greece and Tiy the model for his mother/wife Jocasta.
  • Nefertiti, his first queen.
  • Kiya, his second queen.
  • Smenkhkare, his co-ruler for the last years of his reign (1354 BC or 1336 BC till 1350 BC or 1334 BC/ 1333 BC. He is thought to have been a half-brother or a son to Akhenaten but also a lover. Some have suggested that Smenkhkare was actually an alias of Nefertiti or Kiya and therefore a woman.
  • Ankhesenpaaten, his third daughter and last known wife at during the last year of his life. After his death she married his successor Tutankhamun.

Both Smenkhkare, his co-ruler, and Akhenaten himself died in year 17 of his reign (1350 BC or 1334 BC/1333 BC); the order of events is still unclear. They were succeeded by Tutankhaten (later, Tutankhamun). The new Pharaoh is believed to be a younger brother of Smenkhkare and a son of either Amenhotep III or Akhenaten. With Akhenaten's death the Sun God cult he had founded almost immediately fell out of favor. Tutankhaten changed his name to Tutankhamun in year 3 of his reign (1349 BC and 1331 BC and abandoned Amarna. Aten's cult seems to have been the target of considerable official hostility after that. Temples he had built were disassembled by his successors Ay and Horemheb as a source of easily available building materials and decorations for their own temples. Akhenaten, Smenkhkare, Tutankhamun, and Ay were omitted from the official lists of Pharaohs, which instead reported that Amenhotep III was immediately succeeded by Horemheb. This is thought to reflect an attempt by Horemheb to delete his predecessors from the historical record.

Table of contents
1 Akhenaten in the Arts
2 Further reading
3 External Links

Akhenaten in the Arts

Further reading

  • Donald B. Redford: Akhenaten : The Heretic King (Princeton University Press, 1984)
  • Cyril Aldred: Akhenaten: King of Egypt (Thames & Hudson, 1988)
  • Rita E. Freed, Yvonne J. Markowitz, Sue H. D'Auria, Pharaohs of the Sun: Akhenaten - Nefertiti - Tutankhamen (Museum of Fine Arts, 1999)
  • Dominic Montserrat, Akhenaten: History, Fantasy and Ancient Egypt, (Routledge, 2000)
  • Nicholas Reeves, Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet, (Thames and Hudson, 2001)

External Links




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