|Statue of Akhenaten|
Akhenaten was a Pharaoh of Egypt during the New Kingdom Period and reigned roughly from 1351-1334 BC. He was originally called Amenhotep and was the fourth Pharaoh of that name. However, for reasons unknown, in the fifth year of his reign Amenhotep changed his name from Amenhotep (Amun is satisfied) to Akhenaten (The Living Spirit of Aten) and moved the capital of Egypt from Thebes to a new site in the eastern desert that he called Akhetaten but which is now referred to as Amarna.
These changes were not arbitrary. Akhenaten had apparently experienced some form of religious conversion to a new type of religion. Egyptian religion was polytheistic, worshipping many gods, with statues associated with these gods. Akhenaten focused upon a hitherto obscure deity, known as Aten, who represented the disk of the sun. There was a much better known god of the sun, known as Ra or Re, whom Akhenaten treated with some respect but he much preferred to focus on Aten, who was worshipped at the expense of all the other gods and who was represented merely as a golden circle with lines representing rays of sunlight streaming downwards.
|Ruins of Amarna|
Some scholars think that this was an attempt at naturalistic portrayal. However, there are human remains that are tentatively identified as Akhenaten’s. If the identification were proved then it would appear that these traits were exaggerated and that Akhenaten looked little like his portrait. Other scholars think that the art was an attempt to create an imposing spectacle. They argue that the statues were generally large and would be viewed from below. Statues that appear as caricatures when viewed at eye level become quite imposing when viewed from a lower angle. While I suspect that this view has a lot going for it, it fails to explain why the reliefs also use this style of portrayal.
|Akhenaten worshipping Aten|
|Statue of Akhenaten seen from beneath|
|Horemheb: The Pharaoh who erased Akhenaten's legacy|
This situation had some remarkable consequences. Because the records of the old dynasty were destroyed their memory faded and while most of their tombs were found and looted in antiquity, one minor Pharaoh of the time was so insignificant that his resting place was overlooked. Were it not for Horemheb’s destruction of records it is almost positive that the tomb of Tutankhamun would have been looted thousands of years ago.
A less shiny but more archaeologically interesting consequence was that certain records were abandoned at the city of Amarna when the state bureaucracy relocated back to Thebes. The records at Thebes were destroyed in the numerous sieges of that notable city but the records in Amarna were left to lie under sand for thousands of years and after their rediscovery they now form some of the best sources for life and politics in that period.
|Mask of Tutankhamun|
I will leave the reader with the opening of the most famous inscription of Akhenaten, which similar to Psalm 104, is a hymn of the devotee to their god. This translation is sourced from the Internet History Sourcebook.
|Desecrated relief from Akhenaten's tomb|
Thou art fair, great, dazzling, and high above every land;
Thy rays encompass the lands to the very limit of all thou hast made. Being Re, thou dost reach to their limit and curb them [for] thy beloved son; though thou art distant, thy rays arc upon the earth;
|Relief showing Aten watching over Egypt|
The earth is in darkness, resembling death. Men sleep in the bedchamber with their heads covered, one eye does not behold the other.
Were all their goods stolen which are beneath their heads they would not be aware of it; every lion has come forth from his den, all the snakes bite. Darkness prevails, and the earth is in silence,
Since he who made them is resting in his horizon, at daybreak, when thou dost rise on the horizon, Dost shine as Aten by day, thou dost dispel the darkness and shed thy rays.
|Depiction of Aten from Tutankhamun's tomb|
The whole land performs its labour. All beasts are satisfied with their pasture; Trees and plants arc verdant. The birds that fly from their nests, their wings are (spread) in adoration to thy soul; flocks skip with (their) feet; all that fly up and alight live when thou has risen [for] them. Ships sail upstream and downstream alike, for every route is open at thy appearing. The fish in the river leap before thee,