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Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten)


Amenhotep IV was the tenth or eleventh pharaoh of Dynasty XVIII.  He married Nefertiti and became a fanatic of an ancient Egyptian god named Aten, the god of the sun disc.  He renamed himself Aken-Aten ("he who is of service to Aten.") in honor of the god.  (also spelt Akenaten, Akhenaten, Ahkanaten, Ihknaten, etc).  During Akenaten's reign from 1379 BC, Aten (also spelt Aton) became the supreme god of Egypt.  He also changed the capital from Thebes to el-Amarna (halfway between Memphis and Thebes), city of the cult of the Aten.

The Armana style of Art

Aten's rays extend to Akenaten and Nefretiti

The social and religious changes he brought about influenced contemporary art and sculpture. The rigid poses of traditional images were completely abandoned. Akenaten had his artists to portray him in relaxed, natural poses, even showing physical imperfections like a pot belly (see picture at left).  This unique style of Egyptian art was called the Armana style.

above: Aten the sun god, represented by the disk, extends his arm-like rays down to Akenaten and Nefretiti.

Akenaten's legacy

Akenaten's reign was not without it's dark side.  He destroyed or desecrated virtually all the temples of the other gods, including Amon, the main god of the dynasty.  He had the word "gods" in plural hacked out of inscriptions.  He even destroyed his father's cartouche because it bore the name of another god, Amon.

On the other hand, the research of R. A. and Isha Schwaller deLubicz argues that Akhenaten did not go against the canon of the inner temple, but that he and Hatshepsut's seemingly deviation was really part of the overall temple "plan". Akhenaten's name until his death was "Akhenaten wa-n-Ra" (Akhenaten first of Ra).

Whatever the truth of things, Akenaten's attempt at reform failed.  After his death the Egyptians returned to their previous culture, and Akenaten's son Tuthankaton (the living image of Aton) changed the religion of the country back to the original beliefs, and changed his own name to Tuthanhkamon (or Tutenkahmun, the living image of Amon)

Akenaten was said to have a deformed hunchback appearance; although that could just be propaganda by his successors.  It is not certain what became of Akenaten's mummy. Some say it was destroyed by the priests of Amon to prevent him from going to the afterlife.

Akenaten has been called the first Monotheist and for that reason is generally seen as a "good guy".  He's even considered to be predecessor to Judeo-Christian type monotheism.  The psychologist Sigmund Freud argued (in Moses and Monotheism) that Moses was an Egyptian who got his beliefs from Akenaten.  Even the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley considered that he was Akenaten in a previous life.

Web links Links Web links

bulletin board You say Akenaten, I say Ihknaten - the ins and outs of transliterating names from Ancient Egyptian

web page The hymn to the Sun by Akhenaton - translation and interpretation

web page List of pharaohs - lists all the pharaohs, including Akenaten

The Akhet-Aten Home Page - The internet source for Amarna period information.

web pagephotographs Understanding Egyptian Art

web pageannoitated links Amarna - mything links - great coverage, lots of links

Printed references Further Reading Printed references

In Association with

Book in Print Akhenaten : King of Egypt by Cyril Aldred

Book in Print Pharoahs of the Sun : Akhenaten, Nefertiti, & Tutankhamen by Rita E. Freed (Editor), Yvonne J. Markowitz (Editor), Sue H. Dauria (Editor)

Book in Print Akhenaten and the Religion of Light by Erik Hornung, transl. by David Lorton

Book in Print Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet by Nicholas Reeves

Book in Print Nefertiti : Egypt's Sun Queen by Joyce A. Tyldesley

Book in Print The Life and Times of Akhnaton by Arthur Weigall

portrait image from Aken-Aten page
image of Aten, Akenaten and Nefretiti from Understanding Egyptian Art

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content by M.Alan Kazlev with additional comments by J. Bleu
page uploaded 17 July 1998, last modified 10 October 2005