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Introduction to the Amarna Period

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Akhenaten - Amenophis IV Pharaoh of Akhet-Aten

The Eighteenth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt was a prosperous time for the state.  The "Amarna Period", this most famous of periods of Ancient Egyptian history, was directed by Akhenaten, a Pharaoh likely second only in fame to Tutankhamun, his son-in-law.  Akhenaten and his Royal Wife Nefertiti instated huge changes in Egypt: the unweildly pantheon of gods of previous periods was replaced by worship of the 'Aten' or 'sun disc,' and the capital was moved to Akhet-Aten (now known as Tell el-Amarna).   The name of the Amun, principal god of the old religion, and the name of Akhenaten's father, Amenhotep III, were removed from monuments.  Artistic content and style changed drastically.  Statues of the Pharaoh departed from the strict artistic forms of the past, depicting a tall man with huge thighs, a pendulous belly and feminine face.  Even literature, what little survives, seems to have taken on a new attitude.


Unfortunately, Akhenaten's changes were short-lived, and the capital was moved back to Thebes within two decades.  The end of his reign is shrouded in mystery:  his wife left him or died, he shared the throne momentarily with Smenkhkare, of which little is known, and after his death, Tutankhaten, at the age of about ten years, returned his country to the old ways, probably under the direction of other political forces. Soon after, Horemheb restored Egypt with vigour, removing references to Akhenaten from monuments, and effectively erasing him from Egyptian history.

The archaeologically verified details are few.  Akhenaten is now a figure of mythic proportion; theory and speculation pile upon speculation and theory.  His charisma, even after so many millenia, has led him to be adopted by numerous religions and cults as founder or member.  He has been 'discovered' as the true identity of Moses, and of Oedipus.  He has been touted as one half of history's first gay couple (the other half being Smenkhkare).  Nefertiti, for her part, is no less controversial and mysterious. Did she share the throne as a full Pharaoh, as Hatshepsut had done before her, rather than disappearing as we originally thought? And was Smenkhkare simply another name for the Pharaoh Nefertiti? What happened to Tutankhamun at so young an age? Dare we speak of murder? These questions and theories have carried us far on so little primary data, and the study of the study of the Amarna period is interesting in itself!

Please explore the mysteries by choosing a topic at the left.

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This page is part of The Akhet-Aten Home Page
maintained by Kate Stange (email / webpage)
Content Copyright 1996-2000.
Last updated March 1, 2000.