The History of Egypt (Part 2): Amenhotep to Akhenaten

The History of Egypt (Part 2): Amenhotep to Akhenaten


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In this installment on his ancient Egyptian lecture series, Dr. Neiman describes all the key pharaohs and developments between the pharaohs Amenhotep and Akhenaten.


The History of Egypt (Part 2): Amenhotep to Akhenaten - History

The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt were the supreme leaders of the land. They were like kings or emperors. They ruled both upper and lower Egypt and were both the political and religious leader. The Pharaoh was often thought of as one of the gods.


Akhenaten wearing the
Egyptian Blue Crown of War

by Jon Bodsworth

The name Pharaoh comes from a word meaning "great house" describing a palace or kingdom. The Pharaoh's wife, or Queen of Egypt, was also considered a powerful ruler. She was called "the Great Royal Wife". Sometimes women became the rulers and were called Pharaoh, but it was generally men. The son of the current Pharaoh would inherit the title and would often go through training, so he could be a good leader.

Historians divide up the timeline of Ancient Egyptian history by the dynasties of the Pharaohs. A dynasty was when one family maintained power, handing down the throne to an heir. There are generally considered to be 31 dynasties over the 3000 years of Ancient Egyptian history.

There were many great Pharaohs throughout the history of Ancient Egypt. Here are some of the more famous ones:

Akhenaten - Akhenaten was famous for saying there was only one god, the sun god. He ruled with his wife, Nefertiti, and they closed many of the temples to other gods. He was the father of the famous King Tut.

Tutankhamun - Often called King Tut today, Tutankhamun is largely famous today because much of his tomb remained intact and we have one of the greatest Egyptian treasures from his rule. He became Pharaoh at the age of 9. He tried to bring back the gods that his father had banished.

Hatshepsut - A lady Pharaoh, Hatshepsut was originally regent for her son, but she took on the power of Pharaoh. She also dressed like the Pharaoh to reinforce her power including the crown and ceremonial beard. Many consider her to be not only the greatest woman Pharaoh, but one of the greatest Pharaohs in the history of Egypt.

Amenhotep III - Amenhotep III ruled for 39 years of great prosperity. He brought Egypt to its peak of power. During his rule the country was at peace and he was able to enlarge many cities and construct temples.

Ramses II - Often called Ramses the Great, he ruled Egypt for 67 years. He is famous today because he built more statues and monuments than any other Pharaoh.

Cleopatra VII - Cleopatra VII is often considered the last Pharaoh of Egypt. She maintained power by making alliances with famous Romans such as Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.


Cleopatra
by Louis le Grand

Moses and Akhenaten: The Secret History of Egypt at the Time of the Exodus

Sometime in the middle of the 14th century BCE, a pharaoh of the 18th dynasty named Amenhotep IV abolished the centuries-old pantheon of Egyptian gods and instead instituted a monotheistic religion based on the worship of the Aten, a single god without image or form. In the fifth year of his reign, Amenhotep IV moved his dynasty to Amarna, a newly completed city named in honor of this monotheistic god, and changed his own name to Akhenaten, translated as “living spirit of Aten.”

Understandably, Akhenaten was not a popular figure among the majority of Egyptians, in particular the temple priests whose millennia-old spiritual heritage was brushed aside and replaced by a new deity. When Akhenaten’s reign over Egypt ended, his son, the famous boy king, Pharaoh Tutankhamun (King Tut), re-instated the Egyptian pantheon. And by the time the 18th dynasty had ended, all records of the reign of Akhenaten were removed from official records. Akhenaten was all but erased from history until the city of Akhetaten was unearthed by archeologists in the 19th century.

Akhenaten’s mummy was never found.

The similarities between the monotheism of Akhenaten and the religion of the ancient Hebrews is too striking to ignore, especially since the story of the Hebrew exodus out of Egypt is dated sometime between mid-15th century and mid-13th century BCE. That puts the reign of Akhenaten arguably right in the middle of this monotheistic turmoil. The link was enough for Sigmund Freud to suggest, in his book Moses and Monotheism, that Moses was a follower of Akhenaten and brought Egyptian monotheism to the Hebrews.

But Egyptian scholar Ahmed Osman takes the relation one step further, putting forth the theory that Akhenaten and Moses were, in fact, the same person. The result is a compelling revision.

Joseph And The Arrival Of The Hebrews
Mr. Osman’s theory begins with the story of the Hebrew patriarch Joseph, who, as a child, was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Joseph ended up in Egypt where he correctly interpreted the pharaoh’s dream, predicting seven good years of harvest followed by seven lean years. This interpretation likely saved the Egyptian populace from starving during the lean years and won Joseph an appointment in Pharaoh’s court as minister.

The lean years, however, were hard on the nomads of Canaan. Among those nomads were the ancient Hebrews, and ironically, according to the biblical account, it was Joseph’s brothers who traveled to Egypt to ask the Pharaoh if a small band of Hebrews could settle in Egypt.

“Joseph revealed his identity to them, but told them reassuringly that they should not blame themselves for having sold him into slavery because it was not they who had sent him ‘hither, but God and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh.’

“A father to Pharaoh! I thought at once … of Yuya, a minister to two rulers of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Although Yuya was not apparently of royal blood, his tomb had been found in the Valley of the Kings in 1905. Little attention was devoted to him because he was considered comparatively unimportant. Yet Yuya is the only person in whose tomb the title … holy father of The Lord of the Two Lands, Pharaoh’s formal title — has been found.” (p. 2)

Mr. Osman claims that Joseph was the grandfather of Amenhotep IV, the pharaoh who would later change his name to Akhenaten. According to Mr. Osman, Joseph’s daughter was named Tiye, the woman who would grow up to be one of the wives of Amenhotep III and the mother of Amenhotep IV … known later as Akhenaten.

If the preceding is true, it would mean that Pharaoh Akhenaten is one-quarter Hebrew.

Akhenaten’s Early Years
It’s accepted that the threat of a Hyksos invasion into the eastern Nile delta is what caused the Egyptian pharaoh to worry about a growing Hebrew population in that area — for if the Hyksos were to invade, the pharaoh feared, the Hebrews might side with Egypt’s enemy. However, Mr. Osman puts forth another theory behind the pharaoh’s desire to kill all of the Hebrew’s first born sons — the order which led to the famous story of Moses being placed in the river Nile.

Mr. Osman claims that Pharaoh Amenhotep III worried that if his part-Hebrew son, Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV), the son of Tiye (daughter of Joseph/Yuya) …

“… acceded to the throne, this would be regarded as forming a new dynasty of non-Egyptian, non-Amunite [Amun, being the prevailing name in ancient Egypt for the primal creative consciousness of the universe], part-Israelite kings over Egypt. This is exactly the light in which the Amunite priests and nobles of Egypt, the watchdogs of old traditions, regarded Akhenaten … Consequently, the king, motivated by the possible threat to the dynasty and confrontation with the priesthood, instructed the midwives to kill Tiye’s child in secrecy if it proved to be a boy.” (p. 61)

Tiye, however, sent Amenhotep IV to her relatives in Goshen, to the settlement of the Hebrews in the eastern Nile delta, where he grew up with Hebraic monotheism.

“…once he knew that Moses had been born and survived, his attempt to kill all the male Israelite children at birth was abandoned.” (p. 62)

And according to Mr. Osman, Tiye didn’t simply intend to save Amenhotep IV, she intended for him to succeed his father on the throne.

“In order to ensure her son’s ultimate inheritance of the throne, she therefore arranged for him to marry his half-sister Nefertiti — the daughter of Amenhotep III by his sister, Sitamun, the legitimate heiress — and to be appointed his father’s co-regent [co-Pharaoh], with special emphasis on Nefertiti’s role in order to placate the priests and nobles.” (p. 62)

Akhenaten Takes The Throne
According to Mr. Osman, it was the declining health of Pharaoh Amenhotep III that afforded his wife, Tiye, the influence to see to it that her son Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) became the next in line. Mr. Osman claims that a co-regency began in which both Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV shared the role of pharaoh.

“[Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten], whose religious ideas were already well developed, offended the Amunite priesthood from the start of the co-regency by building temples to his monotheistic god, the Aten, at Karnak and Luxor.” (p. 62) And by the 12th year of Akhenaten’s reign, “he shut down the temples of the ancient gods of Egypt, cut off all financial support for them and sent the priests home.” (p. 63)

Three years later, according to Mr. Osman, Akhenaten was forced to flee Egypt. Akhenaten’s brother, Semenkhkare, was installed on the throne, but didn’t last, perhaps, more than a few days. Akhenaten’s son, Tutankhamun, then took the throne and he began to restore the old gods. Nine or ten years later, while Akhenaten was still in exile, Tutankhamun died (or, as has been suggested, was murdered) and the leader of the Egyptian army, Horemheb took the throne to finish off the Eighteenth Dynasty.

“The bitterness which divided the country at the time is indicated by the actions of Horemheb and the Ramesside kings who followed him. The names of the Amarna kings [Akhenaten, etc.] were excised from king lists and monuments in a studied campaign to try to remove all trace of them from Egypt’s memory, and it was forbidden even to mention in conversation the name of Akhenaten. In addition, the Israelites were put to the harsh work of building the treasure cities of Pithom and Raamses.” (p. 63-64)

Let My People Go
Upon the death of Horemheb, his vizier and leader of the Egyptian army, Ramses, took the throne and began the Nineteenth Dynasty. That is when, Mr. Osman claims, Akhenaten returned from exile to challenge Ramses’ right to the throne. Akhenaten failed but “eventually persuaded Ramses I to allow him and the Israelites to leave the country.” (p. 64)

And thus began the Exodus.

Mos
Mr. Osman brings up another interesting point worth mentioning. The name Moses clearly seems like an Egyptian name. We see it in pharaonic names like Tuthmosis and Ahmosis. But Mr. Osman points out that the name Moses is more likely a Greek pronunciation of the Hebrew name Moshe. (There is no “sh” pronunciation in Greek, and it was typical for Greek names to end in “s” — Hermes, Orestes, Pythagoras, Sophocles, Socrates, etc.) And Moshe, according to Mr. Osman, is an unusual conjunction of letters for a Hebrew name (“m” and “sh”). He suggests, rather, that Moshe is a Hebrew pronunciation of the ancient Egyptian word mos — which, he notes, means son.

“After Akhenaten fell from power, the Egyptian authorities forbade any mention of his name. Consequently, it seems to me that an alternative had to be found in order that his followers could refer to him … he was referred to officially in latter days as ‘The Fallen One of Akhetaten [today, known as Amarna]’ and ‘The Rebel of Akhetaten’. Faced with the accusation that Akhenaten was not the real heir to the throne, I believe the Israelites called him mos, the son, to indicate that he was the legitimate son of Amenhotep III and the rightful heir to his father’s throne.” (p. 67)

Conclusion
Such is Mr. Osman’s theory, and I personally find it a compelling historical challenge to the myth given in the bible. Moses and Akhenaten is deeply researched, with a great deal of source material used to back up these claims. Nevertheless, to make all of the dates line up, placing Akhenaten and the Exodus of the Hebrews in exactly the same time frame, it requires some archaeological juggling that deviates from the accepted timelines.

Radical ideas, however, by nature, are going to rock the boat. This one does exactly that.

Right or wrong, two things remain clear: 1) An Egyptian pharaoh brought monotheism to Egypt for a period of time and 2) monotheistic Hebrews lived in the eastern Nile delta region within a period near or at that exact time. While we may or may not currently know the precise connection between these two facts, it seems they are linked in a substantial way.


The History of Egypt (Part 2): Amenhotep to Akhenaten - History

Ahmose I (sometimes written Amosis I, "Amenes" and "Aahmes" and meaning Born of the Moon) was a pharaoh of ancient Egypt and the founder of the Eighteenth dynasty. He was a member of the Theban royal house, the son of pharaoh Tao II Seqenenre and brother of the last pharaoh of the Seventeenth dynasty, King Kamose. During the reign of his father or grandfather, Thebes rebelled against the Hyksos, the rulers of Lower Egypt. When he was seven his father was killed, and he was about ten when his brother died of unknown causes, after reigning only three years. Ahmose I assumed the throne after the death of his brother, and upon coronation became known as Neb-Pehty-Re (The Lord of Strength is Re).

During his reign, he completed the conquest and expulsion of the Hyksos from the delta region, restored Theban rule over the whole of Egypt and successfully reasserted Egyptian power in its formerly subject territories of Nubia and Canaan. He then reorganized the administration of the country, reopened quarries, mines and trade routes and began massive construction projects of a type that had not been undertaken since the time of the Middle Kingdom. This building program culminated in the construction of the last pyramid built by native Egyptian rulers. Ahmose's reign laid the foundations for the New Kingdom, under which Egyptian power reached its peak.

Ahmose I/Nebpehtire
His reign is usually dated to the mid-16th century BC. Ahmose descended from the Theban Seventeenth Dynasty. His grandfather and grandmother, Tao I and Tetisheri, had at least twelve children, including Tao II and Ahhotep. The brother and sister, according to the tradition of Egyptian queens, married their children were Kamose, Ahmose I and several daughters.

Ahmose I followed in the tradition of his father and married several of his sisters, making Ahmose-Nefertari his chief wife. They had several children including daughters Meritamun B, Sitamun A and sons Siamun A, Ahmose-ankh, Amenhotep I and Ramose A (the "A" and "B" designations after the names are a convention used by Egyptologists to distinguish between royal children and wives that otherwise have the same name).

They may also have been the parents of Mutnofret, who would become the wife of later successor Thutmose I. Ahmose-ankh was Ahmose's heir apparent, but he preceded his father in death sometime between Ahmose's 17th and 22nd regnal year. Ahmose was succeeded instead by his eldest surviving son, Amenhotep I, with whom he might have shared a short coregency.

There was no distinct break in the line of the royal family between the 17th and 18th dynasties. The historian Manetho, writing much later during the Ptolemaic dynasty, considered the final expulsion of the Hyksos after nearly a century and the restoration of native Egyptian rule over the whole country a significant enough event to warrant the start of a new dynasty. Ahmose's reign can be fairly accurately dated using the Heliacal rise of Sirius in his successor's reign, but because of disputes over from where the observation was made, he has been assigned a reign from 1570-1546, 1560-1537 and 1551-1527 by various sources.

Manetho gives Ahmose a reign of 25 years and 4 months this figure is supported by a 'Year 22' inscription from his reign at the stone quarries of Tura. A medical examination of his mummy indicates that he died when he was about thirty-five, supporting a 25-year reign if he came to the throne at the age of 10. The radiocarbon date range for the start of his reign is 1570 - 1544 BCE, the mean point of which is 1557 BC. Alternative dates for his reign (1194 - 1170 BC) were suggested by David Rohl, but these were rejected by the majority of Egyptologists even before the radiocarbon date was published in 2010.

Amenhotep I (Amenhotep, sometimes read as Amenophis I and meaning "Amun is satisfied") was the second Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty of Egypt. His reign is generally dated from 1526 to 1506 BC. He was born to Ahmose I and Ahmose-Nefertari, but had at least two elder brothers, Ahmose-ankh and Ahmose Sapair, and was not expected to inherit the throne. However, sometime in the eight years between Ahmose I's 17th regnal year and his death, his heir apparent died and Amenhotep became crown prince. He then acceded to the throne and ruled for about 21 years.

Although his reign is poorly documented, it is possible to piece together a basic history from available evidence. He inherited the kingdom formed by his father's military conquests and maintained dominance over Nubia and the Nile Delta but probably did not attempt to keep power in Syrio-Palestine. He continued to rebuild temples in Upper Egypt and revolutionized mortuary complex design by separating his tomb from his mortuary temple, setting a trend which would persist throughout the New Kingdom. After his death, he was deified into the patron god of Deir el-Medina.

Amenhotep I was the son of Ahmose I and Ahmose-Nefertari. His elder brothers, the crown prince Ahmose Sapair and Ahmose-ankh, died before him, thus clearing the way for his ascension to the throne. Amenhotep probably came to power while he was still young himself, and his mother, Ahmose-Nefertari, appears to have been regent for him for at least a short time. This is evidenced because both he and his mother are credited with opening a worker village at the site of Deir el-Medina. Amenhotep took his sister Ahmose-Meritamon as his Great Royal Wife. Another wife's name, Sitkamose, is attested on a nineteenth dynasty stele.

Beyond this, his relation to all other possible family members has been questioned. Ahhotep II is usually called his wife and sister, despite an alternate theory that she was his grandmother.

Amenhotep I/Djeserkare
He is thought to have had one son by Ahhotep II, Amenemhat, who died while still very young. This remains the consensus, although there are arguments against that relationship as well. With no living heirs, Amenhotep was succeeded by Thutmose I, whom he married to his sister, Aahmes, although once again there is no definite proof that the two were related. Since Aahmes is never called "King's Daughter" in any inscription, some scholars doubt this relation as well.

In the ninth year of Amenhotep I, a heliacal rise of Sothis was observed on the ninth day of the third month of summer. Modern astronomers have calculated that, if the observation was made from Memphis or Heliopolis, such an observation could only have been made on that day in 1537 BC. If the observation was made in Thebes, however, it could only have taken place in 1517. The latter choice is usually accepted as correct since Thebes was the capital of early 18th dynasty Egypt hence, Amenhotep I is given an accession date in 1526 BC, although the possibility of 1546 BC is not entirely dismissed.

Manetho's Epitome states that Amenhotep I ruled Egypt for twenty years and seven months or twenty-one years, depending on the source. While Amenhotep I's highest attested official date is only his Year 10, Manetho's data is confirmed by information from a passage in the tomb autobiography of a magician named Amenemhet. This individual explicitly states that he served under Amenhotep I for 21 Years. Thus, in the high chronology, Amenhotep I is given a reign from around 1546 to 1526 BC and, in the low chronology, from around 1526 to 1506 BC or 1525 to 1504 BC, though individual scholars may vary by a few years.


Big Changes Ahead

His reign started normally. He began building projects in Thebes, modern day Luxor. He had the temple of Amun-Re updated. Then he had a temple, called Gempaaten, built for the Aten. Little did anyone know, however, what this would lead to. We know little about this temple other than it was huge and oriented to the east, the direction of the rising sun. In the small section of wall that was salvaged, we can clearly see a glimpse of what was to come - the pharaoh worshiping the sun disc.

In the fifth year of his reign, he changed his name, moved the capital city out to the middle of nowhere and started a campaign that would result in the destruction of everything he built shortly after his death.

Amun-Ra (god Amun with sun disc in front of his plumes)

Exactly why Amenhotep IV changed not only his own religious beliefs but also those of his entire kingdom, may never be fully known, but many scholars believe that suggestions from his father led to the change. While the sun was always extremely important to the Egyptians, with the sun god Ra being the main national deity and father of the gods, an upstart local god from Thebes had started to grow in importance. During the rule of Ahmose I in the beginning of the Eighteenth dynasty, however, Amun became blended with Ra and the combined god Amun-Ra was really taking hold of the country.

The Hyksos, foreigners, probably from Canaan, had controlled portions of Egypt during the Seventeenth dynasty, and it was leaders from Thebes that removed them from the country. As a result, Thebes became the new capital city and Amum a new national god. Nine pharaohs and approximately 180 years later, the priests of Amun-Ra were wielding so much power that Amenhotep III warned his son that he would need to somehow lessen their authority or the pharaoh would eventually have no power at all.

One way Amenhotep IV could have reduced the power of the Amun-Ra priests would be to reduce the power of the god himself. In the end, he not only reduced the power of Amun-Ra, he eliminated him, along with all other gods, all together.

The pharaoh still believed in the power of the sun as the supreme life giving force, and his father had worshiped the Aten during his own reign. This is most likely the reason Amenhotep IV chose this god to focus his attention. Ra-Horakhty, Ra who is Horus in the Horizons, was now the number one god and would quickly become the only god to be worshiped.

So who or what exactly was Ra-Horakhty? The god Ra had taken many forms during his worship. A longtime understanding of Ra was that he existed in three parts. Khepri-Ra was the morning sun, Khnum-Ra was the setting sun and Ra was the afternoon sun. Ra-Horakhty took all three of these and put them together as one. Joining Ra, the sun god, and Horus, the sky god, Ra-Horakhty (Ra-Horus-Aten) represented the sun during its entire trek across the sky. It was usually represented as a sun disc with rays of light shining down.

Bes (protector god of children) and Taweret (goddess of childbirth)

Amenhotep IV could no longer have a name that reflected a god he did not worship. For this reason, he changed four of his five official names to reflect his new beliefs. He now became Akhenaten, meaning Effective for the Aten. He also moved the capital city to Amarna, known as Akhetaten at the time. By taking the capital away from Thebes, essentially the home of Amun and a place with many temples to the other gods, he lessened the affect those gods would have on the daily life of his advisors. His new city, would become completely dedicated to the Aten, and moving the capital also removed the Amun-Ra priests from the seat of power, which is exactly what Akhenaten wanted to do.

Does this mean that Aknenaten forbid the worship of the old gods? Despite the common perception that this was the case, there were no writings to support the idea that anyone was executed for worshiping any god other than Aten. It seems that Akhenaten understood that it would take time to change something so ingrained in people as their religion, but the worship of the Aten was the only state sanctioned religion, and the only one practiced in public by Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti. To further support this theory, many of the advisors to Akhenaten maintained their original names that referenced other gods like Thoth, and artifacts for other gods like Horus, Bes and Taweret have been found in Amarna.


The History of Egypt (Part 2): Amenhotep to Akhenaten - History

Ahmose I/Nebpehtire
XVIII Egyptian Dynasty 1550 - 1292 BCE
Ahmose I/Nebpehtire 1549 - 1524 BCE
Amenophis/Amenhotep I/Djeserkare 1524 - 1503 BCE
Thuthmosis I/Akheperkare I503 - I493 BCE
Thuthmosis II/Akheperenre I493 - 1479 BCE
Hatshepsut/Maatkare 1479 - 1458 BCE
Thuthmosis III/Menkheper(en)re 1479 - 1424 BCE
Amenophis/Amenhotep II/Akheperure 1424 - 1398 BCE
Thuthmosis IV/Menkheperure 1398 - 1388 BCE
Amenophis/Amenhotep III/NebMaatre 1388 - 1350 BCE
Amenophis/Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten)/Neferkepherure-Waenre 1351 - 1334 BCE
Queen Nefertiti
Smenkhkare/Ankhkheperure 1335 - 1333 BCE
Neferneferuaten/Ankhkheperure-Meriwaenre 1335 - 1333 BCE
Tutankhamun/Nebkheperure 1333 - 1323 BCE.
Ay II/Kheperkheperure 1323 - 1319 BCE
Horemheb/Djeserkheperure-Setepenre 1319 - 1292 BCE

Amenhotep III (sometimes read as Amenophis III Egyptian Amana-Hatpa The son of the future Thutmose IV (the son of Amenhotep II) and a minor wife Mutemwiya, Amenhotep was born around 1388 BC. He was a member of the Thutmosid family that had ruled Egypt for almost 150 years since the reign of Thutmose I.

Amenhotep III/NebMaatre
Amenhotep III was the father of two sons with his Great Royal Wife Tiye, a queen who could be considered as the progenitor of monotheism through her first son, Crown Prince Thutmose, who predeceased his father, and her second son, Amenhotep IV, later known as Akhenaten, who ultimately succeeded Amenhotep III to the throne. Amenhotep III also may have been the father of a third child - called Smenkhkare, who later would succeed Akhenaten, briefly rule Egypt as pharaoh, and who is thought to have been a woman.

Amenhotep III and Tiye may also have had four daughters: Sitamun, Henuttaneb, Isis or Iset, and Nebetah. They appear frequently on statues and reliefs during the reign of their father and also are represented by smaller objects - with the exception of Nebetah. Nebetah is attested only once in the known historical records on a colossal limestone group of statues from Medinet Habu. The son of the future Thutmose IV (the son of Amenhotep II) and a minor wife Mutemwiya, Amenhotep was born around 1388 BC. He was a member of the Thutmosid family that had ruled Egypt for almost 150 years since the reign of Thutmose I.

Amenhotep III was the father of two sons with his Great Royal Wife Tiye, a queen who could be considered as the progenitor of monotheism through her first son, Crown Prince Thutmose, who predeceased his father, and her second son, Amenhotep IV, later known as Akhenaten, who ultimately succeeded Amenhotep III to the throne. Amenhotep III also may have been the father of a third child - called Smenkhkare, who later would succeed Akhenaten, briefly rule Egypt as pharaoh, and who is thought to have been a woman.

Queen Tiye

Amenhotep III and Tiye may also have had four daughters: Sitamun, Henuttaneb, Isis or Iset, and Nebetah. They appear frequently on statues and reliefs during the reign of their father and also are represented by smaller objects - with the exception of Nebetah. Nebetah is attested only once in the known historical records on a colossal limestone group of statues from Medinet Habu.

Reliefs from the wall of the temple of Soleb in Nubia and scenes from the Theban tomb of Kheruef, Steward of the King's Great Wife, Tiye, depict Amenhotep as a visibly weak and sick figure.

Scientists believe that in his final years he suffered from arthritis and became obese. It has generally been assumed by some scholars that Amenhotep requested and received from his father-in-law Tushratta of Mitanni, a statue of Ishtar of Nineveh--a healing goddess - in order to cure him of his various ailments which included painful abscesses in his teeth.

A forensic examination of his mummy shows that he was probably in constant pain during his final years due to his worn, and cavity-pitted teeth. However, more recent analysis of Amarna letter EA 23 by William L. Moran, which recounts the dispatch of the statue of the goddess to Thebes, does not support this popular theory. Akhenaten and his family lived in the great religious center of Thebes, city of the God Amun.

There were thousands of priests who served the Gods. Religion was the business of the time, many earning their living connected to the worship of the gods.

Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten)

All indications are that as a child Akhenaten was a family outcast. Scientists are studying the fact that Akhenaten suffered from a disease called Marfan Syndrome, a genetic defect that damages the body's connective tissue. Symptoms include, short torso, long head, neck, arms, hand and feet, pronounced collarbones, pot belly, heavy thighs, and poor muscle tone.

Those who inherit it are often unusually tall and are likely to have weakened aortas that can rupture. They can die at an early age. If Akhnaton had the disease each of his daughters had a 50-50 change of inheriting it. That is why his daughters are shown with similar symptoms.

Akhenaten was the son of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiyee, a descendent of a Hebrew/Haribu/Habiru/Habibu tribe. The largest statue in the Cairo Museum shows Amenhotep III and his family. He and Queen Tiye (pronounced 'Tee') had four daughters and two sons. Akhenaten's brother, Tutmoses was later named high priest of Memphis.

The other son, Amenhotep IV (Later to take the name Akhenaten) seemed to be ignored by the rest of the family. He never appeared in any portraits and was never taken to public events. He received no honors. It was as if the God Amun had excluded him. He was rejected by the world for some unknown reason. He was never shown with his family nor mentioned on monuments. Yet his mother favored him.

Queen Nefertiti

In 1352 BC. Akhenaten ascended the throne, succeeding his father Amenhotep III who had died. Akhenaten was just a teenager at the time, but it was the desire of Queen Tiye that he rule. In some version of the story, it is written that father and son shared the throne briefly.

Akhenaten's chief wife was Nefertiti, made world-famous by the discovery of her exquisitely moulded and painted bust, now displayed in the Altes Museum of Berlin, and among the most recognized works of art surviving from the ancient world.

Queen Nefertiti is often referred to in history as "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World." The Berlin bust, seen from two different angles, is indeed, the most famous depiction of Queen Nefertiti. Found in the workshop of the famed sculptor Thutmose, the bust is believed to be a sculptor's model. The technique which begins with a carved piece of limestone, requires the stone core to be first plastered and then richly painted. Flesh tones on the face give the bust life.

Her full lips are enhanced by a bold red. Although the crystal inlay is missing from her left eye, both eyelids and brows are outlined in black. Her graceful elongated neck balances the tall, flat-top crown which adorns her sleek head.

The vibrant colors of the her necklace and crown contrast the yellow-brown of her smooth skin. While everything is sculpted to perfection, the one flaw of the piece is a broken left ear. Because this remarkable sculpture is still in existence, it is no wonder why Nefertiti remains "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World."

Amarna is an extensive Egyptian archaeological site that represents the remains of the capital city newly established and built by the Pharaoh Akhenaten of the late Eighteenth Dynasty (c. 1353 BC), and abandoned shortly afterwards. The name for the city employed by the ancient Egyptians is written as Akhetaten (or Akhetaton - transliterations vary) in English transliteration. Akhetaten means "Horizon of the Aten."


Created Sep 28, 2007 | Updated Apr 26, 2017


An Introduction to Pharaonic Egypt | The Rise of Egypt | Rebuilding | From the Depths to the Heights | The Amarna Period | The Long, Slow Decline | Egyptian Mummies | Egyptian Pyramids | Egyptian Legends and Theology | Egyptian Gods

With the fall of the Middle Kingdom, Egypt was once again in the doldrums, both politically and militarily. Foreigners ruled over large parts of the traditional kingdoms of Egypt, and the natives were too divided to fight back effectively. Monumental building almost ceased, and since much of our knowledge of pharaohs comes from inscriptions on temples and steles 1 , it is difficult to determine details of this period with any certainty.

Once again, it would take a brilliant leader to restore Egyptian civilisation and ensure another 500 years of wealth and prosperity - with one exceptional period of instability that could have been catastrophic. This is the period of history that best reflects the schoolchild's image of Egypt - massive temples covered in part-profile figures, mummified pharaohs and a huge and powerful empire.

Second Intermediate Period (1782 - 1550 BC)

13th Dynasty (1782 - 1650 BC)

This was another period of shrinkage for Egypt, though there is disagreement whether it was the tail end of the Middle Kingdom or the start of the Second Intermediate Period. Pharaoh Dudimose lost control of Nubia 2 to the Kushites. Otherwise, the history of this era is poorly understood due to a lack of monumental building.

14th Dynasty

Lasting less than a century and ruling from Sais, this dynasty was fragmentary and in opposition to other, concurrent regimes. Dates are hard to establish, but may have covered roughly 1750 to 1660 BC.

15th and 16th Dynasties (1650 - 1550 BC)

Around 1720 BC, the Hyksos - possibly descendants of foreign labourers invited to the country by the 12th Dynasty Pharaoh Amenemhat III - captured the Lower Egyptian town of Avaris. The 15th and 16th Dynasties comprised their descendants, and ruled simultaneously, though only in the eastern Delta. The 13th Dynasty continued to rule from Memphis, but with ever-decreasing power and weaker pharaohs, often controlled by their viziers 3 .

17th Dynasty (1650 - 1550 BC)

The 17th Dynasty declared Thebes to be the capital of an independent Upper Egypt. These kings declared war on the Hyksos, and Wadikheperre Kamose besieged Avaris. His son Ahmosis eventually expelled the Hyksos entirely in around 1550 BC (or 1567 BC, or 1570 BC), re-uniting the kingdom under native rule.

New Kingdom (1550 - 1069 BC)

The 'New Kingdom' period is far better understood than earlier periods of ancient Egyptian history. Under the conqueror-pharaohs of these dynasties, Egypt reached its greatest geographical extent and some of its most famous monuments were constructed.

18th Dynasty (1550 - 1295 BC)

Ahmosis founded this new dynasty, which would go on to take a reinvigorated Egypt to the very zenith of its power. Ruling from Thebes, Ahmosis raided the Near East, Syria, Palestine and, most important of all, Nubia, where he could obtain gold, ivory, ebony, gems and slaves.

Taking Amun as their patron, the list of Ahmosis's descendants and successors reads like a list of the greatest names in Egyptian history. Tuthmosis I was the first monarch to be buried in the Valley of the Kings. His daughter Hatshepsut was undoubtedly the most successful female pharaoh, and Tuthmosis III conquered Nubia, crossed the Euphrates and fought with the Hittites. Amenhotep II once again raided Nubia, and his son Tuthmosis IV and grandson Amenhotep III took Egypt to its greatest geographical extent, a world superpower against which it seemed no other nation could stand.

But then something very strange happened. Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten and embarked on an unprecedented period of religious, artistic, political and cultural reforms that left Egypt weakened and reduced militarily - a period so embarrassing to the pharaohs who followed that it would be obliterated from history for over 3,000 years. The 'Amarna Period' is discussed in detail in the next Entry of this project: History of Egypt Part 4.

Tutankhamun (lived 1367 - 1350 BC) - born Tutankhaten but renamed to reflect the changing religious ideas - was a child pharaoh who undid all of Akhenaten's changes, moving the capital back to Thebes and abandoning Amarna, reinstating worship of other gods and commissioning monuments in the classical style. Tutankhamun's young age suggests to some that he may have been controlled by reactionaries among the priesthood or military. Tutankhamun's successor Ay continued the counter-revolution, but it was the next pharaoh who decided to erase all trace of the heretical worship of the Aten.

Horemheb embarked on a systematic campaign of removing all references to Akhenaten. Although the idea of attempting to erase a hated ancestor was by no means unique in Egyptian history, it was successful enough on this occasion that the whole Amarna period was unknown until the late 19th Century AD. However, Horemheb died without an heir around 1295 BC which, combined with his lack of royal 4 blood, brought the 18th Dynasty to an end.

19th Dynasty (1295 - 1186 BC)

Ramses I may have been Horemheb's vizier. His son Seti I began to reconquer the territories Akhenaten had lost in Nubia, Palestine and the Near East, and Ramses II recovered more Levantine territories. He once again took Egypt's borders to the edge of the Hittite Empire in the famous battle of Kadesh. Although this engagement appears to have been a draw in which he was nearly killed in an ambush, Ramses II chose to celebrate it in huge victory inscriptions at Abydos.

The next pharaoh, Merneptah, successfully fought off invasions by the Libyans and the mysterious 'Sea Peoples', and still found time for a series of raids into Palestine. During one of these, he conquered a people known as the Hebrews, a fact recorded on the Merneptah Stele that is the earliest undisputed reference to the Jewish people. Seti II died in 1186 BC without an heir, and the dynasty again changed.

20th Dynasty (1186 - 1069 BC)

It appears that on this occasion, Egypt was resilient enough to survive a change of dynasty, and possibly a brief interregnum. Sethnakhte eventually took power, but his descendants - all called Ramses - presided over another steady erosion of Egyptian power. Ramses III built the massive funerary temple at Medinet Habu, but was pressed by further sorties from the Libyans and 'Sea Peoples'. By the time of Ramses XI, Egypt's empire was gone. The Theban priests were ruling Upper Egypt and the pharaoh's viziers were in effective control of Lower Egypt from Tanis.

This de facto division of Egypt spelled the beginning of the end of its period of greatness. The final Entry in this series will chart the millennium-long slide into obscurity.


Akhenaten / Amenhotep IV

Statue of Akhenaten in typical Amarna style. Pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt.

Akhenaten (often alt: Akhnaten, or rarely Ikhnaton) meaning ‘Effective spirit of Aten’, first known as Amenhotep IV (sometimes read as Amenophis IV and meaning ‘Amun is Satisfied’) before his first year (died 1336 BC or 1334 BC), was a Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. He is especially noted for attempting to compel the Egyptian population in the monotheistic worship of Aten, although there are doubts as to how successful he was at this.

He was born to Amenhotep III and his Chief Queen Tiye and was their younger son. Akhenaten was not originally designated as the successor to the throne until the untimely death of his older brother, Thutmose. Amenhotep IV succeeded his father after Amenhotep III’s death at the end of his 38-year reign, possibly after a short coregency lasting between either 1 to 2 years. Suggested dates for Akhenaten’s reign (subject to the debates surrounding Egyptian chronology) are from 1353 BC-1336 BC or 1351 BC­1334 BC.

Akhenaten’s chief wife was Nefertiti, made world-famous by the discovery of her exquisitely moulded and painted bust, now displayed in the Altes Museum of Berlin, and among the most recognised works of art surviving from the ancient world. Pharaoh Akhenaten was known as the Heretic King. He was the tenth King of the 18th Dynasty. Egyptologists are still tying to figure out what actually happened during his lifetime as much of the truth was buried after he died.

Akhenaten lived at the peak of Egypt’s imperial glory. Egypt had never been richer, more powerful, or more secure. Up and down the Nile, workers built hundreds of temples to pay homage to the Gods. They believed that if the Gods were pleased, Egypt would prosper. And so it did.

Akhenaten and his family lived in the great religious center of Thebes, city of the God Amun. There were thousands of priests who served the Gods. Religion was the ‘business’ of the time, many earning their living connected to the worship of the gods.

All indications are that as a child Akhenaten was a family outcast. Scientists are studying the fact that Akhenaten suffered from a disease called Marfan Syndrome, a genetic defect that damages the body’s connective tissue. Symptoms include, short torso, long head, neck, arms, hand and feet, pronounced collarbones, pot belly, heavy thighs, and poor muscle tone. Those who inherit it are often unusually tall and are likely to have weakened aortas that can rupture. They can die at an early age. If Akhnaton had the disease each of his daughters had a 50-50 change of inheriting it. That is why his daughters are shown with similar symptoms.

This shrine stela also from the early part of the Amarna period depicts Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and Princesses Meretaten, Mekeaten, and Ankhesenpaaten worshiping the Aten as a family. Dorothea Arnold in her article “Aspects of the Royal Female Image during the Amarna Period” discusses the plethora of reliefs depicting intimate family moments. While Akhenaten leans forward to give Meretaten a kiss, Mekeaten plays on her mother’s lap and gazes up lovingly.

Akhenaten was the son of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiy, a descendent of a Hebrew tribe. The largest statue in the Cairo Museum shows Amenhotep III and his family. He and Queen Tiy (pronounced ‘Tee’) had four daughters and two sons. Akhenaten’s brother, Tutmoses was later named high priest of Memphis. The other son, Amenhotep IV (Later to take the name Akhenaten) seemed to be ignored by the rest of the family. He never appeared in any portraits and was never taken to public events. He received no honors. It was as if the God Amun had excluded him. He was rejected by the world for some unknown reason. He was never shown with his family nor mentioned on monuments. Yet his mother favored him.

In 1352 BC. Akhenaten ascended the throne, succeeding his father Amenhotep III who had died. Akhenaten was just a teenager at the time, but it was the desire of Queen Tiy that he rule. In some version of the story, it is written that father and son shared the throne briefly.

Akhenaten’s reign lasted 16 years. This was a difficult time in Egyptian history. Many scholars maintain that Akhenaten was responsible for this decline, but evidence suggests that it had already started.

Akhenaten is principally famous for his religious reforms, where the polytheism of Egypt was to be supplanted by monotheism centered around Aten, the god of the solar disc. This was possibly a move to lessen the political power of the Priests. Now the Pharaoh, not the priesthood, was the sole link between the people and Aten which effectively ended the power of the various temples.

Akhenaten built a temple to his god Aten immediately outside the east gate of the temple of Amun at Karnak, but clearly the coexistence of the two cults could not last. He therefore proscribed the cult of Amun, closed the god’s temples, took over the revenues. He then sent his officials around to destroy Amun’s statues and to desecrate the worship sites. These actions were so contrary to the traditional that opposition arose against him. The estates of the great temples of Thebes, Memphis and Heliopolis reverted to the throne. Corruption grew out of the mismanagement of such large levies.

Pharaoh & Family Depictions

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. Significantly, and for the only time in the history of Egyptian royal art, Akhenaten’s family was depicted in a decidedly naturalistic manner, and they are clearly shown displaying affection for each other. Nefertiti also appears beside the king in actions usually reserved for a Pharaoh, suggesting that she attained unusual power for a queen. Artistic representations of Akhenaten give him a strikingly bizarre appearance, with an elongated face, slender limbs, a protruding belly, wide hips, and an overall pear-shaped body. It has been suggested that the pharaoh had himself depicted in this way for religious reasons, or that it exaggerates his distinctive physical traits. Until Akhenaten’s mummy is located and identified, such theories remain speculative.

Following Akhenaten’s death, a comprehensive political, religious and artistic reformation returned Egyptian life to the norms it had followed previously during his father’s reign. Much of the art and building infrastructure that was created during Akhenaten’s reign was defaced or destroyed in the period immediately following his death. Stone building blocks from his construction projects were later used as foundation stones for subsequent rulers’ temples and tombs.

Amenhotep IV was married to Nefertiti at the very beginning of his reign, and the couple had six known daughters and possibly two sons (the sons with his other wife Kiya). This is a list with suggested years of birth:

  • Smenkhkare? – year 35 or 36 of Amenhotep III’s reign (though not of Nefertiti)
  • Meritaten – year 1.
  • Meketaten – year 3, possibly earlier.
  • Ankhesenpaaten, later Queen of Tutankhamun – year 4.
  • Neferneferuaten Tasherit – year 8.
  • Neferneferure – year 9.
  • Setepenre – year 9.
  • Tutankhaten – year 8 or 9 – renamed himself Tutankhamun later.

Also suggested as his consorts were his daughters:

  • Meritaten, recorded as Great Royal Wife late in his reign, though it is more likely that she got this title due to her marriage to Smenkhkare, Akhenaten’s co-regent
  • Meketaten, Akhenaten’s second daughter. The reason for this assumption is Meketaten’s death due to childbirth in the fourteenth year of Akhenaten’s reign.
  • Ankhesenpaaten, his third daughter. After his death, Ankhesenpaaten married Akhenaten’s successor Tutankhamun.

Both Meritaten and Ankhesenpaaten apparently had children – Meritaten-ta-sherit and Ankhesenpaaten-ta-sherit, respectively -, but there are doubts not only regarding their parentage but their existence as well. Both appear only in texts which had belonged to Kiya, and were usurped by the princesses later, and it was suggested that they might have been the daughters of Kiya, or were fictional, replacing Kiya’s daughter in those scenes.

Two other lovers have been suggested, but are not widely accepted:

    , Akhenaten’s successor and / or co-ruler for the last years of his reign. Rather than a lover, however, Smenkhkare is likely to have been a half-brother or a son to Akhenaten. Some have even suggested that Smenkhkare was actually an alias of Nefertiti or Kiya, and therefore one of Akhenaten’s wives.
  • Tiye, 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 until her death. This would have been considered incest at the time. Supporters of this theory (notably Immanuel Velikovsky) consider Akhenaten to be the historical model of legendary King Oedipus of Thebes, Greece and Tiye the model for his mother/wife Jocasta.

Death, Burial & Succession

The last dated appearance of Akhenaten and the Amarna family is in the tomb of Meryre II, and dates from second month, year 12 of his reign. After this the historical record is unclear, and only with the succession of Tutankhamun is it somewhat clarified.

Akhenaten planned to relocate Egyptian burials on the East side of the Nile (sunrise) rather than on the West side (sunset), in the Royal Wadi in Akhetaten. His body was probably removed after the court returned to Thebes, and reburied somewhere in the Valley of the Kings. His sarcophagus was destroyed but has since been reconstructed and now sits outside in the Cairo Museum.

There is much controversy around whether Amenhotep IV succeeded to the throne on the death of his father, Amenhotep III, or whether there was a coregency (lasting as long as 12 years according to some Egyptologists). Current literature by Eric Cline, Nicholas Reeves, Peter Dorman and other scholars comes out strongly against the establishment of a long coregency between the 2 rulers and in favour of either no coregency or a brief one lasting 1 to 2 years, at the most. Other literature by Donald Redford, William Murnane, Alan Gardiner and more recently by Lawrence Berman in 1998 contests the view of any coregency whatsoever between Akhenaten and his father.

Similarly, although it is accepted that Akhenaten himself died in Year 17 of his reign, the question of whether Smenkhkare became co-regent perhaps 2 or 3 years earlier or enjoyed a brief independent reign is unclear. If Smenkhkare outlived Akhenaten, and became sole Pharaoh, he likely ruled Egypt for less than a year. The next successor was either Neferneferuaten, possibly a female Pharaoh who reigned for perhaps 2 or three years, or Tutankhaten (later, Tutankhamun), with the country perhaps being run by the chief vizier, and future Pharaoh, Ay. Tutankhamun is believed to be a younger brother of Smenkhkare and a son of Akhenaten, and possibly Kiya although one scholar has suggested that Tutankhamun may have been a son of Smenkhkare instead. It has also been suggested that after the death of Akhenaten, Nefertiti reigned with the name of Neferneferuaten.

With Akhenaten’s death, the Aten cult he had founded gradually fell out of favor. Tutankhaten changed his name to Tutankhamun in Year 2 of his reign (1332 BC) and abandoned the city of Akhetaten, which eventually fell into ruin. His successors Ay and Horemheb disassembled temples Akhenaten had built, including the temple at Thebes, using them as a source of easily available building materials and decorations for their own temples.

Finally, Akhenaten, Neferneferuaten, Smenkhkare, Tutankhamun, and Ay were excised from the official lists of Pharaohs, which instead reported that Amenhotep III was immediately succeeded by Horemheb. This is thought to be part of an attempt by Horemheb to delete all trace of Atenism and the pharaohs associated with it from the historical record. Akhenaten’s name never appeared on any of the king lists compiled by later Pharaohs and it was not until the late 19th century that his identity was re-discovered and the surviving traces of his reign were unearthed by archaeologists.


The Decline of Egypt and the Rise of Alexander the Great

His successor, Ramesses III, followed his policies but, by this time, Egypt’s great wealth had attracted the attention of the Sea Peoples who began to make regular incursions along the coast. The Sea Peoples, like the Hyksos, are of unknown origin but are thought to have come from the southern Aegean area. Between 1276–1178 BCE the Sea Peoples were a threat to Egyptian security (Ramesses II had defeated them in a naval battle early in his reign). After his death, however, they increased their efforts, sacking Kadesh, which was then under Egyptian control, and ravaging the coast. Between 1180–1178 BCE Ramesses III fought them off, finally defeating them at the Battle of Xois in 1178 BCE.

Figure 3-27: Seevölker by Seebeer is licensed under Public Domain

Following the reign of Ramesses III, his successors attempted to maintain his policies but increasingly met with resistance from the people of Egypt, those in the conquered territories, and, especially, the priestly class. In the years after Tutankhamun had restored the old religion of Amun, and especially during the great time of prosperity under Ramesses II, the priests of Amun had acquired large tracts of land and amassed great wealth which now threatened the central government and disrupted the unity of Egypt. By the time of Ramesses XI (1107–1077 BCE), the end of the 20 th Dynasty, the government had become so weakened by the power and corruption of the clergy that the country again fractured and central administration collapsed, initiating the so-called Third Intermediate Period of 1069–525 BCE. (23)


Link to monotheism in Abrahamic religions

Because of the monolatristic or monotheistic character of Atenism, a link to Judaism (or other monotheistic religions) has been suggested by various writers. For example, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud assumed Akhenaten to be the pioneer of monotheistic religion and Moses as Akhenaten’s follower in his book Moses and Monotheism. The Egyptian author Ahmed Osman went as far as to claim that Moses and Akhenaten were the same person.


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