Horizon of the Aten

The rule of Pharaoh Amenhotep III saw Ancient Egypt rise to the height of its influence. By the time of Amenhotep's death sometime around 1353 BC, Thebes was the political hub of the world. But although the Pharoah was a living god, the embodiment of Horus, he had to share his power with another god, Amun, represented by a powerful hierarchy of priests.

Perhaps to curtail the power of Amun's priests, Amenhotep III's son Amenhotep IV introduced a new religion to Egypt, banning all worship except that of the sun disk, or Aten. Around 1346 BC, as part of this program to consolidate power, Amenhotep ordered the construction of a new capital city far to the north in Middle Egypt. All work at Amun's temple complex at Karnak ceased. By 1343 BC, Amenhotep changed his name to Akhenaten, "The Glory of the Aten". The following year, Akhenaten formally moved the capuital from Thebes to his new capital, Akhetaten.

Frantic letters from Egypt's provinces in Canaan suggest that Akhenaten let the defense of his empire languish, concentrating all of his attention on the worship of the Aten and the construction of his new capital city.

After Akhenaten died in 1337 BC, his successor Smenkhkare may have begun the tranfer of the capital out of Akhetaten. Whatever the case, Smenkhkare died a year later and his (brother?) successor Tutankhaten was too young to have any power of his own, surely dominated by the generals Ay and Horemheb who followed him. The priests of Amun, now appointed by the military, regained the upper hand. Some time before Tutankhamun's death in 1327 BC, the capital was moved away from Amarna, not back to Thebes but to Mennufer in Lower Egypt. Soon afterward, the generals who followed Tutankhamun began dismantling the heretic's capital, levelling it to its foundations. All of Akhenaten's buildings were smashed, and his images were dismantled or chselled out of the walls.

For 3000 years, the period after Amenhotep III remained a blank space in history. Then, in 1887, Egyptian farmers discovered some tablets in the vicinity of Tel el-Amarna on the East bank of the Nile. These turned out to be the correspondence between Akhenaten and his vassals in Canaan and Syria, some of which were pleading for help against Assyrian invaders. Restorations of later temples turned up pieces of Akhetaten were in the rubble infill inside their walls; the smashed remains were assembled and a semblance of what Akhetataen was really like began to be assembled.

The art of Akhetaten is like that of no other ancient Egyptian site. Instead of the familiar poses stylized for religious symbolism, paintings are more naturalistic. The odd appearance of Akhenaten's paintings and statues are the subject of much discussion (belonging in a node about him). Tender family scenes showing the Pharoah and his queen Nefertiti playing with their six daughters have no analogues in any other site. And of course the Aten and his rays are always present.

A dry river channel extends due east of the ancient capital. Viewed form the city, the channel is a gap in the valley walls, over which the Aten would rise every morning. At the valley's eastern end, a tomb was found carved into the rock. Although the tomb was empty when found, the inscriptions made it clear that it was the original tomb of Akhenaten. It is speculated that the fabulous treasures found in the tomb of Tutankhamun had been looted from the heretic father's tomb and buried with his more worthy son. Akhenaten's mummy may have survived; a smashed mummy buried in the tomb of his mother Queen Ti in the Valley of The Kings, may actually be that of the builder of Akhetaten.

\ \  |   North City - Palace
 \ \**\_
  \ \** `--._
   | |       `-._
   | |           `--._ 
   | |**              `-._
   | |**                  `-.
   | |O       Tel            `.
   / |***      el              \____________
  /  |*T*    Amarna _ _       ______________(gap)
 /   /***          / `.`--.--|              TOMB
/   / ***          \   `-    |
 N |  ***           `--.__  /
   |***** Akhetaten       `.|    ^
 I |*****                   |    | N
   |O                 more  |    |
 L |                  tombs |
   |O <- (El-Amarna)        |
 E |                        |
   |*_______                |
   |        `-._            |
   |            `-._        |

* - ruins
O - modern town
T - temple

The Amarna Site

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