Egyptian pharaoh who lived from 1353-1336 BC. His original name was Amenhotep IV.

Before Ahknaton's reign, Egyptian religion revolved around a number of gods. The Egyptian state had always been theocratic and the king was supposed to be a descendant of the gods. The king had to apply to the gods for oracles directing his major activities. When Akhnaton ascended the throne (he then still had the family name Amenhotep) he still worshiped the old gods. His first few buildings were built in the old. massive style, made out of huge stone blocks and showing the worship of Re-Harakhte (a sun-god). The art was traditional, even though the figures of men and gods were carved in a softer outline than they had been a century earlier.

A few years into his reign, Amenhotep built a place to worship a new sun-god, Aton, the disk of the sun. Aton had been very little known before then, and was never shown in human or animal form, only as the as the extended rays of the sun disk that might end in hands to confer blessings upon the people. Aton stood for the life-giving and life-sustaining power of the sun, and should be worshiped in the open where the sun could shine, not in closed-off sanctuaries. The buildings for Aton were of a new kind, they were made of smaller stones and therefore less massive, and adorned with a new style of art.

Akhnaton had a drooping jaw, a scrawny neck, sloping shoulders, a pot belly, and thick thighs. This body shape became the new ideal and was often exaggerated to the point of caricture. Apart from this, art was made showing the king and his wife Nefertiti, and their children, in remarkably life-like situations, which was a new concept in Egyptian art.

In the fifth year of his reign Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhnaton, meaning 'one who is useful to Aton'. This was a formal declaration of his new religion, and he moved his capital from Thebes, the traditional capital, to a place called Amarna. Here he built a new city, which he called Akhetaton (“Place of the Aton's Effective Power”). Near the end of his reign he built a burial place for himself that was located and oriented in such a way that it seems to suggest that Akhnaton believed he actually was Aton.

The religion of the Aton is not completely understood. Akhnaton and Nefertiti worshipped only this sun-god. For them he was “the sole god”. The name “Amon” was hacked out of the inscriptions throughout Egypt. Here and there the names of other gods and goddesses were removed, and in some texts the words “all gods” were eliminated. The figure of Nefertiti replaced the figures of protecting goddesses at the corners of a stone sarcophagus. Yet Akhenaton and Nefertiti directed their worship only to the Aton. It was the first step toward monotheism in history. Most of the general populace, however, still hang on to the old gods in secret.

Akhnaton was very busy with his new city and religion and somewhat neglected the army. This made it possible for people outside Egypt to capture great parts of the Egyptian empire.

When Akhnaton died, he was succeeded by a son-in-law, Tutankhaton. This new pharaoh changed his name to Tutankhamen, signifying that he dropped Aton and reinstated the worship of Amon, and started to change the religious system back to what it had been. This process was completed by Tutankhamen's successor Horemheb.

After his reign the name of Akhnaton was almost erased from Egyptian history (hacked out of inscriptions and so forth). Although some literature states otherwise, it seems certain that his mummy has never been found. There are some rumours that Akhnaton was actually Tutankhamen's father, and that his mummy was included in Tutankhamen's famous grave, but this is not certain.