by Megaera Lorenz

Table of Contents:



Akhenaten of Amarna, 18th Dynasty Pharaoh of Egypt

The Mystery of Akhenaten: Genetics or Aesthetics?

An Analysis of Akhenaten's Familial Relationships


The Art of the Amarna Period

The Amarna Royal Family: Biographies of the Amarna Royalty

Sign the Survey

Visit the New Akhenaten Temple Project Website!


drawing of Akhenaten with felinedrawing of Akhenaten with cat by Megaera Lorenz
    Akhenaten was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh who reigned about 3,500 years ago. He made some major, but rather short-lived changes to various aspects of ancient Egyptian culture, the most notable one being his religious revolution. Akhenaten also made major changes in the ancient Egyptian art style, and presented himself in a very different manner from any of his predecessors.
    Akhenaten ruled in the eighteenth dynasty, which seemed to be an age of revolution in ancient Egypt. Only a few reigns before his had been the reign of Hatshepsut, the most famous (but not the only) female pharaoh.
    Akhenaten's strange appearance and mysterious behavior, as well as his connection with Nefertiti and with the ill-fated "boy king" Tutankhamen, have made him the subject of much passion and controversy in the last century or so. Akhenaten is all things to all people--to some he was a fanatical lunatic, to some he comes across as a strange, eccentric young man whose behavior was strongly influenced by his mother, to others he was a Christ-like visionary and a mentor of Moses, and to still others he was simply someone who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and who really had nothing to do with the dramatic reformations that went on during his reign.

 Akhenaten's family

    Akhenaten had an extensive family, which was well represented in the art from his reign. His parents were Amenhotep III and Tiye. Akhenaten's name was originally Amenhotep IV, which he changed later. Akhenaten was married to Nefertiti, who is now famous because of the beautiful bust of her found at Amarna. Nefertiti's origins are uncertain. Some historians believe that she was a foreign princess, but there is some evidence to suggest that she was a relative of Akhenaten.
    Akhenaten and Nefertiti had six daughters, named Merytaten, Meketaten, Ankhesenpaaten, Neferneferuaten-tasharit, Neferneferure, and Sotepenre. Meketaten died when she was about eleven of unknown causes, and Neferneferuaten-tasharit, Neferneferure, and Sotepenre followed shortly afterwards. They were probably victims of a plague that was running rampant in Egypt at the time.
    There were two mystery figures in Akhenaten's family--Smenkhkare (Akhenaten's co-regent and successor), and Tutankhaten (later Tutankhamen). These two were almost certainly brothers--this was basically confirmed by the discovery of Smenkhkare's body in tomb 55--but their relation to Akhenaten is unknown. Maybe they were brothers of Akhenaten as well, or cousins.

 Akhenaten's religious revolution

    The nature of Akhenaten's revolution is well established--he overthrew Egyptian polytheism in favor of the worship of a single god, Aten--but the reason behind it is still unknown. Many people have offered theories.
    When historians first began to study Akhenaten carefully, in the late 1800s, the first thing that naturally came to everyone's mind was that Akhenaten was divinely inspired. However, it does not seem likely that Akhenaten simply decided out of the blue to make such a major change. Many early historians, determined to link Akhenaten's religion somehow to the Jewish religion, said that he was inspired by Joseph or Moses (Redford, p. 4, 1984). This is a possibility, considering that Joseph, at least, was around in roughly the same time period as Akhenaten. However, after close examination of Akhenaten's religion, this hypothesis seems unlikely. Akhenaten's religion did center on one god, but his major emphasis was on the Aten's visibility, tangibility, and undeniable realness. Akhenaten placed no emphasis, therefore, on faith.
    According to John Tuthill, a professor at the University of Guam, Akhenaten's reasons for his religious reform were political. By the time of Akhenaten's reign, the god Amen had risen to such a high status that the priests of Amen had become even more wealthy and powerful than the pharaohs. However, Barbara Mertz argued that Akhenaten and his courtiers would not have easily perceived this (Mertz, 1966, p. 269). Still, this theory remains as a possibility to be considered.
    It may be that Akhenaten was influenced by his family members, particularly his wife or mother (Dunham, 1963, p. 4; Mertz, 1966, p. 269). There was a certain trend in Akhenaten's family towards sun-worship. Towards the end of the reign of Akhenaten's father, Amenhotep III, the Aten was depicted increasingly often.
    Some historians have suggested that the same religious revolution would have happened even if Akhenaten had never become pharaoh at all. However, considering the violent reaction that followed shortly after Akhenaten's untimely death, this seems improbable.
    The reasons for Akhenaten's revolution still remain a mystery. Until further evidence can be uncovered, it will be impossible to know just what motivated his unusual behavior.

 Works Cited:

Dunham, Barrows (1963). Heroes and Heretics. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Mertz, Barbara (1966). Red Land, Black Land. New York: Coward McCann, Inc.
Redford, Donald B. (1984). Akhenaten: The Heretic King. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press

Drawing of Akhenaten in a small boat on the Nile, with ducks flying up from the weeds.
Drawing of Akhenaten on the Nile by Megaera Lorenz

Read more about Akhenaten's family, and see a drawing of Smenkhkare by Megaera Lorenz!
What was "wrong" with Akhenaten, if anything? Check it out at The Mystery of Akhenaten: Genetics or Aesthetics! What kind of webpage would Akhenaten himself have designed? See it at Webpage-en-Aten!Find out about the fascinating art from Akhenaten's reign at The Art of the Amarna Period!

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