2013/01/22

Akhenaten

AkhenAten  (1352–1336  b.c.)  Called the “heretic pharaoh” because he changed the religion of  ancient Egypt, Akhenaten was the first known mono- theist in history. He believed there was only one  god, the Aten. Soon after he was crowned king, he  changed his name from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten,  meaning “Aten is on the horizon.” He then raised  the little-known god, the Aten, meaning “disk of the  sun,” to supreme god in the religion. Akhenaten was the son of Amenhotep III, a plea- sure-loving king who devoted his life to building temples, and Queen Tiye, a strong-minded woman  if her portraits tell us anything about her personality.

Akhenaten


 Akhenaten’s ideas were revolutionary, and from his  statues, we can see that his looks were different as  well. Instead of an idealized king with a perfectly  proportioned body, images of Akhenaten show a long,  thin face, slanted eyes, thick lips, pointed chin, and a  scrawny neck. He had breasts, a swollen belly, wide  hips, and spindly arms and legs. This highly unusual  and perhaps realistic portrayal of the king became  an artistic fashion as Egyptian art changed to a more  realistic style under his reign. It is not certain when Akhenaten began worship- ing the Aten. There were references to the Aten dur- ing his childhood: Akhenaten’s mother, Queen Tiye,  had a pleasure boat named The Aten Gleams that she  sailed on her private lake.

Right after his coronation,  Akhenaten made it clear to everyone how important the new god was. He began building temples to the  Aten next to the temple of the traditional god, Amun,  at Karnak Temple, a group of religious buildings in  Thebes. The Aten was unlike any god the people had ever  worshipped. Represented as a sun disk with rays of  light reaching down and ending in hands holding an  ankh (the sign of life) and was scepter (the sign of  power), it bestowed light and warmth upon the king  and his family. Unlike the traditional gods of Egypt,  however, the Aten was an abstract god without  personality.

Akhenaten and his followers left Thebes, the  capital of Egypt, and traveled north to a remote  desert site about halfway between modern Luxor and  Cairo to build a new city in the desert, called Akhet- Aten, “the horizon of the Aten.” The king erected  boundary markers called stele that described how the  Aten directed him to build the holy city on this site.  Akhet-Aten was one of the most beautiful cities in  the ancient world, stretching for five miles along the  Nile. There were extra-wide streets for the king’s  chariot procession and planned neighborhoods with  houses for the laborers, administrators, and nobles  of the court, as well as several palaces for the royal  family and temples for the Aten. The Aten temples were unlike any other temples  in Egypt. There were no roofs and no sanctuary, or  “holy of holies,” for the god. Completely open, their  vast courtyards were filled with sunshine and altars  for offerings to the Aten.

Akhenaten and his wife, Queen Nefertiti, had six  daughters. Akhenaten’s happy isolation lasted only  a dozen years, as one by one, five of the princesses  and Nefertiti died. When Akhenaten himself died  after reigning for about 17 years, Tutankhamen,  his probable young son by a second wife, became  pharaoh. Egypt returned to the old religion, and the  city of Akhet-Aten was abandoned when the capital  was moved back to Thebes. It has been said that Akhenaten was a man born  before his time, that his ideas were too revolutionary  to be accepted in conservative Egypt. He changed  his name, the art style, the religion, and the capital.  In so doing, Akhenaten’s legacy to the world was  monotheism, a new art style, and his beautiful prayer  praising the Aten .

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