Amenhotep IV took on the name of Akhenaten (meaning servant of the Aten) early in his reign and started a revolutionary period in Egypt history. He moved the seat of government to a new capital in Akhetaten (now known as Amana) – this period was called The Amarna Interlude and it was short lived. He elevated Aten the god of the sun to the only God in the Egyptian religion. This heresy was to bring down Akhenaten and possibly his son King Tutankamen as the religion of Amun Ra was reinstated after his death and almost immediately during the reign of his son.
As a young prince, the 2nd son of Amenhotep III by his chief wife, Tiy, there is some controversy as to whether he shared co-regency with his father. His elder brother Tuthmosis, had died prematurely. The beginning Akhenaten’s reign showed no change from that of his predecessors. He was crowned at Karnak (temple of the god Amun) and like his father, married a lady of non-royal blood, Nefertiti, the daughter of the vizier Ay.
Ay appears to have been a brother of Queen Tiy. Nefertiti’s mother is not known. She may have died as Nefertiti seems to have been brought up by her stepmother Tey another wife of Ay.
The Cult of Aten
There is little doubt that Akhenaten was more of a thinker and philosopher than his predecessors. His father had recognized the growing power of the priesthood of Amun and sought to curb it. Akhenaten was to take the matter a lot further by introducing a new single cult of sun-worship that was incarnate in the sun’s disc, the Aten.
Akhenaten’s innovation was to worship the Aten in its own right portrayed as a solar disc whose protective rays ended in hands holding the ankh hieroglyph for life. The Aten was only accessible to Akhenaten, therefore eliminating the need for an intermediate priesthood.
Firstly the King built a temple to the god Aten immediately outside the east gate of the temple of Amun at Karnak. Clearly the two cults could not coexist for long. The King took over the 婚姻輔導員. temples of Amun, closed them and took over the revenues. To ensure a complete break, in year 6 of his reign he moved to a new capital he named Akhetaten in Middle Egypt, half way between Memphis and Thebes.
This was a new site not previously dedicated to any other gods, and he named it Akhetaten – The Horizon of the Aten. Today the city is known as El Amarna.
In the tomb of Ay, his chief minister (and later King after Tutankamun’s death) there is a long composition known as the ‘Hymn to the Aten’, said to have been written by Akhenaten himself. It is quite moving and similar to the concept in Psalm 104 its possible source. It summarizes the Aten Cult and especially the concept of Akhenaten having the only access to the god as follows. ‘Thou arisest fair in the horizon of Heaven, 0 Living Aten, Beginner of Life… there is none who knows thee save thy son Akhenaten. Thou hast made him wise in thy plans and thy power.’
The dead no longer called upon Osiris to guide them through the afterworld. They believed only their adherence to Akhenaten and his intervention on their behalf could help them to live beyond the grave.
From present evidence it appears that only the higher echelon embraced the new religion (and perhaps only on the surface). Excavations at El Amarna show that the old way of religion continued among the ordinary people. Throughout Egypt, the cult of Aten had little effect on the common people, except where the priesthood was dismantled and temples were closed. The ordinary people had little to do with religious entities except on high days and holidays when the god’s statue would be carried in procession from the sanctuary outside the great temple walls.
The standard bureaucracy continued to run the country while the King courted his god. Cracks in the Egyptian empire became evident in the later reign of Akhenaten as he increasingly left government and diplomats to their own devices.