The son of the magnificent Amenhotep III, Akhenaten was crowned as Amenhotep IV but in his fifth regnal year he proclaimed the supremacy of the Aten above all the other gods of Egypt (though he retained his own divinity), moved the capital to a new site, Akhetaten (now Tell El-Amarna) and assumed the name Akhenaten. His adoption of Atenism was not entirely unprecedented; in his father's reign the Aten was becoming significant and his mother, the redoubtable Queen Tiy, was possibly an enthusiast for the reformed religion. Akhenaten's chief claim to significance - and some respect - in the history of Egypt resides in his influence on the country's art. Under his apparently direct guidance his sculptors, painters, architects and craftsmen produced a wholly new and, some would say fresh, approach to the creation of the stream of works which are associated with his reign and its aftermath (the 'Amarna Style'). One effect of the new approach to art was in the extreme, sometimes bizarre, informality of representations of the royal family, especially in the early years.
Akhenaten's own portraits are amongst the most remarkable ever produced by an ancient society. It is difficult to resist the impression that they indicate a considerable degree of neurosis prevailing in the circles around the king.
Akhenaten used to be described as a 'monotheist'. This is hardly the case and the term is less frequently applied today; however, some commentators have seen him as influencing the idea of the one god which, long after his lifetime, became identified with beliefs enshrined in the early books of the Old Testament. Whatever may have been Akhenaten's merits as a religious thinker, he was a disastrous politician. His evident neglect of Egypt's foreign relations and his apparent lack of support for her allies produced a parlous situation in the Eastern Mediterranean which only the general Horemheb, who eventually became king, and the early monarchs of the Nineteenth Dynasty, set to rights.
Akhenaten is remembered for his marriage to the spectacularly beautiful Nefertiti, by whom he had six daughters, one of whom, Ankhesenpa'aten (later Ankhesenamun), was married to Tutankhamun. There seems to have been a rift between the king and queen, however, and there has been some speculation about the nature of Akhenaten's relationship with his eventual but brief successor, Smenkhkare.
The circumstances of Akhenaten's departure from the kingship and his death are unknown. The last recorded year of his reign is the seventeenth. He had a tomb prepared at Akhetaten and he, his mother Queen Tiy and at least one of his daughters, Meketaten, were buried there. It is possible however that King Tutankhamun, who succeeded him, had his mummy moved to Thebes and placed in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, KV55. Akhenaten's memory was execrated by the priests of Amun when their orthodoxy was restored under Tutankhamun and, wherever they could effect it, his monuments were destroyed.
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Last Updated: June 21st, 2011
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