Personalities Option B: Akhenaten
Personalities In Their Time: Option B- Akhenaten
Akhenaten is commonly viewed as one of the most polarising figures of ancient Egypt. He is cast as a heretic, an innovator, a madman, a revolutionary and as one of the most original thinkers of his time. What is certain though, is that his reign was characterised by social, political and religious upheaval.
Akhenaten ascended to the throne around 1353BCE and ruled for approximately 17 years during the 18th Dynasty of Egypt’s New Kingdom. Akhenaten was originally crowned as Amenhotep IV, following in the tradition of his father Amenhotep III and named for the god Amun. In the early years of his reign, Akhenaten continued the work of his father in regards to public building projects in the capital Thebes, keeping with the traditional and established decorative, iconographic and architectural styles of his predecessors. However, within a few years he transformed Egyptian kingship, religion and culture by imposing a new religious ideology based only around the god Aten, the King and the Queen. He changed his name to Akhenaten (Akhen-Aten) and relocated Egypt’s capital to a newly founded site in Middle Egypt, Akhetaten (Akhet-Aten), known today as Tell el-Amarna. Akhenaten overhauled religious rituals and festivals, royal iconography, architecture, artistic styles, foreign policy, funerary customs and more.
The tumultuous nature of Akhenaten’s reign and the effects it had on the subsequent Ramesside Period has captured the fascination of both scholars and the public alike. The reasoning behind his transformation of Egyptian society and culture remains a hotly contested source of debate.
Image: Sculpture of the face of Akhenaten. Creative Commons
- For all the latest news and updates relating to the excavations and research currently being conducted by Barry Kemp and his research team at the ancient city of Tell el-Amarna check out the Amarna Project website.
- Taronas, L., ‘Akhenaten: The Mysteries of Religious Revolution’, American Research Center in Egypt. This article provides a succinct overview of the controversial reign of Akhenaten and a discussion of the possible reasons behind his religious revolution.
- British Museum, London. Collection Online, E29786, The Amarna Letters.
- Knott, E. (2016), “The Amarna Letters” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Hill, M. (2014), “Art, Architecture, and the City in the Reign of Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten (ca.1353-1336 B.C.)” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Roehrig, C.H. (2000), “Egypt in the New Kingdom (ca.1550-1070 B.C.)” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Braverman, I.M., Redford, D.B., Mackowiak, P.A., (2009), “Akhenaten and the Strange Physiques of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty”, Annals Internal Medicine 150:8, 556-560.
- Stevens, A. (2015), The Archaeology of Amarna, Oxford. You can download a PDF version of this text at Oxford Handbooks Online.
- Louvre, Paris. Collection & Louvre Palace, E15593 Sculpture of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. (ca. 1550 – 1069 B.C)
- Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Online Collection, Trial Piece with Relief of Head of Akhenaten (ca.1353-1336 B.C).
- Stevens, A. (2006), Private Religion at Amarna: The Material Evidence, Melbourne. Dr Anna Stevens is Deputy Director of the Amarna Project and has published a number of comprehensive monographs and papers such as this which explore cultural, funerary and religious practices of the Amarna Period.
- Spence, K. (2011), Akhenaten and the Amarna Period. This BBC History online article provides a comprehensive discussion of Akhenaten’s ascension to the throne and the religious and cultural revolutions that were instigated during his reign.