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Mery-Aten Mural
Fig 1. Coloured reliefs of wailing women and weeping men from the tomb of
the priest Mery-Neith/ Mery-Aten, found near Saqqara, 2001. [Randa Shaath]

In the 3rd to 5th years in the reign of the pharaoh Amenhotep IV (c. 1375-1358 B.C.), a revolution began that was utimately to influence civilized Western humanity towards the ideal of " image and one name only" [Hornung, E. (1995) Die Religion des Lichtes, Artemis, Zurich] began.  It became the New Theology of the Sun, known as the "Aten".

After his accession, Akhenaten expressed through the medium of the royal protocol his programme, which created the god Aten from the traditional sun god, originally still anthropomorphic and with the falcon head of Re-Horakhte.  Seen first in the early sanctuaries such as the roofless Gempaaton, at Karnak where the decoration of the Sed-Festival celebrated by Akhenaten in the company of his god Aten, is featured prominently.  The decoration on the talatat and the colossal statues from Karnak are the first testimony of the kingís reform of the art, which is characterized by motion and emotion .

The coexistence of Aten with the other gods lasted only a short while, and soon the symbol of the radiating sun disk was the only divine image admitted.  Akhenaten raised Late Egyptian to the status of the language used for the inscriptions, a reform with a lasting effect, which confined Middle Egyptian to religious and official inscriptions.  The royal protocol or sebait "Instruction" created from the anthropomorphic Re-Horakhte, evolved a clear and simple doctrine: continous creator and creative energy nutured through the reformed king Akhen-Aten (ie. the horizon of the Aten).

Aten as the personal god of Akhenaten, who as his son, was a god himself.  Personal piety was seen as loyalty towards the king as sole mediator. Nefertete as Akhenaten's personal goddess, forms the triad of divinity with the king and the Aten.

The genesis of this new culture was the city of Akhetaten, the modern El-Amarna, which was founded in the 5th regnal year and constructed rapidly on an original city plan.

Akhetaten on the Nile
Fig 2. Akhetaten's river frontage centred on the Great Palace.  A flotilla of boats has just left and is
heading downstream following the current and propelled by oars. © 2001 EES.

Wherein, comfortable living quarters enclosed the official centre with temples and palaces the city of Akhetaten or Amarna, was a city for Aten, the god of light,

Amen-Re transformed as the Aten
Fig 3. Amen-Re transfomed as the Aten.

"...whose hands should be able to reach everywhere"

Typically, open altars, a processional road for the king without a roof, no darkened halls but also a relentless sun burning on the heads of commoners.   This city saw the mature birth of the Armana style.

Fig 4. Queen Nefertete.

House of Thutmose
Fig 5. The house of Thutmose the sculptor at Akhetaten.

The Aten had no cult statue, no daily ritual in the typical Aten-temple.  This theology allowed contact with the Aten above, at every spot. The processional roads in Aketaten were not destined for transport outwards from the Temple of the cult image, but for the entrance of the King into the temple.  The royal Holy Family scenes replace and continue the 'scenes of gods', but private officials cannot partake in the cult and remain outside the Temple.  In the fourth year after Amenhotep IV had changed his titulary to Akhenaten, he received a new royal protocol, which reflected the perfection of the doctrine.  Wherein, the nature of the god Aten is effusively described in the Great Hymn to the Aten; here mythology is replaced by imagery from nature.  The Aten, which is at the centre, is the light, personified as the universal god.  Although the religion of the Aten had no universal claims, unlike the select evidence of the traditional Theban pantheon, it apparently displayed very restricted and limited characteristics.

Inner Sanctuary
Fig 6. The Inner Sanctuary of the Temple at Akhetaten.

- The Great Hymn to the Aten -
Inscription, West wall of the tomb of Ay, Tell el-Amarna

Royal Family Portrait: Akhetaten
Fig 7. Painted limestone relief of Akhenaten, Nefertete and the Royal family (Merytaten,
Meketaten & Aknhesenpaaten) at Akhetaten, under the protection of the Aten. (Berlin).

It is certain that Akhnaten strictly and ruthlessly pursued a policy to realise monotheism, or the "one" god.  Although, the conception of the "one", the cosmic god, is present in the succeeding Ramesside Hymns, it is no doubt, due to the influence of Akhnaten.  Akhnaten maintained that the light is the cosmic principle,
...on which all is dependent and from which all is derived.

Aerial Perspective: Akhetaten
Fig 7. Digital Reconstruction of the City of Akhetaten.

There was no room for Osiris and the panaloply of gods like Anubis, Set, Isis & Nephthys.  The Amarna funerary beliefs were established without an actual hereafter.  The dark phase was no longer the regeneration time of light, but simply it's absence.    The waking up of the dead into new life does not take place in the Netherworld, of Theban polythesim, but in morning at sunrise.  All orientations are eastward ...the west has vanished.  The world of the dead is not distinct from the world of the living and is situated in the Aten temple of Akhenaten.  The temple and palace represent the new world of the dead.

The ba of people buried elsewhere would head for a plenary Aten temple, or moreover the Great Aten Temple, to participate in the offerings and the presence of the King.  However, traditional funerary customs such as the shabti are retained, but on the royal sarcophagus, the protective goddesses are replaced by the Queen.  Ultimately, the grace of the King substitutes for the Judgment of the Dead.  Where at night the dead sleep and during the day they accompany Aten, the King and his family to the Great Temple, where they receive the nuture of the Aten.  When the Aten, has "gone away" in the night, it is settled in the heart of the King, ...his abode.  The sceptical attitude towards the hereafter in the 'Harperís Song' in the tomb of Paatenemheb is a product of Akhnaten's 'religion of light'.

Inner Sanctuary Entry: Akhetaten
Fig 9. Digital Reconstruction of the Entry to the Sanctuary Temple, at Akhetaten.

In the 12th regnal year as the persecution of the ancient dieties reached it's zenith, the decline of Amarna began.  Many issues of fact are still unclear from the historical records of Amarna.  The last official monuments of the Akenaten, which date from his 12th regnal year, note the position of the second queen Kiya and the vist of the King's mother Tiye to Akhetaten.  The Amarna Letters, which were written in Akaddian, document the Dahamunzu-Zannanza affair in the time of the Hittite king Suppiluliuma.  There is evidence of what are apparently satirical objects from Akhetaten, ridiculing the heretic King.  From the presence of traditional divine images in in the remains of many Amarna houses, it is possible, that there was a popular reaction against the cult of the Aten.

Nefertete [bust by Thutmose]Royal Torso

Fig's 10 & 11. Replica bust of Nefertete (Berlin) and a Royal torso carved by a master sculptor with the skill to translate a sheer,
close-fitting garment into stone, this sculpture illustrates the Amarna artistic ideal, with high waist, full belly, and voluptuous thighs. The
 figure probably represented Nefertiti or perhaps one of her daughters.
(Reign of Akhenaten, 1353 - 1336 B.C., Quartzite; h. 29.4 cm, w. 13 cm, d. 12.6 cm, Department of Egyptian Antiquities. Louvre Museum, Paris)

Main Temple: Inner Sanctuary Entrance
Fig 12. Digital Reconstruction of the Gate to the Sanctuary Temple at Akhetaten.


Central Temple Reconstruction
Fig 13. Aerial perspective of a digital reconstruction of the Central Temple at Akhetaten.

Standing before the solar temple of Akhenaten at Amarna: twin pillars formed a gateway deliberately constructed without a lintel so that no shadow would be fall upon the sun-worshipping processions.
[From Henri Stierlin, The Pharaoh's Master-builders, p.127.]
Central Temple Excavation
Fig 14. Aerial perspective of a the existing excavation site,
matching the digital reconstruction of the Central Temple at Akhetaten.
[Note: Pillars are contemporary reconstructions]

As there was no male her from Neferetete, the succession was unresolved as there were many princesses but no male pretender. A short coregency was established between Akhenaten and his successor Nefernefruaten (Smenkhkare) who is married to Queen, Meritaten.  There is speculation that this may have been ...Nefertete, empowered and renamed?   Successively, this ultimately leads to the marriage of Tutankhaten/ Tutankhamen the assumed son of Queen Kiya and his half-sister Ankhesenpaten/ Ankhesenamun.  Leading the return to the traditional religion, which was driven by the following kings, Ay and Horemheb.  In the midst of growing chaos, Akhenaten died in his 17th regnal year.  Akhenaten was the first historical fundamentalist, whose pervasive and unshakeable influence was still felt in many aspects of the Ramesside and later periods.  The Amarna experiment forced the New Kingdom culture to a complete reconsideration of funerary conceptions and stressed the bond between the sun god Re and Osiris, which begat anew...

"a theological tutelage of the genie of inundation."

[Bonhéme, M. (1995) Les eaux rituelles en Égypte pharaonique, Archeo-Nil 5, 129-139.]


Dedicated to
- My father, Les, on his 83rd Birthday, Sunday, 7th October 2001 -
['Wish that I was there!]

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Worshipful Royal Family

Fig 15. False Door, painted limestone relief of Akhenaten, Nefertete and the Royal family.


Original Amarna theme (2001) by
Angham: Sidi Weslak

See: Egypt Today, August 2001, Features: "Unchained Melodies"

New Amarna Theme (1997) by Brian Salter: Affection