The City of Akhetaten  


N E Y W E T * A T E N 
Last Updated 11/01/02: Richard Grosser: [email protected]
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Fig 1. Horemheb and the Godess Hathor, Tomb of Horemheb, Valley of the Kings. (1348-1320 BC)
Flanked by the innermost coffin from the sarcophagus of Tutankhamen, found in the Valley of the Kings.
(now in the GEM) It amply demonstrates the richness of the Amarna culture in it's style, decoration and motifs;
a culture that Horemheb as General of Ay's (Tutankhamen's succesor) army
and then in turn Pharaoh himself proceeded to systematically eradicate.

1891 - 1892 Tell el Amarna (ancient Akhetaten)

             (Sir Flinders) Petrie found blue painted pottery, (including) figures of the Pharoah Akhenaten, (as well as) green glaze mouldings, and ponds in deep hollows like those shown in the reliefs on the
             walls of the tombs. These scenes show Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti worshipping the god Aton.

Petrie found what he states as the,
"most important discovery artistically since
the Old Kingdom statues of Mariette."
A large hall with beautifully painted pavement (within the floor) that covered an area 25 square feet.

             Petrie also discovered workshops of manufacture from crushing quartz pebbles
             to the final decoration of glass vessels and tiles that were on columns and walls. EXCAVATIONS

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|City|Domestic|Stelae|                                                     .  .                                  |Temples|Decline|Aftermath|

The City of Akhetaten

On a virgin site on the east bank of the Nile, in Upper Egypt, 71 km (44 miles) north of modern Asyut in al-Minya muhafazah (governorate) or approximately 270 km (170 miles ) to the south of modern Cairo, Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) built the city of Akhetaten (Horizon of Aten) in about 1349 BC, as the new capital of his kingdom when he abandoned the worship of Amun and devoted himself to that of Aten.  About four years after Akhenaten's death (c. 1336 BC) the court returned to Thebes, and the city was abandoned.  The city, however, remained capital of Egypt only for about fifteen years.  After Akhenaten's death, during the reign of King Tutankhamun, it was abandoned and the royal court moved to Mennufer some 24 km (15 miles south-west of modern Cairo).  Although it had a brief existence, Akhetaten is one of the few ancient Egyptian cities that has been carefully excavated.   As Akhenaten chose a virgin site for his capital and because of the relatively short duration of its occupancy, the excavators have reconstructed an unusually accurate picture of the layout of the city.

The principal buildings of Akhetaten lay on either side of the Royal Road, the largest of them being the Great Temple of the Aton, primarily a series of walled courts leading to the completely open-air main sanctuary.  Near the Great Temple were the Palace and the commodious residence of the royal family.  Most of the dwellings at Tell el-Amarna were of baked mud brick, and the walls, floors, and ceilings of many of the rooms were painted in a lively naturalistic style; each large house had a shrine with a stela including scenes depicting the intimate family life of Akhenaten.
Among other major archaeological finds were portrait busts of Queen Nefertiti in the house of the sculptor Thutmose, as well as 300 Akkadian cuneiform tablets accidentally discovered in 1887 by a peasant woman.  From what have become known as the Amarna Tablets, it is possible to trace the fortunes of the Egyptian empire in the late 18th dynasty.

Unlike those of Thebes, the nobles' villas at Akhetaten had only one floor; the roof of the central living room, however, was usually higher than the rest of the house, thus permitting clerestory lighting and ventilation.  The workers lived in simple row houses.
Officials' tombs, resembling those at Thebes, were hewn into the desert hills to the east.  Although, the painted reliefs in the tomb chapels often appear to have been hastily carried out, they have been a major source of information on the daily life and religion of Akhenaten.  Additionally, the drawings on the tomb walls depicting various buildings of the city helped the excavators to interpret the often meagre architectural remains.  The reliefs, in an unconventional, often exaggerated style, tend to reflect a momentary aspect rather than the static mood that had characterized earlier Egyptian art.

The tomb of Akhenaten and his family, situated in the side of a dry watercourse east of the city, contained an unprecedented scene of the royal family in mourning over the death of the princess Meketaton, who was buried there.  Excavations in the 1890s and late 1970s yielded fragments of Akhenaten's deliberately smashed sarcophagus and numerous broken ushabti.  When Tutankhamen transferred the residence back to Thebes, he moved the royal burials to the Theban necropolis, where Smenkhkare and Queen Tiy were found in a cache of royal mummies.  After Akhetaten's abandonment, Horemheb razed the city and Ramses II reused the stone blocks of its temples for his work at nearby Hermopolis.

The design of the city of Akhetaten containing the Royal Palaces, the Temples for the Aten (the Sun-Disc) and administrative buildings, had an extensive network of private houses and workshops.  Akhetaten  in Egyptian meant The Horizon of the Sun-Disc.  It has been suggested by a variety of sources, that the name of the city derived from the two distinct hills between which the sun appeared in the east in morning.  Moreover, the Egyptian word for "horizon" [Akhet] was written with the hieroglyph illustrating two hills.


Fig 2. The city of Akhetaten (Flinders Petrie 1892)

The open-form plan is demonstrative of the Aten's contact with everyone and
the hands that "...reach everywhere"

Fig 3.  An Akkadian synonym of the Amun and the precursor of the Aten.

Fig 4. The Palace of Akhetaten (Flinders Petrie 1892). City of Akhetaten.

Fig 5. The Palace of Nefertete (Flinders Petrie 1892) City of Akhetaten.

Fig 6. Massif Head of Akhenaten from the Gem-Pa-Aten on the outer columns
of the Temple to Amun, Karnak.  The founder of Akhetaten.

Fig 7. Gem-Pa-Aten. (1350-1348 BC) City of Akhetaten.

Fig 8. The daughters of Akhenaten. Akhetaten (1350-1348 BC)
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford..

Fig 9. House of the visier Nakht. City of Akhetaten.

Domestic architecture

Mud brick and wood were the standard materials for houses and palaces throughout the Dynastic Periods; stone was used occasionally for such architectural elements as doorjambs, lintels, column bases, and windows.  The best preserved private houses are those of modest size in the workmen's village of Dayr al-Madinah.  Exceptional in that they were built of stone, they typically had three or four rooms, comprising a master bedroom, a reception room, a cellar for storage, and a kitchen open to the sky; accommodation on the roof, reached by a stair, completed the plan.

By comparison, villas for important officials in Akhenaten's city of Aketaten (Tell el-Amarna) were large and finely decorated with brightly painted murals.  The house of the vizier Nakht had at least 30 rooms, including separate apartments for the master, his family, and his guests.  Such houses had bathrooms and lavatories.  The ceilings of large rooms were supported by painted wooden pillars and it's presumed there were further rooms above.  Where space was restricted (as in Thebes) houses of several stories were built.  Tomb scenes that show such houses also demonstrate that windows were placed high to reduce sunlight and that hooded vents on roofs were used to catch the breeze.  Palaces, as far as can be judged from remains at Thebes and Akhetaten (Tell el-Amarna), were vast, rambling magnified versions of Nakht's villa, with broad halls, harem suites, kitchen areas, and wide courts.  At Akhetaten (Tell el-Amarna) some monumental formality was introduced in the form of porticoes, colonnades, and statuary.  Lavish use was made of mural and floor decoration in which floral themes predominated.

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Fig 10. Inverse copy of the upper part of Stela S, displaying Akhenaten,
Nefertiti and their two eldest daughters worshipping the Aten). City of Akhetaten.

In the inscription of the boundary Stela S, the king and queen are seen in the upper compartment, raising their hands in an attitude of prayer to the Aten, whose disk shines over their heads where each ray of light terminates in a hand giving life, in the form of an ankh symbol.  Two royal daughters, Meritaten and Mekaten, accompany both the King and Queen.

The stela also records a date: 6th Year in the month of Pharmuthi, the 13th day.

Below this are the following words:

On this day was the king in Akhetaten, in a tent of byssus. And the king - life, prosperity and health to him! - changed Akhetaten, which was its name, into Pa-aten-haru ('the city of the delight of the Sun's disk'). And the king appeared riding in the golden court-chariot, like the disk of the Sun, when it rises and sheds over the land its pleasant gifts, and he took the road that ends in Akhetaten, from the first time when the king had discovered it, to found it (the city) as a memorial to the disk of the Sun, according as the Sun-god king, who dispenses life eternally and for ever, had signified to him to found a memorial within it.

A proper and complete sacrifice was offered on that day in the [temple of the sun] at Akhentaten, to the Sun's disk of the living god, who received the thanks of the love of the royal counterpart, the Pharaoh Akhenaten. Thereupon the king went up the river, and went up in his chariot before his father, the Sun-god king, towards the mountain to the south-east of the city of Akhetaten.

The beams of the Sun's disk shone over him in a pure life, so as to make his body young every day.

Thereupon king Akhenaten swore an oath by his father thus: 'Sweet love fills my heart for the queen, for her young children. Grant a great age to the Queen Nefertiti in long years; may she keep the hand of Pharaoh! Grant a great age to the royal daughter Meriaten, and to the royal daughter Makaten, and to their children; may they keep the hand of the queen, their mother, eternally and for ever!'

'What I swear is a true avowal of that which my heart says to me. Never is there falsehood in what I say'.

With regard to the southern memorial tablet, [of the] four [memorial tablets] on the east of the city of Akhetaten, let this be the memorial tablet which I will have set up in the place which I have chosen for it in the south, for ever and eternally.

This memorial tablet shall be set up in the south-west towards the middle, on the mountain of Akhetaten, in the midst of it.

With regard to the memorial tablet in the middle, on the mountain to the east of the city of Akhetaten, let this be the memorial tablet for Akhetaten. This I will have set up in its place [which I have appointed for it in sight of] the city of Akhetaten, at the place which I have appointed for it in the east, for ever and eternally.

This memorial tablet in the middle, on the mountain to the east of the city of Akhetaten, let it be in the midst of it.

With regard to the memorial tablet to the north-east of Akhetaten, I will have it set up in its place. Let this be the place which I have appointed for it.

[In such wise shall the memorial tablets be set up, according to their direction] towards Akhetaten. From the memorial tablet in the south to the memorial tablet in the north [ the distance amounts to] 1,000 [. . . . . . ]

The following lines have been so damaged that very little more can be made out except that the king also set up a similar boundary Stela F, west of Akhetaten on the opposite bank of the river.

Roughly, two years after the boundary Stela S was carved, a short text was added:

This memorial tablet, which was placed in the middle, had fallen down. I will have it set up afresh, and placed again at the place at which it was [before]: this I swear. In the 8th Year, in the month Tybi, on the 9th day, the king was in Akhetaten, and Pharaoh mounted his court-chariot of polished copper, to behold the memorial tablets of the Sun's disk, which are on the hills in the territory to the south-east of Akhetaten.

The phrase 'fallen down' has been taken to mean that this Stela (and others which had similarly fallen down) had been destroyed by the Egyptians themselves, disaffected with Akhenaten and his religious beliefs.

Fig 11. Pencil drawing made by Robert Hay in 1827 of Boundary Stela A,
which once again shows Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their two eldest daughters
making offerings - the figure of a third daughter had been added to the infill
 (therefore carved after Stela S). City of Akhetaten.


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Akhetaten and Cult Temples

The cult temple achieved its most highly developed form in the great sanctuaries erected over many centuries at Thebes.  Architecturally the most satisfying, and certainly the most beautiful, is the Luxor Temple, started by Amenhotep III of the 18th dynasty. The original design consists of an imposing open court with colonnades of graceful lotus columns, a smaller offering hall, a shrine for the ceremonial boat of the god, an inner sanctuary for the cult image, and a room in which the divine birth of the king was celebrated.  The approach to the temple was made by a colonnade of huge columns with open papyrus-flower capitals, planned by Amenhotep III but decorated with fascinating processional reliefs under Tutankhamen and Horemheb.  Later Ramses II built a wide court before the colonnade and two great pylons to form a new entrance.

The necessary elements of an Egyptian temple, most of which can be seen at Luxor, are the following: an approach avenue of sphinxes leading to the great double-towered pylon entrance fitted with flagpoles and pennants; before the pylon a pair of obelisks and colossal statues of the king; within the pylon a court leading to a pillared hall, the hypostyle, beyond which might come a further, smaller hall where offerings could be prepared; and at the heart of the temple, the shrine for the cult image.  In addition, there were storage chambers for temple equipment and sometimes a crypt.  Outside the main temple building was a lake, or at least a well, for the water needed in the rituals; in later times there might also be a birth house (mammisi) to celebrate the king's divine birth. The whole, with service buildings, was contained by a massive mud brick wall.

Fig 12, 13, 14, 15. Scenes from the Karnak Complex, Thebes.
Unlike Aketaten, here with the comparison the Hypostyle Hall it was akin to a thick grove trees
which struggled to allow light into the Temple, keeping the sanctuary of Amun-Re in constant shadow and half-light.

The great precinct of the Temple of Opet [Karnak] (where the longest side is 560m [1,837 feet]) contains whole buildings, or parts of buildings, dating from the early 18th dynasty down to the Roman Period.  Modern reconstruction work has even recovered a tiny way station of the 12th dynasty, a gem of a temple building decorated with some of the finest surviving relief scenes and texts.

Of the structures on the main Karnak axis the most remarkable are the hypostyle hall and the so-called Festival Hall of Thutmose III.  The former contained 134 mighty papyrus columns, 12 of which formed the higher central aisle  some 23 metres (76 feet) in length. Grille windows allowed some light to enter, but it must be supposed that even on the brightest day most of the hall was in deep gloom.  The Festival Hall is better described as a memorial hall.  It's principal room is distinguished by a series of unusual columns with bell-shaped capitals, inspired by the wooden tent poles used in primitive buildings.  Their lightness contrasts strikingly with the massive supports of the hypostyle hall.

Near the Karnak Temple, King Akhenaten and his wife, Nefertete, built a number of temples, later dismantled, to the sun god Aten. The vast number of blocks found in modern times indicates that these constructions were essentially open places for worship like the earlier sun temples.  So, too, was the great Aten temple at Aketaten (Tell el-Amarna), built later in Akhenaton's reign.  Much of the stone for the so-called northern Karnak, along with colossal statues and a dozen obelisks, was appropriated from other sanctuaries in Egypt, making this a remarkable assemblage of earlier work. It was not only a cult temple but the funerary temple for the kings who were buried within the precinct.

The most interesting and unusual cult temple of the New Kingdom was built at Abydos by Seti I of the 19th dynasty. Principally dedicated to Osiris, it contained seven chapels dedicated to different deities, including the deified Seti himself. These chapels have well-preserved barrel ceilings and are decorated with low-relief scenes retaining much original colour.
The most remarkable monument of Ramses II, the great builder, is undoubtedly the temple of Abu Simbel.  Although excavated from the living rock, it follows generally the plan of the usual Egyptian temple: colossal seated statues emerging from the facade, which is the cliff face; a pillared hall followed by a second leading to a vestibule; and a shrine with four statues of divinities, including one of Ramses himself.

The decline and end of Akhenaton's reform movement.

The politics at the conclusion of Akhenaten's reign was troubled.  Although the ruling classes had been shorn of their powers, there was still an army.  It was restless, as the documents show that Akhenaten paid little attention to it.  Without a strong army and navy, foreign trade began to fall off, and internal taxes began to disappear into the pockets of local officials, finally causing the discontented priesthood and civil officials to combine with the army to discredit the new movement.  Akhenaten's rule was able to withstand these forces, but his weaker successors fell prey to the collective antogonism.  The Amarna Letters, discovered in the ruins of Akhetaten (Tell el-Amarna) from an archive of international correspondence directed by Asian princes to the courts of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten, reflect the new situation. The army commanders and high commissioners in Palestine and Syria were neglected.  The local princes, who had seen their advantage in trading with Egypt, became despondent when Egypt did not answer their appeals for support.

Hostile forces arose, ambitious princes in Palestine and Syria, invaders from the eastern desert, and the venturesome Hittites to the north.  The Amarna Letters, as well as the archives found at the Hittite capital, show the disintegration of the Egyptian empire in Asia.  Loyal princes were forced to flee their cities.  Aggressors, aided by the Hittites, captured territory from the Egyptian army.  It may be that Egypt lost all of its holdings except the southwest corner of Palestine.  Akhenaten's preoccupation with ideas and ideals cost Egypt its proud empire.  Akhenaton may have given in a little in the face of these disasters.  In the 12th year of his reign the queen mother, Tiy, a practical woman, made a visit to Amarna.  There is some evidence that he contained his extremism, thereafter.  The matter is confused, involving Akhenaten's estrangement from Nefertete and the promotion of his young son-in-law Smenkhkare as a favourite.  Since Smenkhkare apparently returned to Thebes, compromise seems to been immenent.   When Akhenaten died, he was succeeded briefly by Smenkhkare and then by a second son-in-law, Tutankhaten.  The latter was forced to change his name to Tutankhamen, dropping the Aten and embracing Amen, to abandon Amarna and move back to Thebes, and to pay penance by giving the old gods new riches and privileges.  When the tomb of Tutankhamen was discovered in western Thebes in 1922, it gave a final illustration of the sumptuous glories of Amarna art.  A few years after the death of this young king, the army took over the throne in the person of General Horemheb.  He instituted counterreforms in order to restore the old system completely.


The aftermath of Amarna

Akhenaten had six daughters by Nefertiti and one or two sons, presumably by a secondary wife Kiya or by his own daughter Meketaten, who may have died in childbirth and whose infant son is shown in the royal tomb at Amarna.  His immediate, ephemeral successor was a woman, possibly his eldest daughter Meritaten.  Meriaten or the widow of Tutankhamen called on the Hittite king Suppiluliumas to supply a consort because she could find none in Egypt; a prince Zannanza was sent, but he was murdered as he reached Egypt.  Thus, Egypt never had a diplomatic marriage in which a foreign man was received into the country.  After the brief rule of Smenkhkare (1338-36 BC), possibly a son of Akhenaten, Tutankhaten, a nine-year-old child, succeeded and was married to the much older Ankhesenpaaten, Akhenaton's third daughter. Around his third regnal year, the King moved his capital to Memphis, abandoned the Aton cult, and changed his and the Queen's names to Tutankhamen and Ankhesenamen.

In an inscription recording Tutankhamen's actions for the gods, the Amarna period is described as one of misery and of the withdrawal of the gods from Egypt.  This change, made in the name of the young king, was probably the work of high officials.  The most influential were Ay, known by the title God's Father, who served as vizier and regent (his title indicates a close relationship to the royal family), and the general Horemheb, who functioned as royal deputy and whose tomb at Saqqarah contains remarkable scenes of Asiatic captives being presented to the King.  Just as Akhenaton had adapted and transformed the religious thinking that was current in his time, the reaction to the religion of Amarna was influenced by the rejected doctrine.  In the new doctrine, all gods were in essence three: Amon, Re, and Ptah (to whom Seth was later added), and in some ultimate sense they too were one.  The earliest evidence of this triad is on a trumpet of Tutankhamen and is related to the naming of the three chief army divisions after these gods; religious and secular life were not separate.  This concentration on a small number of essential deities may possibly be related to the piety of the succeeding Ramesside period, because both viewed the cosmos as being thoroughly permeated with the divine.

Under Tutankhamen a considerable amount of building was accomplished in Thebes. His Luxor colonnade bears detailed reliefs of the traditional beautiful festival of Opet; at Karnak he decorated a structure with warlike scenes.  He affirmed his legitimacy by referring back to Amenhotep III, whom he called his father.  Tutankhamen's modern fame comes from the discovery of his rich burial in the Valley of the Kings.  His tomb equipment was superior in quality to the fragments known from other royal burials, and the opulent display of varying aesthetic value represents Egyptian wealth the peak of the country's power.

Fig 16. Smenkhkare and Meritaten. (1350-1348 BC).
Flanked by the head of Tutankhamen as a boy, found in the Outer Chamber of his tomb in the Valley of the Kings
now in the Egyptian Museum denoting the typically deformed shape of the head, prominent in the work of the Amarna figurative style.


= Dedicated to my daughter Emilia =
|in honour of Amelia Edwards|

Angham: Leih Sebtaha