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Amenhotep IV
Amenophis IV, Naphu(`)rureya, Ikhnaton

Statue of Akhenaten in the early Amarna style.
Pharaoh of Egypt
Reign 1353–1336 BC or
1351–1334 BC, Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt
Predecessor Amenhotep III
Successor Smenkhkare or Neferneferuaten
Consort(s) Nefertiti
An unidentified sister
Children Smenkhkare
Neferneferuaten Tasherit
Father Amenhotep III
Mother Tiye
Died 1336 or 1334 BC
Burial Royal Tomb of Akhenaten KV55
Monuments Akhetaten, Gempaaten, Hwt-Benben

Akhenaten (pron.: / ˌ ɑː k ə ˈ n ɑː t ən /; also spelled Echnaton, Akhenaton, Ikhnaton, and Khuenaten; meaning "living spirit of Aten") known before the fifth year of his reign as Amenhotep IV (sometimes given its Greek form, Amenophis IV, and meaning Amun is Satisfied), was a Pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt who ruled for 17 years and died perhaps in 1336 BC or 1334 BC. He is especially noted for abandoning traditional Egyptian polytheism and introducing worship centered on the Aten, which is sometimes described as monotheistic or henotheistic. An early inscription likens the Aten to the sun as compared to stars, and later official language avoids calling the Aten a god, giving the solar deity a status above mere gods.

Akhenaten tried to bring about a departure from traditional religion, yet in the end it would not be accepted. After his death, traditional religious practice was gradually restored, and when some dozen years later rulers without clear rights of succession from the Eighteenth Dynasty founded a new dynasty, they discredited Akhenaten and his immediate successors, referring to Akhenaten himself as "the enemy" in archival records.

He was all but lost from history until the discovery, in the 19th century, of Amarna, the site of Akhetaten, the city he built for the Aten. Early excavations at Amarna by Flinders Petrie sparked interest in the enigmatic pharaoh, whose tomb was unearthed in 1907 in a dig led by Edward R. Ayrton. Interest in Akhenaten increased with the discovery in the Valley of the Kings, at Luxor, of the tomb of King Tutankhamun, who has been proved to be Akhenaten's son according to DNA testing in 2010. A mummy found in KV55 in 1907 has been identified as that of Akhenaten. This man and Tutankhamun are related without question, but the identification of the KV55 mummy as Akhenaten has been questioned.

Modern interest in Akhenaten and his queen, Nefertiti, comes partly from his connection with Tutankhamun, partly from the unique style and high quality of the pictorial arts he patronized, and partly from ongoing interest in the religion he attempted to establish.

Early reign as Amenhotep IV

Relief representing Amenhotep IV before he changed his name to Akhenaten, Neues Museum, Berlin

The future Akhenaten was a younger son of Amenhotep III and Chief Queen Tiye. The eldest son, Crown Prince Thutmose, was recognized as the heir of Amenhotep III but he died relatively young and the next in line for the throne was a prince named Amenhotep.

There is much controversy around whether Amenhotep IV succeeded to the throne on the death of his father, Amenhotep III, or whether there was a coregency (lasting as long as 12 years according to some Egyptologists). Current literature by Eric Cline, Nicholas Reeves, Peter Dorman and other scholars comes out strongly against the establishment of a long coregency between the two rulers and in favour of either no coregency or a brief one lasting one to two years, at the most. Other literature by Donald Redford, William Murnane, Alan Gardiner and more recently by Lawrence Berman in 1998 contests the view of any coregency whatsoever between Akhenaten and his father.

Amenhotep IV was crowned in Thebes and there he started a building program. He decorated the southern entrance to the precincts of the temple of Amun-Re with scenes of himself worshipping Re-Harakhti. He soon decreed the construction of a temple dedicated to the Aten at the Eastern Karnak. This temple was called the Gempaaten (“The Aten is found in the estate of the Aten”). The Gempaaten consisted of a series of buildings, including a palace and a structure called the Hwt Benben which was dedicated to Queen Nefertiti. Other Aten temples constructed at Karnak during this time include the Rud-menu and the Teni-menu which may have been constructed near the Ninth Pylon. During this time he did not repress the worship of Amun, and the High Priest of Amun was still active in the fourth year of his reign. The king appears as Amenhotep IV in the tombs of some of the nobles in Thebes: Kheruef ( TT192), Ramose ( TT55) and the tomb of Parennefer ( TT188).

In the tomb of Ramose, Amenhotep IV appears on the west wall in the traditional style, seated on a throne with Ramose appearing before the king. On the other side of the doorway Amenhotep IV and Nefertiti are shown in the window of appearance with the Aten depicted as the sun disc. In the Theban tomb of Parennefer, Amenhotep IV and Nefertiti are seated on a throne with the sun disk depicted over the king and queen.

One of the last known documents referring to Amenhotep IV are two copies of a letter from the Steward Of Memphis Apy (or Ipy) to the Pharaoh. The documents were found in Gurob and are dated to regnal year 5, third month of the Growing Season, day 19.

Name change to Akhenaten

On day 13, Month 8, in the fifth year of his reign, the king arrived at the site of the new city Akhetaten (now known as Amarna). A month before that Amenhotep IV had officially changed his name to Akhenaten. Amenhotep IV changed most of his 5 fold titulary in year 5. The only name he kept was his prenomen or throne name.

Amenhotep IV Akhenaten
Horus name
N29 A28 S9


"Strong Bull of the Double Plumes"

i t


"Strong Bull, Beloved of Aten"

Nebty name
sw t
i i m i t
Q1 t


"Great of Kingship in Karnak"

sw i i Aa15
i t


"Great of Kingship in Akhet-Aten"

Golden Horus name
U39 Y1 N28
m O28 W24


"Crowned in Heliopolis of the South" (Thebes)

U39 r
i t


"Exalter of the Name of Aten"

ra nfr xpr Z3 ra


"Beautiful are the Forms of Re, the Unique one of Re"

ra nfr xpr Z3 ra

i mn
Htp R8 S38 R19

Amenhotep Netjer-Heqa-Waset

"Amenhotep god-ruler of Thebes"

i t
G25 x


"Effective for the Aten"

Religious policies

Pharaoh Akhenaten (centre) and his family adoring the Aten, with characteristic rays seen emanating from the solar disk. The next figure leftmost is Meritaten, the daughter of Akhenaten, adorned in a double- feather crown.
Talatat blocks from Akhenaten's Aten temple in Karnak

Some recent debate has focused on the extent to which Akhenaten forced his religious reforms on his people. Certainly, as time drew on, he revised the names of the Aten, and other religious language, to increasingly exclude references to other gods; at some point, also, he embarked on the wide-scale erasure of traditional gods' names, especially those of Amun. Some of his court changed their names to remove them from the patronage of other gods and place them under that of Aten (or Ra, with whom Akhenaten equated the Aten). Yet, even at Amarna itself, some courtiers kept such names as Ahmose ("child of the moon god", the owner of tomb 3), and the sculptor's workshop where the famous Nefertiti bust, and other works of royal portraiture, were found, is associated with an artist known to have been called Thutmose ("child of Thoth"). An overwhelmingly large number of faience amulets at Amarna also show that talismans of the household-and-childbirth gods Bes and Taweret, the eye of Horus, and amulets of other traditional deities, were openly worn by its citizens. Indeed, a cache of royal jewelry found buried near the Amarna royal tombs (now in the National Museum of Scotland) includes a finger ring referring to Mut, the wife of Amun. Such evidence suggests that though Akhenaten shifted funding away from traditional temples, his policies were fairly tolerant until some point, perhaps a particular event as yet unknown, toward the end of the reign.

Following Akhenaten's death, change was gradual at first. Within a decade a comprehensive political, religious and artistic reformation began promoting a return of Egyptian life to the norms it had followed during his father's reign. Much of the art and building infrastructure created during Akhenaten's reign was defaced or destroyed in the period following his death, particularly during the reigns of Horemheb and the early Nineteenth Dynasty kings. Stone building blocks from Akhenaten's construction projects were later used as foundation stones for subsequent rulers' temples and tombs.

Pharaoh and family depictions

Styles of art that flourished during this short period are markedly different from other Egyptian art. In some cases, representations are more naturalistic, especially in depictions of animals and plants, of commoners, and in a sense of action and movement—for both nonroyal and royal people. However, depictions of members of the court, especially members of the royal family, are extremely stylized, with elongated heads, protruding stomachs, heavy hips, thin arms and legs, and exaggerated facial features. Questions also remain whether the beauty of Nefertiti is portraiture or idealism. Significantly, and for the only time in the history of Egyptian royal art, Akhenaten's family are shown taking part in decidedly naturalistic activities, showing affection for each other, and being caught in mid-action (in traditional art, a pharaoh's divine nature was expressed by repose, even immobility).

Small statue of Akhenaten wearing the Egyptian Blue Crown of War

The depictions of action may correspond to the emphasis on the active, creative nurturing of the Aten emphasized in the "Great Hymn to the Aten" and elsewhere. Nefertiti also appears, both beside the king and alone (or with her daughters), in actions usually reserved for a Pharaoh, suggesting that she enjoyed unusual status for a queen. Early artistic representations of her tend to be indistinguishable from her husband's except by her regalia, but soon after the move to the new capital, Nefertiti begins to be depicted with features specific to her. Why Akhenaten had himself represented in the bizarre, strikingly androgynous way he did, remains a vigorously debated question. Religious reasons have been suggested, such as to emulate the creative nature of the Aten, who is called in Amarna tomb texts, "mother and father" of all that is. Or, it has been suggested, Akhenaten's (and his family's) portraiture exaggerates his distinctive physical traits. Until Akhenaten's mummy is positively identified, such theories remain speculative. Some scholars do identify Mummy 61074, found in KV55, an unfinished tomb in the Valley of the Kings, as Akhenaten's. If so—or if the KV 55 mummy is that of his close relative, Smenkhkare—its measurements tend to support the theory that Akhenaten's depictions exaggerate his actual appearance. Though the "mummy" consists only of disarticulated bones, the skull is long and has a prominent chin, and the limbs are light and long. In 2007, Zahi Hawass and a team of researchers made CT Scan images of Mummy 61074. They have concluded that the elongated skull, cheek bones, cleft palate, and impacted wisdom tooth suggest that the mummy is the father of Tutankhamun, and thus is Akhenaten.

Family and relations

Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their children

As Amenhotep IV, Akhenaten was married to Nefertiti at the very beginning of his reign, and six daughters were identified from inscriptions. Recent DNA analysis has revealed that with one of his biological sisters, the "Younger Lady" mummy, Akhenaten fathered Tutankhaten (later Tutankhamen). The parentage of Smenkhkare, his successor, is unknown, and Akhenaten and an unknown wife have been proposed to be his parents.

A secondary wife of Akhenaten named Kiya is known from inscriptions. Some have theorized that she gained her importance as the mother of Tutankhamen, Smenkhkare, or both.

This is a list of Akhenaten's children (known and theoretical) with suggested years of birth:

  • Smenkhkare? – year 35 or 36 of Amenhotep III's reign
  • Meritaten – year 1.
  • Meketaten – year 3, possibly earlier.
  • Ankhesenpaaten, later Queen of Tutankhamun – year 4.
  • Neferneferuaten Tasherit – year 8.
  • Neferneferure – year 9.
  • Setepenre – year 9.
  • Tutankhaten – year 8 or 9 – renamed Tutankhamun later.

His known consorts were:

  • Nefertiti, his Great Royal Wife.
  • Kiya, a lesser Royal Wife.
  • A daughter of Šatiya, ruler of Enišasi
  • A daughter of Burna-Buriash, King of Babylon

It has been proposed that Akhenaten may have taken some of his daughters as sexual consorts, to attempt to father a male heir by them, but this is very debatable. It does seem certain that like his father, Amenhotep III, Akhenaten named at least one daughter as Great Royal Wife. But this does not exclusively indicate she was his sexual consort as the position was also an important ceremonial position.

  • Meritaten is recorded as Great Royal Wife to Smenkhkare in the tomb of Meryre II in Akhet-Aten. She is also listed alongside King Akhenaten and King Neferneferuaten as Great Royal Wife on a box from the tomb of Tutankhamen. Letters written to Akhenaten from foreign rulers make reference to Meritaten as 'mistress of the house'.
  • Meketaten, Akhenaten's second daughter. Meketaten's death in childbirth is recorded in the royal tombs of Amarna about the year 13 or 14. Since no husband is known for her, the assumption has been that Akhenaten was the father. The inscription giving the filiation of the child are damaged to prevent resolving the issue.
  • Various monuments originally for Kiya, was reinscribed for Akhenaten's daughters Meritaten and Ankhesenpaaten, the revised inscriptions list a Meritaten-tasherit ("junior") and an Ankhesenpaaten-tasherit. Some view this to indicate that Akhenaten fathered his own grandchildren. Others hold that since these grandchildren are not attested to elsewhere, that they are fictions invented to fill the space originally filled by Kiya's child.

Two other lovers have been suggested, but are not widely accepted:

  • Smenkhkare, Akhenaten's successor and/or co-ruler for the last years of his reign. Rather than a lover, however, Smenkhkare is likely to have been a half-brother or a son to Akhenaten. Some have even suggested that Smenkhkare was actually an alias of Nefertiti or Kiya, and therefore one of Akhenaten's wives (see below).
  • Tiye, his mother. Twelve years after the death of Amenhotep III, she is still mentioned in inscriptions as Queen and beloved of the King, but kings' mothers often were. The few supporters of this theory (notably Immanuel Velikovsky) consider Akhenaten to be the historical model of legendary King Oedipus of Thebes, Greece and Tiye the model for his mother/wife Jocasta.

International relations

Akhenaten in the typical Amarna period style.

Important evidence about Akhenaten's reign and foreign policy has been provided by the discovery of the Amarna Letters, a cache of diplomatic correspondence discovered in modern times at el-Amarna, the modern designation of the Akhetaten site. This correspondence comprises a priceless collection of incoming messages on clay tablets, sent to Akhetaten from various subject rulers through Egyptian military outposts, and from the foreign rulers (recognized as "Great Kings") of the kingdom of Mitanni, Babylon, Assyria and Hatti. The governors and kings of Egypt's subject domains also wrote frequently to plead for gold from Pharaoh, and also complained of being snubbed and cheated by him.

Early on in his reign, Akhenaten fell out with the king of Mitanni, Tushratta, who had been courting favour with his father against the Hittites. Tushratta complains in numerous letters that Akhenaten had sent him gold plated statues rather than statues made of solid gold; the statues formed part of the bride price which Tushratta received for letting his daughter Tadukhepa be married to Amenhotep III and then Akhenaten. Amarna letter EA 27 preserves a complaint by Tushratta to Akhenaten about the situation:

"I...asked your father, Mimmureya, for statues of solid cast gold, one of myself and a second statue, a statue of Tadu-Heba (Tadukhepa), my daughter, and your father said, 'Don't talk of giving statues just of solid cast gold. I will give you ones made also of lapis lazuli. I will give you, too, along with the statues, much additional gold and (other) goods beyond measure.' Every one of my messengers that were staying in Egypt saw the gold for the statues with their own eyes. Your father himself recast the statues [i]n the presence of my messengers, and he made them entirely of pure gold....He showed much additional gold, which was beyond measure and which he was sending to me. He said to my messengers, 'See with your own eyes, here the statues, there much gold and goods beyond measure, which I am sending to my brother.' And my messengers did see with their own eyes! But my brother (ie: Akhenaten) has not sent the solid (gold) statues that your father was going to send. You have sent plated ones of wood. Nor have you sent me the goods that your father was going to send me, but you have reduced (them) greatly. Yet there is nothing I know of in which I have failed my brother. Any day that I hear the greetings of my brother, that day I make a festive occasion...May my brother send me much gold. [At] the kim[ru fe]ast...[...with] many goods [may my] brother honor me. In my brother's country gold is as plentiful as dust. May my brother cause me no distress. May he send me much gold in order that my brother [with the gold and m]any [good]s, may honour me." (EA 27)

Plaster portrait study of a pharaoh, Ahkenaten or a coregent or successor. Discovered within the workshop of the royal sculptor Thutmose at Amarna, now part of the Ägyptisches Museum collection in Berlin.

While Akhenaten was certainly not a close friend of Tushratta, he was evidently concerned at the expanding power of the Hittite Empire under its powerful ruler Suppiluliuma I. A successful Hittite attack on Mitanni and its ruler Tushratta would have disrupted the entire international balance of power in the Ancient Middle East at a time when Egypt had made peace with Mitanni; this would cause some of Egypt's vassals to switch their allegiances to the Hittites, as time would prove. A group of Egypt's allies who attempted to rebel against the Hittites were captured, and wrote letters begging Akhenaten for troops, but he did not respond to most of their pleas. Evidence suggests that the troubles on the northern frontier led to difficulties in Canaan, particularly in a struggle for power between Labaya of Shechem and Abdi-Heba of Jerusalem, which required the Pharaoh to intervene in the area by dispatching Medjay troops northwards. Akhenaten pointedly refused to save his vassal Rib-Hadda of Byblos whose kingdom was being besieged by the expanding state of Amurru under Abdi-Ashirta and later Aziru, son of Abdi-Ashirta, despite Rib-Hadda's numerous pleas for help from the pharaoh. Rib-Hadda wrote a total of 60 letters to Akhenaten pleading for aid from the pharaoh. Akhenaten wearied of Rib-Hadda's constant correspondences and once told Rib-Hadda: "You are the one that writes to me more than all the (other) mayors" or Egyptian vassals in EA 124. What Rib-Hadda did not comprehend was that the Egyptian king would not organize and dispatch an entire army north just to preserve the political status quo of several minor city states on the fringes of Egypt's Asiatic Empire. Rib-Hadda would pay the ultimate price; his exile from Byblos due to a coup led by his brother Ilirabih is mentioned in one letter. When Rib-Hadda appealed in vain for aid to Akhenaten and then turned to Aziru, his sworn enemy to place him back on the throne of his city, Aziru promptly had him dispatched to the king of Sidon where Rib-Hadda was almost certainly executed.

William L. Moran notes that the Amarna corpus of 380+ letters counters the conventional view that Akhenaten neglected Egypt's foreign territories in favour of his internal reforms. There are several letters from Egyptian vassals notifying Pharaoh that the king's instructions have been followed:

To the king, my lord, my god, my Sun, the Sun from the sky: Message of Yapahu, the ruler of Gazru, your servant, the dirt at your feet. I indeed prostrate myself at the feet of the king, my lord, my god, my Sun...7 times and 7 times, on the stomach and on the back. I am indeed guarding the place of the king, my lord, the Sun of the sky, where I am, and all the things the king, my lord, has written me, I am indeed carrying out--everything! Who am I, a dog, and what is my house...and what is anything I have, that the orders of the king, my lord, the Sun from the sky, should not obey constantly? (EA 378)

When the loyal but unfortunate Rib-Hadda was killed at the instigation of Aziru, Akhenaten sent an angry letter to Aziru containing a barely veiled accusation of outright treachery on the latter's part. Akhenaten wrote:

Say to Aziru, ruler of Amurru: Thus the king, your lord (ie: Akhenaten), saying: The ruler of Gubla (ie: Byblos), whose brother had cast him away at the gate, said to you, "Take me and get me into the city. There is much silver, and I will give it to you. Indeed there is an abundance of everything, but not with me [here]." Thus did the ruler (Rib-Hadda) speak to you. Did you not write to the king, my lord saying, "I am your servant like all the previous mayors (ie: vassals) in his city"? Yet you acted delinquently by taking the mayor whose brother had cast him away at the gate, from his city.

Head of Akhenaten

He (Rib-Hadda) was residing in Sidon and, following your own judgment, you gave him to (some) mayors. Were you ignorant of the treacherousness of the men? If you really are the king's servant, why did you not denounce him before the king, your lord, saying, "This mayor has written to me saying, 'Take me to yourself and get me into my city'"? And if you did act loyally, still all the things you wrote were not true. In fact, the king has reflected on them as follows, "Everything you have said is not friendly." Now the king has heard as follows, "You are at peace with the ruler of Qidsa. ( Kadesh) The two of you take food and strong drink together." And it is true. Why do you act so? Why are you at peace with a ruler whom the king is fighting? And even if you did act loyally, you considered your own judgment, and his judgment did not count. You have paid no attention to the things that you did earlier. What happened to you among them that you are not on the side of the king, your lord? Consider the people that are training you for their own advantage. They want to throw you into the fire....If for any reason whatsoever you prefer to do evil, and if you plot evil, treacherous things, then you, together with your entire family, shall die by the axe of the king. So perform your service for the king, your lord, and you will live. You yourself know that the king does not fail when he rages against all of Canaan. And when you wrote saying, 'May the king, my Lord, give me leave this year, and then I will go next year to the king, my Lord. (ie: to Egypt) If this is impossible, I will send my son in my place'--the king, your Lord, let you off this year in accordance with what you said. Come yourself, or send your son [now], and you will see the king at whose sight all lands live." (EA 162)

This letter shows that Akhenaten paid close attention to the affairs of his vassals in Canaan and Syria. Akhenaten commanded Aziru to come to Egypt and proceeded to detain him there for at least one year. In the end, Akhenaten was forced to release Aziru back to his homeland when the Hittites advanced southwards into Amki thereby threatening Egypt's series of Asiatic vassal states including Amurru. Sometime after his return to Amurru, Aziru defected to the Hittite side with his kingdom. While it is known from an Amarna letter by Rib-Hadda that the Hittites "seized all the countries that were vassals of the king of Mitanni" (EA 75) Akhenaten managed to preserve Egypt's control over the core of her Near Eastern Empire which consisted of present day Palestine as well as the Phoenician coast while avoiding conflict with the increasingly powerful Hittite Empire of Suppiluliuma I. Only the Egyptian border province of Amurru in Syria around the Orontes river was permanently lost to the Hittites when its ruler Aziru defected to the Hittites. Finally, contrary to the conventional view of a ruler who neglected Egypt's international relations, Akhenaten is known to have initiated at least one campaign into Nubia in his regnal Year 12, where his campaign is mentioned in Amada stela CG 41806 and on a separate companion stela at Buhen.

Death, burial and succession

Akhenaten's sarcophagus reconstituted from pieces discovered in his original tomb in Amarna, now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

The last dated appearance of Akhenaten and the Amarna family is in the tomb of Meryra II, and dates from second month, year 12 of his reign. After this the historical record is unclear, and only with the succession of Tutankhamun is somewhat clarified. However, recently, in December 2012, it was announced that a Year 16 III Akhet day 15 inscription dated explicitly to Akhenaten's reign which mentions, in the same breath, the presence of a living Queen Nefertiti, has now been found in a limestone quarry at Deir el-Bersha just north of Amarna. The text refers to a building project in Amarna. It establishes that Akhenaten and Nefertiti were still a royal couple just a year prior to Akhenaten's death.

Akhenaten planned to relocate Egyptian burials on the East side of the Nile (sunrise) rather than on the West side (sunset), in the Royal Wadi in Akhetaten. His body was removed after the court returned to Thebes, and recent genetic tests have confirmed that the body found buried in tomb KV55 was the father of Tutankhamun, and is therefore "most probably" Akhenaten, although this is disputed. The tomb contained numerous Amarna era objects including a royal funerary mask which had been deliberately destroyed. His sarcophagus was destroyed but has since been reconstructed and now sits outside in the Cairo Museum.

Fragmentary ushabtis of Akhenaten from his original tomb in Amarna, now in the Brooklyn Museum.

Similarly, although it is accepted that Akhenaten himself died in Year 17 of his reign, the question of whether Smenkhkare became co-regent perhaps two or three years earlier or enjoyed a brief independent reign is unclear. If Smenkhkare outlived Akhenaten, and became sole Pharaoh, he likely ruled Egypt for less than a year. The next successor was Neferneferuaten, a female Pharaoh who reigned in Egypt for two years and one month. She was, in turn, probably succeeded by Tutankhaten (later, Tutankhamun), with the country being administered by the chief vizier, and future Pharaoh, Ay. Tutankhamun was believed to be a younger brother of Smenkhkare and a son of Akhenaten, and possibly Kiya although one scholar has suggested that Tutankhamun may have been a son of Smenkhkare instead. DNA tests in 2010 indicated Tutankhamun was indeed the son of Akhenaten. It has been suggested that after the death of Akhenaten, Nefertiti reigned with the name of Neferneferuaten but other scholars believe this female ruler was rather Meritaten. The so-called Coregency Stela, found in a tomb in Amarna possibly shows his queen Nefertiti as his coregent, ruling alongside him, but this is not certain as the names have been removed and recarved to show Ankhesenpaaten and Neferneferuaten.

With Akhenaten's death, the Aten cult he had founded gradually fell out of favour. Tutankhaten changed his name to Tutankhamun in Year 2 of his reign (1332 BC) and abandoned the city of Akhetaten, which eventually fell into ruin. His successors Ay and Horemheb disassembled temples Akhenaten had built, including the temple at Thebes, using them as a source of easily available building materials and decorations for their own temples.

Finally, Akhenaten, Neferneferuaten, Smenkhkare, Tutankhamun, and Ay were excised from the official lists of Pharaohs, which instead reported that Amenhotep III was immediately succeeded by Horemheb. This is thought to be part of an attempt by Horemheb to delete all trace of Atenism and the pharaohs associated with it from the historical record. Akhenaten's name never appeared on any of the king lists compiled by later Pharaohs and it was not until the late 19th century that his identity was re-discovered and the surviving traces of his reign were unearthed by archaeologists.

Plague and pandemic

This Amarna Period is also associated with a serious outbreak of a pandemic, possibly the plague, or polio, or perhaps the world's first recorded outbreak of influenza, which came from Egypt and spread throughout the Middle East, killing Suppiluliuma I, the Hittite King. Influenza is a disease associated with the close proximity of water fowl, pigs and humans, and its origin as a pandemic disease may be due to the development of agricultural systems that allow the mixing of these animals and their wastes. Some of the first archaeological evidence for this agricultural system is during the Amarna period of Ancient Egypt, and the pandemic that followed this period throughout the Ancient Near East may have been the earliest recorded outbreak of influenza. However, the precise nature of this Egyptian plague remains unknown and Asia has also been suggested as a possible site of origin of pandemic influenza in humans. The prevalence of disease may help explain the rapidity with which the site of Akhetaten was subsequently abandoned. It may also explain why later generations considered the gods to have turned against the Amarna monarchs. Arielle Kozloff discusses the evidence, arguing that the epidemic was caused by Bubonic plague over polio.

Implementation of Atenism

In the early years of his reign, Amenhotep IV lived at Thebes with Nefertiti and his 6 daughters. Initially, he permitted worship of Egypt's traditional deities to continue but near the Temple of Karnak (Amun-Ra's great cult centre), he erected several massive buildings including temples to the Aten. Aten was usually depicted as a sun disc. These buildings at Thebes were later dismantled by his successors and used as infill for new constructions in the Temple of Karnak; when they were later dismantled by archaeologists, some 36,000 decorated blocks from the original Aton building here were revealed which preserve many elements of the original relief scenes and inscriptions.

Akhenaten depicted as a sphinx at Amarna.

The relationship between Amenhotep IV and the priests of Amun-Re gradually deteriorated. In Year 5 of his reign, Amenhotep IV took decisive steps to establish the Aten as the exclusive, monotheistic god of Egypt: the pharaoh "disbanded the priesthoods of all the other gods...and diverted the income from these [other] cults to support the Aten". To emphasize his complete allegiance to the Aten, the king officially changed his name from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten or 'Living Spirit of Aten.' Akhenaten's fifth year also marked the beginning of construction on his new capital, Akhetaten or 'Horizon of Aten', at the site known today as Amarna. Very soon afterwards, he centralized Egyptian religious practices in Akhetaten, though construction of the city seems to have continued for several more years. In honour of Aten, Akhenaten also oversaw the construction of some of the most massive temple complexes in ancient Egypt. In these new temples, Aten was worshipped in the open sunlight, rather than in dark temple enclosures, as had been the previous custom. Akhenaten is also believed to have composed the Great Hymn to the Aten.

Initially, Akhenaten presented Aten as a variant of the familiar supreme deity Amun-Re (itself the result of an earlier rise to prominence of the cult of Amun, resulting in Amun becoming merged with the sun god Ra), in an attempt to put his ideas in a familiar Egyptian religious context. However, by Year 9 of his reign, Akhenaten declared that Aten was not merely the supreme god, but the only god, and that he, Akhenaten, was the only intermediary between Aten and his people. He ordered the defacing of Amun's temples throughout Egypt and, in a number of instances, inscriptions of the plural 'gods' were also removed.

Aten's name is also written differently after Year 9, to emphasize the radicalism of the new regime, which included a ban on images, with the exception of a rayed solar disc, in which the rays (commonly depicted ending in hands) appear to represent the unseen spirit of Aten, who by then was evidently considered not merely a sun god, but rather a universal deity. Representations of the Aten were always accompanied with a sort of "hieroglyphic footnote", stating that the representation of the sun as All-encompassing Creator was to be taken as just that: a representation of something that, by its very nature as something transcending creation, cannot be fully or adequately represented by any one part of that creation.

Speculative theories

Sculptor's trial piece of Akhenaten.

Akhenaten's status as a religious revolutionary has led to much speculation, ranging from bona fide scholarly hypotheses to the non-academic fringe theories. Although many believe that he introduced monotheism, others see Akhenaten as a practitioner of an Aten monolatry, as he did not actively deny the existence of other gods; he simply refrained from worshipping any but the Aten while expecting the people to worship not Aten but him.

Akhenaten and Judeo-Christian monotheism

The idea of Akhenaten as the pioneer of a monotheistic religion that later became Judaism has been considered by various scholars. One of the first to mention this was Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, in his book Moses and Monotheism. Freud argued that Moses had been an Atenist priest forced to leave Egypt with his followers after Akhenaten's death. Freud argued that Akhenaten was striving to promote monotheism, something that the biblical Moses was able to achieve. Following his book, the concept entered popular consciousness and serious research. According the Biblical narrative the man who introduced monotheism to Hebrews was Abraham. This means that it is also possible that Akhenaten was influenced by Hebrews who lived in Egypt at that time.

Other scholars and mainstream Egyptologists point out that there are direct connections between early Judaism and other Semitic religious traditions. They also state that two of the three principal Judaic terms for God, Yahweh, Elohim (morphologically plural, lit. "gods"), and Adonai (morphologically plural, lit. "my lords" ) have a connection to Aten. Freud commented on the connection between Adonai, the Egyptian Aten and the Syrian divine name of Adonis as a primeval unity of language between the factions; in this he was following the argument of Egyptologist Arthur Weigall. Jan Assmann's opinion is that 'Aten' and 'Adonai' are not linguistically related.

Akhenaten appears in history almost two centuries prior to the first archaeological and written evidence for Judaism and Israelite culture is found in the Levant. While such imagery is not a feature of early Israelite culture, abundant visual imagery of the Aten disk (which celebrated the natural world) was central to Atenism.

Ahmed Osman has claimed that Akhenaten's maternal grandfather Yuya was the same person as the Biblical Joseph. Yuya held the title "Overseer of the Cattle of Min at Akhmin" during his life.

He likely belonged to the local nobility of Akhmim. Egyptologists hold this view because Yuya had strong connections to the city of Akhmim in Upper Egypt. This makes it unlikely that he was a foreigner since most Asiatic settlers tended to cloister around the Nile Delta region of Lower Egypt. Some Egyptologists, however, give him a Mitannian origin. It is widely accepted that there are strong similarities between Akhenaten's Great Hymn to the Aten and the Biblical Psalm 104, though this form is found widespread in ancient Near Eastern hymnology both before and after the period and whether this implies a direct influence or a common literary convention remains in dispute.

Others have likened some aspects of Akhenaten's relationship with the Aten to the relationship, in Christian tradition, of Jesus Christ with God - particularly in interpretations that emphasise a more monotheistic interpretation of Atenism than henotheistic. Donald B. Redford has noted that some have viewed Akhenaten as a harbinger of Jesus. "After all, Akhenaten did call himself the son of the sole god: 'Thine only son that came forth from thy body'." James Henry Breasted likened him to Jesus, Arthur Weigall saw him as a failed precursor of Christ and Thomas Mann saw him "as right on the way and yet not the right one for the way".

Redford argued that while Akhenaten called himself the son of the Sun-Disc and acted as the chief mediator between god and creation, kings for thousands of years before Akhenaten's time had claimed the same relationship and priestly role. However Akhenaton's case may be different through the emphasis placed on the heavenly father and son relationship. Akhenaten described himself as "thy son who came forth from thy limbs", "thy child", "the eternal son that came forth from the Sun-Disc", and "thine only son that came forth from thy body". The close relationship between father and son is such that only the king truly knows the heart of "his father", and in return his father listens to his son's prayers. He is his father's image on earth and as Akhenaten is king on earth his father is king in heaven. As high priest, prophet, king and divine he claimed the central position in the new religious system. Since only he knew his father's mind and will, Akhenaten alone could interpret that will for all mankind with true teaching coming only from him.

Redford concluded:

Before much of the archaeological evidence from Thebes and from Tell el-Amarna became available, wishful thinking sometimes turned Akhenaten into a humane teacher of the true God, a mentor of Moses, a Christlike figure, a philosopher before his time. But these imaginary creatures are now fading away one by one as the historical reality gradually emerges. There is little or no evidence to support the notion that Akhenaten was a progenitor of the full-blown monotheism that we find in the Bible. The monotheism of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament had its own separate development—one that began more than half a millenium after the pharaoh's death.

However, Greenberg argues that Judaism shows signs that in its early forms it had Henotheistic characteristics and that it later was refined into a monotheism around the time of King Josiah, relegating that which previously were considered gods, into gods that ought not be worshipped, i.e. angels.

Possible illness

The rather strange and eccentric portrayals of Akhenaten, with a sagging stomach, thick thighs, larger breasts, and long, thin face — so different from the athletic norm in the portrayal of Pharaohs — has led certain Egyptologists to suppose that Akhenaten suffered some kind of genetic abnormality. Various illnesses have been put forward. On the basis of his longer jaw and his feminine appearance, Cyril Aldred suggested he may have suffered from Froelich's Syndrome. However, this is unlikely because this disorder results in sterility and Akhenaten is known to have fathered numerous children — these children are repeatedly portrayed through years of archaeological and iconographic evidence — at least six daughters by Queen Nefertiti, well known as the King and Queen's six princesses of Amarna, as well as his successor Tutankhamen by a minor wife.

Another suggestion by Burridge is that Akhenaten may have suffered from Marfan's Syndrome. Marfan's syndrome, unlike Froelich's, does not result in any lack of intelligence or sterility. It is associated with a sunken chest, long curved spider-like fingers ( arachnodactyly), occasional congenital heart difficulties, a high curved or slightly cleft palate, and a highly curved cornea or dislocated lens of the eye, with the requirement for bright light to see well. Marfan's sufferers tend towards being taller than average, with a long, thin face, and elongated skull, overgrown ribs, a funnel or pigeon chest, and larger pelvis, with enlarged thighs and spindly calves. Marfan's syndrome is a dominant characteristic, and sufferers have a 50% chance of passing it on to their children. All of these symptoms arguably sometimes appear in depictions of Akhenaten and of his children. Recent CT scans of Tutankhamun report a cleft palate and a fairly long head, as well as an abnormal curvature of the spine and fusion of the upper vertebrae, a condition associated with scoliosis, all conditions associated with Marfan's syndrome. However, DNA tests on Tutankhamun, in 2010, proved negative for Marfan Syndrome. More recently, Homocystinuria was suggested as a possible diagnosis. Patients suffering from homocystinuria have Marfan habitus, however, as an autosomal recessive disease it seems to fit better into Akhenaten's family tree - Akhenaten's parents, Amenhotep III and Tiye, were most probably healthy, and Marfan Syndrome was ruled out following DNA tests on Tutankhamun in 2010.

However, Dominic Montserrat in Akhenaten: History, Fantasy and Ancient Egypt states that "there is now a broad consensus among Egyptologists that the exaggerated forms of Akhenaten's physical portrayal... are not to be read literally". Montserrat and others argue that the body-shape relates to some form of religious symbolism. Because the god Aten was referred to as "the mother and father of all humankind" it has been suggested that Akhenaten was made to look androgynous in artwork as a symbol of the androgyny of the god. This required "a symbolic gathering of all the attributes of the creator god into the physical body of the king himself", which will "display on earth the Aten's multiple life-giving functions". Akhenaten did refer to himself as "The Unique One of Re", and he may have used his control of artistic expression to distance himself from the common people, though such a radical departure from the idealised traditional representation of the image of the Pharaoh would be truly extraordinary.

Another claim was made by Immanuel Velikovsky, who hypothesized an incestuous relationship with his mother, Tiye. Velikovsky also posited that Akhenaten had elephantiasis, producing enlarged legs. Based on this, he identified Akhenaten as the history behind the Oedipus myth, Oedipus being Greek for "swollen feet", and moved the setting from the Greek Thebes to the Egyptian Thebes. As part of his argument, Velikovsky uses the fact that Akhenaten viciously carried out a campaign to erase the name of his father, which he argues could have developed into Oedipus killing his father. This point seems to be disproved, however, in that Akhenaten in fact mummified and buried his father in the honorable traditional Egyptian fashion prior to beginning his monotheistic revolution.

In the same 1960 work, Oedipus and Akhnaton, Velikovsky not only saw Akhenaten as the origin of Oedipus, but also identified him with a Pharaoh mentioned only in Herodotus, "Analysis of the city of the same name" — Akhenaten of Akhetaten. Like Oedipus, Anysis was blinded, deposed and exiled.

First “individual”

Historian James Henry Breasted considered Akhenaten to be “the first individual in history,” as well as the first monotheist, romantic, and scientist.

In 1899, Flinders Petrie opined,

If this were a new religion, invented to satisfy our modern scientific conceptions, we could not find a flaw in the correctness of this view of the energy of the solar system. How much Akhenaten understood, we cannot say, but he certainly bounded forward in his views and symbolism to a position which we cannot logically improve upon at the present day. Not a rag of superstition or of falsity can be found clinging to this new worship evolved out of the old Aton of Heliopolis, the sole Lord of the universe.

Henry Hall contended that the pharaoh was the “first example of the scientific mind.”

In Akhenaten: Egypt’s False Prophet, Nicholas Reeves construes the pharaoh's religious reformations as attempts at the centralization of his power and solidification of his role as “divine monarch.”


Various uninscribed and damaged stelae depict Akhenaten with what appears to be a coregent wearing a king's crown, in familiar if not intimate settings (even naked). Since Smenkhkare was known to be a male, this led to the speculation that Akhenaten was homosexual. These notions were discarded once the coregent was identified as a female, most likely his wife.

In the 1970s, John Harris identified the figure pictured alongside Akhenaten as Nefertiti, arguing that she may have actually been elevated to co-regent and perhaps even succeeded temporarily as an independent ruler, changing her name to Smenkhkare.

Nicholas Reeves and other Egyptologists contend that Smenkhkare was the same person as Neferneferuaten, who ruled together with Akhenaten as co-regent for the final one or two years of Akhenaten's reign. On several monuments, the two are shown seated side by side. More recent research by James Allen and Marc Gabolde has led to a "a fair degree of consensus" that Neferneferuaten was a female ruler apart from Smenkhkare.

In the arts

Drawing of Akhnaton Cairo Cast


  • Agatha Christie: play, Akhnaton (written in 1937, published by Dodd, Mead and Company [New York], 1973, ISBN 0-396-06822-7; Collins [London], 1973, ISBN 0-00-211038-5)


  • Thomas Mann, in his fictional biblical tetralogy Joseph and His Brothers (1933–1943), makes Akhenaten the "dreaming pharaoh" of Joseph's story.
  • Tom Holland: The Sleeper in the Sands (Little, Brown & Company, 1998, ISBN 0-316-64480-3)
  • Mika Waltari: The Egyptian, first published in Finnish (Sinuhe egyptiläinen) in 1945, translated by Naomi Walford ( G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1949, ISBN 0-399-10234-5; Chicago Review Press, 2002, paperback, ISBN 1-55652-441-2)
  • David Stacton: On a Balcony, London House & Maxwell, 1958
  • Gwendolyn MacEwen: King of Egypt, King of Dreams (1971, ISBN 1-894663-60-8)
  • Allen Drury: A God Against the Gods (Doubleday, 1976) and Return to Thebes (Doubleday, 1976)
  • Philip K. Dick: VALIS (1981) under the name Ikhnathon.
  • Naguib Mahfouz: Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth (العائش فى الحقيقة) (1985)
  • Andree Chedid: Akhenaten and Nefertiti's Dream
  • Wolfgang Hohlbein: Die Prophezeihung (The Prophecy), in which Echnaton is killed by Ay and curses him into eternal life until a prophecy is fulfilled.
  • Moyra Caldecott: Akhenaten: Son of the Sun (1989; eBook, 2000, ISBN 1-899142-86-X; 2003, ISBN 1-899142-25-8)
  • P.B. Kerr: The Akhenaten Adventure Akhenaten is said to be the holder of 70 lost Djinn
  • Pauline Gedge: The Twelfth Transforming (1984), set in the reign of Akhenaten, details the construction of Akhetaten and fictionalized accounts of his sexual relationships with Nefertiti, Tiye and successor Smenkhkare.
  • Dorothy Porter: verse novel, Akhenaten (1991)
  • Judith Tarr: Pillar of Fire (1995)
  • Lynda Robinson: mystery, Drinker of Blood (2001, ISBN 0-446-67751-5)
  • Gilbert Sinoue: Akhenaton, Le Dieu Maudit (Akhenaten, the Cursed God) (2005, ISBN 2-07-030033-1)
  • Spelled 'Akenhaten', he appears as a major character in the first of a trilogy of historical novels by P. C. Doherty, An Evil Spirit out of the West.
  • Michelle Moran: Nefertiti (2007)
  • Barbara Wood: Watch of Gods
  • Kerry Greenwood: Out of the Black Land (2010, ISBN 1-464-20038-6)
  • Lucile Morrison: The Lost Queen of Egypt (Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1937), although this young adult novel is about Akhenaten's daughter, spelled 'Ankhsenpaaten', later 'Ankhsenamon', he appears as a character until his death in chapter 16.


  • Ikhnaton is referenced in the title of a section of the epic progressive rock song " Supper's Ready" by the English rock band Genesis on their album Foxtrot (1972). The section is named "Ikhnaton and Itsacon and their band of Merry Men".
  • Philip Glass: opera, Akhnaten: An Opera in Three Acts (1983; CBS Records, 1987)
  • "Akhenaten", track on Julian Cope's 1992 album Jehovahkill
  • "Son Of The Sun" by Swedish Symphonic Metal band Therion on the album Sirius B (2004).
External video
House Altar with Akhenaten, Nefertiti and Three Daughters (Amarna Period) (5:03), Smarthistory
The Lost Pharaoh: The Search for Akhenaten (56:35), National Film Board of Canada
  • "Cast Down the Heretic" by the death metal band Nile on the album Annihilation of the Wicked (2005).
  • "Sadness of Echnaton Losing the World Child" by Tangerine Dream, appearing first on the album One Times One (2007).
  • "Cursing Akhenaten" by the metalcore band After The Burial on the album Rareform (2008).
  • Roy Campbell, Jr., The Akhnaten Suite - A Modern Jazz Epic
  • Akhenaten is featured on the album cover of Those Whom the Gods Detest by the band Nile (2009).
  • "Night Enchanted" by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on the 2009 album Night Castle.
  • Akhnaten, Dweller in Truth is a work for Piano, Cello and Orchestra by Mohammed Fairouz (2011).


  • The Egyptian, motion picture (1954, directed by Michael Curtiz, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation), based on the novel by Mika Waltari.
  • Nefertiti, Queen of the Nile, motion picture (1961, directed by Fernando Cherchio, starring Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price). Akhenaten, played by Amedeo Nazzari, is called "Amonophis" in the film.
  • La Reine Soleil (2007 animated film by Philippe Leclerc), features Akhenaten, Tutankhaten (later Tutankhamun), Akhesa (Ankhesenepaten, later Ankhesenamun), Nefertiti, and Horemheb in a complex struggle pitting the priests of Amun against Akhenaten's intolerant monotheism.
  • Akhenaten's Dream (2012)
  • Donald Redford's excavation of one Akhenaten's temples was the subject of a one-hour 1980 National Film Board of Canada documentary, The Lost Pharaoh: The Search for Akhenaten.


  • Edgar P. Jacobs: comic book, Blake et Mortimer: La Mystère de la Grande Pyramide vol. 1+2 (1950), adventure story in which the mystery of Akhenaten provides much of the background.
  • Joshua Norton: Die! Akhnaten Die! series of sequential woodcut prints and book recreates the story of Akhenaten as a Wild West tale.
  • The Secret World, main antagonist of the Egypt storyline mission (Black Sun, Red Sand).
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