Akhenaten worshipping Aten

Known as the "great heretic," Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti attempted to introduce the idea of monotheism to ancient Egypt. Akhenaten's single god was the Egyptian sun god Aten. Akhenaten named himself after the god (Akhenaten means “one who serves Aten”) and got rid of Atem, who had been the state god until then. Aten was described as the"embodiment of the mystical force of the sun."

To honor his god Akhenaten commissioned temples without roofs that were open to the sun and inscriptions that showed Akhenaten and his family being touched by sun’s rays. Akhenaten may have written a poem that went: "Beautifully you appear from the horizon of heaven...Oh living Aten, who initiates life...Oh sole god, without another beside him! You create the Earth according to your wish...You are in my heart, and there is none who knows you except your son."

In Akhenaten’s time the clergy was quite powerful. Akhenaten may have adopted monotheism partly as a means of displacing the powerful pagan clergy whose primarily god was Amun. Images of Amun, a major god, were smashed and his temples were closed. Soldiers were ordered to deface images of Amun and other gods. Egyptians were encouraged to believe that the sun god came to Earth in the form of the royal family.

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Ancient Egypt Magazine ancientegyptmagazine.co.uk; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Egyptian Study Society, Denver egyptianstudysociety.com; The Ancient Egypt Site ancient-egypt.org; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk

Impact of Akhenaten's Monotheism

Under Akhenaten the old pagan forms of religion were banned. Pagan statues were destroyed and the plural word "gods" was erased from monuments throughout the realm and labeled as blasphemous. Amun’s temples were closed and his name was removed from other temples. The new religion also stressed the concept of truth. Akhenaten attached the phrase "living in truth" to his name. He also preached the gospel of love and encouraged artists to express naturalness and openness.

In one fell swoop Akhenaten threw out a religious system that had brought stability and prosperity to Egypt for around 2,000 years. Monotheism divided Egypt and brought it to near collapse. To build his temples Akhenaten demanded that temples for Atem provide funds even though the god had been deposed and the priests laid off. After about four years in power tensions were running high.

But whether Akhenaten is indeed the father of monotheism is a matter of some debate. Some scholars believe that he may have been the source of monotheism of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They say he may have influenced Moses who appeared about century after him or even Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, who is said to have been born around 1800 B.C. but in fact may have lived much later..

Rise of Atenism


Jacquelyn Williamson of George Mason University wrote: “Akhenaten’s interest in solar religion was soon apparent in a stela he erected in his earliest years in Gebel el-Silsila, the main sandstone quarry south of Karnak, on which he states his intention to create a building at Karnak called the great Benben and dedicated to a deity he named “Ra-Horakhty in his name of Shu, who is in the Aten.” This is the earliest example of the long, didactic name of the Aten, the solar god who would come to dominate Akhenaten’s religious innovations. This divine name was unusually precise for an Egyptian deity and was meant to convey the “physical manifestation of the sun as the luminous energy of the universe,” giving the Aten clearly defined parameters. This was unusually restrictive for an Egyptian deity, whose identities were usually more open ended so as to allow their divine nature to syncretize with other gods. From this evidence, it appears Akhenaten already understood the Aten as different from other Egyptian gods. As Akhenaten’s reign progressed he changed the name of the Aten several times, suggesting that the king was continually redefining his understanding of the Aten. Toward the end of Akhenaten’s reign the name of the Aten had shed references to any deity other than itself, indicating that Akhenaten no longer thought the Aten was related to or defined by any other deity. [Source: Jacquelyn Williamson, George Mason University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]

“Although the Aten’s didactic name appeared as early as year 3, it was written in two cartouches in the first half of year 4, endowing the Aten with the royal prerogatives of an Egyptian king . Soon after the didactic name appeared in these double cartouches, the Aten’s image was also changed from a hawk-headed man to a sun disk with rays of light ending in human hands. The hands of the Aten extend only to Akhenaten and Nefertiti and its temples and offerings; all others are excluded from its direct attention.

“Amenhotep IV soon changed his name to Akhenaten, or “One Who Is Effective For The Aten.” Soon after he changed his name, the queen’s name also changed to Neferneferuaten Nefertiti, “Beautiful Are The Beauties of the Aten, The Beautiful One Has Come,” which was likely a reference to her association with Hathor. Apparently Nefertiti embraced and supported the new theology; certainly it granted her exceptional status. A series of pillars and a gateway from Karnak, perhaps erected around year 5, show her worshiping the Aten on her own with her daughters in attendance. The original location of these structures in the Karnak precinct is unknown, but they were huge, the pillars measuring 2 meters on a side and more than 10 meters high.

“As part of his ongoing building program at Karnak, the king constructed an enormous structure at Karnak to celebrate his early “heb- sed”, or jubilee festival. Unlike traditional jubilee festivals where the king offers to many different deities, Akhenaten offers only to the Aten in his “heb- sed”. The festival courtyard measures 210 meters by 210 meters and was decorated with a long narrative sequence of the events of the jubilee festival as well as colossal statues of the king. The full complex was likely much larger than the festival courtyard, but we lack definitive evidence for the original extent of the structure.”

Akhenaten”s Religious Reforms

Aten cartouches

Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “At the beginning of his reign, the young pharaoh, Amenhotep IV, still worshiped the old gods, especially Amun of Thebes and the sun god, Re-Harakhte. However, within a few years there were changes. He abandoned work on a temple dedicated to Re-Harakhte and began to build a new temple to worship the sun god Aten. In the fifth year of his reign, the king changed his name from Amenhotep (“Amun is Pleased”) to Akhenaten, or “Servant of the Aten” thus formally declaring his new religion. He moved his capital from Thebes more than 320 kilometers (200 miles) to north to Amarna on a desert bay on the east side of the Nile River. Here he began to build a new city, which he called Akhetaten, “Horizon of Aten.” [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com ^^^]

Jacquelyn Williamson of George Mason University wrote: “On a stela from Karnak Temple Akhenaten announced that all deities but the Aten had “ceased” to exist. In year 5 he began to attack inscriptions and images of other gods, targeting Amun, Mut, and Khonsu in particular. However, sloppy and uneven destruction indicates that Akhenaten’s semi-literate demolition crews often chiseled out words that were only visually similar to the names of the gods they sought to destroy, so the demolition process was not a highly organized endeavor. In addition to attacking their images, the king taxed the temples of other gods, redirecting their revenue to the Aten’s establishments. As far as can be determined, this activity against other gods was predominant in the earlier years of the king’s reign. [Source: Jacquelyn Williamson, George Mason University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]

Dr Kate Spence of Cambridge University wrote for the BBC: “The Egyptians had traditionally worshipped a whole pantheon of gods who were represented in human or animal form or as animal-headed humans. Some gods were specific to particular towns or places; others had broader appeal. From early periods solar gods such as Re had played an important role in Egyptian state religion because the distant but universal power of the sun fitted well with prevailing ideas of the supreme power of the king both within Egypt and beyond its borders. |::|

“In the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.), solar gods again became prominent, among them the Aten, the visible sun-disk which can be seen traversing the sky each day. Akhenaten raised the Aten to the position of 'sole god', represented as a disk with rays of light terminating in hands which reach out to the royal family, sometimes offering the hieroglyphic sign for life. Akhenaten and his family are frequently shown worshipping the Aten or simply indulging in everyday activities beneath the disk. Everywhere the close ties between the king and god are stressed through art and text. The king forms the link between the god and ordinary people whose supposed focus of worship seems to have been Akhenaten and the royal family rather than the Aten itself.” [Source: Dr Kate Spence, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Akhenaten’s Religion

Great Hymn to Aten

Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: ““The religion of the Aten is not completely understood today. We do know that Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti worshipped only the sun god, and the names of other gods and goddesses were removed from view. The funerary religion of Osiris was dropped, and Akhenaten became the source of blessings for people after death. The Aten was never shown in human or animal form, but represented as the sun disk with extended rays ending in hands. Aten was the life-giving and life-sustaining power of the sun. Unlike the old gods, he had no carved image hidden in a dark room deep within a temple, but was worshiped out in the light of day.” [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com ^^^]

Dr Kate Spence of Cambridge University wrote for the BBC: “Akhenaten's religion is probably not strictly speaking monotheistic, although only the Aten is actually worshipped and provided with temples. Other gods still existed and are mentioned in inscriptions although these tend to be other solar gods or personifications of abstract concepts; even the names of the Aten, which are written in cartouches like king's names, consist of a theological statement describing the Aten in terms of other gods. The majority of traditional gods were not tolerated, however, and teams of workmen were sent around the temples of Egypt where they chiselled out the names and images of these gods wherever they occurred. A number of hymns to the Aten were composed during Akhenaten's reign and these provide a glimpse of what James Allen has described as the 'natural philosophy' of Akhenaten's religion. The wonders of the natural world are described to extol the universal power of the sun; all creatures rejoice when the sun rises and nasty things come out at night when the sun is not present.” [Source: Dr Kate Spence, BBC, February 17, 2011]

Jacquelyn Williamson of George Mason University wrote: “The religion of Atenism departed in many ways from traditional Egyptian beliefs. Akhenaten claimed that he was the Aten’s son and only prophet. Atenism centered on a visible deity responsible for all of creation, a deity that re-created itself daily. But the Aten was spiritually inaccessible and remote; most of humankind depended on the king’s mediation to approach the Aten. The visibility of the Aten in the sky and its universal life-giving properties contrasted with its spiritual remoteness. [Source: Jacquelyn Williamson, George Mason University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]

“Because of the Aten’s visibility and concrete gifts to the earth, the cult of the Aten emphasized worshipping the visible and the real instead of the more abstract notions of the Amun cult. Although some suggest that Atenism was the first true “monotheist” religion in the ancient world, this is a misnomer. Many Amarna residents maintained beliefs in traditional household gods, such as Taweret and Bes. It is also impossible to prove that many embraced Atenism outside the royal family and the inner court. Atenism and Akhenaten’s changes may have been a centralized phenomenon that few in Egypt experienced directly.”

Discontent with Akhenaten's Monotheism

Akhenaten as a sphinx

But this religious and artistic renaissance was short lived; Akhenaten made himself unpopular by closing the old temples, and his lack of enthusiasm for the practical duties of kingship was detrimental to Egypt’s Imperial interests. Surviving documents show that Akhenaten paid little attention to the army and navy, foreign trade began to fall off, and internal taxes began to disappear into the pockets of local officials. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com ^^^]

“Letters to the king discovered in the ruins of Tell el-Amarna, known as the Amarna Letters, show the discontent of the army commanders and high commissioners in Palestine and Syria. The local princes, who had been loyal to Egypt, no longer saw any advantage in trading with Egypt. The Hittites from the north began to make gains and this led to a general disintegration of the empire. Eventually, dissatisfied priests and civil officials combined with the army to discredit the new religion. There is some evidence that at the urging of Tiy, the queen mother, Akhenaten made compromises to placate the different factions growing within Egyptian society. He also became estranged from Nefertiti.” ^^^

Move to Amarna

After formally declaring his new religion, Akhenaten moved his capital from Thebes more than 320 kilometers (200 miles) to north to Amarna in a desert area on the east side of the Nile River. Jacquelyn Williamson of George Mason University wrote: “ In year 5 on the 13th day of the 4th month of the season of “peret”, the king announced his intention to move the court to the city he named “Akhetaten” or “The Horizon of the Aten” at Tell el-Amarna in Middle Egypt. Sixteen boundary markers, or stelae, recorded the foundation of the site and Akhenaten’s building plans. According to Akhenaten, the Aten itself dictated this move because it wanted its cult relocated to virgin territory. However, politics may have been behind the relocation, as the elite Theban population may have started resisting Akhenaten’s changes. This contention is supported by a speech recorded on Boundary Stelae K, M, and X, where Akhenaten denounces what appear to be elite-generated aspersions on his kingship. [Source: Jacquelyn Williamson, George Mason University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]

Dr Kate Spence of Cambridge University wrote for the BBC:“Akhenaten decided that the worship of the Aten required a location uncontaminated by the cults of traditional gods and to this end chose a site in Middle Egypt for a new capital city which he called Akhetaten, 'Horizon of the Aten'. It is a desert site surrounded on three sides by cliffs and to the west by the Nile and is known today as el-Amarna. In the cliffs around the boundaries of the city the king left a series of monumental inscriptions in which he outlined his reasons for the move and his architectural intentions for the city in the form of lists of buildings. [Source: Dr Kate Spence, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]


“To the east of the city is a valley leading into the desert in which the king began excavating tombs for the royal family. On the plain near the river massive temples to the Aten were constructed: these were open to the sky and the rays of the sun and were probably influenced by the design of much earlier solar temples dedicated to the cult of Re. Other sites of religious importance are located on the edges of the desert plain. There were also at least four palaces in the city which vary considerably in form, plus all the administrative facilities, storage and workshops necessary to support the royal family, court and the temple cults. |::|

Marsha Hill of The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: A set of fifteen boundary stelae marking the first anniversary of the proclamation, stood in the cliffs enclosing the large plain on either side of the Nile at the site. Naming himself Akhenaten and thus referring to the Aten, and abjuring his previous name Amenhotep referring to that god, the king proclaimed the founding and layout of a city he called Akhetaten, or Horizon of the Aten: he prescribed temples for the Aten, a so-called sunshade shrine in the name of Nefertiti, palaces, burial places for the royal family and high officials, and festivals and ritual provisions for the Aten. Over the twelve years between the date of the first proclamation and Akhenaten's death in year 17 of his reign, this program was largely fulfilled. [Source: Marsha Hill, Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 2014, metmuseum.org \^/]


Amarna (40 miles south of Al-Minya, near the town of Mallawi) was the royal city built on the Nile by Akhnaten to honor the god Aten and promote Akhnaten’s belief in a single god. A year or two after it was established as a religious center Amarna grew into a city with 20,000 people. The pharaoh lived with his wife and daughters in a luxurious palace with zoos, swimming pools, sunken gardens, bakeries and breweries.

At its height the ancient city stretched for eight miles along the Nile and extended three miles inland. A road along the river led to palaces and temples. The largest temple was an open air structure some 2,500 feet long and 950 feet wide. It contained a large courtyard where

After Akhenaten died, the polytheistic pharaohs that followed him destroyed many things associated with Akhenaten and his worship of one god. Even so a great deal of the foundations of city and its temples, palaces and noble tombs remain because the city was abandoned after Akhenaten's death and no one bothered to build anything on top of it. Tombs in the area feature artwork and inscribed stelae a wonderful style of exaggerated naturalism, now referred to as new the "Amarna style." Nearby is a temple built by Ramses II to honor Thoth, a local god and the god of wisdom of knowledge. More tombs can be seen in Al-Haj Qandil.

Akhetaten (Horizon of the Aten)

In Armana, Akhenatan built a new city, which he called Akhetaten, “Horizon of Aten.” Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: “The new city had many spacious villas with trees, pools, and gardens. Akhenaten encouraged artistic inventiveness and realism and the walls of the temples and houses were painted in an eccentric new style. Among the surviving works of this period are the colossal statues of Akhenaten, the paintings from his private residence, the bust of his wife Nefertiti, and that of his mother, Queen Tiy. These works are unique in Egyptian art, as they do not flatter the king and his family but reveal them as real people, in all their beauty and decay.” [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]

Main city of Amarna

Jacquelyn Williamson of George Mason University wrote: ““The new city at Tell el-Amarna was located on a desert plain in a semicircular area defined by the river and a large amphitheater of cliff faces. Tombs of the elite were placed in the northern cliffs and in the southern desert hills...It appears that most members of the Theban elite accompanied the king to Tell el- Amarna. Some, such as Parennefer, started new tombs at Amarna. Not every member of the elite followed Parennefer’s example, however. The official Ramose, whose Theban tomb represents Akhenaten before and after his artistic revolution, is not attested at Amarna. Kheruef did not relocate to Amarna either, and the intentional damage to his tomb may indicate the ramifications of his refusal to accompany the king to his new city. On the other hand, at Memphis some of Akhenaten’s officials kept their tombs without reprisal, which may indicate that Akhenaten did not require his Memphis officials to move to Amarna. [Source: Jacquelyn Williamson, George Mason University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]

Marsha Hill of The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “In its initial formal plan, the city stretched from north to south along a royal road that led from a huge palace—termed the North Riverside Palace—at the north, through the Central City with the Great Aten Temple, the Small Aten Temple, the Great Palace (the ceremonial palace), and the administrative and provision quarters, to a southern temple for Nefertiti at Kom el-Nana. Over the years, the road to the south was obscured by a growing suburb, but certainly the Royal Road from north to the Central City constituted a sort of processional route where the king and his family in their chariots could be seen progressing to and from the temple. Most of these buildings have been excavated to some degree. [Source: Marsha Hill, Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 2014, metmuseum.org \^/] Dr Kate Spence of Cambridge University wrote for the BBC: “Akhetaten is sometimes described as if it were some sort of broad Utopian project. However, while temple and palace areas of the city are clearly planned, there is actually no evidence that Akhenaten showed any interest in the living arrangements of his people and residential areas suggest organic urban development. The wealthy seem to have enclosed an area of land with a high wall and built their spacious houses and ancillary structures within, while the houses and shacks of those that followed the court are crammed in between these luxurious walled estates. The city was probably less dense than other urban centres of the day but this was only because it was inhabited for such a short time and processes of infilling were in their infancy. Amarna is one of the few sites where we have a significant amount of archaeological information about how people actually lived in ancient Egypt. [Source: Dr Kate Spence, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Amarna as a Thriving Egyptian City

Marsha Hill of The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Not only was Akhetaten the center for worship of the Aten and the dwelling place of the king, it was the home of a large population—an estimated 30,000 people, nowhere signaled in the provisions of the boundary stelae. When the city was abandoned after about two decades, the streets and structures with their archaeological evidence were preserved in the state in which they were left after removal of much of the stonework and destruction of statuary. Because the city was not impacted by use over long periods of evolution, the site constitutes a remarkable laboratory for observation of an ancient society, albeit a very particular one created from the ground up at a specific moment. [Source: Marsha Hill, Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 2014, metmuseum.org \^/]

“A large population of officials and their dependents migrated to the city with the king. Villas of officials were scattered throughout the city; each villa or every few villas had a well, and that nucleus was then surrounded by smaller houses arranged according to the lights of their inhabitants. Amarna's excavator Barry Kemp has aptly described clusters thus formed as village-like, and he has referred to the city they formed as an "urban village." The grouping of smaller houses around an official's house points to the attachment of dependents to a given official, but also to the fact that the members of the complex were all aware of each other as interdependent in a way common to small villages. These village-like complexes produced statuary; stone, faience, and glass vessels, jewelry, or inlays; metal items, and the like. Usually several industries operated in the same complex, serving the furnishing and embellishment of the royal buildings and other needs; by providing for these workers, the official heading the complex must have had rights to the things produced, which he then provided toward the court undertakings.

“The city offers a good deal of information about the spiritual concerns of its people, although the disparate evidence leaves many gaps and questions. As for involvement in the official Aten religion and the temples, officials presumably commissioned some of the temple statuary of the royal family or small-scale temple equipment at workshops distributed throughout one whole zone of the city. Some of the society at least also seems to have had particular access to certain parts of the temple: the Stela Emplacement area toward the back is one example already noted. Certain figured ostraka or carved single ears—known elsewhere as dedications asking for a god's attention to prayers—may likewise be offerings deposited at some locale in the temples . Moreover, the huge bakeries attached to the Great Aten Temple, along with the many hundreds of offering tables in the temple, point to wide distributions of food, and these could be tied to broad accommodation within areas of the temple enclosure, possibly in connection with the festivals of the Aten promised on the boundary stelae. In their homes, officials might exhibit devotion to the royal family as the children of the Aten, sometimes constructing small chapels in gardens alongside their houses for their own or perhaps neighborhood use. And at least one structure located in the city's bureaucratic and military district was a sort of neighborhood shrine for a cult of the king. From the perspective of the small finds attached to houses and burials of the wider populace, there is very little overt evidence of attention to the new god, although such attention might not be well manifested in such finds for a variety of reasons. What is clear is that there was no absolute prohibition on other gods: material remains testify to continued interest in household gods like Bes and Taweret, protector deities like Shed and Isis, and belief in the efficacious magic of female or cobra figurines. The practice of honoring and invocation of important ancestors and probably other figures in the community through statues or stelae in household shrines or elsewhere seems to have pervaded society, and points to a better understanding of the phenomenon usually termed "ancestor worship". \^/

“Recent excavations have revealed the long-unknown cemeteries of the general populace. The royal and elite tombs have long been known: the royal tomb for Akhenaten along with other partly finished tombs lay in the Royal Wadi through the cliffs to the east of the city and probably held the king's body along with a number of his daughters and his mother, but these interments were removed; two groups of fine tombs for a number of the great officials lined the cliffs to the east of the city, although most of the owners were not actually buried there before habitation at the site was ended. In contrast, the recently excavated South Tombs Cemetery of the general populace shows ample evidence of use, probably holding about 3,000 individuals. A few of these individuals had coffins or stela or a piece of jewelry; most were simply wrapped, apparently not mummified, in a mat of rushes which served as a sort of coffin and accompanied by a few pots. While there was certainly no mention of traditional funerary religion involving Osiris in the royal or elite tombs, there was some variability in the South Tombs Cemetery: one burial had a coffin apparently representing the Sons of Horus. The remains present many points of interest, but perhaps most surprising is the evidence of duress and poor diet well beyond that known for other typical New Kingdom populations. The profile of the population in terms of age at death also indicates to researchers that an as yet unidentified epidemic scoured the population. Other cemeteries have been identified, and more excavation is anticipated.” \^/

Akhenaten’s Great Aten Temple in Amarna

Marsha Hill of The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “A central structure of the city was the Great Aten Temple...The temple's precinct encompassed a vast expanse in which traces of two complexes can be seen, one in the front third and one at the rear. In both areas, there were initial works in mud brick, which were later replaced with stone buildings. Current work at the site has revealed that at least the front building, known as the Long Temple or Gem-Aten, was substantially rebuilt again fairly late in the reign for reasons that are as yet unclear. These substantial changes over the short span of eleven years suggest the temple was a construction site for most of its existence. [Source: Marsha Hill, Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 2014, metmuseum.org \^/]

“The entire temple was open to the sky. In what we understand as its final state, one entered the temple enclosure through a mud-brick pylon, and advanced through a forecourt filled with numerous large low basins toward two colonnades of huge columns on either side of the axis. Beyond the colonnades stretched a long progression of courts filled with offering tables and punctuated by large altars. Fields of hundreds of offering tables aligned the Long Temple, though whether on both sides simultaneously is not clear. Then, beyond a huge stretch of ground, unexcavated and more or less featureless to the modern eye, stood a second building known as the Sanctuary of the Great Aten Temple. Within its own walled area, the Sanctuary was raised on a high gypsum cement podium. The building was fronted by a porch with columns and colossi of the king, and within, under the open sky, opened a court with small offering tables and a large altar, surrounded by twelve chapels. The Sanctuary seems to have been completed before the Long Temple, and certainly its plan suggests it was a successor of the Karnak platform temple. Not far outside the Sanctuary enclosure wall was a site where a large stela with an offering list stood on a podium alongside a seated statue of the king. The stela site was on an axis with an unusual entry building in the side wall of the main enclosure wall; it has been conjectured that this entry building allowed access to the stela and statue area, possibly by those wishing to participate in the king's cult. A butcher yard within the temple enclosure and huge bakeries outside saw to the needs of the Aten cult. \^/

“The Great Aten Temple was adorned with reliefs. Some scenes and inscriptions in the Long Temple were spectacularly inlaid with colored stones, glass, and faience; some from the Sanctuary were gilded. Not long after the Amarna Period, the reliefs were removed for reuse as building matrix for other constructions, but the stones left at the site attest to many scenes of presentation of offerings or performance of ritual actions by the king and queen under the Aten's rays. Scenes of nature and large intimate family tableaux are also attested. Fragments document statues in quartzite, granite, granodiorite, and particularly in beautiful hard white limestone known as indurated limestone, a specialty of the two Aten temples. The Metropolitan Museum has many indurated limestone sculptural fragments from the Sanctuary of the Great Aten Temple, where they were broken up on site by the temple's destroyers. These indicate that sculptors continued to adopt expressive forms to represent the royal couple's relation to their deity—the king's and queen's narrowed eyes and arching bodies with locked knees evoke a certain otherness, even if we do not understand the direct import of these features. But, in fact, the fragments also show considerable stylistic variability. Poses of the Great Aten Temple statuary as they can be reconstructed are often new to Egyptian art and surely express meaningful ritual actions within the definitions of the new cult: the king and queen as a dyad with their arms raised high before them and tall pillars inscribed with the Aten's names stretching from their fingertips to toes; the king prostrate before the god; the king with arms raised in adoration. \^/


Akhenaten’s Great Palace

Marsha Hill of The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The ceremonial palace—the Great Palace—stood near the Great Aten Temple. This was the largest building in the city, and was elaborately decorated with relief and statuary, fine stone balustrades, stone, faience and glass inlay, gilding, and wall and pavement paintings. As the current excavator notes, it was designed to impress. This was the ceremonial or reception palace of the royal family, who seem to have lived elsewhere. The palace was entered from the north. Those arriving ascended ramps to pass through a monumental entrance decorated with columns, reliefs, and perhaps seated statues. They then descended ramps into the Broad Court, where great colossi in quartzite and granite stood, preserved only in fragments but reminiscent of those in the Karnak Heb Sed court. At the southern end of the Broad Court was a large porticoed balcony that may have been one of the locales termed a "window of appearance," where the king and his family appeared to a larger public. The Broad Court complex at the Great Palace has been suggested as a site for official awards and feasting. To the east, the palace adjoined the Royal Road; on the western side, to judge from relief depictions, porticoes lined the riverfront. [Source: Marsha Hill, Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 2014, metmuseum.org \^/]

“Less is known about the sunshades—an ancient Egyptian term for a place for sun worship—of the royal women. One at least, the Maruaten, evoked a lush natural setting with water and plants and a sort of island. The Kom el-Nana, certainly Nefertiti's shrine, has provided evidence of a particular type of statuary associated with Amarna known as composite statuary, where lifelike skin coloring and textures, garments, and poses are mimicked by attaching separate pieces in different stones. Whether composite or no, statues in warm-colored stones such as yellow-brown or deep red quartzite of the king and queen and their daughters, often in groups and often linked by intimate gestures of held hands or interlaced arms, are a type that flourished at the site of Amarna itself, wherein the special intimacy and beauty of the family expresses their status as the beloved children of the Aten. \^/

“Reliefs decorated all the temples and palaces, and wall, floor, and ceiling paintings adorned many of the palaces. Although the buildings were torn down after the end of the Amarna Period, the stone itself was removed to other sites to be used as fill in constructions. So, while it has not yet been possible to reconstruct larger scenes and their coordination with particular spaces as it was at Karnak, some sense of the themes represented is available. The life of the royal family, the beautiful children of the Aten, in the company of their god is central, from intimate depictions of the king and queen with the young princesses, to their movement through the city in chariots to the temples, to scenes of ritual and offering under the rays of the Aten . Scenes of nature under the Aten's rays figure largely: dewy grapes, gamboling animals, startled birds, and scenes in the marsh. Ambient activities are represented in similar spirit: busy cleaners and porters at the palace, soldiers sleeping alongside their smoking fires, attendants tending burning coals, boat and dock scenes.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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