One of ancient Egypt’s most controversial pharaohs, Akhenaten was also known as Amenhotep IV. Ancient Egypt was ruled by this heretic pharaoh for 17 long years and he belonged to the 18th Dynasty. The pharaoh was known by many interesting names like the Rebel Pharaoh, The Heretic Pharaoh and the Great Heretic. Akhenaten believed in the existence of only one supreme God called Aten and therefore changed his name from Amenhotep IV to show his belief. So, let’s go on with this list of amazing Akhenaten facts that will throw light on this radical religious innovator.
Akhenaten had a rule of 17 years over Egypt, but as Amenhotep IV for the first couple of years after which he changed his name. It was in Thebes that the pharaoh was crowned as the new ruler, but the date of his succession is not certain. Some accounts suggest that Akhenaten was crowned somewhere in 1370 BC while others suggest that the succession to the throne was in the year 1358 BC. He passed away in 1336 BC, ending his 17 years of reign.
Akhenaten was married to Nefertiti, touted as the most beautiful woman in the world in ancient Egypt and in the world. She was perhaps his half sister as it was very common among the royals to wed among brothers and sisters of the family. Some historians claim Nefertiti was only 12 years of age when she got married to the pharaoh. The two got married during the first few years of his rule and became parents to at least 6 daughters. Though Akhenatan had many other wives, he loved Nefertiti the most as there are a few depictions where the pharaoh is seen displaying his love for the queen. He loved his daughters too.
Spanning miles and miles across the desert, the city of Amarna was founded by the radical pharaoh Akhenaten during his 5th year of rule of Egypt. It was during this time that he ordered for the construction of this new capital that he named Akhetaten aka ‘Horizon of Aten’. The city of Amarna was in fact dedicated to the worship of the main God Aten and was inhabited by 10,000 residents comprising of artisans, priests, boatmen and traders. It was a golden city as it boasted of proper housing for the families, and also had the widest road known back in ancient times. Exquisite chariot processions were taken out on this road during Akhenaten’s rule.
Do you know that Pharaoh Akhenaten was the son of Amenhotep the Magnificent? This is among one of the most interesting fact about Akhenaten that you must all know. Born to Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye, Akhenaten was not much wanted in his family. Being the ninth pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, Amenhotep ruled for 38 long years before Akhenaten succeeded him. Amenhotep was also called Amenhotep the Magnificent and Queen Tiye was his ‘Great Royal’ wife. His eldest son Thutmose, the crown prince died due to unknown reasons and this led to the death of Amenhotep the Magnificent.
The famous Pharaoh Tut or Tutankhaten or Tutenkhamun was the son of Akhenaten but not born of Nefertiti. He was born to one of his biological sisters who was also Ahkenaten’s wife. However, many historians doubted the authenticity of this fact, but DNA tests conducted in 2010 proved that Tut was in fact Akhenaten’s son.
There were numerous poems written about Akhenaten, some of which he wrote himself, and most spoke of how divine beings that came down from the sky directed the radical pharaoh to rule his people. He always considered himself to be closely linked with the God Aten.
Akhenaten’s rule can be called the most glorious as it was during his reign that art and architecture flourished and reached its pinnacle. He got many temples and structures built during his rule of 17 years of which the Temple of Amenhotep IV is the most famous for its magnificent structure. Not only this, art was revived and artists were told to portray realistic pictures of people. Also, the subjects painted were taken from ordinary day to day life of people and their daily activities. Akhenaten also motivated the artists to paint royal women.
8. The initiation of the first monotheistic religion
The monotheistic religion of the radical pharaoh is now known as Akhenaten Religion. The pharaoh was the first person in ancient Egypt to initiate and promote this religion that was based on the worship of one and only supreme God Aten. According to him, Aten was the only god that the Egyptians needed to follow and worship. It was in the 6th year of his rule that he ordered the idols and icons of other gods removed. He, along with his family moved to the new capital city of Amarna and spent 10 long years worshiping and promoting Atenism.
Since Akhenaten was a firm believer of Aten, he passed an order to eradicate all the traditional gods of Egypt like Amun, Isis, Ra, Nut and Geb, and got all their icons removed. He went quite far when he ordered the defacing of the temples dedicated to Amun. This was done throughout Egypt and angered a lot of people including priests.
10. An act of incest with a daughter may have been committed
Though, it was a common practice for the Egyptian royalty to marry within their own family, yet, the fact that we are about to disclose now will surprise you all. It might be possible that Akhenaten entered into a relationship with his own daughter named Princess Meketaten to produce a male heir. This is substantiated by the depictions on the walls of the Royal Tomb, according to which the Pharaoh and his queen are shown mourning over the dead body of their daughter who died in childbirth. However, its only an assumption as no authentic proof is available. Most historians claim that Akhenaten was the father of his daughter’s child.
The Heretic Pharaoh was a pioneer in starting many new trends in the fields of art and culture. For example, he ordered his painters to depict him as realistically as possible. On his orders, painters started depicting him with long neck, thick thighs, sunken eyes, potbelly and small breasts. The real cause for him starting this trend could be his suffering from a disease called Marfan’s Syndrome.
When he entered the fifth year of his reign, Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten. This he did to show how much he believed in Aten and was his follower. In order to prove his loyalty to Aten, Akhenaten removed all the icons of other gods and had the temples of Amun defaced. He also disbanded priesthoods of all the traditional gods. The name Akhenaten meant ‘Living Spirit of Aten’.
This is one of the most riveting fact about Akhenaten that everyone should be aware of. Both Akhenaten and his religion, Atenism were erased from the records soon after the pharaoh’s death. People discarded his religion and got back to practicing the traditional religions. His traces were erased and no pharaoh that succeeded him included his name in the king lists. However, we came to know about him and his legacy only in the 19th century when his site of Amarna was discovered.
14. The man behind the discovery of the body of Akhenaten
A British archaeologist called Edward Ayrton can be credited with the discovery of Akhenaten’s body in 1907 at KV55, a tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. At that time, Ayrton was working for Theodore M. Davis. However, many historians rejected this theory earlier, only to be proved wrong, when in 2010, many genetic tests confirmed that the body was infact that of the radical pharaoh.
Akhenaten was a nonconformist as he didn’t follow the laid customs and beliefs. He believed himself to be linked with Aten and abolished the traditional worship of other Egyptian gods like Isis and Amun. He went as far as conferring a divine status to his chief queen Nefertiti.
These letters were in-fact a collection of messages in clay tablets that consisted of communications between the pharaoh and various foreign rulers. On decoding the messages, it has been found that Akhenaten may have declined to pay gold or men to the foreign forces, and basically showed an indifference towards maintaining diplomatic relations. Due to his odd behavior, his rule might have ended with the fall of Amarna.
17. The death of the pharaoh and return of the traditional
Soon after Akhenaten died during his 17th year of reign, Egyptians returned back to their normal ways of life and that included worshiping the traditional gods. The city of Amarna was abandoned and people moved back to Thebes.
18. Marfan’s Syndrome could have affected the pharaoh
In all probability, the heretic king Akhenaten suffered from a rare disease called Marfan’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder that results in patients having elongated necks, arms and hands, a potbelly and female like breasts. Akhenaten too had these abnormalities and died young because of this.
Pharaoh Akhenaten was buried in the Valley of the Kings and his royal tomb is called Tomb 55. It was constructed during his reign and was discovered in the later part of 19th century. However, his tomb was raided and plundered as many objects inside it were found damaged during the excavation like the two sarcophagi, the fragments of which were found with their lids. Some pieces of an alabaster Canopic chest were also recovered.
20. Smenkhkare succeeded Akhenaten for a short time
After he died, his other son Smenkhkare succeeded the throne, but only for a short period of time. He was only 16 years of age. But, once his short rule was over, it was King Tut who was crowned the new pharaoh at only eight years of age.
Akhenaten wasn’t loved or wanted by his family except his mother Queen Tiyee. He succeeded the throne only because of the demise of his older brother. The heretic pharaoh was, in fact shunned as a child and did not appear in any of the royal family portraits. He wasn’t even taken to public ceremonies and functions. It was only his mother Tiyee that loved him dearly and became a much powerful force behind his succession and subsequent elevation of his status.
There are many theories, each suggesting a different kind of illness that may have affected Akhenaten. Apart from suffering from the genetic disorder called Marfan Syndrome, he may have also been afflicted with Froelich’s Syndrome. However, these are only assumptions and not authentic. May be the heretic king didn’t suffer from any of these disorders at all!
23. A vast majority of non believers in his religion
Though, he imposed his own religion which we call as ‘Akhenaten Religion’ or Atenism, yet, there were many Egyptians that didn’t believe in it. Many of those people believed in the ancient traditional gods as they had a form and were visible, unlike Aten who was a non tangible god, only worshiped in the form of light.
Amarna, the new capital of Akhenaten and his family was constructed with the help of 20,000 people and proved to be too back breaking for them. On his orders, people worked day and night to finish constructing the city, no matter how badly they were bruised or tired. When the town cemetery was excavated, it was reported that almost 2/3rd of the workers suffered from broken bones in their bodies. Almost 1/3rd of them broke their spines while building the glorious city of Amarna. The heretic pharaoh was quite ruthless in this regard. Most of his workers were malnourished and often sentenced to death if found stealing food.
There are some scholars like Stephen Mehler who believe that the pharaoh and his family were murdered by the Amen priesthood. Once Akhenaten, Nefertiti and the daughters were murdered off, young Tut took over the throne. It is likely that the Amen priesthood used Tut as a dummy ruler and then murdered him once Egypt was free of Atenism. The whole city of Amarna was destroyed and abandoned for Thebes once the family was wiped out.
With a rule of 17 years, Akhenaten was Egypt’s most famous pharaohs and introduced monotheism to the world. He was a pioneer cum rebel in the fields of art and culture. Hope we have done justice to our post that has listed the top 25 Akhenaten facts, and we do wish to see your comments on the same!