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Amenhotep IV



Nefertiti was the wife of the Pharaoh Akhenaten of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt. Her name means, `the beautiful one has come’ and, because of the world-famous bust created by the sculptor Thutmose (discovered in 1912 CE), she is the most recognizable queen of ancient Egypt.

She grew up in the royal palace at Thebes, probably the daughter of the vizier to Amenhotep III, a man named Ay, and was engaged to his son, Amenhotep IV, around the age of eleven. There is evidence to suggest that she was an adherent of the cult of Aten, a sun deity, at an early age and that she may have influenced Amenhotep IV’s later decision to abandon the worship of the gods of Egypt in favor of a monotheism centered on Aten. After he changed his name to Akhenaten and assumed the throne of Egypt, Nefertiti ruled with him until his death after which she disappears from the historical record.

Nefertiti’s Reign

She ruled alongside Akhenaten during the eighteenth dynasty (1550-1292 BC).  She lived in Tell El Amarna, a city constructed by the pharaoh to worship their god Aten. There, they safeguarded their family and their beliefs—it became the center of Egypt’s new religion. It’s believed that Nefertiti was probably a distant relative to Akhenaten and a favorite queen to the pharaoh. Nothing is known about the queen’s childhood and no evidence has yielded who her parents are. Some believe her father could be Aye due to inscriptions found inside his tomb proclaiming him the father of her sister Mutnodjmet.

During her reign as queen, Egypt went about many radical religious changes. Hundreds of years of culture and worship had been exchanged for a new radical concept— Monotheism. The old gods had been disregarded, temples shut down, and priests forced to change their ways. Many historians believe this transition could have been hostile and was not adopted so easily by the citizens or priests.

Her reign with Akhenaten was unlike the traditional ways Egypt had seen. She was more than just a typical queen and helped to promote Akhenaten’s views. Her reign was only 12 years, but she was perhaps one of the most powerful queens to ever rule. Supporting her husbands’ beliefs she changed her name to Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti meaning, “The Aten is radiant of radiance [because] the beautiful one has come.” Her importance was greatly valued by Akhenaten and he went to great lengths to show her as his counterpart. As queen, she took on powerful roles and showed herself in ways only Egyptian kings did. For example, she was often shown with the crown of a pharaoh or was depicted in scenes of battle smiting her enemies. Akhenaten valued her so much, that he also allowed her to practice that art of priesthood and she too was allowed to make offerings to Aten.

Many Egyptologists believe that perhaps Akhenaten was born with deformities that hindered his role as king. One of the ailments that were believed he had was bad vision. This illness could have made his job difficult, in turn, he could have put trust into Nefertiti allowing her to decide many important matters. He trusted her so much, that he went as far as placing her name next to his in his royal cartouche. This was very unique and could have symbolized her as equal status next to Akhenaten.

Other depictions show the couple side by side often with their children in a utopic fashion. In one stela, found in Tell el Amarna, the couple is seated together. Akhenaten is giving his daughter an earring while his wife Nefertiti has the other two daughters on her lap. In this depiction, the queen is having a wonderful time and is shown in a loving manner with her husband and children. Both are shown as equal counterparts in their status and family affairs.

Akhenaten and Nefertiti

Times of her Youth & Marriage

Even though it appears that Nefertiti was the daughter of Ay, this claim is far from substantiated. Inscriptions refer to Ay’s wife, Tiye (or Tey) as Nefertiti’s wet nurse, not her mother, and nothing is known of Ay’s lesser wife. Ay, in addition to his other duties, was tutor to the young Amenhotep IV and may have introduced the prince to Nefertiti when both were children. Nefertiti and her sister, Mudnodjame, were certainly regular members of the court at Thebes and, whether or not Ay introduced her to Amenhotep IV, the two would have known each other simply for that reason.

Ancient images and inscriptions indicate her early interest in the cult of Aten but, as every Egyptian favored one god or another, there is no reason to believe that she had any ideas relating to monotheism or elevating Aten above the other gods (as has been suggested by some scholars). All that can be stated with certainty is that both sisters were adherents of Aten and may have influenced Amenhotep IV’s interest in that cult from an early age. Any definitive statements regarding her influence on the rise of monotheism in Egypt must of necessity be speculative as there is no conclusive evidence to support it; just as there is little information on her life in general.

By the time she was fifteen years old she was married to Amenhotep IV and, after the death of Amenhotep III, she became queen of Egypt. It is at this stage that some scholars claim she most exerted her influence on Amenhotep IV to abandon the ancient religion of Egypt and initiate his religious reforms but, again, this is unsubstantiated.

Nefertiti & Akhenaten, a deeper look

In the fifth year of his reign (some sources claim the ninth), Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten, abolished the religious practices of Egypt, closed the temples, and decreed Aten the one true god. While it is possible he created monotheism out of a genuine religious conviction, it is more probable that it was a political manoeuver to cut the power and wealth of the priests of the god Amun, whose cult was extremely popular. Throughout the 18th dynasty the cult of Amun had increasingly grown in wealth and prestige so that, by Akhenaten’s time, the cult’s priests were almost as powerful as pharaoh. Instituting monotheism, and proscribing the old religion, would have completely restored power to the throne; and that is precisely what it did. The god Aten was now considered not only a powerful god of Egypt but the god of creation, the one true god of the universe.

At the site of Akhetaten (Amarna), the new city dedicated to the god Aten. In the sixth year [of Akhenaten’s reign] Nefertiti’s name was changed to Nefernefruaten which means `Beautiful in beauty is Aten’. Nefertiti lived with Akhenaten in Amarna where he conducted religious services to Aten. (Bunson, 185).

The couple had six daughters: Meritaten, Meketaten, Ankhesenpaaten, Nefernefruaten-tasherit, Neferneferure, and Setepenre, but no sons. With his lesser wife, Kiya, Akhenaten had two sons, Tutankhamun and possibly Smenkhkare (though Smenkhare’s lineage is disputed). Akhenaten married two of these daughters, Meritaten and Ankhesenpaaten (later, Ankhsenamun, wife of Tutankhamun) and may have had children with them (though this is also disputed). What is clear, however, from stele and inscriptions which survived the later purge of their reign, is that the royal couple was deeply devoted to each other and constantly together or with their daughters. Regarding Nefertiti’s physical appearance at this time, Heller writes:

“It is surmised that she must have been about four feet, six inches tall, the height of an average Egyptian woman of the time. It is known from her depictions that she often went about scantily dressed, as was customary in the warm climate. Otherwise, she appeared in the traditional garb of a clinging gown tied by a girdle with ends falling in front; at times, she is depicted coiffed with a short wig. She probably had a shaven head to improve the fit of her unusual tall blue crown. It is known that she identified with her husband’s heresy and that, according to Akhenaten’s poetry, he loved her dearly. It is also known that her beauty was legendary”

The royal family originally lived at the palace of Malkata in Thebes, which was built under the reign of Amenhotep III but renovated under Akhenaten and re-named Tehen Aten (meaning `the splendor of Aten).

Watterson, and others, also point out that the palace was abundant in gold decorations and ornate reliefs. However opulent Malkata was, the new palace at the city the couple founded, Akhetaten, was even grander and, more importantly, served a symbolic purpose in the new religion of Aten.

As part of his religious revolution, Akhenaten decided to leave Thebes and move to a virgin site that would be dedicated to his new cult. The new city was located in Middle Egypt, and called Akhetaten, `Horizon of Aten’. It was laid out parallel to the river, its boundaries marked by stelae carved into the cliffs ringing the site. The king himself took responsibility for its cosmologically significant master plan. In the center of his city, the king built a formal reception palace, where he could meet officials and foreign dignitaries. The palaces in which he and his family lived were to the north, and a road led from the royal dwelling to the reception palace. Each day, Akhenaten and Nefertiti processed in their chariots from one end of the city to the other, mirroring the journey of the sun across the sky. In this, as in many other aspects of their lives that have come to us through art and texts, Akhenaten and Nefertiti were seen, or at least saw themselves, as deities in their own right. It was only through them that the Aten could be worshipped: they were both priests and gods. -Egyptologist Zahi Hawass explains.

Egyptian Royal Woman – Possibly Nefertiti

In her role as part of the divine couple, Nefertiti may also have been co-regent. Akhenaten joined his cartouche (his seal) with hers as a sign of equality and there is evidence that she took on the traditional duties of pharaoh while her husband busied himself with theological reformation and architectural renovations. Images which have survived depict her officiating at religious services, receiving foreign dignitaries, moderating diplomatic meetings, and even in the traditional royal role of the king smiting the enemies of Egypt. None of these images would have been created if there were not some truth behind the stories they depict and so Nefertiti must have wielded more power than any woman in Egypt since the time of Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE). From the royal palace at Akhetaten, she sent forth the royal decrees and made the decisions which, according to tradition, were the responsibility of her husband.

Source: Ancient History Encyclopedia (,




Akhenaten (r. 1353-1336 BCE) was a pharaoh of Egypt of the 18th Dynasty. He is also known as `Akhenaton’ or `Ikhnaton’ and also `Khuenaten’, all of which are translated to mean `successful for’ or `of great use to’ the god Aten. Akhenaten chose this name for himself after his conversion to the cult of Aten. Prior to this conversion, he was known as Amenhotep IV (or Amenophis IV). He was the son of Amenhotep III (1386-1353 BCE) and his wife Tiye, husband of Queen Nefertiti, and father of both Tutankhamun (by a lesser wife named Lady Kiya) and Tutankhamun’s wife Ankhsenamun (by Nefertiti).

His reign as Amenhotep IV lasted five years during which he followed the policies of his father and the religious traditions of Egypt. However, in the fifth year, he underwent a dramatic religious transformation, changed his devotion from the cult of Amun to that of Aten, and, for the next twelve years, became famous (or infamous) as the `heretic king’ who abolished the traditional religious rites of Egypt and instituted the first known monotheistic state religion in the world and, according to some, monotheism itself.

His reign is known as The Amarna Period because he moved the capital of Egypt from the traditional site at Thebes to the city he founded, Akhetaten, which came to be known as Amarna (also Tell el-Amarna). The Amarna Period is the most controversial era in Egyptian history and has been studied, debated, and written about more than any other.

Amenhotep IV Becomes Akhenaten

Amenhotep IV may have been co-regent with his father, Amenhotep III, and it has been noted that the sun-disk known as the `Aten’ is displayed on a number of inscriptions from this period of the earlier king’s reign. The Aten was not new to the rule of Akhenaten and, prior to his conversion, was simply another cult among the many in ancient Egypt. It should be noted that `cult’ did not have the same meaning in this regard as it does in the present day. There was absolutely nothing negative in the designation of a community of worshippers being known as a `cult’ in ancient Egypt. It carried the same meaning then as a member of the Christian community today being designated a Baptist, a Lutheran, a Presbyterian, or Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. The gods and practices of the various cults all represented the same end: eternal harmony and balance.


Amenhotep III ruled over a land whose priesthood, centered on the god Amun, had been steadily growing in power for centuries. By the time Amenhotep IV came to power, the priests of Amun were on almost equal standing with the royal house in wealth and influence.

The historian Lewis Spence writes, “With the exception of Ra and Osiris, the worship of Amun was more widespread than that of any other god in the Nile Valley; but the circumstances behind the growth of his cult certainly point to its having been disseminated by political rather than religious propaganda” (137). By the time of Amenhotep IV, the Cult of Amun owned more land than the king. In the 5th year of his reign, Amenhotep IV outlawed the old religion and proclaimed himself the living incarnation of a single all-powerful deity known as Aten and, by the 9th year, he had closed all the temples and suppressed religious practices.

Amenhotep IV moved his seat of power from the traditional palace at Thebes to one he built at the city he founded, Akhetaten, changed his name to Akhenaten, and continued the religious reforms which resulted in his being despised as `the heretic king’ by some later writers while admired as a champion of monotheism by others.

Stela of Akhenaten

Akhenaten’s monotheistic

Some historians have praised Akhenaten’s reforms as the first instance of monotheism and the benefits of monotheistic belief; but these reforms were not at all beneficial to the people of Egypt at the time. The historian Durant, for example, writes that Akhenaten’s reforms were “the first out-standing expression of monotheism – seven hundred years before Isaiah [of the Bible] and an astounding advance upon the old tribal deities” (210). Those `old tribal deities’ of Egypt, however, had encouraged peace, harmony, and the development of one of the greatest ancient cultures the world has ever known.

The polytheism of the ancient Egyptians encouraged a world view where peace and balance were emphasized and religious tolerance was not considered an issue; there is not even a word directly corresponding to the concept of `religious tolerance’ in the ancient Egyptian texts. A hallmark of any monotheistic belief system, however, is that it encourages the belief that, in order for it to be right, other systems must necessarily be wrong. This insistence on being the sole arbiter of ultimate truth leads to intolerance of other beliefs and their suppression; this is precisely what happened in Egypt. The names of the god Amun and the other gods were chiseled from monuments throughout Egypt, the temples were closed, and the old practices outlawed.

“Dating to this point in Akhenaten’s reign was a campaign to excise the name of gods other than the Aten, especially Amun, from the monuments of Egypt. This was done with violence: hieroglyphs were brutally hacked from the walls of temples and tombs. This was probably carried out, at least in part, by illiterate iconoclasts, presumably following the orders of their king. [Akhenaten] carried out a religious revolution the like of which had never been seen before in Egypt. His reign represents a significant departure from religious, artistic, and political norms.” – Egyptologist Zahi Hawass

Priests of Amun who had the time and resources hid statuary and texts from the palace guards sent to destroy them and then abandoned their temple complexes. Akhenaten ordained new priests, or simply forced priests of Amun into the service of his new monotheism, and proclaimed himself and his queen gods.

Neglecting Egypt’s Allies

The pharaoh as a servant of the gods, and identified with a certain god (most often Horus), was common practice in ancient Egypt but no one before Akhenaten had proclaimed himself an actual god incarnate. As a god, he seems to have felt that the affairs of state were beneath him and simply stopped attending to his responsibilities One of the many unfortunate results of Akhenaten’s religious reforms was a neglect of foreign policy.

From documents and letters of the time it is known that other nations, formerly allies, wrote numerous times asking Egypt for help in various affairs and that most of these requests were ignored by the deified king. Egypt was a wealthy and prosperous nation at the time and had been steadily growing in power since before the reign of Queen Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE). Hatshepsut and her successors, such as Tuthmosis III (1458-1425 BCE), employed a balanced approach of diplomacy and military action in dealing with foreign nations; Akhenaten chose simply to largely ignore what happened beyond the borders of Egypt and, it seems, most things outside of his palace at Akhetaten.

Watterson notes that Ribaddi (Rib-Hadda), king of Byblos, who was one of Egypt’s most loyal allies, sent over fifty letters to Akhenaten asking for help in fighting off Abdiashirta (also known as Aziru) of Amor (Amurru) but these all went unanswered and Byblos was lost to Egypt (112). Tushratta, the king of Mitanni, who had also been a close ally of Egypt, complained that Amenhotep III had sent him statues of gold while Akhenaten only sent gold-plated statues.

Akhetaten & Art

The famous Stele of Akhenaten, depicting the royal family, shows the rays of the Aten touching them all and each of them, even Nefertiti, depicted with the same elongation as the king. To consider these images as realistic depictions of the royal family, afflicted with some disorder, seems to be a mistake in that there would be no reason for Nefertiti to share in the king’s supposed disorder. The depiction, then, could illustrate Akhenaten and Nefertiti as those who had been transformed to god-like status by their devotion to the Aten to such an extent that their faith is seen even in their children.

One aspect of Amarna Period art which differentiates it from earlier and later periods is the intimacy of the images, best exemplified in the Stele of Akhenaten showing the family enjoying each other’s company in a private moment. Images of pharaohs before and after this period depict the ruler as a solitary figure engaged in hunting or battle or standing in the company of a god or his queen in dignity and honor. This can also be explained as stemming from Akhenaten’s religious beliefs in that the Aten, not the pharaoh, was the most important consideration (as in the Stele of Akhenaten, it is the Aten disk, not the family, which is the center of the composition) and, under the influence of the Aten’s love and grace, the pharaoh and his family thrives.

Akhetaten’s Monotheism & Legacy

This image of the Aten as an all-powerful, all-loving, deity, supreme creator and sustainer of the universe, is thought to have had a potent influence on the later development of monotheistic religious faith. Whether Akhenaten was motivated by a political agenda to suppress the power of the Cult of Amun or if he experienced a true religious revelation, he was the first on record to envision a single, supreme deity who cared for the individual lives and fates of human beings. Sigmund Freud, in his 1939 CE work Moses and Monotheism, argues that Moses was an Egyptian who had been an adherent of the Cult of Aten and was driven from Egypt following Akhenaten’s death and the return to the old religious paradigm.

“This image of the Aten as an all-powerful, all-loving, deity, supreme creator and sustainer of the universe, is thought to have had a potent influence on the later development of monotheistic religious faith. Whether Akhenaten was motivated by a political agenda to suppress the power of the Cult of Amun or if he experienced a true religious revelation, he was the first on record to envision a single, supreme deity who cared for the individual lives and fates of human beings. Sigmund Freud, in his 1939 CE work Moses and Monotheism, argues that Moses was an Egyptian who had been an adherent of the Cult of Aten and was driven from Egypt following Akhenaten’s death and the return to the old religious paradigm.” – Freud quotes from James Henry Breasted, the noted archaeologist

Freud recognizes that the Cult of Aten existed long before Akhenaten raised it to prominence but points out that Akhenaten added a component unknown previously in religious belief: “He added the something new that turned into monotheism, the doctrine of a universal god: the quality of exclusiveness” (24). The Greek philosopher Xenophanes (c. 570-c.478 BCE) would later experience a similar vision that the many gods of the Greek city-states were vain imaginings and there was only one true god and, though he shared this vision through his poetry, he never established the belief as a revolutionary new way of understanding oneself and the universe. Whether one regards Akhenaten as a hero or villain in Egypt’s history, his elevation of the Aten to supremacy changed not only that nation’s history, but the course of world civilization.

To those who came after him in Egypt, however, he was the `heretic king’ and `the enemy’ whose memory needed to be eradicated. His son, Tutankhamun (c.1336-1327 BCE) was given the name Tutankhaten at birth but changed his name upon ascending the throne to reflect his rejection of Atenism and his return of the country to the ways of Amun and the old gods. Tutankhamun’s successors Ay (1327-1323 BCE) and, especially, Horemheb (c. 1320-1292 BCE) tore down the temples and monuments built by Akhenaten to honor his god and had his name, and the names of his immediate successors, stricken from the record.

In fact, Akhenaten was unknown in Egyptian history until the discovery of Amarna in the 19th century CE. Horemheb’s inscriptions listed himself as the successor to Amenhoptep III and made no mention of the rulers of the Amarna Period. Akhenaten’s tomb was uncovered by the great archaeologist Flinders Petrie in 1907 CE and Tutankhamun’s tomb, more famously, by Howard Carter in 1922 CE. Interest in Tutankhamun spread to the family of the `golden king’ and so attention was brought to bear again on Akhenaten after almost 4,000 years. His legacy of monotheism, however, if Freud and others are correct, influenced other religious thinkers to emulate his ideal of a one, true god and reject the polytheism which had characterized human religious belief for millenia.

Source: Ancient History Encyclopedia (, photo: Pinterest.