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Ikhnaton

Ikhnaton

Ikhnaton (reigned 1379-1362 B.C.) was the tenth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. His reign was marked by the flourishing of the worship of Aten and by numerous uprisings.

Ikhnaton, son of Amenhotep III (Amenophis III), ascended the throne of Egypt as Amenhotep IV (Amenophis IV). A devotee of the cult of the Aten, or sun disk, the young king soon came into conflict with the priest-hood of Amun, one of Egypt's premier gods, and its supporters.

There is evidence that the cult of the sun disk existed in the reign of Thutmose IV (1425-1417 B.C.) and that during the reign of Amenhotep III its importance had grown until it was formally adopted by his son. Basically the cult was monotheistic. It was not anthropomorphic, its manifestation being the disk of the sun, the giver of heat, light, and life. The Aten is represented as the disk from which emanate rays ending in hands holding the sign for "life." Considerable emphasis was laid on maat, a word usually rendered "truth," but whose full meaning seems to have been "order" or "reality." While the Aten cult did not embody any complicated theology, at the same time it lacked moral content.

Early in his reign Amenhotep IV proscribed the worship of Amun and other state deities and moved his capital from Thebes to a fresh site on the east bank of the Nile in Middle Egypt which he named Akhetaten, "the Horizon of the Aten" (now Tell el Amarna). Here, together with his queen, Nefertiti, and his supporters, many of them apparently "new men" taking advantage of the collapse of the old noble class, Amenhotep adopted the new name Ikhnaton (Akhenaten) and devoted himself to the promotion of his new faith.

Ikhnaton found little general support for his ideas, and a number of setbacks toward the end of his 17-year reign obliged him to modify his policies. An apparent disagreement with Nefertiti, together with unrest within the Egyptian Empire, so weakened his position that a rapprochement with the Amun priesthood became necessary, though this may perhaps not have occurred during his lifetime.

Ikhnaton appears to have displayed little interest in foreign affairs and to have done little to maintain the empire created by his predecessors. His inactivity resulted in the rise of subversive movements among the vassal princes of Palestine and Syria and in incursions into friendly areas by hostile forces. Many of the so-called Amarna Letters (discovered in 1887) contain desperate appeals from loyal vassals of the Pharaoh for help against marauding neighbors. After his death the memory of Ikhnaton was abhorred and his name hacked from the monuments.

Further Reading

An excellent general account of Ikhnaton and his times is given in Cyril Aldred, Akhenaten, Pharaoh of Egypt: A New Study (1968). For a clear and succinct account of the topography of Akhetaten see J. D. S. Pendlebury, Tell el-Amarna (1935). For material on the Aten cult see Jaroslav Č erný, Ancient Egyptian Religion (1952). Contemporary affairs outside Egypt are discussed in W. F. Albright's chapter, "The Amarna Letters from Palestine: Syria, the Philistines and Phoenicia," in I. E. S. Edwards, C. J. Gadd, and N. G. L. Hammond, eds., The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 2 (rev. ed. 1966). □

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Ikhnaton

Ikhnaton (Ĭknä´tən) or Akhenaton (ä´kənä´tən) [Egyptian,=Aton is satisfied], d. c.1354 BC, king of ancient Egypt (c.1372–1354 BC), of the XVIII dynasty; son and successor of Amenhotep III. His name at his accession was Amenhotep IV, but he changed it to honor the god Aton. He is important for religious innovations. He abandoned polytheism to embrace monotheism. He held that the sun, named Aton, was god, and god alone, and that he was Aton's physical son. The solar monotheism was absolute; the new system allowed no accommodations and no exceptions. Through the rays of the sun everything that lived had its being. In honor of Aton the new capital was called Akhetaton (the modern Tell el Amarna), and new provincial capitals were founded in Nubia and Syria. The royal artists founded a new artistic school, characterized by the abandonment of convention and a turning to nature (because it showed the power of the sun).

Ikhnaton's fanaticism was his undoing. He defaced every monument carved with the name of Amon, previously the greatest god of Egypt. The Aton cult died with Ikhnaton because the sentiments of the priesthood and the people were outraged by his destruction of their traditions and by his terror-filled reign. After his death, his mummy was destroyed and most references to him were removed from temples and palaces. Ikhnaton's religious zeal also lost Egypt the empire, because he had seriously neglected the provinces. As a result, his successors, Sakere and Tutankhamen, received—instead of an empire including Nubia and Syria—only Egypt and some of the upper valley. There is a theory that Ikhnaton was coregent with his father, Amenhotep III, during the crucial years of change, but the question remains as yet unsolved. Of the many artistic achievements of the era of Ikhnaton, perhaps the most familiar today is the bust of his wife, Nefertiti.

See biographies by D. B. Redford (1984), C. Aldred (1988), and N. Reeves (2001).

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Akhenaten

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