Akhenaten Biography – Family, Reign, Achievements & Facts

The Royal Tomb of Akhenaten in Amarna

The Royal Tomb of Pharaoh Akhenaten was cited in the Royal Wadi in Amarna. Italian Egyptologist excavated the tomb in 1893/94.

Contrary to the strange depictions of Akhenaten’s images and sculptures, the mummy of the pharaoh found in tomb KV-55 appears perfectly normal.

Following his death, Akhenaten’s body was buried at the Royal Wadi in Amarna. And after the restoration of polytheism and the capital Thebes, his successors likely reburied his body in the Valley of the Kings in the Theban Necropolis. Archaeologists believe that his sarcophagus was destroyed owing to the sacrilegious nature of his reign.

Akhenaten’s sacrilegious acts in Thebes

He suffered a very big defeat to a foreign army, resulting in the loss of territories in Syria. He took solace in religion following the military loss in Syria, embarking on a lot of renovation works on religious temples. He also intensified his religious reform efforts by removing the names of Theban deities – Amun, Mut and Khonsu – from those temples.

It was also said that he ordered the desecration of many prized religious artifacts, some dating thousands of years in the past. His actions around this time was nothing short of the behavior of a fanatic.

In his final few years on the throne, two of his daughters died of a very serious plague. It was around that same time that his mother and former queen Tiy died.

For an extremely superstitious society like that of ancient Egypt, it did not take too much urging for the people and religious priests to interpret the total eclipse that occurred in 1338 BCE as the gods’ discontentment with Pharaoh Akhenaten’s monotheistic reforms.

Akhenaten’s chief wife – Queen Nefertiti

Queen Nefertiti

Akhenaten married the beautiful princess Nefertiti and had six daughters with her. Images of Queen Nefertiti show her playing a very important role in the development of Aten worship.| Image: The bust of Nefertiti from the Ägyptisches Museum Berlin collection

Akhenaten became ruler of Egypt as a teenager. He took Nefertiti (c. 1370-1336 BCE) as his chief wife and queen. Nefertiti was likely the daughter of Ay, Pharaoh Amenhotep III’s very influential vizier (prime minister). If those claims are true, then Nefertiti and Akhenaten were cousins as Ay was the sister of Queen Tiye.

Some accounts say that she was the daughter of Pharaoh Amenhotep III and Queen Tiy. That will mean that Akhenaten and Nefertiti were siblings. Intermarriage of siblings was not an uncommon phenomenon in ancient Egypt. There have also been some evidences to show that she may have been a foreign princess, probably born in northern Iraq.

Queen Nefertiti most known for her extraordinary beauty as she had titles like “The Beautiful One Is Come”.  Nefertiti is said to have grown fully in the cult of the sun god Aten. She wholeheartedly supported her husband’s religious revolution that saw Aten being placed at the center of the religious activities in Egypt.

Following the death of her husband Pharaoh Akhenaten, Nefertiti may have ruled briefly (c. 1336-1334 BCE) as pharaoh, going by the name of Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare. Some evidence suggests that her father Vizier Ay became pharaoh after the 10-year reign of Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

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The aftermath of Akhenaten’s death

Akhenaten’s heretical reforms were ripped to pieces by his successors. Destroyed or chiseled out images of those traditional ancient Egyptian gods were repaired and given the reverence that they deserve. | Image: Tutankhamun’s golden mask

For his sacrilegious acts, his successors tagged him as the heretic pharaoh of Egypt. And just as he tried to erase the worship of traditional ancient Egyptian gods, so did his successors work very hard to remove his name from the annals of history by chiseling out his names and images from monuments.

His immediate successor, possibly Smenkhkare who some claim was Queen Nefertiti disguised as a man, relocated the capital city back to Thebes. Similarly pharaohs Neferneferuaten, Tutankhamun, Ay, and Horemheb were very important in restoring the polytheistic culture in ancient Egyptian religion. Pharaoh Horemheb is credited with completely stamping out the worship of Aten.

The ancient religious artifacts that were placed in hiding (due to Akhenaten’s obsession with establishing Aten as a monotheistic deity) were once again placed in full display. The religious and political elites that were sidelined during his reign regained their influence and quickly worked to restore the polytheistic tradition of ancient Egypt. Cults of deities like Mut, Ptah, Nefertum and Khonsu were revived.

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