II. Historical Events

The historical period here examined – about the early middle of the 14th century B.C. – is the relatively short reign, although very significant as it will be shown, of the Pharaoh Amun-hotep IV, better known as Amenophi or Amenofi. The latter is the Greek name which Manetone, an Egyptian historian of the Ptolemaic period, had attributed to the Pharaoh. Historically this period belongs to the period known as the new reign of ancient Egypt, towards the fading of the 18th Amenofidis and Tutmosidis dynasty, in other words the late Bronze age (1). In about the 5th or more likely the 6th year of his reign, that is to say during his second jubilee, Amenofi IV introduced or better imposed a new religion based on the veneration of the solar disc Aton. In doing so, he forbade polytheist religion which during the 18th dynasty had its main god in Amun (the Greek ammone). The Pharaoh called himself Akhenaton (the meaning of this word will be explained later on) and finally ordered that a new capital, Akhetaton, Aton’s horizon had to be built. Then he moved the capital from Thebe, which during the 18th dynasty had been the capital sacred to Amun, to another place of the Middle Egypt where he thought the pre-existent gods had not had an inauspicious influence (2). This place is situated at about half- way  between Cairo, the present capital, and Luxor, exactly on the opposite bank of the Nile, not far from the present town of Tell el-Amarna. That is why the historical period during which Amenophy reigned is usually named by historians Amarnian period. Religion, art, fashion, writing and tablets are usually referred to as Amarnian. When the King died, polytheist religion was reintroduced thanks notably to the priests of the dismissed cult of Aton. All those who followed Atonian religion – although few – were persecuted and many efforts were made to conceal and to destroy everything that had been built during that period. Akhetaton was finally abandoned and destroyed (3). Thus, afeter few years, Atonian religion was so easily forgotten that in the list of ancient Egyptian kings, written by Manetone, Amarnian period was deliberately crossed out because that was considered an heretical period. Archaeologists have never found the king’s corpse and it is very unlikely that they ever will. It is easy to think that restorers of polytheism may have concealed or destroyed it to avoid its posthumous veneration.

1 – There are discordant views on the exact dating of Amenophi IV’s reign. According to Herik Hornung the most likely period may be the period between 1364 and 1347 (Untersuchungen zur Chronologie und Geschischte des Neuen Reiches, Wiesbaden DBR, 1964). The king ascended the throne with the epithet of Nefer-Cheperu-Ra “the incarnations of Ra are perfect“. In Akkadian Babylonian language (cuneiform characters) he was named  Nafuria or also Napkhururiya.

2- This place was probably privileged because it was situated in one of the poorest and depressed areas along the Nile. Presumably it was not very much peopled and therefore there were not temples or other buildings where polytheist religion could be practiced. Even today that region is one of the poorest of Egypt. Since it is the Islamic integralists’ den, it is not very safe for tourists.

3 – During Amarnian period the characters of the court took names hymning Aton. For example, the six daughters of Nefert-iti and Akhenaton were all given names in honour of the sun god (respectively in order of age Meryt-Aton, Maket-Aton, Ankhes-en-pa-Aton, Nefer-neferu-Aton ta Sherit – the youngest, Nefer-neferura and Setepenra). The king-to-be, known to the most with the name of Tut-ankh-Amun during Amarnian period, called himself Tut-ankh-Aton etc. When polytheism was reintroduced these characters, for fear of obvious retaliations, had hastily to change their names in names hymning Amun. Referring for example to some famous characters of that period, Ankhes-en-pa-Aton and Tut-ankh-Aton, respectively became Ankhes-en-Amun and Tut-ankh-Amun. It is supposed that after the king’s death, the frenzy of destruction was very strong. It is enough to think that in the grave n.55 in Biban-el-Moluk (The Kings’ Valley), the American scholar T.M. Davis discovered a sarcophagus that had belonged to a princess or a queen and which he attributed to queen Tiye (cf. T.M. Davis, G. Maspero, The Tomb of Queen Tiye, London UK 1910). Some years later the English anatomist Smith discovered that the corpse belonged to a male sex person who was probably 20 years old. This singular event has been discussed for a long period by Egyptologists and it definitely indicates the chaos characterising that period (there were desecrated and destroyed tombs). With regard to this, an article of mine was published in February 1993 in the Rotary review, where I maintain that the corpse belongs very likely to Smenkhkha-ra.