The historical outline Egypt Nefertiti
The historical outline Egypt Nefertiti
Akhenaten was bom sometime about the year 1394 B.C., the second son of King Amenhotep III by his chief wife, Queen Tiye. He was called after his father Amenhotep (Amun-is-content), and himself became known to historians as Amenhotep IV on his accession to the throne. His elder brother, Prince Tuthmosis, by virtue of his position as heir apparent, held the office of High Priest of Ptah, the god of Memphis, the chief city of Egypt, and other important priesthoods besides high army command. But as he never succeeded his father, we must assume that he died prematurely, like so many of the firstborn of Egypt, and that Prince Amenhotep then stood in his place as the next in line of succession.
During his father’s long reign Egypt reached an acme of power and prosperity. Its sphere of influence stretched from the Fourth Cataract of the Nile in the south to the borders of Syria in the north. The wealth of tropical Africa and of the Orient poured into the treasuries of court and temple and supported the mighty building projects of Amenhotep III at Bubastis, Memphis, Thebes, Elephantine, Soleb, and other large cities of Egypt and Nubia. At few periods in the history of Egyptian culture has so widespread and high a standard of artistic achievement been attained, from the monolithic Colossus of Memnon and its companion flanking the entrance to the great mortuary temple of Amenhotep III at Thebes, to exquisite jewels and miniature statuary prepared for his burial and those of his courtiers. This was a high noon of opulence and luxury stimulated by the tastes of civilized Asia and the Aegean, no less potent in the fifteenth century b.c. than they were in the days of Imperial Rome.
At the court of his father, Prince Amenhotep came under the influence of eminent men of the day, foremost among whom was Amenhotep-son-of-Hapu, noted as a skilled administrator who disposed of the manpower of the country and who, in his old age, was appointed the High Steward of the King’s eldest daughter, Queen Sitamun. Even in his own lifetime his King had conferred on him the unprecedented honor of a mortuary temple in the row of such royal monuments at Western Thebes. A thousand years after his death, when he was deified, his wisdom was still treasured, though it is lost to us today, and we cannot say whether or not it had any influence in forming the ideas that the young Prince Amenhotep was developing.
Close relatives of Amenhotep-son-of-Hapu, however, must have had privileged access to the heir apparent; for instance, a cousin of his, also called Amenhotep, as the High Steward in Memphis looked after the King’s important affairs in that city and even discharged commissions as far afield as Abydos. This official’s half brother Ramose was also in due course to become the Chief Minister of Amenhotep IV in Upper Egypt.
Another and even more prominent family was intimately connected with the royal house. Its doyens were Yuya, the Master of the Horse, and his wife, the high priestess Tuyu, the maternal grandparents of Prince Amenhotep. Yuya, a man of striking appearance, with long wavy hair, broad face, large aquiline nose, and fleshy lips, apparently came from a line of chariot commanders and may have been a close relative of the mother of Amenhotep III. He was sufficiently influential to have arranged the marriage of his daughter Tiye to Amenhotep III, when that monarch was a mere boy. One of his sons, Anen, the uncle of Prince Amenhotep, held high office in the priesthoods of Amun and Re-Atum and was eminent at the court of his royal brother-in-law. It is almost certain that it was another son, Ay, who followed the family profession of chariot commander and subsequently inherited all Yuya’s offices at the court of Amenhotep IV. Ay, in fact, appears to have stood in the same relation to Amenhotep IV as Yuya did to Amenhotep III, since Ay’s daughter Nefertiti, like her aunt Tiye before her, married the Pharaoh on his elevation to the throne.
At Memphis, Amenhotep IV must early have come under the influence of the sun cult of nearby Heliopolis, where the worship of Re, chief god of the solar pantheon, had undergone a great development since the end of the Middle Kingdom. The rethinking that the priesthood of Re, the traditional wise men of Egypt, had applied to the ancient doctrines of the solar religion was in the direction of a monotheism that did not exclude the old gods but attempted to assimilate them as names, or aspects, of the one god Re, the force that activated the life of the universe. In this reformed doctrine Re is hailed as the sole god who has made myriads out of himself, all gods having come into being from him. The constant element in the transformation that Re was daily thought to undergo, from a living deity by day to a dead god by night moving to a resurrection at dawn, is the Aten or great disk of the sun. The Aten illuminated the world of the dead as well as the living and brought both to life. There is thus little cause for surprise that in time the appearance was accepted for the reality that lay behind it and that the disk became a sun god in its own right. The Aten appears as early as the reign of Tuthmosis IV, when it is described as a great universal god whose commanding position in the sky entitles it to rule over all that it shines upon. In the reign of Amenhotep III it acquired even greater importance, being attached to the names of the King’s barge, his palace, some of the royal children, and perhaps the King himself. The expanded form of the Aten’s name, expressing a religious teaching or dogma, and therefore sometimes referred to by scholars as “didactic,” may well have been devised during the reign of this King, although it was not yet, as later, enclosed in two cartouches as were the principal names of every pharaoh. At least there seems some evidence to show that a shrine was built to the Aten at Thebes during the time of Amenhotep III.17 The circumstances were therefore propitious for the young Prince Amenhotep to assimilate these new doctrines, particularly as he appears to have had a palace at Heliopolis.18 He proved a willing pupil who soon surpassed his teachers in his fervor for the new thought and became the adept to whom revelation was granted, and the instigator of change. From the beginning he followed the worship of the sun god under the didactic name that became his profession of faith, “Re-Herakhty, the living, rejoicing in the horizon in his aspect of the light which is in the disk. In a land where the pharaoh was thought to be the latest incarnation of the creator god, the first ruler of Egypt, the entourage of the young King could follow his divinely inspired teaching, or the interpretation he put upon ancient dogma, without any questioning.
The reign of Amenhotep III had seen a great upsurge in antiquarian interest in the remote past, perhaps as a result of research into the ancient archives. An attempt had been made to identify the tomb of an archaic king at Abydos as the burial place of the god Osiris and to make it a center of pilgrimage. Old records were consulted in order to revive the proper ritual for the first jubilee held by the Pharaoh; and it is perhaps no coincidence that an Early Dynastic slate palette should have been reworked on its reverse during the reign of Amenhotep III. This regard for the remote past had indeed begun earlier, in the reign of Tuthmosis IV, who, upon his accession, had released the Great Sphinx of Giza, an embodiment of Re-Herakhty, from engulfing sands, thus honoring a pledge he had made to the god at a time when it had seemed unlikely that he could ever gain the throne of Egypt.
Perhaps an increase in the power and glory of kingship during the reign of Amenhotep III is thus partly the outcome of intensive study of Egypt’s past. The emphasis that Amenhotep IV put upon “living in truth” may indicate that he was reviving the ideas of a much earlier age, when the Pharaoh Djoser of Dynasty III, for example, had been Re and the Egyptians’ greatest god. At least it is clear that with the advent of the new King, his courtiers worship him as a sun god, prostrating themselves or bending low in his presence (No. 136), and that he has his own prophet like any deity (No. 11). One modern Observer has not hesitated to remark that the King was by no means disinclined to claim a share in the sun god’s divinity, and that share sometimes approached complete identity.
Whether this exaltation was the result of antiquarian research or the steady progress to absolute grandeur that had characterized the Dynasty, the reign of Amenhotep IV began quietly enough. At some time in his career, presumably when he reached manhood at about sixteen years of age, he was appointed co-regent of Amenhotep III and his rule began. For this event he was given a chief wife, Nefertiti, and a harim. High officials, usually the sons of his father’s ministers, were appointed to assist him. A complete trousseau of royal possessions, from crowns and thrones to clothing and jewelry, was provided for him, and his names and titularies were established He assumed the prenomen Neferkheprure-waenre (Beautiful like the forms of Re, the Unique one of Re) and added the epithet, “Divine Ruler of Thebes,” to his nomen, Amenhotep, with for good measure the additional phrase, “Great in His Duration.” He twice appears in a relief on the Third Pylon at Karnak wearing the Blue Crown of his coronation and standing behind the much larger figure of his father, Amenhotep III, in the state barge.
How long he acted as his father’s co-regent is a matter of dispute, some authorities claiming that if there was a co-regency at all, it lasted only a few months, other students, this writer among them, postulating a period of as much as eleven years. With this controversy we shall be only marginally concerned in this study.
His chief queen, Nefertiti, was evidently a woman of nonroyal birth since she lays no claim in her titles to being the daughter or sister of a king, though she is referred to as the royal heiress, who was usually a princess holding rights to the throne that passed to her husband on his marriage to her. There is little doubt that she was the daughter of her husband’s Master of Horse, Ay, who is addressed constantly by a title which, in the case of his counterpart Yuya at the Court of Amenhotep III, has been translated as “Father-in-law Kins. Av was an important official of Amenhotep IV and
increased his power and privilege throughout his lifetime until he eventually attained the throne on the extinction of the royal line with the death of Tutankhamen. There is every reason to believe that he owed such distinction to his membership in a privileged family that was a collateral of the royal house. His daughter, Nefertiti, the cousin of Akhenaten, was a very important Queen. Her name is often associated with that of her husband in monumental inscriptions. She usually appears in a tall blue crown, which somewhat resembles the war crown often worn by her husband. She alone makes offerings to the Aten on a par with the King, and on one occasion she sits on a royal stool while he is content with a simple one. In the earlier years of the reign, at least, she is represented as an eminently desirable woman according to an Oriental standard of attractiveness, and this degree of grace is emphasized by the epithets that are applied to her on the monuments: “Fair of Face, Mistress of Happiness, Endowed with Favors, Great of Love.” There seems little doubt that, like her husband, she is to be regarded as a deity, perhaps as a Venus figure.
In her retinue her sister Mutnodjme figures prominently, being accompanied by two dwarf attendants and accorded a special order of precedence immediately after the royal children. Of these there were eventually six daughters, all apparently born in the first nine years of the reign. The eldest three, Merytaten, Maketaten, and Ankhesenpaaten, were the most important. The youngest three, Neferneferuatentasherit, Nefemeferure, and Sotepenre, occasionally appear, but nothing is known of their fate.
The new co-regent inaugurated his reign by opening quarries at Gebel el Silsila for extracting sandstone for the building of a great temple at Karnak to his god “Re-Herakhty in his aspect of the sunlight which is in the Aten.” Laborers from one end of the country to the other were marshaled for the work of cutting and transporting the stone, and his high officials were given the responsibility of directing them. This great building project had hardly got underway when an event occurred which at this distance of time has all the appearance of a revolution. The Aten celebrated a jubilee, presumably on the theory that, being a heavenly king, it could acquire the titulary of a pharaoh, have its long didactic name enclosed in two large cartouches, and like a king undergo the rejuvenation of the sed. festival or jubilee. This epiphany of the Aten coincides with the appearance of a new symbol. In place of the former representation of the god as Re-Herakhty, a man with the head of a falcon crowned with the disk of the sun encircled by a uraeus, there now bursts upon the scene the Disk itself, encircled by the uraeus with a pendant ankh sign and sending forth rays of light, each ending in a hand that receives offerings or embraces the persons of the King and Queen or brings to their nostrils the breath of life in the form of an ankh.
The rayed disk, hitherto an unfamiliar symbol and possibly an elaboration of the hieroglyph for sunshine, appears coincidentally with an entirely new style of art. The royal family, particularly the King, is represented in a fashion that is far removed from the refined traditional style that had been perfected in his father’s reign. This new expressionistic style was hastily adopted by the King’s followers, who were depicted as bent double or prostrate in the royal presence, and as having to a lesser extent all the physical deformities of their royal exemplar.
The King claimed that when he found the site it belonged to no one, whether god, goddess, prince, princess, or any man; and this may well have been the case, for no traces of earlier occupation have been found there, probably because of the lack of cultivable land in the locality. Akhenaten demarcated the site by hewing three stelae (X, M, and K) in the living rock at the northern and southern extremities. Exactly when this was done is problematic, since the dates in the inscriptions have been destroyed, but Year 4 of the reign has been deduced from internal evidence. The inscriptions on the stelae tell how, on the day of demarcation, the King offered a great oblation to Re-Herakhty before summoning his courtiers and showing them the site, declaring that he proposed to build temples and palaces there and to cut a tomb for himself, Nefertiti, and Merytaten in the eastern hills. He then went on to promise that the tombs of his high officials should also be hewn in the same hills, despite any misgivings they might have at leaving their family burial grounds.
The royal family paid another state visit to the site in regnal Year 6 and set up more stelae giving the precise dimensions of the town and specifying its boundaries. During the years between these visits much of the Central City was laid out, with large estates of the wealthy as well as hovels of the poor, with the Great Palace, which ran along the river front for more than 750 meters, the Great Temple, set within an enormous enclosure, and a smaller temple, the Mansion of the Aten. The South City housed the more important officials and had a таги, or viewing temple, which contained the “sunshades” or kiosks dedicated to the daily rejuvenation of the Queen and some of the princesses. All the domestic building was in mud-brick, plastered and painted, but had stone fittings, such as windows, doorways, and lustration slabs. The temples and the offices of the Great Palace were built almost entirely of stone.
These changes seem to have taken place at the time when the titles of the Aten were altered to indicate that the god had celebrated another jubilee. A codicil on ten of the later Boundary Stelae is dated to Year 8 and informs us that Royalty paid another visit to the City in that year for the purpose of inspecting the boundaries on the southeastern frontier and repeating the dedication of the township to “the Father, the Living Aten, forever.”
The next great event of the reign for which we have any evidence is dated to Year 12, but before this occurred the didactic name of the Aten was changed so as to remove any therio-anthropomorphic and pantheistic ideas that may have clung to it. The falcon symbol used to spell out “Re-Herakhty” was replaced by abstract signs to give an equivalent, “Re, Ruler of the Horizon,” while a phrase in the second cartouche was altered to remove an ambiguity that could refer to Shu, the old god of the void. The name in its amended form now reads, “Re, the Living, Ruler of the Horizon in his Aspect of the Sunlight.” This change appears to have coincided with an alteration in its epithets suggesting that the Aten had celebrated a third jubilee.31 These modifications are in the direction of a more abstract and exclusive view of the godhead and probably coincided with the substitution of phonetic spellings for words like “truth” and “mother,” which had up to then been determined by hieroglyphs that could also suggest goddesses. The plural form of “god” was also avoided. The precise moment at which these developments took place is not known for certain, but thus far no one has found it necessary to question the view that they occurred in Year 9. They show that Akhenaten’s religious ideas were moving toward a more uncompromising monotheism and an intolerance of other gods than the Aten.
The last event of the reign for which we have any specific date is the great reception that was held in Year 12. Representations of this ceremony in two of the later tombs at Tell el Amama show that Akhenaten and Nefertiti were carried in gold-covered state palanquins, more appropriate for this time-honored occasion than the great chariots of state, from the Palace to a gilded baldachin which had been set up in the City. There, with their six children in attendance, they received delegates from “Syria and Kush (the North and the South), the East and the West, and from the Islands in the Mediterranean, all lands being united so that they might receive the King’s blessing.”
The representatives of the different nations are shown being ushered into the royal presence and proffering characteristic gifts. Such scenes with similar texts are not uncommon in the Theban tombs earlier in the Dynasty; and I have sought to show that they record an event which took place on the occasion of a king’s accession or of his jubilee, when the great and small nations of the Near East paid homage to a new king or a rejuvenated old monarch. The Amarna scenes, according to this view, commemorate Akhenaten’s accession to sole rule.
It was probably in this same Year 12 that the Dowager Queen Tiye paid a visit to Amarna, where Akhenaten had built her a “sunshade” temple for the daily rejuvenation of her powers. She may in fact have taken up long-term residence at Tell el Amama, since references to her house have survived, and also to the house of her daughter, Beketaten, who accompanied her. Tiye’s Chief Steward Huya was granted a tomb which was among the last to be cut in the northern cliffs. The King evidently planned that his mother should be buried in his own tomb in the Royal Wadi, for there fragments of a sarcophagus have come to light inscribed with her name as well as with his own and that of his father. He also had made for her a large funerary shrine of gold-covered wood, in the reliefs of which he figures prominently, making offerings to the Aten with her in attendance. This equipment was supplied despite the fact that Amenhotep III must already have provided all of Tiye’s burial furniture and installed some of it, at least, in his own tomb at Thebes. From this it would appear that Akhenaten’s ideas were hardening against burial according to any vestiges of the old Osirian rites which were anathema to his reformed doctrine.
In the next few years he had several opportunities to exercise his principles in making burial arrangements for members of his immediate family. The first to die was his second daughter, Maketaten, who was buried in a suite of chambers leading from the main corridor of the Royal Tomb, which were decorated with unusual reliefs showing the royal family mourning over the bier of the dead princess. The presence of a nursemaid holding a baby and accompanied by a fan- bearer outside the death chamber in these scenes has encouraged the belief that Maketaten died in childbirth, and if this is true, the event can hardly have happened before Year 14 at the earliest. Soon after this, Nefertiti herself disappears from history, and while her retiral has been attributed to a fall from the King’s favor, it is much more likely to have been the result of her death. The archaeologists who examined the Royal Tomb in 1931 found evidence that led them to believe that she had once been buried there.
The removal of the Chief Queen from the scene left a notable vacuum in the cult of the Aten. She had officiated as a sort of high priestess, a virtual equal of the King. He now tried to replace her by their eldest daughter, Merytaten, who took over some of her mother’s monuments, such as her “sunshade.” She is mentioned in the diplomatic correspondence of the day as an all-important person in the royal entourage.
A little later Smenkhkare, a younger brother of Akhenaten, reached manhood and, since the latter had no sons, was appointed co-regent and married to the royal heiress, Merytaten. He also took the epithet Neferneferuaten, which had formerly belonged to Nefertiti. This may indicate that Smenkhkare was expected to fill the role in the cult of the Aten that had formerly been taken by the Chief Queen. Only a few monuments have been recovered from Amama showing both kings functioning together in the worship of the Aten accompanied by Merytaten or another of the princesses. It is probable, however, that Smenkhkare spent much of his time at Memphis, which had always remained a great center and where there were important royal residences.
When Merytaten was married to Smenkhkare, Akhenaten is thought to have taken his next surviving daughter, Ankhesenpaaten, to be his consort, but the events of the last years of his reign are too crowded and confused for us to know the sequence in which the marriages occurred. It is at least clear from his skeletal remains that Smenkh- kare died at about the age of nineteen, and thus, if he came to the throne at manhood, could not have enjoyed more than three years of rule. An inscription mentioning that his mortuary temple was at Thebes and in the estate of Amun is, in fact, dated to his third regnal year, and this is taken to mean that he had reverted to the worship of the god of Thebes. Some authorities take the view that he would hardly have done so while Akhenaten was still on the throne, and that his return to orthodoxy indicates that he outlived the senior King. If he did, it could only have been by a few months, since the following boy-king Tutankhaten, later named Tutankhamen, who married Smenkhkare’s widow, had the names and symbol of the Aten inscribed upon his lion throne and royal scepters. The worship of the Aten would hardly have been revived, particularly by a child of nine, if Smenkhkare’s return to the orthodox religion of Amun had been complete and functioning for some time. It would appear that Mery- taten died before her husband, Smenkhkare, who then married the next heiress, her sister Ankhesenpaaten. She cannot have been his wife for long, probably no more than a few months; on his death she married his younger brother Prince Tutankhaten, a boy half her age, and by this act of union brought him the throne of Egypt.
It is, however, possible that Smenkhkare died shortly before Akhenaten and that it was the senior partner who buried his co-regent in equipment that had originally belonged to Merytaten but had not been used for her burial. It was brought out of storage and refurbished and adapted for her husband, perhaps in conformity with Akhenaten’s views on purging funerary furniture of all Osiride elements. If Smenkhkare had reverted to the worship of Amun in his brief reign and had prepared funerary furniture for himself that was strictly in traditional style, as it appears to have been, judging from the articles that were usurped from it by Tutankhamen, it is difficult to see anyone other than Akhenaten burying him in equipment on which the prayers and symbols of the Aten religion figured so prominently.
Be that as it may, both kings died within a short time of each other or perhaps at the same time: we are unlikely ever to know.
In the last years of their father’s reign, Merytaten and Ankhesenpaaten bore daughters who were called after their mothers, with the added epithet tasherit (“junior”), and since it is clear that the father in each case was a king, the presumption is that he was Akhenaten, the divine royal family not being restricted by the incest tabus that operated in the case of ordinary mortals. The fate of these children is unknown, but they appear to have lived for only a very brief span.
An important event in Akhenaten’s reign that is difficult to place is his outburst of iconoclastic fury. Agents were dispatched throughout the land to break up the images of the gods, particularly those of the influential Amun of Thebes, and to excise their names from the monuments, great and small. Since this profanation is usually supposed to have taken place at about the time of the removal to Tell el Amama, references to Amun and other gods later in the reign must indicate at least a partial relenting in the campaign of vilification. It is difficult, however, to reconcile this policy of compromise with the later change of name of the Aten in Year 9, which indicates a more abstract and rigid conception of divinity. It may be that the desecration was perpetrated at about the same time as when the words for “mother” and “truth” were cleansed of their old associations and the plural form of the word “god” was avoided. But it could also be that the destruction was the last event of the King’s reign. A final decision will have to await further evidence.
Akhenaten’s highest regnal date is Year 17, written on fragments of wine jars found at Tell el Amarna, and it seems clear that he did not survive the vintage of the following year. His fate is obscure, but apparently he was not buried in the Royal Tomb at Tell el Amarna which he had prepared for himself.
The preoccupation of Akhenaten with religious affairs gave him little opportunity for an armed parade through his dominions such as had been the practice of his warlike ancestors when trouble threatened and the morale of vassal states had to be improved. While there seems to have been no widespread collapse of Egyptian power in the East, there was a definite erosion of its influence, particularly among the northern vassals who were inevitably drawn into the expansionist plans of the resurgent Hittites. One by one the vassal states transferred their allegiance to the rising star of the energetic young Hittite monarch Shuppiluliumash, and it became the poucy of subsequent pharaohs to win back these renegades. As a result Egypt embarked upon long and exhausting wars with the Hittites during Dynasty XIX.
Akhenaten’s domestic policies, far more than his neglect of foreign affairs, brought confusion and distress into the Egyptian state. His transfer to the Aten of all the treasure and revenues of the temples of the other gods upset the economic basis of Egyptian life and damaged the prosperity of the land. His successor, the boy Tutankh- aten, had no option but to abandon Tell el Amarna and to return to the ways of the past that had long stood Egypt in good stead. He had to admit the errors of his predecessor’s ways and change his name to Tutankhamen as a sign of his reversion to orthodoxy. Later generations execrated Akhenaten far more viciously than he had denied the past. They not only damaged his monuments but even excised his name from the records. In the reign of Ramesses II his neglected and desecrated monuments at Tell el Amarna were dismantled and the stone was used for the foundations of new and orthodox temples, mainly across the river at Hermopolis. Thereafter the desert sands drifted over the ill-fated site, preserving what poor remnant was left for the spade of the archaeologist in our own age.