May 31, 2016|Reports

“Akenhaten: Heretic King?” – Mike Hollis

Mike Hollis, local Wickham historian and Egyptologist, gave a fascinating talk to twenty four members of the History Society on Egypt’s ‘Heretic Pharaoh’. Akenhaten ruled for just seventeen years, but in that short time he created a new state religion, built a new capital and lost an empire. Akenhaten ruled during the Egyptian New Kingdom period from around 1350 BC. His father Amenhotep Ill had ruled for over thirty years: during his reign, Egypt had become the dominant regional superpower.

Amenhotep, however had domestic competition from the immensely wealthy priests who controlled around a third of the country. Akenhaten took on the priests by transforming the minor sub cult of the worship of the sun disc, the aten, into the new Egyptian religion. In doing so he stripped the priests of Amun of their power and influence, even to the extent of moving the capital to a new purpose built city 160 kilometres north of Karnak.

Akenhaten was deadly serious about his new religion — the face of Amun was defaced in Temples across Egypt. Representations of Akenhaten show him with breasts and an elongated head emphasising his living divinity. He rarely, if ever, left his new capital and seems to have neglected all but religious duties. This came at a heavy price: Egypt lost much of its empire during his reign, and it was only thanks to his Vizier Ay and his General Horemheb that the country was held together.

It is unlikely that the worship of the sun disc was a fully monotheistic religion. as the general population continued to worship a range of gods, It was nonetheless a revolution – but one that failed. No-one knows how Akenhaten died: it would not be surprising if he was one of the few Pharaohs to have been assassinated.

Within a few years of his death his son Tutankhaten had changed his name to Tutankhamun, the priests were back, and the new capital was abandoned to the sand. His failed experiment does demonstrate, however, the enormous power a divine and single minded Pharaoh could exercise.


Do you have something to contribute to the society?