The following is a
transcription of a talk given by Richard Kieninger on the tour bus as the group
traveled from Cairo
to El Minya to visit the ancient site of the now-destroyed Akhnaton.
Akhnaton was born in 1404
B.C. His father, Amenhotep III, was a revolutionary individual himself. He
organized engineering work along the Nile to
make more water available by digging canals. He wanted to increase the
productivity of Egypt.
He also was quite liberal in his thought so far as changes in art and social
institutions. Therefore, Akhnaton had somebody preparing the way for him.
Akhnaton had not been reared
As a very young child he was sent to a country called Mitanni which was an Aryan people in what is
They were overrun by the Hittites and absorbed into that empire. When
Akhnaton became a teenager he was married to his aunt, Sitamon. She was the
sister of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. Akhnaton had two sons by his aunt,
Smenkhkare and Tutankhamon. Sitamon died shortly after the birth of their
second son. About that time, Amenhotep III called for his son to come back
from Mitanni to Egypt. There
is no record of Akhnaton (Amenhotep IV) all through the time he was a child,
until he reigned with his father in his late teens for a few years before his
father died. Tyi, Akhnaton’s mother, was half Black; as the queen of Egypt, she
tried to make herself co-regent with Akhnaton. The mother and son didn’t get
along very well. There are records of Tyi interfering with his rule for many
years afterwards, and she did her best to maintain a husband/wife image with
her son for outsiders; but Akhnaton refused to marry his mother and he
managed to keep the upper hand. He also was strong enough to be able to
imprison the priests who were running Egypt
then and to take over power for himself so that he could bring the new
religion of Aton to preeminence in Egypt. He also built his new
capitol city in the center of Egypt
midway between Memphis and Thebes. When Akhnaton broke free of his
mother, he took a wife, Nefertiti. She was the daughter of Ay, a Mitannian
who was working his way up in Egyptian politics via the priesthood.
Nefertiti, then, was not Egyptian, but a Mitannian. Five daughters were born
to Akhnaton and Nefertiti. Akhnaton also had, as was customary, a large
harem, which he did not “visit.” The harem was made up of women from vassal
states of Egypt.
These states, in an old Oriental custom, would send a daughter of their king
or ruler to the court to act as a kind of hostage and a token of good faith.
Nefertiti had seven daughters altogether but only the first five were
fathered by Akhnaton.
The followers of the
priests of Amon were working against Akhnaton all the while he was setting up
his new religion, which was ruled by one invisible God who had as His symbol
the Sun. The faithful of Aton were actually worshipping Melchizedek, whose
Archangelic home is the Sun. The ancient Egyptian symbol for the Creator was
the circle, and it also represented perfection. The Sun was also recognized
as essential to life. So they were really not Sun worshippers. Akhnaton’s
concept of one God was unique in the religions of the world in those days.
Akhnaton’s rule was being
undermined continually by plots and subplots around him and in the former
capital cities by the priests. Akhnaton did some things that were not
understandable by the people. He established schools for the blind and the
handicapped that continue in Egypt
to this day. He set free all of the prisoners, and he abolished capital
punishment. This became a real problem after awhile, and some of the hardened
criminals had to be wiped out by the army in order to keep them from preying
on the people. Akhnaton was one of the first Pharaohs to deal through local
governors. One of them was Horemheb, who became Pharaoh at a much later time.
As Akhnaton’s power was
being diminished more and more, and people were openly turning against him to
a greater degree, he felt it necessary to bring his sons to Egypt.
Finally his wife, Nefertiti, turned against him (as well as her father) and
managed to put Akhnaton under house arrest. Then the chief priest, Ay, the
Mitannian, father of Nefertiti, took over. Akhnaton had further increased his
unpopularity by freeing the territories that Egypt
held in the northeast, particularly in the Holy Land.
He did this mainly because of a great volcanic eruption on an island in the
Mediterranean called Santorin or Thera. This
eruption dumped about 10 feet of ash on Crete.
The Middle East was also affected by
wind-carried ash, making most of that land almost impossible for its people
to make a living. They were not able to make tribute any longer to Egypt, and
the Egyptian troops there were no longer able to live off the land. The
impoverished vassal states there became a burden to Egypt, and so Akhnaton decided to release
those territories from Egypt’s
The Hittites later moved into
the vacuum of power left in that area. Most of the battles with the Hittites
occurred after Akhnaton died. Of course, the Hittites became a major problem
and the situation gave rise to the need for a strong leader. Horemheb
eventually filled that need, and his son, Ramses I successfully regained much territory.
Akhnaton was finally
poisoned because he was an embarrassment to officials who were trying to get
along with the general populace, most of whom remained followers of the
priests of Amon. Smenkhkare succeeded his father and reigned for about three
years. Meanwhile, Nefertiti was allowed to go into exile for the protection
of herself and her daughters. In Horemheb’s reign, she moved back to Egypt and lived at Memphis. Her eldest daughter, Meritaton,
was married to Smenkhkare. It was typical to have a marriage between the
members of the royal family. That was the rule rather than the exception. At
a later date, when Tutankhamon was about 12 years old, the second daughter of
Akhnaton was married to him. Her name was Ankhespaaten Mat.
The ambitious Ay,
Smenkhkare’s grandfather-in-law, managed to raise an army against Smenkhkare,
who was continuing the faith of Aton. Smenkhkare’s army lost, and he was
killed in battle. Tutankhamon then fell heir to the rulership. Ay realized
that he had not many years left, and he arranged to have Tutankhamon
murdered. After Ay became pharaoh, he found his granddaughter, Ankhespaaten
Mat, was difficult to control and thus arranged to have her found guilty of
some kind of sedition. She was imprisoned in an open pit, where she starved
Ay reigned for about three
years and died without issue. Horemheb took over the rulership and, to help
justify his position, he married a daughter of Queen Tyi, Beketaton. Horemheb
and Beketaton had two sons, Ramses I and Seti I. It was Seti’s daughter who
found Moses in the bullrushes along the Nile.
The son of Seti became Ramses II, and it was in the reign of Ramses II that
Moses was found guilty of murder and sent into the wilderness. When Moses
returned to Egypt
40 years later, at the age of 80, to set the Israelites free, it was Ramses
II’s son, Merneptah, that he had to deal with. After Horemheb became Pharaoh,
he allowed the sect of Aton to be reestablished. He called Nefertiti back to Egypt to be
the priestess over the temple. However, by that time, all of the symbols of
Aton had been destroyed, dismantled or defaced by the priests of Amon. They
literally took the city of Akhetaton
apart stone by stone. Some of those stones have recently been discovered,
with the decorations facing inward, as part of other temples.