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 in Egypt. As a very young child he was sent to a country called Mitanni which was an Aryan people in what is now Syria. 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 rule.


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 for Egypt, 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 to death.


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.