The Armana Tablets where found in 1887 at
el-Amarna, on the east bank of the Nile River, 365 miles south of the Egyptian capital Cairo, 250 miles north of Luxor.
The Amarna letters are mostly written in Akkadian cuneiform, the language not of Ancient Egypt, but of ancient Mesopotamia, and
comprise royal archives and letters sent to the Egyptian Pharaohs Amenhotep III and his son Akhenaton. The correspondents
were kings of Babylonia, Assyria, Hatti and Mitanni, minor
kings and rulers of the Near East at that time, and vassals of the Egyptian Empire.
Amenhotep III (sometimes read as Amenophis III) meaning Amun is Satisfied, was the son of Thutmose IV by
Mutemwia, a minor wife of Amenhotep's father. His birth was documented in stone reliefs at Luxor.
Amenhotep III's grandfather and father had expelled Mesopotamian invaders known as the
Amenhotep III came to the throne before his teens, at the death of his Warrior father Thutmose IV.
Amenhotep III was the ninth pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty. According to different authors, he ruled Egypt
from June 1391 BC to December 1353 BC, or June 1388 BC to December 1351 BC / 1350 BC.
After an early military victory, Amenhotep III worked hard to negotiate peace, which created a boom in international trade,
thanks in part to Egypt's many gold mines
Amenhotep III's primary devotion was to Amun-Ra, a combination of Thebe's deity Amun and the northern Egyptian sun god Ra.
His principle wife, Tye, was from a noble Egyptian family, but Amenhotep III's harem also included princesses from Babalon
and Mitanni, a common method of cementing alliances in the ancient world, but unusual for Egyptians.
The Colossi of Memnon are two seated statues of Amenhotep III
at the entrance to his temple. After an earthquake in 27BC, one of the statues began to produce a bell like tone when the
morning sun struck it. This effect lasted until renovations in 199BC.
Amenhotp IV was born to
Amenhotep III and his Chief Queen Tiye, he
was their younger son. Akhenaten was not originally designated as the successor to the throne until the untimely death
of his older brother, Thutmose
Akhenaten was raised by his parents as a worshiper of Amun. It has been proposed that the religious term Amen is a
derivative of the name of this Egyptian god,
Amenhotep III died in 1352 BC
Amenhotep IV, a teenager at the time, succeeded his father after Amenhotep III's death at the end of his 38-year reign and
was crowned at Karnak, possibly after a coregency lasting between either 1 to 2 or 12 years. Suggested dates for
Akhenaten's reign (subject to the debates surrounding Egyptian chronology) are from
1353 BC - 1336 BC or 1351 BC - 1334 BC
Amenhotep IV was married to Nefertiti at the very beginning of his reign, and the couple had six known daughters and
possibly two sons (the sons with his other wife
Nefertiti's parentage is not known with certainty, but it is now generally believed that she was the daughter of
Ay. Another theory
that gained some support identified Nefertiti with the Mitanni princess
Tadukhipa. It has also been suggested that Nefertiti was a daughter or relative of Amenhotep III, or of the high
Theban nobility. Another theory places Nefertiti as the daughter of Sitamun, half-sister of Amenhotep III.
The Armarna Period
In his fifth year on the throne, Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten and focused his energies on promoting a single
god, Aten, the sun disk, and he started work on a new Egyptian capital city called Akhetaten ("horizon of the sun"),
in what is now Middle Egypt. This phase, encompassing Akhenaten's and Smenkhkara's reign and the beginning of
Tutankhamun's, is now referred to as the Armarna Period, and the site of the city of Akhetaten is now known as
Aten was the focus of Akhenaten's religion, but viewing Aten as Akhenaten's god is a simplification.
Aten is the name given to represent the solar disc. The term Aten was used to designate a disc and since the
sun was a disc, gradually became associated with solar deities. Aten expresses indirectly the life-giving force of light. The full title of
Akhenaten's god was The Rahorus who rejoices in the horizon, in the Name of the Light which is seen in the sun disc.
(This is the title of the god as it appears on the numerous stelae which were placed to mark the boundaries of Akhenaten's
new capital.) This lengthy name was often shortened to Ra-Horus-Aten or just Aten in many texts, but the god
of Akhenaten raised to supremacy is considered a synthesis of very ancient gods viewed in a new way. It was the first
known attempt at monotheism in the world.
The idea of Akhenaten as the pioneer of monotheistic religion that later became Judaism has been considered by some
scholars. One of the first to mention this possibility was Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis,
in his book
Moses and Monotheism, Freud argued that Moses had been an Atenist priest forced to leave Egypt with his followers
after Akhenaten's death. Freud argued that Akhenaton was striving to promote monotheism, something that the biblical Moses
was able to achieve.
Interestingly, Akhenaten appears in history almost two centuries before the first archaeological and written evidence for
Judaism and Israelite culture is found.
With the disappearance of Akhenaten, the original official religion of the state was restored, and the capital was moved
back to Thebes, and the former gods were restored.