AKHENATON (a'kĕn-a't'n, he who is beneficial to Aton). The name chosen by Amenhotep IV (1377-1360 b.c.), ruler in the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt, when he changed the religion of his country, demanding that all his subjects worship only the sun god under the name Aton. Politically his reign was disastrous. Internal disorders prevailed, and Egypt’s Asian possessions began to slip away. His external troubles are illustrated by clay tablets found at Tell el-Amarna, the site of Akhetaton, the capital he established. Hundreds of letters from vassal governors in Syria and Palestine tell of invasions and intrigue and make appeals for help. Many of these tablets refer to invaders called the Habiru. Some feel that this name designates the Hebrews; others say that it speaks of a non-Semitic people. Akhenaton is credited by many as being the first monotheist and, indeed, the inspiration for the monotheism of Moses. However, Akhenaton clearly worshiped the sun itself and not the Creator of the sun.

AKH-EN-ATON ä’ kĕn ä’ t’ n (Blessed Spirit of Aton or Beneficial to Aton). Founder of Tell El-amarna (q.v.) and king of Egypt from c. 1370-1353 b.c. Also named Amen-hotep (IV) (ä’mĕn-hō’tĕp, Amon is satisfied).

Amen-hotep IV was still a teenager when, either as co-regent or king, he replaced his father as effective ruler of Egypt. He became ruler both of Egypt’s once mighty military machine and of the vast religious bureaucracy administered by the priesthoods. Available evidence indicates that his mother, Tiy, was influential at court, but not that she was the real power behind the throne. He married Nefert-iti.

The young king neglected his political duties preferring to implement religious reform. As a result, Egypt’s Asiatic empire was almost lost, control over Nubia was relaxed, and administrative efficiency declined even in Egypt proper. He suppressed the entire religious bureaucracy of Egypt, and he seems to have desired esp. to curb the power of the priesthood of Amon.

By the sixth year of his reign he had built a large temple to the Aton, the deified sun disk, in Thebes. Then he decided to abandon Thebes for a new capital, Akhet-Aton (i.e. Tell El-Amarna) which became the center for the Amarna Revolution. About this time he changed his name to Akh-en-aton and began a savage proscription of the older deities. This proscription became so severe that even the word “gods” was effaced from the monuments.

By his twelfth year, it was clear that the reform movement had failed, and he attempted a reconciliation with the Amon establishment, but the priests of Amon refused reconciliation. The rest of his reign, his death, and his burial are obscured by inadequate evidence and conflicting theories. It is certain, however, that his enemies did their best to obscure his memory, and some scholars suggest that his enemies even desecrated his corpse. His political weakness has led some to suggest that he was associated with the Exodus (q.v.).

Akh-en-aton’s physique was somewhat sickly and effeminate although the unusual features have been exaggerated (see TELL EL-AMARNA, AMARNA ART). But his personality was not weak. Only a strong personality could have defied the entrenched conservative forces of Egyp. life as long as he did.


See nodetitle.