Akhenaten: History, Fantasy and Ancient Egypt by Dominic Montserrat

By Dominic Montserrat

The pharaoh Akhenaten, who governed Egypt within the mid-fourteenth century BCE, has been the topic of extra hypothesis than the other personality in Egyptian historical past. This provocative new biography examines either the true Akhenaten and the myths which have been created round him. It scrutinises the historical past of the pharaoh and his reign, which has been regularly written in Eurocentric phrases inapplicable to historical Egypt, and the archaeology of Akhenaten's capital urban, Amarna. It is going directly to discover the pharaoh's outstanding cultural afterlife, and how he has been invoked to validate every thing from psychoanalysis to racial equality to Fascism.

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The evidence suggests otherwise. Akhenaten portrays Amunhotep III positively at the new capital Akhet-aten, and seems to have taken care over moving his funerary cult there and maintaining it. If anything, the anti-Oedipal picture is more plausible: that Akhenaten continued to hold his father in considerable esteem and was keen to acknowledge his descent from him and his 35 HISTORIES OF AKHENATEN ancestors. At Akhet-aten the 'houses' of other Eighteenth Dynasty rulers including Amunhotep were established, sometimes in association with temples which apparently provided them with offerings.

As he drove along, the people saw him and made obeisance to him, just as the people of the created world worshipped the Aten. Akhenaten's journey through the city may also have been a substitute for the parades of divine images that were such an important feature of traditional religious festivals, especially Theban ones like the Radiant Festival of the Valley: Although Akhet-aten was built as a performance space for Akhenaten's own theology, its inhabitants were not necessarily all devoted adherents of Atenworship.

This in itself was not unique: moving the capital city has many other precedents in Egyptian history. While Akhenaten's main motivation for this was probably theological, it is also worth remembering the traditional ambition of pharaohs to be remembered as great builders. This decision to move from Thebes was marked by an elaborate rock-cut inscription, decorated with images of the royal family, and dated to year 5, fourth month ofperet-season, day 13 (early in April, c. 1348 BCE). Usually known as 'boundary stela K', it is almost at the southern extremity of the new city.

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