Assess the impact and legacy of Akhenaten
Born as Amenhotep IV in 1375 BC, Akhenaten became the 10th Pharaoh of Egypt in the 18th Dynasty. His reign is now known as the Amarna Revolution, as Akhenaten revolutionised all aspects of Egypt, most notably impacting religion and foreign affairs. His legacy is one of the most controversial in history – to Weigall and Brier, Akhenaten was a religious visionary, far ahead of his time, but to Reeves and Redford he was a heretic and the cause of Egypt??™s downfall. However a more accurate assessment of his legacy was that although he was a revolutionary thinker who attempted to advance Egyptian society, his focus on the Aten distracted him from all other aspects of ruling, contributing to Egypt??™s loss of power.
Bob Brier refers to Egypt as ???the most conservative country in history???, as for thousands of years, Egyptian society went virtually unchanged. However, the fifth year of the pharaoh??™s reign marked the beginning of what would make an incredible impact on Egyptian religion, as the country began the sole worship of Aten and therefore became the first monotheistic society in history. Within the Aten cult Akhenaten declared that he was the only person, through whom prayers and petitions to Aten could be delivered, eliminating all forms of priesthood and making it a very exclusive religion. In the shrines of private houses, in tombs and temples, the images of the old gods were replaced with images of the Royal family and prayers were now directed to them. This is supported by reliefs of the Royal family, including those found in the Hewet-benben Temple and the Tombs of Ramose and Parennefer, all of which depict the Aten??™s rays shining on the Royal family ??“ no one else. Although it is doubtful that these monotheistic views were wide spread, the impact of a sudden loss of traditional ceremonies and festivals, to those within the main cities (Memphis, Akhetaten and Thebes) would have caused confusion and trepidation. Historians such as Breasted suggest that Akhenaten established the sole worship to Aten in order to divert the power held by the priesthood, back to the Pharaoh. Throughout previous years most tribute, wealth and property was either owned by Amun priests or rewarded to them. Therefore, this transition impacted heavily on the politics within Egypt.
However, Akhenaten??™s complete dedication to the worship of Aten severely impacted Egypt??™s power. When Akhenaten succeeded the throne, Egypt was strong, controlling most of Nubia, while holding influence in Syria-Palestine. He maintained dominate control of Nubia, but towards the north, Akhenaten has been blamed for the loss of Egypt??™s influence in Syria-Palestine. Wilson and Gardiner hold the more traditional opinion that Akhenaten was a pacifist, who was too pre-occupied with religion to rule Egypt. This is supported by the loss of control in Western Asia including that of several powerful cities (Gaza and Jericho) and the small amount of campaigns sent by Egypt during the time. However, Redford and Aldred have developed an alternative opinion; Akhenaten was well-informed of the situation and intervened when Egypt itself was threatened. Akhenaten??™s involvement in the military is supported by the numerous representations of the King in warrior dress, several campaigns sent by Akhenaten (Years 12 and 5) and the detaining of troublemakers such as Aziru of Amurru. The Amarna Letters also provide incredible insight into the foreign relations of the time. The Amarna letters are a series of stone tablets which depict the correspondence between Akhenaten and foreign leaders of Mitanni, Assyria, and others. These letters show Akhenaten??™s blatant disregard for his ally states – particularly those from Rib-Addi of Byblos (EA 75, EA 122, EA 137 and others) who wrote often to the King requesting military assistance against Aziru of Amurru. Repeated requests suggest that Akhenaten was not sending aid, resulting in Egypt??™s loss of Byblos and other cities within Syria-Palestine.
However the Revolution was not to last as Akhenaten died in the 17th year of his reign. His legacy was one of great monuments and progression, as well as religious disorder and tyranny. The latter is more obvious when examining the immediate reaction to Akhenaten??™s rule. After Akhenaten??™s death, Egypt was returned to orthodoxy under the reign of Tutankhamun. He reinstated traditional gods and temples and moved the capital back to Memphis, abandoning Akhetaten. He also commissioned a ???Restoration Stele??™, which stated that ???the land was in confusion; the gods forsook the land…???. More drastic measures were taken under the reigns of Horemheb and the Ramesside Kings, who attempted remove any trace of Akhenaten and the Revolution. It was under Horemheb??™s rule that many of Akhenaten??™s monuments including the temples of East Karnak, were systematically destroyed and their talatat blocks reused in the pylons dedicated to Amun at Karnak. His work was then continued into the 19th Dynasty by the Ramesside Kings, who completed the systematic annihilation of Akhetaten and other Aten temples, reusing its materials to build a quarry at Hermopolis. This effectively eliminated any chance of Akhenaten??™s physical legacy to be remembered in years to come. However, although Akhenaten??™s successors attempted to eradicate all traces of the Heretic Pharaoh, his legacy still impacted Egypt in the years to come. If Breasted??™s theory as to why Akhenaten instigated the Revolution is correct, then the Ramesside Kings made sure it would not occur again. Temples, Cities and Palaces were no longer dedicated to the worship of a single God, and more emphasis was placed on the worship of other Gods. For example, Ramesses II??™s mortuary temple (Abu Simbel) was dedicated to at least four Gods. Finally, Akhenaten and his immediate descendants were officially wiped from Egyptian history when a Ramesside King issued the ???Kings List??™ which named Horemheb as Amenhotep III??™s immediate successor.
More recently, opinions pertaining to Akhenaten??™s legacy have changed drastically. The English Egyptologist, Arthur Weigall (1922), views Akhenaten as ???the most remarkable figure of early Oriental history???. He truly believed that Akhenaten was the very essence of what man should strive for, as he was ???…the first man to preach simplicity, honesty, frankness and sincerity.??? A varying opinion from American Archaeologist, James Henry Breasted, states that ???Akhenaten was certainly not a ???visionary??™; he was a methodical rationalist???. He admires Akhenaten for his political actions but refuses to see him as a Religious visionary. Both opinions of his legacy differ from the original opinion held by Horemheb and the Ramesside Kings.
Although the Amarna Revolution was brief, Akhenaten had a significant impact on Egyptian society. The religious system was drastically changed and modified far ahead of its time, as was art, politics and architecture. On a wider scale, Egypt declined considerably, as it was never as powerful and influential as it was before Akhenaten??™s reign. It is reasonable to say that Akhenaten??™s legacy was that he improved and revolutionised Egypt internally, but externally, Egypt was far worse off than before Akhenaten came to power. This was due to his intense focus on the Aten reforms, which distracted him from the country??™s foreign policies and military developments.
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