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Akhenaten: Heretic Man or Visionary Pharaoh?

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Pharaohs were governors of the Ancient Egyptian realm who broadcasted themselves as sons of gods who upheld Ma’at – the Egyptian order of life. Most pharaohs ruled in a typical and expected way carrying the beliefs of their ancestors- though not all ruled this way. Akhenaten of the 18th Dynasty New Kingdom was not an “archetypal” pharaoh as seen through his goal to change Egyptian religion from polytheism to monotheism and through his building project in Amarna. Though he used traditional means to incorporate his changes he did so in an atypical way. After all his attempts at reform all was forgotten when he died and Egypt returned to the religious beliefs it had beforehand. This essay will analyse historical evidence that demonstrates his religious changes, the significance of his building project in Amarna and the aftermath of his death.

Akhenaten went completely against the former views of New Kingdom Egypt – that Amun-Re is the god of gods. Instead he put in place the Aten which is the ‘sun disc’ above Ra’s head and forced this religion upon his people. A fact which is acknowledged by an American university professor of history, Damen (2013) who states that by the third year of Akhenaten’s reign a major shift in Egyptian religion began. Firstly, Akhenaten changed his name from Amunhotep IV to honour his own god Aten by ridding his name of the god Amun-Re. Akhenaten also removed the word ‘gods’ from inscriptions replacing it with ‘god’ and destroyed some of Amun’s temples and monuments, thus declaring war against the dominant religious authority of his day {Damen (2013)}). An educated opinion by oft-cited English historian and Egyptologist, Weigall (1910) insinuates that Akhenaten ‘objected heroics and loved naturalness’ tel...

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