The Unparalleled Power of Akhenaten

More of this Feature

• Part 2: Tradition at First
• Part 3: A New Capital
• Part 4: Power and Beauty
• Part 5: A Bad End?

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Part 1: Born into Royalty

The pharaoh known as Akhenaten was one of the most famous and influential in all of ancient Egypt. The popular image of the Egyptian pharaohs is all-powerful. For most pharaohs, this was not the case. The priests still waged enormous power in ancient Egypt. Because religion was so much a part of Egyptians' thinking, both with their daily life and with their belief in what happened in the next life, they relied on the priests to give them direction and to reveal to them the mysteries of the gods. Many a pharaoh in effect shared power with priests, at least when it came to religious matters. This was not the case with Akhenaten. His power at one time was so dominant and far-reaching that he literally had the option of life or death for everyone in his vast kingdom.

He was born into royalty, being the son of the pharaoh Amenhotep III (right) and the king's chief wife, Tiy. He was not the firstborn son of the pharaoh; however, he was the one who ascended the throne when his father died because his elder brother, Tuthmosis, died while very young. The young prince is also thought to have been co-regent, ruling hand-in-hand or at least sharing power with his father until the pharaoh died. This was the first of a series of unusual elements in the life and legacy of the great Akhenaten.

When he took power, he became Amenhotep IV, keeping his father's name (and, indeed, his own name). Soon after, he followed in his father's footsteps by marrying a lady of non-royal blood, Nefertiti. Together, the king and queen forged a partnership that itself transformed the whole of Egypt and, at a fundamental level, changed forever the way Egyptian people thought about themselves, their king, and their gods.

At first Amenhotep showed no appearance of changing anything about the way his country was governed. He was crowned at the Temple of Amen at Karnak, as had his father and the pharaohs before him, and he ruled at Thebes, as had his father and the pharaohs before him. In a grand ceremony, Amenhotep also crowned Nefertiti queen. The two then took up the rod and staff and became king and queen, just like their predecessors had. At this time, the queen was merely "first wife" of the king, a status symbol and not much more than a woman destined to be the mother of the next pharaoh.

Next page > Tradition at First > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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David White