The Heretic King, Akhenaten, ruled Egypt during a time of incredible prosperity. He lived with his family in Thebes, a religious center and city of Amun. At a time when there were hundreds of gods, religion was big business. Thousands of priests worked tirelessly, serving their gods.
Akhenaton’s parents, Amenhotep III and Queen Tiy, had six children. However, Akhenaton seems to be an outcast. Scientists now believe that he suffered from a disease called Marfan Syndrome, a genetic defect shared with Abraham Lincoln. While he had no portraits, no mention on monuments, his mother still seems to favor him greatly.
Akhenaton succeeded his father to the throne in 1352 B.C., in a rule that lasted 16 years. While he is blamed for the loss of prosperity and decline in civilization in Egypt, evidence suggests that this had been an ongoing problem, one that came to a head during Akhenaton’s reign.
Ancient Egyptians had a pantheon of gods to choose from, led by Amun. Akhenaton’s claim to fame is his religious reforms. Under his rule, Egypt became a monotheistic society, ruled by one God, Aten. This sun god was now the only God.
Although Thebes had been a religious center for generations, Akhenaton developed a new religious center at Karnak. Obviously, religious differences between the two groups caused strain. Akhenaton broke with tradition, closing temples, destroying statues, desecrating worship sites, and taking the revenues given to the God Amun. The fallout from these actions would affect Egyptian civilization for many years.
Akhenaton married the famous Queen Nefertiti, believed to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Carved stela show the happy couple, surrounded by children, worshiping the sun disk, Aten. In a rare show of affection, they are shown playing with their children.
Pharaoh Akhenaton was single-handedly responsible for changing thousands of years of art tradition. Images of the other gods were now replaced by the one true image of Aten, the desk of the sun. When the Pharaoh built his monuments, he did not idealize his form; in fact, sculptures show him with a large head, wide hips, and elongated fingers and toes.
In the end, Akhenaton’s dedication to monotheism could not last. He remained isolated in his new Kingdom, neglecting foreign policy and the bitter complaints of his citizens. After his death in 1332 B.C., Egypt returned to its polytheistic roots.