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One of the strangest figures to emerge from ancient Egypt - which is no mean feat - is one whom the Egyptians themselves attempted to ensure we would never learn about: the pharaoh Akhenaten (r.c. 1353 - 1334 B.C.).
We do not know anything about Akhenaten's early life, save that he was born Amenhotep IV and only came into power because his elder brother died. He may have co-ruled with his father for a time, though this is uncertain. All our information about him comes from the time of his rule, the first four years of which proceeded with relative normalcy.
In year 5 (c. 1348 B.C.), however, things changed. Though the pharaoh had built temples to the Aten, the Egyptian sun disk, prior to this year, he now revealed an unprecedented level of devotion to this figure. He changed his name to Akhenaten ("Effective for Aten"), established a new capitol he called Akhetaten ("Horizon of Aten," known today as Amarna), and disbanded the priesthoods of the entire Egyptian pantheon. After year 9 of his reign, he even banned the creation of images, save for the representation of the sun disk - a circle with extending rays, suspended in the heavens above all other beings - men and gods alike.
In addition to this devotion, Akhenaten exhibited other odd characteristics for his time. In official portraits, he had himself represented naturalistically rather than idealistically, as other pharaohs and kings had traditionally done. This was all the more surprising because Akhenaten cut a bizarre figure - large, fleshy lips, a protruding belly, and a long face and fingers are consistent across all known potrayals from the Amarna period, which has led to speculation about the pharaoh's physical health; suggestions have been made including Marfan's or Freolich's syndromes. He also had his wife, Nefertiri, depicted as equal to himself, with evidence suggesting that she was basically a co-ruler.
Akhenaten's reforms have sparked lengthy debates, with some scholars even ascribing to him the single-handed creation of monotheism. Akhenaten, however, did not deny the existence of other gods; he simply denied them worship in favor of Aten. Moreover, his ideas do not appear to have had lasting influence beyond his death. Akhenaten's closure of temples, neglect of foreign affairs and the massive expenses of constructing a whole new capitol stifled Egypt's economy and threw the social order into disarray, earning him the scorn of huge portions of the population. After his death, Akhetaten was gradually abandoned, and the temples of the old gods were reopened by his son, the famed Tutankhamun (born Tutankhaten!) A systematic campaign to erase Akhenaten from history began, with mass defacing of monuments and heiroglyphic carvings, including the face of the sarcophagus thought to have housed the pharaoh's own mummy. In a culture where eternal life was of paramount importance, this was the ultimate act of retribution.
Despite the pharaoh's status as a god among men, he had directly spurned the powerful Egyptian priesthood, and earned their eternal enmity as a result. His beloved Aten could not save him from the oblivion his populace sought to consign him to - but archaeology has, and as long as people are fascinated with the gods and traditions of ancient Egypt, there will always be a place in the conversation for the pharaoh who defied them all.