The ancient Egyptian religion is known for it’s evolutionary polytheist belief system. There are many different gods responsible for creation according to many different myths. The religion itself evolved a great deal through the 1000’s of years that the society thrived. The first ‘monotheism’ was actually a form of polytheism through the worship of Amun/ Amun-Ra. However, there was one pharaoh who threw out 1000’s of years of religious tradition and established his own, radical, truly monotheistic religion. His name was Akhenaten.
Son of Amenhotep III, Akhenaten (born Amenhotep IV) was raised to worship Amun, and through the worship of Amun he worshiped the old gods. However all of this changed with the death of his father. Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten and ordered that a new city be built. This city was built in the desert, unlike most Egyptian cities which thrive of the Nile. Akhenaten ordered the destruction of all references to the old gods. This sparked quite the controversy as many priests of Amun were forced into religious persecution. Along with this new religious system came a new system of art, as you can see in the image above. This style of art portrays the pharaoh with his wife Nefertiti and children in a way unheard of among the pharaohs. This surprisingly human art form portrays Akhenaten as a loving father, rather than a perfect incarnation of the god Horus.
The Aten was what Akhenaten and his followers called the sun. It’s life giving power extended beyond the p0wer of the old gods, it was the one true god. The suns life giving rays were celebrated, and ancient poetry still exists on the natural rock faces of Amarna to this day. However, Akhenaten served his god over his people. The people were skeptical and horrified by his new religion, which ignored the overly embraced traditional preparations for the afterlife.
Akhenaten’s son is perhaps more heard of, his name was Tutankhamen, originally named Tutankhaten. After the death of his father, the sun cult gradually fell to the way of the old gods. His name was erased from history. He was labeled a traitor and a heretic to the old gods. The city Amarna was abandoned and the old order was restored. It is said that the city of Amarna’s buildings lacked roofs in order to embrace the Aten’s life giving rays. I like to imagine than sunburns were pretty bad in Amarna.