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6-10-2015, 17:21

A cultural revolution motivated by religion

Few periods in Egyptian history have seen as much research as the reign of Akhenaten, and the scholarly literature has become almost unmanageable. The judgement of this period has changed significantly over the course of the history of Egyptology. In the beginning, a happy, light-filled, and cosmopolitan society was envisaged - a true make-love-not-war generation, but in the last few decades Akhenaten has been seen as a despot who imposed his ideas by force. He has been described as an aesthete and a maniac, a dreaming poet and theologian, and as a mad tyrant. Practically no comprehensive study of this period comes without some sort of psychological paradigm.

The cultural revolution manifests itself in various contexts: (1) religion with protomonotheism, (2) art with a curious new style, (3) literature, (4) the selection of a new capital, (5) the use of daily language as the written language (Late Egyptian), (6) the erasure of inscriptions with the name of the god Amun. Of these the question of monotheism is the most interesting from a modern perspective (Assmann 2000). The more worldly issues, by comparison, often remain untouched by scholarship. The Restoration Stela of Tutankhamun (Urk. IV. 2025, 1-2032, 15) offers a glimpse into the practical consequences of this period, even if it has not yet been explained whether the stela represents the truth or only propaganda designed to distinguish the present government from its predecessor. According to this text the sacred areas were in a critical condition, and the temple of Amun in Karnak had been completely destroyed. Later, Horemheb (Urk. IV 2120, 3ff.; cf. Leprohon, 1985: 99) even reported that the entire ground and floor (bAkAyt) had collapsed. The industrial and administrative buildings that belonged to the temple were probably affected as well. Even the cult images seem to have been involved, and barely any of the surviving cult images are datable prior to the Amarna period. Such was the fanaticism of the followers of Akhenaten, though it seems they acted in this way mostly in Thebes, and there, above all, against the cult of Amun-Re. Light and air deities got away relatively lightly. Outside Thebes other deities were spared, such as Montu in el-Tod or Khnum at Elephantine (Brand, 1999: 123; Krauss, 2000, on Osiris at Abydos and Ptah in Memphis; cf also Bickel and Jaritz, 1997: 92-3; Gabolde, 1998: 24-30). Whether or not temples remained open is an interesting question, as they were junction points between the administration and the economy. To close them would have had far-reaching consequences for the economy of the country, which would have been exacerbated by the foundation of a new capital Akhetaten between Thebes and Memphis. Since all resources now had to go through Akhetaten, the other regions were almost totally neglected (Leprohon 1985: 96; Gnirs 1989: 91 with n. 45), but we cannot establish the extent to which the economy of the country was influenced by the reforms of Akhenaten and the subsequent temple closures. Leprohon has suggested that the centralization of politics at Akhetaten resulted in a loss of control over local authorities and increased corruption (Leprohon 1991: 72). The army was given various powers, largely for the purpose of tax collecting, with which it terrorized the country. This was not to be stopped until the reign of Horemheb (Leprohon 1985: 101).

The effect of the Amarna period on foreign politics is just as disputed as its effect on internal affairs. From the Amarna letters we learn of various conflicts in the area of Syria. The disputes between Ribaddi, the prince of Byblos, and Abdiashirta (and later his son, Aziru) of Amurru have been connected to an assumed loss of Egyptian control in the Levant. Ribaddi requested help from the Egyptian court several times but apparently never received any. The Khabiru problems dealt with in the letters are interesting in terms of the history of Israel (the Hebrews), the letters suggesting that this group consisted of the outlaws of the Late Bronze Age Canaanite cities (Donner 2008). It is an interesting point of cultural history that the Egyptians used the Akkadian language and script as a lingua franca for international diplomatic contacts (Rainey 1996). On the basis of their names it would seem that at least some of the scribes and readers on the Egyptian side were Canaanites working in the Egyptian administration. Thus the correspondence was generally conducted between speakers of Semitic languages on both sides, who in Egypt functioned as linguistic intermediaries.

The encroachment of the Hittites on Egyptian territory was a further cause for Egyptian loss of control. The exact chronology of the Hittite Amqu campaign is debated; it is sometimes placed in the reign of Akhenaten, or else during that of Tutankhamun. Publishing a new reading of the letter KUB 19.15 + KBo 50.24, Miller (2007) argued that the entire war took place in the time of Akhenaten and his general Horemheb. The Restoration Stela of Tutankhamun mentions campaigns against Syria under his predecessors, which were more likely to have been those of Akhenaten than the ephemeral Neferneferuaten. Apparently, Egyptian possessions in the Levant were reduced at the beginning of the Nineteenth Dynasty as a result of Hittite incursions. In the light of the recent research of Panagiotopoulos (2000) one must ask if the Egyptian empire of the early Eighteenth Dynasty really extended as far north as most modern maps suggest. In any case, the Egyptians lost some of their prestige. Amenhotep III could still proudly claim to the king of Babylon that no Egyptian princes had ever been married to a foreigner (EA 4), but, in fact, at the end of the Armana period something far more spectacular happened. The widow of an Egyptian king, unfortunately known only from her title as Dakhamunzu, ti-hmt-nsw, ‘‘the King’s wife,’’ had asked for the hand of a Hittite prince. After some initial scepticism the Hittite king Suppiluliumas sent his son Zannanza, but he never mounted the throne, being murdered on the way. Ay and, after his death, the general Horemheb took over the government. The latter, no longer related to any members of the Eighteenth Dynasty, named his vizier Piramessu as his successor, who ushered in the period of the Ramessides as Ramesses I.