Akhenaten: Pharaoh, religion, ruler & profile

You have certainly heard of Pharaoh Akhenaten or his wife Nefertiti. Like how he changed ancient Egyptian religion or founded a new capital?

If you want to learn more about him, you’ve come to the right place, we’ll introduce you to Akhenaten’s complete life.

Akhenaten profile

  • Name: born as: Amenhotep IV, later: Akhenaten (Ancient Egyptian spelling: Ach-en-Aton)
  • Born & Died: Unknown: probably around 1370 – early 1330 BC BC, part of the 18th dynasty in the New Kingdom
  • Reign: also unknown: probably from early 1350 – early 1330 BC. Chr.
  • Parents: Amenhopis III. and Tiye
  • Siblings: One brother: Thutmosis, and six sisters: Sitamun, Iset, Henuttaunebu, Nebet-tah, Baketaton, and «Younger Lady»
  • Wives: Nefertiti (principal wife), two concubines and a contentious relationship with his sister «Younger Lady»
  • Children: Tutankhamun (disputed because of relationship with sister) and seven daughters

To illustrate the family relationships, we have prepared a chart for you on which you can see the important people in Akhenaten’s life:

Figure 1: Family relationships AkhenatenSource:

Time until the accession of Amenhotep IV.

Until the official name change, Akhenaten is referred to in this text as Amenhotep IV in order to show the course of his life more clearly.

In fact, little is known about Amenhotep IV’s origins. Born the second of seven siblings, he had an older brother, Thutmosis, and six younger sisters. Being the younger son, he was not actually a candidate for succession to the throne, and his elder brother Thutmose was made crown prince.

However, shortly after his father, Amenhotep III, appointed Thutmose crown prince and sent him away for military training, he died for unknown reasons. Since Amenhotep IV was now the eldest son, he was named heir to the throne and assumed the office of pharaoh between the ages of 18-22 after the death of his father. Either at the time of his accession to the throne or a few years earlier, Amnhotep IV married his Hauptfrau Nefertiti, since their daughter Meritaton was born in his first year of reign.

Akhenaten’s reign

Since Amenhotep IV was part of the 18th dynasty, he ruled during the New Kingdom period. As with the dates of his life, the exact times of his reign are unknown, but his reign is estimated to be around 17 years, from c. 1350-1330 BC. BC, estimated.

change of belief

Because during the New Kingdom, the priests of Amun acquired a great deal of wealth and power over the years and had access to the political decisions of the royal family.

Amenhotep III. turned away from Amun as a god and increasingly worshiped the sun god Aten. But the belief in Aten continued under Amenhoteps III. rule never complete. Amenhotep IV continued to pursue this goal and he was to succeed in changing the religion, even if only for a short time.

The exact changes Amenhotep IV used during his reign to strengthen belief in Aten are discussed later in the text.

The previous imperial gods Amun and Re were parts of the sun, just like Aten. The latter was the figure of the sun god (Amun or Re). However, under Amenhotep IV, Aten was made the most important and sole main god.

You can read more about the different gods in our article on the Egyptian gods!

Between the 5th and 6th year of his reign, Amenhotep IV had a new city built: Akhetaten.

And with the complete relocation of the royal apparatus, including the officials, scribes, judges and house priests, Amenhotep IV began his change of faith: From now on Thebes was no longer the capital of Egypt and the Amun priests were not allowed to accompany the pharaoh to the new one follow the capital to maintain their influence. Furthermore, Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten as we know him today.

There were concrete changes in government, but outside of the priesthood they were hardly noticeable to the ordinary population. Even if Aten was now regarded as the god of the empire, Akhenaten did not forbid belief in other gods, he himself continued to worship them in private.

One of the major changes was in prayer to the kingdom god. In the past, i.e. under Amun, the population could worship him themselves or commission the Amun priests to appeal to the god in their interest. Akhenaten put himself and his wife, Nefertiti, back at the head of religious traditions, without priests. Believers throughout Egypt now had to address their prayers to the pharaoh couple and not to the god himself.

The government under Akhenaten also refrained from using the names of other gods in official announcements, but only that of Aten.

This special connection between Akhenaten and Aten was also captured in drawings, as you can see in this famous stone carving:

Figure 2: Stone relief from Akhetaten in which Akhenaten and Nefertiti worship the sun disc AtenSource: wikipedia.commons.de

In this, Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti stand under the sun disc Aten and are illuminated by its rays.

Akhenaten and Nefertiti’s rule under Aten

Akhenaten and Nefertiti’s reign was primarily artistic and spiritual. Many artistic legacies such as mosaics, reliefs or statuettes were found in the ruins of Achetaton.

His mother Tiye maintained good connections with the foreign kings, especially the Hittites. Even during Akhenaten’s reign there was a lively correspondence between Tiye and the Hittite king, while Akhenaten did not care much for foreign policy administration.

So Schuppiluliuma I (the Hittite king) congratulated Akhenaten on taking over the government and sent a delegation to Akhetaten, but some time later asked why Akhenaten would not answer his letters.

No military undertakings are known under Akhenaten. Only once, in the 12th year of his reign, did he send out a few soldiers to deal with a rebel group in the north of the country.

There were also communication difficulties in their own kingdom. Some governors of Egypt asked the pharaoh for help, but this was to go unanswered.

It is not known whether Akhenaten did not want to concern himself with Egypt outside of Akhetaten and only focused on religious change, or whether he did not consider these requests for help important enough. It is known that resentment spread among the officials and priests, both because of the poor administration of the country by the royal family and because of the change in religious views.

Akhenaten’s Death and Successors

The reasons for Akhenaten’s death remain unclear to this day. He died in the 17th year of his reign and was initially buried in an unknown tomb and not in the half-finished tomb he had made for himself.

Since Nefertiti had died a few years earlier, it was now up to the children to secure the succession to the throne. Since the next male successor, Tutankhamun, was still a child and out of the question, Akhenaten’s concubine Kiya tried to bring a foreign prince to Egypt to marry. This plan never came to fruition as the chosen prince was murdered on his way to Egypt and Kija was expelled by Akhenaten’s daughter Meritaton.

Meritaton married Semenchkare, an unknown Egyptian man who may have come from the sidelines of the royal family. Semenkhkare ruled only a few years before Tutankhamun took over, leading some scholars to believe it was Nefertiti who took over the throne under a different name after the death of her husband. This reasoning has no historical support and is recognized by few researchers.

What is certain is that about four years after Akhenaten’s death, Tutankhamun succeeded to the throne.

Akhenaten’s family

As you have already read, Akhenaten had several wives. Here we explain their roles again.


Nefertiti was the great royal consort of Amenhotep IV, meaning she was his chief wife. Whether the two married before or after the accession to the throne is unknown, since the first two daughters were born in the early years of the couple’s reign, it can be assumed that the marriage took place before.

The third daughter, Anchesenpaaton (later: Anchesenamun), was born in the 7th year of their reign and later married Akhenaten’s successor, Tutankhamun. Nefertiti also gave birth to three more daughters, two of whom died in infancy.

Nefertiti’s origin is still unclear to this day. One went because of her name, which was something like the beauty has come means, assuming she was a foreign-born princess. Today it is assumed that she was the daughter of high-ranking Egyptians and came into contact with the royal family at an early age.

Her duties in government far exceeded those of the previous chief wives. Akhenaten put his wife on an equal footing with him and she was part of the government. Many traditions and ceremonies that were otherwise only performed by the pharaoh were taken over by both in equal parts. Based on some depictions of the royal family, some researchers even assume that Nefertiti took over the affairs of state while Akhenaten took care of religious affairs, but this is unproven.

The most famous portrait of Nefertiti is her bust, which is now in the Egyptian Museum Berlin and depicts her beauty:

Figure 3: Bust of NefertitiSource: wikipedia.commons.de

Concubines and relationship to «Young Lady»

Like many pharaohs before him, Akhenaten was married to several wives. His principal wife, Nefertiti, was addressed earlier in the text, so this section deals only with the three concubines.

The first wife, Taduhepa, came from the foreign royal family of the Mittani. She became between

12 – 15 years with Akhenaten’s father Amenhotep III. married and after his death married his son Akhenaten. Children are not known from this connection.

The second concubine Kija also came from abroad. Neither their origin nor their relationship to Akhenaten have been clarified in a uniform manner. Researchers assume that she came from the entourage of Taduhepa and after moving to Akhetaten came into contact with Akhenaten, who then married her. Kija is usually depicted with a daughter, from which one can conclude that Akhenaten had another daughter. She survived Akhenaten and tried to take over the government, but was unsuccessful. What happened to her after that is not known.

As you read in the profile, the «Younger Lady» is also described as a possible concubine….