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BLOG: Egypt's Political Climate Following Akhenaten


Ever mysterious, timeless, crammed full of historical layers that tantalize and hold archaeologists hostage to the country's culture.

Even before Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb, there was a fascination with this arid wonderland, but once it was determined that Tutankhamun himself was the son of the infamous heretic Akhenaton, historians have been mesmerized by what could have happened in the years prior to Tut's brief reign.

This week, I'm proud to host N. L. Holmes, whose understanding, imagination, and love of ancient Egyptian lore has led to the final historical mystery in her Lord Hani series. I've asked her to delve into the political climate that had descended as Akhenaton's controversial and heretical rule came to a close, leaving the country in such a tenuous and uncertain path.

Welcome back to Brook's Journal, N.L. Holmes. I hope you be a frequent visitor here!

Egypt's Political Climate Following Akhenaton

By: N. L. Holmes

The political climate in Egypt in the period between the death of Akhenaten and the reign of his son Tutankhamen was complicated and undoubtedly violent. The “Heretic Pharaoh” had overthrown the worship of Egypt’s immemorial gods and replaced it by the cult of a single deity (his own father Amenhotep III, under the guise of the visible sun disk), with whom he himself was the sole intercessor. So violent was the revolution that people’s names that included those of the old gods were chiseled off the walls of private tombs! Such fanaticism was unheard of in Egypt’s long history. No doubt, many if not most of the bureaucrats of his own government were in ideological opposition to him and only obeyed out of a sense of loyalty to the crown. Even more bitter must have been the hatred of the enormous priesthoods of Amen-Ra and the other gods. Their temples had been major economic engines of the kingdom, employing tens if not hundreds of thousands of people and owning vast tracts of land. All of this was overthrown at the king’s whim. By the time of our story, people had had a long enough time to organize their resistance. The death of Akhenaten must have given them hope that the old ways could be brought back, but this doesn’t seem to have happened under the very brief reign of his wife and successor, Nefertiti. That sense of frustrated expectation would have raised the temperature even further.

In addition, there appears to have been a power struggle going on within the royal family itself. The heir was a young child, and both sides must have hoped to control him. We know that his maternal grandfather, Ay, exercised great influence over the boy during his reign and eventually succeeded him. But one of his sisters, probably the eldest, Meryet-aten, seems to have had her own eye on the throne. Hittite archives have exposed for us the scandalous request that is the heart of this novel when she begged of that northern kingdom a bridegroom to sit beside her on the throne of Egypt. A foreign king on Egypt’s throne! Even those who had supported her promised return to the old ways would have been shocked by this plan, since Egypt had a very bad memory of the not-too-distant past under the Hyksos, “rulers of foreign lands”, Syrians who had managed to hoist themselves to the position of highest power.

All of this mix of colliding ambitions and ideologies would surely have led to a violent confrontation, at least within the upper ranks of society. Ay was chief of the cavalry, and his rival and son-in-law Har-em-heb was a powerful figure in the infantry. Did they come to blows over the confidence of the young ruler? What a careful path members of the government would have had to tread!

All throughout this little exquisition, I have said “must have” and “there appears to have been.” That’s because we know painfully little for sure about what seems to have transpired between the death of the Heretic and the reign of his son. What we do know is this—and judge for yourself what this makes probable in the interim: already under Tutankhamen, the reforms of his father were being rolled back. The new capital dedicated to the Aten was abandoned. Names that included the Aten—like the king’s and his wife’s (Tutankhaten, Ankhesenpaaten)—reverted to a form that incorporated Amen. Temples that had been abandoned or desecrated under Akhenaten were rebuilt in splendor, the traditional priesthoods reinstated. After the brief reign of Ay, Har-em-heb took the throne and completed the destruction of the works of Akhenaten, razing his capital to the ground and even striking all mention of the Heretic from the historical record! Damnatio memoriae at its most virulent. We didn’t even know of the existence of Akhenaten until the end of the nineteenth century, when the lost capital was rediscovered. Little by little, historians are now patching together the story of the mid-fourteenth century from the slightest of archaeological clues and mentions in foreign archives. Maybe someday, we will be able to make definitive statements about what happened in those years of interregnum, but for now, it’s the precinct of novelists!

All About the Book

Hani must secretly obtain a Hittite bridegroom for Queen Meryet-amen, but Ay and the faction behind Prince Tut-ankh-aten are opposed--to the point of violence. Does the death of an artisan have anything to do with Ay’s determination to see his grandson on the throne? Then, another death brings Egypt to the brink of war… Hani’s diplomatic skills will be pushed to the limit in this final book in The Lord Hani Mysteries.

All About N. L. Homes

N.L. Holmes is the pen name of a professional archaeologist who received her doctorate from Bryn Mawr College. She has excavated in Greece and in Israel, and taught ancient history and humanities at the university level for many years. She has always had a passion for books, and in childhood, she and her cousin (also a writer today) used to write stories for fun. Today, she and her husband live in France with their chickens and cats, where she weaves, plays the violin, gardens, and dances.

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1 commentaire

Cathie Dunn
Cathie Dunn
19 janv. 2023

Thank you so much for hosting N. L. Holmes today, with such a fascinating guest post. x

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