Ikhnaton (ĭknäˈtən) [key] or Akhenaton äˌkənäˈtən [Egyptian, = Aton is satisfied], d. c.1354 B.C., king of ancient Egypt (c.1372–1354 B.C.), of the XVIII dynasty; son and successor of Amenhotep III. His name at his accession was Amenhotep IV, but he changed it to honor the god Aton. He is important for religious innovations. He abandoned polytheism to embrace monotheism. He held that the sun, named Aton, was god, and god alone, and that he was Aton's physical son. The solar monotheism was absolute; the new system allowed no accommodations and no exceptions. Through the rays of the sun everything that lived had its being. In honor of Aton the new capital was called Akhetaton (the modern Tell el Amarna), and new provincial capitals were founded in Nubia and Syria. The royal artists founded a new artistic school, characterized by the abandonment of convention and a turning to nature (because it showed the power of the sun).
Ikhnaton's fanaticism was his undoing. He defaced every monument carved with the name of Amon, previously the greatest god of Egypt. The Aton cult died with Ikhnaton because the sentiments of the priesthood and the people were outraged by his destruction of their traditions and by his terror-filled reign. After his death, his mummy was destroyed and most references to him were removed from temples and palaces. Ikhnaton's religious zeal also lost Egypt the empire, because he had seriously neglected the provinces. As a result, his successors, Sakere and Tutankhamen, received—instead of an empire including Nubia and Syria—only Egypt and some of the upper valley. There is a theory that Ikhnaton was coregent with his father, Amenhotep III, during the crucial years of change, but the question remains as yet unsolved. Of the many artistic achievements of the era of Ikhnaton, perhaps the most familiar today is the bust of his wife, Nefertiti.
See biographies by D. B. Redford (1984), C. Aldred (1988), and N. Reeves (2001).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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