During the Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt was extremely prosperous and many nations paid tribute to the pharaoh. During the reign of Amenhotep III, Egypt was one of the most powerful nations of the time. This was a period of international contact and communication between Egypt and places like Ugarit, Palestine, Cyprus and Babylon, and letters were exchanged by rulers of these regions.
It is believed that his son, Amenhotep IV, ascended the throne around 1353 BCE. This, however, is not certain as some Egyptologists believe that he and his father ruled jointly for several years.
Amenhotep abandoned the worship of many gods (polytheism) in favour of one god only, the sun god Ra, as seen in the Aten, the sun-disc. In the fifth year of his reign Amenhotep changed his name to Akhenaten (Akhen-aten). He moved the capital of Egypt from Thebes to Akhetaten (the modern name of Akhetaten is Amarna) and banned the worship of all the other Egyptian gods, especially Amun. All the temples were closed. This new religion did not find favour with the priests of Amun or his subjects.
The priests were deeply disturbed, as they had enjoyed extreme prestige and power for many years. Perhaps Akhenaten wanted to curtail their power.
He did not just establish a new religion or cult – at the same time the static artistic styles also underwent a change. Instead of great battle scenes and captives, emphasis was placed on the royal family. They were portrayed in a more naturalistic and very affectionate way. The wife of Akhenaten, the lovely Nefertiti (nefer means ‘beautiful’), played a prominent part in the celebration of the cult and her name is mentioned in numerous inscriptions.
Akhenaten died in the seventeenth year of his reign and it is not clear who succeeded him. It is possible that it could have been Smenkhkare. He ruled for a very short time and was followed by Tutankamun, a young child, who abandoned the city of Akhetaten and the cult of the Aten along with his wife, Ankhsen-amun, daughter of Akhenaten. The city with its many houses, villas, artisans’ workshops, palaces and temples was only rediscovered in the 19th century.