Amenhotep III (1390 - 1352 BC )
Akhenaten (1352 - 1336 BC )
Amenhotep III (right) was an 18th dynasty king who ruled at a time when Egypt was at the peak of her glory. He lived a life of pleasure, building huge temples and statues, but unlike his predecessors, encouraged realism in art. A rarity among Egyptian kings, he married Tiyi, (below) a non-royal. Most royal marriages were not ordinarily love matches they were normally a politically motivated. But there is evidence of Amenhotep’s genuine regard for Tiyi. It is recorded that, in her Town of T’aru he made for her a lake 3600 cubits long by 600 cubits wide. He then held a festival on this lake with himself and Tiyi sailing a boat called the ‘Disk of Beauties’.
One of Amenhotep’s greatest surviving achievements is the Temple of Luxor on the east bank of the river. Unfortunately, his mortuary temple on the west bank, the largest of its kind ever built, was destroyed when Rameses II used it as a quarry for his own temple. Only the two colossal statues that stood at the entrance survive.
His son Akhenaten was an even more unusual character. He was an intellectual and philosophical revolutionary who had the power and wealth to indulge his ideas. He tried to change the Egyptian people to a concept of godhead which was both monotheistic and abstract. He worshiped the sun (Aten) as the one true god and it is possible that the Hebrew prophets' concept of a universal God was derived in part from this cult.
However, the ancient Egyptians were a deeply religious people who loved their ancient traditions and were not ready to embrace such radical changes. It would not be until the Christian era that the Egyptians would finally reject the old gods in favor of a single universal deity
Akhenaten (right) also introduced an entirely new and more intimate form of expression into Egyptian art. Among the surviving works of this period are the colossal statues of Akhenaten, the paintings from his private residence, the bust of his wife, Nefertiti and his mother Queen Tiyi. These works are unique in Egyptian art; they do not flatter the king and his family but reveal the real people in all their beauty and decay. They demonstrate a sophistication and creative freedom which was certainly revolutionary in their time.
However, this artistic renaissance was short lived; Akhenaten made himself unpopular by closing the temples and his lack of enthusiasm for the practical duties of kingship was to the detriment of Egypt's Imperial interests. Towards the end of Akhenaten’s reign, senior court officials like the civil servant Ay and the commander of the army Horemheb realized that the empire, and indeed Egyptian society, was disintegrating.
Soon after Akhenaten’s death his son Tutankhaten, as he was then called, was crowned at Mamphis. He was only nine years old at the time, and had few close relatives left. His wife, Ankhesenpaaten, was older, and he was probably the political puppet of Ay and Horemheb. Under their tutelage, he changed his name to Tutankhamun; restored Amenhotep III’s Theban palace; issued a decree restoring the temples, images, and privileges of the old gods; and admitted the errors of Akhenaten’s political and religious policies.
Tutankhamun (left) died in his ninth year as pharaoh. He was eighteen, and modern medical analysis of his mummy shows that he may have received a blow to the head—but we can only speculate as to whether he was murdered or the victim of an accident such as a fall from his chariot.
It was a sad end for a family that produced such a great cast of characters: king Hatshepsut, who was actually a woman dressed in men clothes; Thutmose III, the Napoleon of Egypt; Thutmose IV, the young man who dreamt of the sphinx and became king; and Amenhotep III, the Magnificent.
Imenmes (etching) and Lady Depet (etching)