• James E Aarons DVM

Amarna: The City of Akhenaten and Nefertiti


Amarna, Akhenaten’s Capital

In Amarna, Egypt, Pharaoh Akhenaten and his great wife, Nefertiti waited with Pahhanate, the commissioner of Canaan and Amurru for the scribe to unwrap the latest tablet from Gubla. Akhenaten was a handsome king, a bit over six feet tall. The dark-skinned ruler had curly black hair and a long, slender face, with flashing dark brown eyes. He knew all about Gubla's mayor, Rib-Hadda, whose name came up often in Amenhotep III, Akhenaten's father’s court.

But Akhenaten didn’t understand the urgency the mayor felt. So long as trade continued to flow, a small distant skirmish was not significant. It took a lot of money and promises to get the army on the road.​

However, the question of Pharaoh’s ultimate authority was indeed becoming an issue. When he rose to power, Akhenaten destroyed all Egyptian gods except one. Now only Aten, the sun god mattered. Akhenaten ordered the names of all the others removed from walls, tombs, and monuments, severely angering the right wing of his constituency because his New Age theocracy put the priests of Amun out of work, and they were complaining mightily. Now, Akhenaten found himself embroiled in domestic power issues. Things worsened as time went on and the pharaoh developed frailties of old age.

“Frankly, I’m glad Gubla isn’t within shouting distance,” the Pharaoh complained to Pahhanate. “How many tablets do we have now from Gubla? Thirty? Forty?” He asked the scribe.

“Fifty-six.”

“Fifty-six, wow! Send, this message back right away.” Pharaoh dictated to his scribe.

"'You are the one who writes to me more than all the other mayors. What you do not comprehend is the Egyptian King will not organize and dispatch an entire army north to preserve the political status quo of your minor city on the fringe of His kingdom.”

Akhenaten paused. “Did you get it all?” He asked.

The scribe nodded.

“Send it off when you’re done. Rib-Hadda is not important enough to worry about.” That was it, end of discussion.

Next, Akhenaten directed his ire onto Pahhanate, instructing the scribe to another tablet. “Read us Rib-Hadda’s report on Simyra,” the pharaoh directed.

“Why did you hold back and not speak to the king? He would have sent archers to recapture Simyra.”

“Rib-Hadda also reports Abdi’aširta has broken into your house, and slept in your bed, Pahhanate!” Pharaoh exploded. “And he has broken into the royal treasury. You should not have left.”

“It was time for my reports, sire. Abdi’aširta is destabilizing the region. Rib-Hadda is correct. We need to send troops. I will send a letter to Abdi’aširta and return at once.”

Pharaoh focused on his next problem.

Currently, Akhenaten was in dispute with his foreign brother-in-law, Tušratta, the King of Mitanni, and a smooth relationship was crucial right now. Both Tušratta’s and Akhenaten’s empires were being threatened by the Hittites. The Hittite leader, King Šuppiluliuma was pushing into Mitanni’s western border along the Euphrates River and on Egypt’s northern border into Syria, where Byblos was located.

Pharaoh felt his age in his bones. His muscles tired quicker, and his joints complained louder than ever. Now he worried he had created his own misery. Each line of kings before him adopted one deity as the royal patron and supreme god, but other gods were also recognized and worshiped. When Akhenaten installed Aten as his god, he was the first pharaoh to exclude other deities in his pantheon, insisting Aten was the only God of Egypt. Yet, Pharaoh went further. By changing his name from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten, he finalized this installation by declaring himself the son of God; Akhenaten literally; means the son of Aten.

Now Pharaoh needed help with bodily insufficiencies and Aten didn’t give a damn about Akhenaten’s arthritis, or obesity, or his inability to achieve an erection. Placing himself as the sole intermediary between Aten and the Egyptian people Akhenaten exiled gods who may have been able to help.

When Akhenaten diminished the old priesthoods, he lost the support of the Amun priests, and when he kicked the Amun priests out, they took Osiris and Isis as well as a plethora of helpful spirits. Unless Akhenaten reversed his dismissive attitude toward the Amun priesthood, none of the gods of the traditional Egyptian pantheon could be called on to help the aging king. Akhenaten needed to look elsewhere for gods or Goddesses of healing.

Pharaoh asked his beautiful consort, Nefertiti, the Great Royal Wife about the Goddess Ištar. Nefertiti was born in Akhmim, a city on the Nile known for exceptional horses. With their horses, Nefertiti’s descendants migrated to Egypt from Syria generations earlier, and their excellent horsemanship soon elevated these foreigners into Egyptian nobility. Being of Syrian descent, Nefertiti knew much of Ištar.

“Ištar is the Goddess of fertility and war,” she told Akhenaten. “She has ruled the Mitanni kingdom for a thousand years, and she is respected by the Egyptians. Your father, Amenhotep III, asked King Tušratta to send a statue of Ištar from Nineveh when he was ill. I will arrange this for you as well if you wish.”

It was a hard thing for Akhenaten to say yes to. Although their countries were intertwined through royal marriages, Akhenaten felt Tušratta was frivolous, petty and generally irritating. Years ago, Tušratta sent his daughter Tadukhipa, to Egypt to marry Akhenaten's father and when he died Akhenaten inherited the wife. But the dowry Amenhotep III paid to Tušratta remained in dispute.

Feeling his frailties worsening Akhenaten pushed on. “What exactly was King Tušratta complaining about?” Pharaoh asked his scribe.

“He still wants more tribute for his daughter.”

“I don’t believe this! He thinks gold just grows like papyrus here in Egypt. What was it he wrote?”

“It says: ‘Gold is as dust in the land of my brother.'”

“Well, that’s not exactly correct. Now, what is his problem?”

“He does not like the statues your father sent him; they were gold plated, and he was expecting solid gold. Here, I will read you the portion: 'and about the gold that my brother sent. I gathered together all my foreign guests. My brother, before all of them, the gold that he sent has been cut open. And they wept very much saying, 'Are all of these, gold? They do not look like gold.’”

“Oh.” Akhenaten feigned surprise.

No one spoke.

“This is bullshit!” The Pharaoh exploded. Agitated, the king spewed black words, angrily pacing back and forth, wondering where this Tušratta fellow found the nerve to complain to him. “This is total stupidity! It doesn’t matter anyway. The only way he could have discovered this was to deface the statue, which is illegal! Does he not know he could be put to death for that? Tell him so, the idiot!”

“Umm, Sir.” The scribe hesitated. When he was angry, Pharaoh did not care who was on the receiving end of it, and this scribe was directly in firing range. “Tušratta maintains his daughter is too precious to exchange for gold-plated statues.

“I see. Well, ask Tušratta if he wants the woman back. I inherited her from father; she was not even given directly to me.” He paused a moment, not wanting to start a conflict over a mere concubine. “Go ahead, ask again, and find out what Tušratta wants.”

Akhenaten was becoming agitated. Egypt needed the Mitanni alliance, which meant dealing with this unreasonable family. Akhenaten never fancied Tušratta. “He’s an inexperienced fool. The whole family is falling apart. Yet, we are forced to deal with him, so placate him the best you can. Make sure he sends Ištar’s statue to me. I need her help, she oversees that region correct?”

“But Ishtar is already goddess over Gubla, as well as Nineveh and Lalish, dear husband,” Nefertiti offered, smoothing his ruffled demeanor. “I don’t feel divine intervention will be able to help Rib-Hadda, you need to contact Abdi’aširta.”

Akhenaten responded wryly with a twisted face. Shaking his head, he reviewed his position. Nefertiti persevered.

“Pull the tablet from Rib-Hadda regarding the Amurrites,” Nefertiti asked the scribe. Nodding, the scribe turned to his letter collection. It was a wooden box holding clay tablets an inch thick and five by nine inches wide and tall.

“I have two,” he smiled at the Queen. “The first tells of the places already under siege, and they are nearing Rib-Hadda’s Gubla.”

“Go on,” Nefertiti encouraged.

“Let the king give heed to the words of his servant: ‘The Habiru killed Aduna, the king of Irqata, but there was no-one who said anything to Abdi’aširta, and so they go on taking territory for themselves. Miya, the ruler of Arashni, seized Ardata, and just now the men of Ammiya have killed their lord. I am afraid!”

“Of what?” Akhenaten wondered.

“Abdi’aširta incites the locals to rise up against their Egyptian overlords,” the scribe continued. “After taking Shigata for himself, Abdi’aširta said to the men of Ammiya: ‘Kill your leader, and then you will be like us and at peace.’ They were won over, following his message, and they are like the Habiru.”

“And the second tablet?” Nefertiti asked.

“It is along the same line; another cry from Rib-Hadda for Egypt’s help your majesty,” the scribe said. “So now Abdi’aširta has written to the troops: ‘Assemble in the temple of Ninurta, and then let us fall upon Gubla. Look, there is no-one that will save it from us. Then let us drive out the mayors from the country that the entire country be joined to the Habiru . . . Should even so the king come out, the entire country will be against him, and what will he do to us?’ Accordingly, they have made an alliance among themselves and, accordingly, I am very, very afraid, since in fact there is no-one who will save me from them. Like a bird in a trap so I am in Gubla. Why have you neglected your country? I have written like this to the palace, but you do not heed my words.”

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