Aten, Akhenaten and Monotheism, and the relation between Egypt and Mitanni

Aten (also Aton, Egyptian jtn) is the disk of the sun in ancient Egyptian mythology, and originally an aspect of Ra. The deified Aten is the focus of the monolatristic, henotheistic, or monotheistic religion of Atenism established by Amenhotep IV, who later took the name Akhenaten in worship and recognition of Aten. In his poem “Great Hymn to the Aten”, Akhenaten praises Aten as the creator, and giver of life. The worship of Aten was eradicated by Horemheb.

The Aten, the sun-disk, is first referred to as a deity in The Story of Sinuhe, a narrative set in the aftermath of the death of Pharaoh Amenemhat I, founder of the 12th dynasty of Egypt, in the early 20th century BC., in which the deceased king is described as rising as god to the heavens and uniting with the sun-disk, the divine body merging with its maker. By analogy, the term “silver aten” was sometimes used to refer to the moon.

The solar Aten was extensively worshipped as a god in the reign of Amenhotep III (1386 to 1349 BC.), when it was depicted as a falcon-headed man much like Ra. In the reign of Amenhotep III’s successor, Amenhotep IV, the Aten became the central god of Egyptian state religion, and Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten to reflect his close link with the new supreme deity.

The full title of Akhenaten’s god was “Ra-Horakhty who rejoices in the horizon, in his Name as the Light which is in the sun disc.” (This is the title of the god as it appears on the numerous stelae which were placed to mark the boundaries of Akhenaten’s new capital at Akhetaten, modern Amarna.)

This lengthy name was often shortened to Ra-Horus-Aten or just Aten in many texts, but the god of Akhenaten raised to supremacy is considered a synthesis of very ancient gods viewed in a new and different way.

The god is also considered to be both masculine and feminine simultaneously. All creation was thought to emanate from the god and to exist within the god. In particular, the god was not depicted in anthropomorphic (human) form, but as rays of light extending from the sun’s disk.

Furthermore, the god’s name came to be written within a cartouche, along with the titles normally given to a Pharaoh, another break with ancient tradition.

Ra-Horus, more usually referred to as Ra-Horakhty (Ra, who is Horus of the two horizons), is a synthesis of two other gods, both of which are attested from very early on.

During the Amarna period, this synthesis was seen as the invisible source of energy of the sun god, of which the visible manifestation was the Aten, the solar disk. Thus Ra-Horus-Aten was a development of old ideas which came gradually.

The real change, as some see it, was the apparent abandonment of all other gods, especially Amun, and the debatable introduction of monotheism by Akhenaten.

The syncretism is readily apparent in the Great Hymn to the Aten in which Re-Herakhty, Shu and Aten are merged into the creator god. Others see Akhenaten as a practitioner of an Aten monolatry, as he did not actively deny the existence of other gods; he simply refrained from worshipping any but the Aten.

During the Amarna Period, the Aten was given a Royal Titulary (as he was considered to be king of all), with his names drawn in a cartouche.

There were two forms of this title, the first had the names of other gods, and the second later one which was more ‘singular’ and referred only to the Aten himself. The early form has Re-Horakhti who rejoices in the Horizon, in his name Shu which is the Aten. The later form has Re, ruler of the two horizons who rejoices in the Horizon, in his name of light which is the Aten.

High relief and low relief illustrations of the Aten show it with a curved surface (see for example the photograph illustrating this article), therefore, the late scholar Hugh Nibley insisted that a more correct translation would be globe, orb or sphere, rather than disk. The three-dimensional spherical shape of the Aten is even more evident when such reliefs are viewed in person, rather than merely in photographs.

There is a possibility that Aten’s three-dimensional spherical shape depicts an eye of Horus/Ra. In the other early monotheistic religion Zoroastrianism the sun is called Ahura Mazda’s eye. These two theories are compatible with each other, since an eye is an orb.

Relations to Mitanni

Reality queen Kim Kardashian (Armenia), and a relic of Queen Nefertiti, wife of the Pharaoh Akhnaten.

Mitanni and Egypt

Urartu / Armenia


Taking into account his unusual name and features, some Egyptologists believe that Yuya was of foreign origin, although this is far from certain. There seems to be that Yuya had some Mitannian ancestry; this argument is based on the fact that the knowledge of horses and chariotry was introduced into Egypt from Asia and Yuya was the king’s “Master of the Horse.”

It was also suggested that Yuya was the brother of queen Mutemwiya, who was the mother of Pharaoh Amenhotep III and may have had Mitannian royal origins. However, this hypothesis can not be substantiated, since nothing is known of Mutemwiya’s background.

While Yuya lived in Upper Egypt, an area that was predominantly native Egyptian, he could have been an assimilated descendant of Asiatic immigrants or slaves who rose to become a member of the local nobility at Akhmin. If he was not a foreigner, however, then Yuya would have been the native Egyptian whose daughter was married to Amenhotep III. Yuya is believed to have died around 1374BC in his mid 50s.

Tiye (c. 1398 BC – 1338 BC, also spelled Taia, Tiy and Tiyi) was the daughter of Yuya and Tjuyu (also spelled Thuyu). She became the Great Royal Wife of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III. She is the mother of Akhenaten and grandmother of Tutankhamun. Her mummy was identified as The Elder Lady found in the Tomb of Amenhotep II (KV35) in 2010.

Tiye wielded a great deal of power during both her husband’s and son’s reigns. Amenhotep III became a fine sportsman, a lover of outdoor life, and a great statesman. He often had to consider claims for Egypt’s gold and requests for his royal daughters in marriage from foreign kings such as Tushratta of Mitanni and Kadashman-Enlil I of Babylon. The royal lineage was carried by the women of Ancient Egypt and marriage to one would have been a path to the throne for their progeny.

Tiye became her husband’s trusted adviser and confidant. Being wise, intelligent, strong, and fierce, she was able to gain the respect of foreign dignitaries. Foreign leaders were willing to deal directly through her. She continued to play an active role in foreign relations and was the first Egyptian queen to have her name recorded on official acts.

Tiye may have continued to advise her son, Akhenaten, when he took the throne. Her son’s correspondence with Tushratta, the king of Mitanni, speaks highly of the political influence she wielded at court. In Amarna letter EA 26, Tushratta, king to Mitanni, corresponded directly with Tiye to reminisce about the good relations he enjoyed with her then deceased husband and extended his wish to continue on friendly terms with her son, Akhenaten.

Amenhotep III died in Year 38 or Year 39 of his reign (1353 BC/1350 BC) and was buried in the Valley of the Kings in WV22; however, Tiye is known to have outlived him for as many as twelve years.

Tiye is believed to have been originally buried in Akhenaten’s royal tomb at Amarna alongside her son and granddaughter, Meketaten, the second daughter born to Akhenaten and Nefertiti, as a fragment from the tomb not long ago was identified as being from her sarcophagus. Her gilded burial shrine (showing her with Akhenaten) ended up in KV55 while shabtis belonging to her were found in Amenhotep III’s WV22 tomb.

Nefertiti, Egyptian, original pronunciation approximately Nafteta, for (“the beauty has come”). Nefertiti’s parentage is not known with certainty, but one often cited theory is that she was the daughter of Ay, later to be pharaoh. Scenes in the tombs of the nobles in Amarna mention the queen’s sister who is named Mutbenret (previously read as Mutnodjemet). Another theory that gained some support identified Nefertiti with the Mitanni princess Tadukhipa.

Tadukhipa, in the Hurrian language Tadu-Hepa, was the daughter of Tushratta, king of Mitanni (reigned ca. 1382 BC–1342 BC) and his queen, Juni and niece of Artashumara. Tadukhipa’s aunt Gilukhipa, or more probable Kilu-Hepa in Hurrian language, in the Egyptian language Kirgipa, was the daughter of Shuttarna II, king of Mitanni, had married Pharaoh Amenhotep III in his 10th regnal year. Tadukhipa was to marry Amenhotep III more than two decades later.

Gilukhipa was the sister of Tushratta (later King of Mitanni), Biria-Waza and Artashumara. For political reasons, Gilukhipa was sent to Egypt to join Amenhotep III in marriage. Gilukhipa became known as the “Secondary King’s Wife,” meaning she was secondary to Amenhotep III’s chief wife, Queen Tiye.

The Egyptian pharaoh made a special issue of commemorative scarabs on the occasion of his marriage to Gilukhipa in his 10th regnal year, where he recorded that the princess was escorted by 317 ladies-in-waiting, women from the Mitanni king’s royal palace.

Relatively little is known about Tadukhipa. Some scholars tentatively identify Tadukhipa with Kiya, a queen of Akhenaten. It has been suggested that the story of Kiya may be the source for the New Kingdom story called the Tale of Two Brothers. This fable tells the story of how the pharaoh fell in love with a beautiful foreign woman after smelling her hair. If Tadukhipa was later known as Kiya, then she would have lived at Amarna where she had her own sunshade and was depicted with the pharaoh and at least one daughter.

Others such as Petrie, Drioton and Vandier have suggested that Tadukhipa was given a new name after becoming the consort of Akhenaten and is to be identified the famous queen Nefertiti. This theory suggests that Nefertiti’s name “the beautiful one has come” refers to Nefertiti’s foreign origin as Tadukhipa. Seele, Meyer and others have pointed out that Tey, wife of Ay, held the title of nurse to Nefertiti, and that this argues against this identification. A mature princess arriving in Egypt would not need a nurse.

Kiya was one of the wives of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten. Little is known about her, and her actions and roles are poorly documented in the historical record, in contrast to those of Akhenaten’s first (and chief) royal wife, Nefertiti. Her unusual name suggests that she may originally have been a Mitanni princess.

Surviving evidence demonstrates that Kiya was an important figure at Akhenaten’s court during the middle years of his reign, when she bore him a daughter. She disappears from history a few years before her royal husband’s death.

The name Kiya itself is cause for debate. It has been suggested that it is a “pet” form, rather than a full name, and as such could be a contraction of a foreign name, such as the Mitanni name “Tadukhipa,” referring to the daughter of King Tushratta. Tadukhipa married Amenhotep III at the very end of his reign, and the Amarna Letters indicate that she was a nubile young woman at that time.

In particular, Amarna Letters 27 through 29 confirm that Tadukhipa became one of Akhenaten’s wives. Thus some Egyptologists have proposed that Tadukhipa and Kiya might be the same person.

Kiya disappears from history during the last third of Akhenaten’s reign. Her name and images were erased from monuments and replaced by those of Akhenaten’s daughters. The exact year of her disappearance is unknown, with recent authorities suggesting dates that range from Year 11 or 12 to Year 16 of Akhenaten.

One of the last datable instances of her name is a wine docket from Amarna that mentions Akhenaten’s Year 11, indicating that Kiya’s estate produced a vintage in that year. Whether she died, was exiled, or suffered some other misfortune, Egyptologists have often interpreted the erasure of her name as a sign of disgrace.

Various scenarios have been advanced to explain Kiya’s disappearance. Having suggested that Kiya was the mother of Tutankhamun, Nicholas Reeves writes that “it is not beyond the realm of possibility that she fell from grace in a coup engineered by the jealous Nefertiti herself.”

Having argued that Kiya was Tadukhipa, daughter of the King of Mitanni, Marc Gabolde suggests that she “paid the price” for a deterioration in the alliance between Egypt and Mitanni and was sent back home.

Some have speculated that the mummy known as The Younger Lady, discovered in KV35, might be that of Kiya. According to Joann Fletcher (who controversially identified the mummy as Nefertiti) a Nubian-style wig was found near the mummy. This style was also associated with Kiya.

DNA test results published in February 2010 have shown conclusively that the Younger Lady mummy was the mother of Tutankhamun, and by extension a wife of Akhenaten. The results also show that she was a full sister to her husband, and that they were both the children of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye.

This family relationship rules out the possibility that the Younger Lady was Kiya, because no known artifact accords Kiya the title or attribute “god’s daughter.” For similar reasons Nefertiti is also ruled out.

The report concludes that either Nebetah or Beketaten, younger daughters of Amenhotep III who are not known to have married their father, are the most likely candidates for the identity of the Younger Lady mummy.

Ay is usually believed to be a native Egyptian from Akhmim. During his short reign, he built a rock cut chapel in Akhmim and dedicated it to the local deity there: Min.

Ay may have been the son of Yuya, who served as a member of the priesthood of Min at Akhmin as well as superintendent of herds in this city, and wife Tjuyu. If so, Ay could have been of partial non-Egyptian, perhaps Syrian blood since the name Yuya was uncommon in Egypt and is suggestive of a foreign background.

Yuya was an influential nobleman at the royal court of Amenhotep III who was given the rare privilege of having a tomb built for his use in the royal Valley of the Kings presumably because he was the father of Tiye, Amenhotep’s chief Queen.

There are also noted similarities in the physical likenesses of monuments attributed to Ay and those of the mummy of Yuya, and both held similar names and titles.


The Hyksos or Hycsos were a people from West Asia who took over the eastern Nile Delta, ending the Thirteenth dynasty of Egypt and initiating the Second Intermediate Period. The Mitannians, who were probably allies of the Kassites, had horses and chariots, and the horse appeared in Egypt during the Hyksos era. Perhaps the successful invasion of the Hyksos was due to the use of cavalry.

The origin of the term “Hyksos” derives from the Egyptian expression hekau en khaswet (“rulers of foreign lands”), used in Egyptian texts such as the Turin King List to describe the rulers of neighbouring lands. This expression begins to appear as early as the late Old Kingdom in Egypt, referring to various Nubian chieftains, and in the Middle Kingdom, referring to the Semitic chieftains of Syria and Canaan.

The Hyksos first appeared in Egypt c.1800 BC, during the Eleventh Dynasty, and began their climb to power in the Thirteenth Dynasty, coming out of the second intermediate period in control of Avaris and the Delta. By the Fifteenth Dynasty, they ruled Lower Egypt, and at the end of the Seventeenth Dynasty, they were expelled (c. 1560 BC).

The Hyksos practiced horse burials, and their chief deity, their native storm god, became associated with the Egyptian storm and desert god, Seth. Although most Hyksos names seem Semitic, the Hyksos also included Hurrians, who, while speaking an isolated language, were under the rule and influence of Indo-Europeans.

Modern scholarship usually assumes that the Hyksos were likely Semites who came from the Levant. Kamose, the last king of the Theban 17th Dynasty, refers to Apophis as a “Chieftain of Retjenu (i.e., Canaan)” in a stela that implies a Semitic Canaanite background for this Hyksos king: this is the strongest evidence for a Canaanite background for the Hyksos.

Khyan’s name “has generally been interpreted as Amorite “Hayanu” (reading h-ya-a-n) which the Egyptian form represents perfectly, and this is in all likelihood the correct interpretation.” Kim Ryholt furthermore observes the name Hayanu is recorded in the Assyrian king-lists for a “remote ancestor” of Shamshi-Adad I (c. 1813 BC) of Assyria, which suggests that it had been used for centuries prior to Khyan’s own reign.

The Hyksos brought several technical improvements to Egypt, as well as cultural impulses such as new musical instruments and foreign loan words. The changes introduced include new techniques of bronze working and pottery, new breeds of animals, and new crops. In warfare, they introduced the horse and chariot, the composite bow, improved battle axes, and advanced fortification techniques.

As to a Hyksos “conquest”, some archaeologists depict the Hyksos as “northern hordes . . . sweeping through Canaan and Egypt in swift chariots”. Yet, others refer to a ‘creeping conquest’, that is, a gradual infiltration of migrating nomads or seminomads who either slowly took over control of the country piecemeal or by a swift coup d’etat put themselves at the head of the existing government. In The World of the Past (1963, p. 444), archeologist Jacquetta Hawkes states: “It is no longer thought that the Hyksos rulers… represent the invasion of a conquering horde of Asiatics… they were wandering groups of Semites who had long come to Egypt for trade and other peaceful purposes.”

In his Against Apion, the 1st-century AD historian Josephus Flavius debates the synchronism between the Biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, and two Exodus-like events that the Egyptian historian Manetho apparently mentions.

It is difficult to distinguish between what Manetho himself recounted, and how Josephus or Apion interpret him. Josephus identifies the Israelite Exodus with the first exodus mentioned by Manetho, when some 480,000 Hyksos left Egypt for Jerusalem. The mention of “Hyksos” identifies this first exodus with the Hyksos period (16th century BC).


Crete: the Egyptian island of the dead?

A palace complex in Tel ed-Daba (Avaris), an area on the western edge of the site, known as Ezbet Helmi, reveal a large palace-like structure dating to the Hyksos period (18th century BC). The ancient gardens reveal many fragments of Minoan wall-paintings, similar in style to those found in the palace at Knossos in Crete. Knossos-like paintings has also been found in the tombs of the necropolis of Thebes West.

It has been suggested that the Avaris paintings with a distinctive red-painted background may even pre-date those of Crete and Thera and possibly have influenced some of the 18th Dynasty tomb paintings that appear to include Minoan themes such as the “flying gallop” motif of horses and bulls.

In the 18th Dynasty strata of Ezbet Helmi, Dr Bietak also discovered many lumps of pumice-stone, which could have come from the volcanic explosion on the island of Thera, occurring in the 15th century BC and identified as the cataclysmic event that ended the Minoan civilisation.

The Hyksos, who ruled from Avaris, ruled shortly before the 18th Dynasty, which saw the exchange of Egyptian and Cretan “goods”. The Hyksos were connected with Crete, at a time when the Avaris frescos had not yet been discovered.

In Knossos, an alabaster lid with the name of the Hyksos king Khyan has been found. The enigmatic Phaistos Disc, found in the palace of Phaistos on Crete, might also be linked with the Egyptian game of Senet and Snake Game. H. Peter Aleff argues that the depictions are not a script, but are related to the signs of the board game. Senet was a popular pastime in ancient Egypt from late pre-dynastic times on and is well documented because it became an important part of the funerary magic and then evolved into today’s Backgammon.

Its pieces simulated the passage of the player through life and, even more importantly, through death and its perils. The oldest surviving copy of any known board game is the Snake Game. It helped at least one king in the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts to ascend to heaven and so seems to have represented the same journey, except that its path was not folded, as in Senet, but coiled into the spiral of a snake’s rolled-up body. On one of its sculpted stone boards, the tail of the snake ended in the head of a goose.

During the Middle Kingdom (1500 BC), the dead in Egypt were buried in valleys – the same practice was adhered to in Crete, with one of the more famous Valley of the Dead behind the Palace of Kato Zakros. Namewise, Zakros is similar to Saqqara and Sokar, an important necropolis and god of the dead in ancient Egypt.

Interestingly, the ancient Egyptians argued that the dead went to live on an island in the West. Crete is an island in the west. Furthermore, the concentration of Minoan civilisation is in Eastern Crete – the part closest to Egypt.

The Hyksos period coincides exactly with the time between the Old and New Palace Period on Crete. When the Hyksos invaded Egypt, the old palaces were destroyed, probably by an earthquake. Did the Hyksos (partly) come from Crete? Or did the Hyksos, once out of grace and power in Egypt, travel to Crete, to continue their culture there?

The right answer will have a lot to do with correct dating and many have argued that the chronological alignment of the various cultures in the Eastern Mediterranean has not been a complete success. Only the future will shed more light on the interrelationship between Egypt and Crete, but it can no longer be denied that the two civilisations had intimate contacts with one another.

Linear A and B are two scripts found on the island of Crete. The newer Linear B turned out to be Greek. Linear A shows a connection between Minoan Crete and the Hyksos. Linear A is Semitic, related to the languages of Ugarit and Alalach in Syria.

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