Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Mystery of Akhenaten

Why does it seem like the reign of the heretic pharaoh, Akhenaten, just falls apart after his Year 12 when he is supposed to have ruled for 17?   The tombs of the nobles stop being decorated and, oddly, in one of the later ones, that of Meryre II, a new king suddenly appears.  His name is Smenkhkare and he and his queen, Meritaten, are depicted right around the corner from the triumphant depiction of the Great Durbar of Year 12, where Akhenaten celebrates in style before envoys from foreign lands.  Beyond the unfinished scene of Smenkhkare, there is nothing more in the tomb of Meryre, either.  What happened?  I have a scenario that, while seemingly strange, can provide a solution to the mystery.  Here it is:
Akhenaten became co-regent with Amenhotep III at the time of the latter's heb sed in his Year 34. In Akhenaten's own Year 3 [although he is still called Amenhotep], he celebrates a mirror heb sed with his father, who currently observes the jubilee of Year 37. Amenhotep III dies sometime in his Year 38, the fourth year of Akhenaten. In fact, he [as Amenhotep] is attested in his Year 4 at the Wadi Hammamat. There, two short graffiti of the high Priest of Amun, May,[perhaps Ptahmose] mention him being sent for bxn stone for a statue. So the cult of Amun is still alive in Year 4 of Amenhotep IV but, in Year 5, he changes his name to the familiar one and moves to a new capital Akhetaten, now Tell el Amarna.
11 years pass there and the 12th has begun. The children of Akhenaten and Nefertiti are growing up and some have become young ladies. Nefertiti is still by the  side of her husband. But Akhenaten, unconventional as ever, does something unusual in his Year 17. He proclaims a great celebration of Year 12, the total of years that he, as king of Egypt, has devoted himself completely to the Aten and has lived in this center of the worship of the god.  And so that is the date we see in the tomb of Meryre II-- Year 12, II prt, day 8—that is, 12th Year, 5 months and 8 days.   It is really not the current date, but the day of the durbar of the celebrating of Year 12 at Akhetaten.  It is only a date for a single event. Like this one:  "Year 400, the fourth month of the season of Shomu, the fourth day of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Seth-Great-of-valor, son of Re whom he loves, Nubti, beloved by Re-Hor-akhty, may he live for ever."

Tellingly, Nefertiti is referred to, in the durbar scene, as Hmt nsw aAt, which is a title she does not adopt until late in her time, although it does not replace Hmt nsw wrt.
 In reality, it is Year 17 of the reign and  within the following months, everything falls apart.  Perhaps people begin to die there at Akhetaten from a sickness.  The Princess Meketaten also dies.  There may even have been a revolt against the king.  Perhaps a number of the citizens of Akhetaten leave, especially the ones with the means to do so.  Akhenaten, himself, dies or is deposed.  At any rate, a new king arises in that Year 17 of Akhenaten. Recently, an attestation of Nefertiti as the queen of Akhenaten in his Year 16  [while many believed she died earlier] has been announced.  That makes sense in light of this scenario.  Nefertiti was not only there in Year 16, but  in Year 17, too! 

Why were there winejar dockets with Year 17 partly erased and with a Year 1 surcharged?  That was probably because the wine had been placed into the jars in late summer when it ripened, in the 1st month of the first season, Akhet. That the vintage was marked "17" so early in the calendric year indicates, also, that Akhenaten had risen to the kingship coevil with his father's jubilee.  Amenhotep III seems to have inaugurated his first heb sed in the 10th month of the year, likely the month of his own accession.  And that could explain why the anniversary clock of Akhenaten had already turned by I Akhet [August at the time]--because he had become king in II Shomu.  For those who can't credit any of this or even a co-regency, Manetho has "Amenophis" reigning for 30 years and 10 months.  That may be short of the mark for Amenhotep III, but II Shomu still seems to be involved.

Scholars have been looking for orderly and sensible answers to the puzzles of the Amarna Era and they can't be blamed.  If Smenkhkare, the mystery king, suddenly seems to appear after the durbar, it is easier to assume he was made co-regent then.  On the other hand, Akhenaten was probably still quite a young man in his real Year 12 and it would seem odd that he had given up having a son of his own, already, by one of his wives.  A long gap in the decoration of the tomb of Meryre II is also not easily explained, if Smenkhkare succeeded in Year 17.  So, sometimes, oddities also must be entertained.  Because even kings do not always behave in a predictable fashion.