16 November 2009

Dynasties: The Egyptian Renaissance

By Jean Adams

There were 31 dynasties in ancient Egypt but the 18th Dynasty (1550-1292BC) is probably the most written about when it comes to fiction. It was the dynasty that gave us some of the most colourful pharaohs including Hatshepsut, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun.

I like to call it the Egyptian renaissance.

The founder of this dynasty was Ahmose I who is less well known than some but unquestionably of major importance to Egyptian history. During his reign Egypt was finally and completely liberated from the Hyksos. Various scholars attribute different dates to his reign, but he probably became ruler of Egypt around 1550 BC at 10 years old, and ruled for a period of about 25 years.

During his early reign, little was accomplished and perhaps the Hyksos may have even gained some ground, recapturing Heliopolis. By the end of his first decade in power, we know from a naval officer that he laid siege on Avaris. This was a long battle interrupted by the need to put down insurrections in already liberated territories. He later attacked the southwest Palestinian fortress of Sharuhen in a six year siege that would finally put an end to Hyksos control of Egypt.

Amunhotep I (Amenophis) was the son of Ahmose I and his queen Ahmose-Nefertari, and ruled from 1546 to 1526. He undertook military campaigns in Libya and Nubia using boats on the Nile to transport his army. He extended his empire by establishing a vice-royalty in Nubia.

Once on the throne, Amunhotep I had to defend Egypt's borders because the Libyans had taken the opportunity of Ahmose I's death to launch an invasion in Egypt's delta. He led an army to the Western border and defeated the Libyans and their allies. Next came a rebellion by Nubia. This time, he led an army to the southern border and quickly restored order. Amunhotep I had an interest in art and architecture and initiated elaborate building projects such as the Karnak temple complex at Karnak.

Amunhotep II was the seventh king of the 18th dynasty. He continued the military exploits of his father, particularly in Syria, where he crushed an uprising and demanded oaths of loyalty from local rulers.

A great sportsman, his greatest feat was shooting copper targets with arrows, while driving a chariot with the reins tied round his waist. Amunhotep II inherited a vast empire, which he did not intend to lose easily. Any rebellions were severely dealt with and a series of campaigns were made into Syria. Inscriptions detail how Amunhotep II sought to fight in hand-to-hand combat and led the Egyptian troops into battle with howls of rage. He is regarded as the most bloodthirsty pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty.

Not so Akhetaten, formerly Amunhotep IV, who together with queen Nefertiti and their six daughters fostered new styles in art and literature. The confiscation of the wealth of the Amun temples wreaked havoc on its priesthood. Akhenaten used these riches to strengthen royal control over the army and his officialdom. His concentration on internal affairs brought about the loss of some of the Egyptian possessions in Canaan and Syria and of the Egyptian naval dominance, when Aziru defected to the Hittites with his fleet.

Akhenaten's religious reforms didn't survive his reign and monotheism in its pure form was forgotten in Egypt, even though it found a new expression in the trinity of Re, Ptah and Amun. The Aten temples were demolished, and Akhenaten came to be called "the Enemy."

Tutankhamun (1361-1352 BC),the son-in-law of Akhenaten, succeeded his brother Smenkhkare when he was only nine years old. His vizier Ay restored the traditional polytheistic religion, abandoning the monotheistic cult of Akhenaten. He left el Amarna (Akhetaten) and returned to the capital Thebes. By reviving the state god Amun he strengthened the position of Amun's priesthood. The pharaoh changed his name Tutankhaten, (living image of Aten to Tutankhamun, (living image of Amun).

Jean Adams' latest novel, ETERNAL HEARTS, available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, is set in the 18th Dynasty, during the reign of Akhenaten. You can watch the book video here.