Petrie Museum

5. Akhenaten and the rays of the sun god Aten

UCL Museums Top Ten Objects: Petrie Museum

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The Pharoah Akhenaten changed his name from Amenhotn ('may Amun be content') to mean 'one who is servicable to the Aten’ and came to the throne in  around 1353BC. He founded the palace-city of Amarna as a centre for his religious beliefs.

Akhenaten's religious reforms were not entirely new, but his exclusion of the cult of other deities marks a break with traditions. The Aten, or sun disc, was worshipped as the main deity. This is why he is sometimes referred to as the ‘heretic pharaoh’ and sometimes characterised as the ‘first individual in human history’.

This period is marked by dramatic changes in iconography around religious observance and the representation of the human body. Petrie called this 'a revolution in art, in religion and in ethics'. This block UC401 shows Akhenaten, his queen Nefertiti and daughter Merytaten worshipping the Aten. The delicate sculptural work and radical reshaping of the male and female bodies is also apparent in the statuette group UC004 found in the Amarna display case.

Akhenaten is one of the best known pharoahs, though very little in actual fact is known about him. For example, he inspired an opera in 1983 by Philip Glass based on texts from the Amarna period [].


Barry Kemp. 1989. Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization by Barry Kemp
Dominic Monserrat. 2000. Akhenaten: History, Fantasy and Ancient Egypt by
Nicholas Reeves. 2001. Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet



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