ARCENCPostings

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Tombs of high officials and courtiers at Tell el-Amarna during the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten (1)


http://www.osirisnet.net/tombes/amarna/tombes_amarna/e_tombes_amarna_01.htm

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This article describes a number of common characteristics of the rock tombs of the notables sited at Amarna, the ephemeral capital created by the "heretic" Pharaoh Akhenaten to venerate his one god, the Aten.
If you wish to learn more about the Amarna period, see Akhenaten and the religion of Aten.
If you are looking for one tomb in particular, see the list of Amarna tombs.

"[...] the tombs of the 'Great(s) of Seeing' and the 'Divine Fathers' of Aten, and the priests of Aten,... the tombs of the officers, shall be made in the Orient mountain of Akhetaten, and they shall be buried therein". So says Akhenaten on a border stele bearing the first decree founding the city of Akhetaten (Amarna).
 Despite this declaration of the sovereign, only about fifty tombs were started and only 24 have inscriptions (sometimes reduced to a few lines). None have been completed and only one served in a funeral (although again, one cannot be sure).

 These tombs are poorly known compared to those of Luxor, firstly because of the remoteness of the site in relation to major centres, secondly because of their unattractive character: the gray walls, often very damaged, have lost their colours and do not attract the eye. Yet they are very interesting monuments due to their originality and whose study is indispensible to understanding the Amarna period. Indeed, their architectural changes, quirks in representation and changes in the decorations allow us to penetrate the heart of the theological system created by Akhenaten who is at the centre. Not to mention that it is only here that all the hymns to Aten are to be found (Great Hymn and Small Hymns).

From a practical point of view, one must remember that the photographs available to us have the difficulty of being often dark or greenish tinted because of harsh lighting. We cannot provide better.

Why so few tombs?
We are reduced to theorising, because the short period of site occupation does not explain everything:
•  It is assumed (without being absolutely certain) that the privilege to create a tomb in his holy city was granted by Akhenaten himself, who perhaps has not given many such permissions.
•  A major obstacle was the low number of available artisans.





Saqqara, tomb of Horemheb
before his accession to the throne




•  Many officials exercised their office in Memphis (20 km from Cairo) - which has always remained the administrative capital of the country - and they have probably chosen the cemetery of this town, the site of Saqqara. Alain Zivie has found several tombs of the Amarna period, including those of the nurse of Tutankhamen, Maia and the Vizier Aper-el while Geoffrey Martin found the non royal tomb of Horemheb before his accession to the throne. In 2001, Maarten Raven discovered, among other tombs of the era, that of Meryneith alongside that of Horemheb; the former person changed his name from Meryre and moved to Amarna, where he began another tomb. Finally, he returned to Saqqara, resuming his name as Meryneith (view ch-7937) and continued the work in his first tomb ...
•  Notables coming from this province have certainly preferred to be buried in the familiar cemetery of their Nome rather than in this corner of the desert where their funerary cult had little chance of their being kept up.
•  It is likely that a number of officials were sceptical about the future of religious reforms introduced by Akhenaten and any long term survival of local burials.
•  Consideration should be given also to the remarks of Owen & Kemp: "It is a common view of the ancient Egyptians that preparing for death was an overriding priority, at least for their elite. But the way that they actually proceeded rather tempers this view. A fine tomb was not, in fact, made an absolute priority in the allocation of available resources, and the attempt to provide one was pursued with a good measure of wishful thinking."
It seems that, for many, a beautiful house was better than a good tomb! This is true at Amarna as the number of large mansions in the City far exceeds that of decorated tombs.

The Theban tombs dating from the first part of the reign
Before we consider the tombs on the site of Akhetaten (Amarna), we must remember that 'there are in Thebes (Luxor) some tombs dating back to the reign of Amenhotep IV-Akhenaten, when he still resided in the city of Amun: TT 55 (Ramose), TT 188 (Parennefer, who also has a tomb in Amarna), TT 192 (Kheruef), TT 46 (Ramose), TT 136 (Ipy), TT 28 (Amenhotep-Huy). Their study displays the transition between the traditional style and the Amarna style.

History

It was John Gardner Wilkinson, who in the 1820s was the first to notice the originality of the Amarna tombs. Then Robert Hay and Nestor L'Hote also copied some reliefs. The first significant publication was that of Karl Lepsius in his Denkmäler.
The standard publication on the Amarna tombs remains that of N. de Garis Davies, "The rock tombs of el-Amarna", published in six volumes in the early twentieth century. By this time, Davies had to rely on previous descriptions including those by Lepsius to restore areas that had meanwhile disappeared.
 These rock chapels have suffered due to the poor overall quality of the rock, wilful destruction in the post-Amarna period (persecution of the memory of Akhenaten), Coptic monks and modern looters, squatters and vandals.

Location

A- Akhetaten, the city of the Sun









The city of Akhenaten ("Akhet-Aten', "Horizon-of-the-Aton" or "Horizon-of-the-Solar-disk ") was created from nothing by the will of the pharaoh Akhenaten expressed in year 5 of his reign. It is located on the site of Tell el-Amarna, about halfway between Thebes (Luxor) and Memphis. The city was occupied for fifteen years before being abandoned and dismantled. It was occupied by from 20 to 40 000 people, and was built in a vast sandy and inhospitable semi-circle, not previously inhabited. It is bordered for the most part of its circumference by hundred metre high cliffs, which dominate a high desert plateau. There are 12 kms between the two furthest points, north and south, of the semi-circle where cliffs almost reach down to the Nile; the maximum distance between the river and the cliffs is about 5 km. These plateau and cliffs are interrupted here and there by dry valleys or wadis (river beds), one of which leads to the royal necropolis. South east, the plateau descends into an irregularly flat tongue of desert of about 3 km wide.

B- The tombs

The tombs of notables are excavated in the cliffs that encircle the city, "The great and venerable hill of Akhetaten"; "The mountain east of Akhetaten, the place of Maat". They are divided into two groups, north and south of the wadi leading to the royal necropolis. Each group represents the end point of a network of interconnected slopes with the city.
Davies thought that, based on the successive forms of the name of Aton, the tombs of the southern group were earlier than those of the northern group. However, this traditional criterion of dating is unreliable, and it appears that both sites were used simultaneously.
Authority to create a tomb was doubtless given by Akhenaten himself, but it is not known who selected the location of the concession, nor what criteria. Note that, besides the numbered graves, there are as many unnumbered: sometimes barely noted, we know nothing of their owners (view xx-0639).

1)- Tombs of the northern group (plan and view google-earth)









Located northeast of the city and near border stele V, they are divided into two groups separated by a wadi, tombs No. 1 and No. 2 in the north, and No. 3-6 south . They are at a height of 85 m carved out at the base of a vertical cliff overlooking a slope formed from rocky debris. Most were made with two rooms in succession, with a niche for the statue of the deceased at the end of the second room. These tombs were occupied by Christian monks, who have sometimes added rooms and who converted the large tomb, No. 6 Panhesy, into a church.

a)- Six tombs are numbered (only the main titles of the owners are mentioned here):

•  Tomb (TA) 01 : Huya is "Overseer of the Royal Harim and of the Treasuries, and Steward of the Great Royal Wife, Tiye".
•  Tomb (TA) 02 : Meryre (II) is "Royal scribe, Steward, Overseer of the Two Treasuries, Overseer of the Royal Harim of Nefertiti."
•  Tomb (TA) 03 : Ahmes is "True Scribe of the King, Fan-bearer on the King's Right Hand, Steward of the Estate of Akhenaten.".
•  Tomb (TA) 04 : Meryre is "High priest of the Aten in Akhetaten, Fanbearer on the Right Hand of the King". His case is very interesting, as we have seen, as he is probably the same person as Meryneith, owner of a tomb at Saqqara.
•  Tomb (TA) 05 : Penthu is "Royal scribe, First under the King, Chief servitor of the Aten in the Estate of the Aten in Akhetaten, chief of physicians".
•  Tomb (TA) 06 : Panehsy is "Chief servitor of the Aten in the temple of Aten in Akhetaten". So this is the High Priest of the Aten.

b)- The desert altars (view Amarna Project)

This term describes a group of three mud brick structures, aligned along the northern slope. Each consists of a platform which is accessed by a one or four ramp(s). Their function remains hypothetical, but it is likely that they are related to the funeral cult of some of the northern tomb group deceased which included two priests, Meryra (Tomb No. 4) and Panhesy (tomb No. 6). It is possible that the delivery ceremony of the tribute in year 12 was held here (see page 3).

2)- Tombes of the southern group









This is the largest group, with 19 numbered tombs.
 They were excavated in a series of low cliffs to the south and east of the city (view sb, view ls-1230865) in a very poor quality rock. Their entry, usually at a lower level (view mm_087), is regularly silted up. Their plan is more diverse than that of the northern group tombs, but they are less impressive.

 The most important are:
•  Tomb (TA) 07 : Parennefer, is "Royal craftsman, Washer of hands of His Majesty". This is the only person we are sure had already started a tomb in Thebes (TT 188), which he abandoned to begin another in Amarna.
•  Tomb (TA) 08 : Tutu is "Chamberlain, Chief servitor of Neferkheperura-waenra (the King) in...(damaged text)... of the Temple of the Aten in Akhetaten, Overseer of all works of His Majesty, Overseer of silver and gold of the Lord of the Two Lands".
•  Tomb (TA) 09 : Mahu is "Chief of police of Akhetaten".
•  Tomb (TA) 10 : Ipy is "Royal scribe, Steward".
•  Tomb (TA) 11 : Ramose is "Royal scribe, Commander of troops of the Lord of the Two Lands, Steward of Nebmaatra (Amenhotep III)".
•  Tomb (TA) 12 : Nakhtpaaten is "Prince, Chancellor, Vizier.".
•  Tomb (TA) 13 : Neferkheperu-her-sekheper is "Mayor of Akhetaten".
•  Tomb (TA) 14 : May est "Fan-bearer on the right hand of the King, Royal scribe, scribe of recruits, Steward of the house of Sehetep-Aten, Steward of the house of Waenra in Heliopolis, Overseer of cattle of the estate of Ra in Heliopolis, Overseer of all the works of the King, General of the Lord of the Two Lands".
•  Tomb (TA) 15 : Suti is "Standard-bearer of the guild of Neferkheperura (Akhenaten)".
•  Tomb (TA) 16 : It has no decoration and thus no indication as to who owned it. Nonetheless it contains a handsome and finely carved columned hall brought almost to completion.
•  Tomb (TA) 19 : Setau is "Overseer of the treasury of the Lord of the Two Lands".
•  Tomb (TA) 23 : Any is "Royal scribe, Scribe of the offering-table of the Aten,Steward of the estate of Aakheperura (Amenhetep II)" .
•  Tomb (TA) 24 : Paatenemheb is "Royal scribe, Overseer of soldiery of the Lord of the Two Lands, Steward of the Lord of the Two Lands".
•  Tomb (TA) 25 : Ay is "God's father, Fan-bearer on the right hand of the King, Overseer of horses of His Majesty". It is he who will succeed Tutankhamun and whose reign will end the "Amarna period".

The architecture and the work in the tomb

1) Architecture

1) The typical rock chapel of the eighteenth dynasty comprises of two separate sets of parts connected by one or more passage(s), overall with an inverted T shape. The outer part forms the crossbar of the T while the inner part forms a longitudinal bar.






Cornice neck - tomb of Ay




The plan of Amarna tombs moves away from this classic pattern. There is no standard model, but it seems that, ideally, parts of the chapel must contain columns, transforming the space into a veritable small temple, sometimes very impressive (view xx-0498). The fluted columns are complex and finish up as architraves, sometimes coupled with a ledge 'neck'. These cornices are also found in the door frames, which were designed to be monumental, such as in the tomb of Ay. With these tombs, temples are found a continuation of a trend initiated shortly before Thebes (the tomb of Ramose TT 55, is a good example). In practice, the graves vary in their dimensions, their plan, the presence or absence of columns ...





Any-niche
and statue




According to Arp, the size of the tomb, or the existence of a columned hall, are not related to the importance or number of titles of the owner, but with the location of the tomb and the quality of the rock. Thus the general Ramose, who lived in one of the largest mansions in Akhetaten, has only a modest tomb, no 11.  An important element of the Amarna tomb is the niche, which is upon the axis of the entrance at the back of the chapel, so in the east as the entrance is to the west; the best preserved is that of the tomb of Any. His is an 'engaged' statue (= directly carved into the rock) of the deceased receiving the offerings of his family members.

 No tomb was completely finished, it has been said. The first priority of the owners was to finish - more or less completely - the entrance and the first room. The second priority was to decorate the walls of the niche with funeral themes.

 Underground structures are sometimes funerary pits, sometimes stairs (view cb-2803), which are found most often in the first room. None is complete.

2) Work in the tomb

Sseveral separate types of trades occur on the site. They do not work as teams, but are detached from a common pool without coordination.






Work in the tomb of Ay




Quarrymen start the work. They begin the first part working at ceiling level, and then they cut out the stone downwards, almost to the level of the future floor. This is precision work because it requires them from the beginning to have an overview of the room and mentally to leave enough surplus rock to allow for the finer work that follows. At this stage the rock fissures are filled with plaster already.
Then follows another team of stonemasons, who refine the work of the Quarrymen to reduce the diameter of the columns to that they will have at the end of the work.
A third team provides the final proportions, the most important work since it provides the final appearance. Chisel marks are removed by abrasion and by using plaster coating.





Painted sketch - tomb of May




Plasterers The plaster must cover all surfaces other than the floor. These two teams employ highly skilled workers who can work "by eye".
Then come the artists, who sketch the scenes and hieroglyphics to be painted in black ink. A master artist then made the corrections in red ink. some of these sketched scenes still remain, for example in the tomb of May.
Next engravers come in to work. They carve scenes and texts in the plaster and sometimes in the underlying limestone. Their role is primarily to give permanent shape and contours for the work of the colourist, which explains why these engravings are not of exceptional quality.
Finally, colourists paint the scenes, hieroglyphs and the ceilings. It is hard to imagine these with the grey aspect most of the walls now present, but originally they were painted in colors as vibrant as the Theban tombs. It is the fall of their plaster and soot trails from lamps ... that make their décor often uninviting.

3) The scarcity of labour

Obtaining these work crews had to lead to fierce competition amongst tomb builders and was thus certainly a good mark of the favour enjoyed by the tomb owner from the sovereign. The gradual completion of the main monuments of the city had certainly freed up some categories of workers. However, the vast work program launched by Akhenaten in the royal necropolis had to mobilise for itself at least two special trades in the work of the tombs, the quarrymen and plasterers. Thus, it was the skilled labour shortage, not abandonment of the city, that led to the tombs being unfinished. The small number of artisans also explains the remarkable unity of style among these tombs.
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Funeral conceptions of the Aten religion

1)- Ideas about the afterlife in force since the Middle Kingdom are abandoned

Traditionally, the survival of the deceased requires passing a trial before the divine tribunal presided over by Osiris.  Akhenaten saw no other reality, no other life, than the physical, bathed in the rays of Aton: light as single principle explains the whole cosmos. But it ties in completely with the visible universe, which forces him to reject anything that does not belong to it, night, life in the underworld, and Osiris...
The great cosmic drama of the night course of the sun and its corollary, the deceased's journey to the divine tribunal for trial, disappear. There can be no question of imagining the awakening of the dead by the solar disk that penetrates into the Duat (le monde souterrain).
This explains why Osiris, ruler of the dead, who also rules the underworld, immediately disappears from the theological system of Amenhotep IV, while he still lived in Thebes (even before the hated god Amun). The dead cease to become an Osiris. There is no place for the great god of the dead in the Atenist system. Everything that relates to one becoming a traditional Osiris disappears: judgment of the dead, pilgrimage to Abydos in the holy cities of Delta, the field of offerings, the field of reeds... no need either of Book of the Dead, or any other funerary book. Of course, the formulas of traditional offerings to the gods are banned.  Imagine the effect on contemporary people other than courtiers! ...

2)- The new system

Akhenaten did not want to set up a new nocturnal divine landscape: the theological changes he introduced banish indeed any mythological representation. At night there's nothing happening, the living and the dead rest; we simply note that the Aten is gone, but we do not speculate on its future.
The truth of the visible reality is set opposite to the non-truth of divine images and mythological fates: for the first time the distinction true God/false God (s), appears; the basis of monotheism.
The result of these new conceptions is a disruption to the traditional decorative programme for tombs (see below).

It is also now specified in several tombs that the sun makes its way "in peace" and for good reason: it's the end of the nocturnal fighting against the Apophis snake that tries to stop the solar boat.

3)- The Amarna afterlife

What happens after death? We do not know much about it. This is undoubtedly the biggest failure of the new religion invented by Akhenaten in that it offers no clear answer to the fundamental question of the changes after death.
 It seems that earthly life is prolonged, at the site of Akhetaten, as expressed in the tomb of Tutu: at dawn, the deceased rises, grooms and dresses "in the same way as when you were on earth".
The deceased then left his tomb and wandered more or less like a ghost in the city, with access to temples and palaces. We thus see Meryre proclaim himself in his chapel "Justified in Akhetaten".
The importance of these structures in the afterlife of the deceased could be one of the reasons for the frequency with which they are represented in the tombs.
 Note that this concept implies a conglomeration of the dead around the King (living or dead), and recalls the beginning of the Old Kingdom, when the courtiers spent their eternity around the tomb of the king they had served.

4)- The role of Akhenaten in the funeral

the deceased is entirely dependent on the king, as he had been during his life time.  It is that King who decides who is maâty (justified) and to whom he grants permission to possess a tomb.
Akhenaten IS the maat, and do his will, is to act according to Maat (on the maat and the Goddess Maat, see HERE). So those who are loyal and conform to his requirements – they, and they alone - are justified (Ay, Tutu). The good pleasure of Akhenaten replaced the tribunal of Osiris.
 Given the role of the king in the afterlife survival of individuals, his omnipresence is not a surprising addition to the decoration of tombs.

5) A Tomb for what purpose?

Before the Amarna period, the tomb was a magical protective envelope that was actively involved in the survival of the deceased. Under Akhenaten, the tomb seems to be nothing but an empty shell without any magical function. The question can therefore be asked: why, in these conditions, is there still a tomb for the deceased?
Even at Amarna, the tomb remains essential and constitutes the true "kingdom" of the deceased who no longer enjoys the protection of Osiris. It serves as a protective place for the mummy as mummification is still practiced to ensure that the body will be preserved; a desire which is expressed in the texts.

The Ba (imperfectly translated for lack of better word by "soul") of the deceased lies in the tomb and receives the offerings that his family or priests are supposed to bring (hence the importance of the niche with the statue, since that is where they were deposited). Able to move, the Ba left the tomb every morning to reach the site of Akhetaten and also enjoy the offerings that the king has made to the Aten. This explains why the deceased seems obsessed with the need to become a "living Ba".

General Features of the Amarna tombs' decor

In the eighteenth dynasty before Akhenaten

•  The outer room (the bar of the inverted T) is the first place on entering the chapel. This is where the owner comes, lists his titles and, generally, describes his official activities.
•  The internal part is, in contrast, dedicated to funeral rites, the cult of the deceased and to his passage through the underworld. The following scenes can be in one or the other room: banquet scenes, linked or not with the celebration of one of the great Theban festivals (festival of Opet, The Beautiful Festival of the Valley ...) hunting and fishing in the marshes; hunting in the desert; agricultural activities; the deceased making offerings to the gods.
•  The depictions of offerings to the deceased are usually multiple and can be anywhere. • In the pre-Amarna tomb, the deceased appears numerous times, often larger than the other characters, and is almost always accompanied by members of his family, at the least by his children and his wife.
•   The texts are written in traditional (Middle) Egyptian, a language that has no longer been used for decades, but that is considered canonical.

B- In the Amarna period

•  Most of these traditional themes disappear. They are replaced by a much smaller number of new themes.
•  If on occasion the wife of the deceased is present, none of his children or parents is ever mentioned or shown. In particular, there is no scene showing the eldest son filling the sem-priest function for his father.
•  Scenes in connection with professional activities disappear. One case is an exception to this rule; that of Mahu, a very special case, because that person is the head of the Akhetaten police.
•  Most importantly, the scenes of funerals or funeral rites disappear completely. At Huya's, Any, and Panhesy's tombs some sketches are confined to the walls of the statue niche. Obviously they were tolerated there because they do not refer to the Gods, but only the King and the Queen.
•  There is a preponderance of images over the texts. These texts undergo a significant evolution for the sake of realism, they are not in the traditional language, but in Late Egyptian, which is the spoken language of the time.

C- The organization of the decoration

Thebes, TT52 (Nakht): examples of arrangement in superimposed registers, with various activities. Amarna tomb Meryre: a single scene centered on the royal couple occupies the entire wall, with side sketches.

1)- Before Akhenaten

On a wall, the decoration is distributed in the form of superimposed registers converging towards the deceased's image. Registers may have different themes and their sequence may not be simultaneous.

2)- During the Amarna period

In general, a wall is occupied to its full height by one large scene centered on a representation of the king; to this large composition (which can extend to an adjacent wall, such as in Meryre's tomb), are grafted a variable number of sub-registers with compound sketches related to the main theme and with contemporary themes to that main one.
The number of different scenes in a chapel is independent of its size: the small tomb of Mahu (TA 09) is exceptionally rich in them, while a large burial like that of Ay (25 TA) includes only a restricted number of themes.






Superimposed coloured bands
in Meryre's tomb




The innovative nature of the scenes, a diversity in the rendering of characters, which are represented in more lively and less rigid manner than before, however, should not mislead one: it is a device that seeks to compensate for the low number of themes since, as we have seen, most of the traditional topics are banned.
Another trick to have less area to cover is to surround the wall, or separate scenes, with accumulated bands of thick coloured lines it is (to my knowledge) at Amarna that we find a good example in Meryre's tomb. Unless they are protective bands designed to isolate the city of Akhetaten?

D – Changes in the style of the representations

While the silhouettes of characters from the Amarna period shock us and seem clearly far from traditional canons, the difference is in reality not that important. Indeed, the representations are typically Egyptian and are faithful to the rules of aspective. The representation of the human body continues to be seen by assembling sections seen from different angles, each believed to best represent the part shown. Similarly buildings are detailed from an architectural point of view, realizing a sort of exploded view without attempting a. perspective view.


The aspective

The aspective is a concept proposed by Emma Brunner-Traut. In the perspective view, to which we are accustomed, a subjective observer is watching a scene from a single viewpoint and at a given time (unit of time and place). Aspectivity is to deconstruct a scene, a character, a building ... to show them in all their facets, combining a multiplicity of points of view, or from their sides considering their most important features.
The representation being the vector of creation, it cannot be partial; therefore it has to show the maximum of elements, regardless of the time dimension (this is how we can represent the deceased doing several things at once without any improbability).

 The order of priorities in the representations is the same as in written hieroglyphics: - a Hierarchical organization: based on the same principle as the honorific transposition in writing, it means that the most important representations are enhanced; - a Harmony of organization: representations are distributed so as to have a balance, like hieroglyphic writing; - a Chronological organization: other representations are placed in the chronological order of the progress of the action. You can download the original article here:


It should be emphasized that the most visible changes mainly involve Akhenaten and Nefertiti in the context of a gradual alignment of images of the king and queen, probably underpinned by the will of Akhenaten to show how and to what point the royal couple is extra-ordinary, different from other human beings.






Tomb of Ipy




The grid proportions have changed compared to previous eras, from 18 to 20 squares (see grid). Thus the neck and upper chest lengthen, while the belly hangs over the loincloth. The shoulders and waist are narrow. Under the belt, the body widens, with wide hips and prominent buttocks. The legs are shortened and the arms are slender and without musculature. The head is large, stretched backwards, with sagging features.  It is as if Akhenaten had wanted to be closer to female beauty standards of the time, he called himself "the beautiful child of Aten".But this new official androgynous image is also part of a policy framework as the king, who is the manifestation of the Aten on earth, is also the father and mother of all life. Nefertiti is shown with the same extreme criteria, corresponding to hyper feminisation, also with a prominent pubic triangle, because she embodies the feminine cosmic principle.

 But we must admit, in the absence of a written text, we will probably never know why Akhenaten chose to be represented in this strange way, other than perhaps it also emphasizes observable reality.

These stylistic innovations, chosen personally by Akhenaten, have of course influenced the artisans, who have transposed some parts into private tombs. This is why some of the characters, including the owner, are readily dolichocephalic, with short legs, limbs without musculature and a little paunchy. Moreover, following the royal directives, artisans have added animation, particularly for non-royal personages, as well as in the small scenes that punctuate the great compositions.
Some of these "Armana-isms", e.g. shortened legs, will persist until the reign of Sethy I.

Main themes of the decorative program of the Amarna tombs

It is in the themes more than in the style that there is real change. The new ideology is based on the consubstantiality between Aton and the king since Aten is known only to his son Akhenaten, It was only in an absolutely physical way that men could worship and pray to this intermediary Akhenaten or rather to his marriage with Nefertiti. God and goddess on earth, the king and queen replace the statues, with the advantage of being mobile, so surely alive. Politically, this meant that no oracle delivered by a stone statue could thwart the royal power.
In the decoration, these new concepts result in an absolute pharaonic centralism, portrayed in front of a large audience and especially in the presence of courtiers and servants.






Tomb of Parennefer




Dimitri Laboury writes :
"This celebration of the life of Pharaoh, as a liturgy, is conspicuously present from its invention in year 4, of proper Atenist imaging and ideology - because, from all the evidence, it is one of the fundamental principles – it reintroduces the courtiers into the royal iconography, as spectators and necessary interlocutors in ritualized scene settings from the life of the sovereign. It is probably a part of the composition of Atenist scenes [...] and in the attitude and given roles for extras attending the actions of the king lies the most singular feature of this new art that expresses, at the same time, more clearly the actual divine status of Amenhotep IV - Akhenaten"
and he continues :
"[...]All those who approach Pharaoh, the servants of the palace to the vizier, are portrayed in full manifestation of their devotion to their sovereign, kissing the ground or bowing very low, almost at right angles, it is as if the whole Egypt was suddenly struck with back pain, with the notable exception of the Royal family."

A- The Representations of the Aten and of his name

1) The radiant disk






Tomb of Meryre




After a few trials without showing hands hanging down directly from the solar disk appeared, the simple and brilliant image of the disk seen from the front, from which emanate rays terminating in hands, that became the emblem of the Amarna period. It perfectly illustrates the new design: Aten is not exactly the sun, but the light contained in the solar disk, which is the immutable source of all life; its hands can hold out the ankh sign of life or the sceptre of power was
The Aten wears a uraeus, to emphasize his royal character, which will be reinforced by writing his name in a double cartouche.
His rituals take place directly under sunlight, the traditional face to face between God and King is ended as the Aten is in the sky. The scene is no longer centred on a God but on Akhenaten under the rays of Aten, the king becoming consubstantial with the God.

2) The cartouches









For the record, in the New Kingdom, two of the five names of the reigning Pharaoh are surrounded by cartouches, his birth name and his coronation name. The Great Royal Wife also has her name inscribed in a cartouche. There is no cartouche around divine names (there are very few exceptions).

 By contrast at Amarna, things are different. According to the new theology, the Aten is king in heaven as his son Akhenaten is king on earth; therefore, Aten's canonical name (or programme-name) sees him inscribed in parts of two cartouches displaying the will to bring the god at a level closer to the king's.
 Note that this name has changed three times during the reign, is surprisingly precise and prohibits assimilation or interpretations with other deities that the ancients were fond of. The initial version of the name reads "ankh-Re-Horakhty-jubilant-in-the-horizon-in-his-name-of-Shu-who-is-in-the Aten" and it includes the names of deities Hor-akhty (= Horus-of-the-double-horizon) and Shu (the space between heaven and earth that transmits light). In the year 14, they disappear in favour of phonetic transcriptions: "Horus" is replaced by "the-lord-of-double-horizon" and "Shu" with "light"






Tomb of Ipy




The Cartouches of the King, the Queen and the solar disk are frequently present in the tombs and are often offered by the royal couple in scenes of worshipping the disc. We even see Akhenaten and Nefertiti making offerings of the name of Aten to the Aten, or provide an image of themselves doing the offering. Thus in the tomb of Ipy we see Nefertiti present to the Aten an image of herself and the name of the Aten (view xx-0714)

B- The omnipresence of the king

The main feature of the Amarna tombs is the more frequent representations of Akhenaten and the royal family (Nefertiti and princesses) than the deceased. We have already seen, this almost obsessive presence is the keystone of the system devised by Akhenaten.

That Pharaoh is present by his image, or his cartouches (which makes no difference), is not new during the New Kingdom, although there is a constant increase in the number of such representations in private royal tombs. The sovereign in these passively receives tributes and offerings.





Entrance to the
Tomb of Ramose




But the situation is very different at Amarna, for the king, far from remaining passive, is the very engine of the action. Seen making offerings to the Aten, going about in a chariot, eating and drinking in his palace, even to rewarding deserving staff from the window of appearances ... as Balcz has written: "The King ousted the dead out of their own tomb for his own glory.".
So much so that there is little autonomous in the small chapel entrance hall of the deceased (sometimes with his wife). However, even there, Akhenaten is present since he is the recipient of the prayer the dead person recites. In the rest of the chapel, the deceased appears only as a subordinate part in the royal action.

 For Arp, these new rules that restrict the owner to the bare minimum, would not have been imposed on courtiers by coercion, but accepted (we will not say necessarily freely ...). The reason is easy to guess: Akhenaten is the master of the destiny of the living official and remains master of his postmortem destiny. It is therefore for the owner of the tomb to show visitors that he had special links on the earth with the sovereign and hopes to see them prolonged after his death. In referring to the king, the Amarna elite emphasizes its prestige and strengthens its position.

C- The representations of palaces and temples

The major decision of Akhenaten's reign remains the foundation of Akhetaten, a locality exclusively dedicated to the worship of one sun god location. The sovereign had set a specific program of building temples and palaces in motion which he did record on the sixteen steles that define the boundaries of this city.
In some private tombs, the owners have represented, sometimes on a large scale, some of these buildings, including the palace. Their motives are unclear: to show their commitment to the doctrine of the king for whom the city of Akhetaten was the centre of the universe? desire to include places where the Ba could go after death? simply looking to fill an empty space?






Tomb of Meryre
side view with three sections




In the tombs of the northern group (Panhesy, Meryre, Huya, Ahmose, Pentu), different parts of the palaces are shown horizontally and are less detailed, while in the tombs of the southern group (Parennefer, Tutu, Ay) they are superimposed and more detailed. In most cases, there are three sectors (named according to our modern conventions) at the front, a courtyard with loggia; in the middle part, a dining room and annexes; Finally, at the rear part, living rooms and a bedroom. All these representations have similarities but also differ in the number, size and arrangement of parts. It could be that from a basic design formed of some architectural elements characterizing "the palace" - for example, the window of appearances - the tomb owner has chosen to add for him the most significant elements. The artisans then adapted to the proportions to the available space.
This would explain why these representations are not true to the archaeological record and do not constitute a list of the constituent parts of these buildings.


D- The royal family adoring the Aten






Tomb of Panehesy




Akhenaton and Nefertiti are alone authorized to worship the rising sun every morning and to travel to the Great Temple by chariot from their private palace. The ceremony consists of consecrating a large amount of offerings that are piled up on outdoor altars. These offerings are essentially of two types:
•  food offerings made in large quantity and scattered over hundreds of altars. Indeed, we have seen that Amarna afterlife takes place on the site of Akhetaten, so you have to fill the Bas of the deceased. Ironically, it is at the moment that the anthropomorphic /zoomorphic gods,, who were likely to eat the offered food, disappear in favor of the disk, that the food offerings are particularly important (view xx-9309).
•   Rites of lotus offerings, though rarely reported in the literature are nevertheless characteristic of the period (for example on this stele from the Cairo Museum). We saw that Akhenaten refused nocturnal fate for the sun, which therefore no longer performs a complete circle around creation, but a half circle as proclaimed in the hymns to the Aten; when the sun goes down, the earth is immersed in darkness and everything in it is as if dead. Hence the idea of ​​using the lotus as a symbol of rebirth: it sinks under water every night and opens up above it again every morning in perpetual rebirth.  A common scene is also the offering to the Aten of cartouches containing his name or that of the king and queen. During this time, the priests and even the High Priest of the Aten, are prostrate before the royal couple who have became a tangible divinity. Musicians accompany the celebration (we discuss the music below).

E- The private life of the Royal Family.






Tomb of Mahu – the Royal Couple
pass your mouse over the image




Akhenaten encouraged detailed and animated representation of all the scenes of daily life, including those in which he himself participated. Acts of everyday life of the royal couple (bathing, dressing, eating, drinking ...) are ritualized, as the King and Queen have now taken the place of divine statues (which are proscribed, described as idols in worthless stone ...).
Sometimes gestures of affection are represented between members of the royal family, for example in Huya's tomb, Akhenaten holds the hand of Nefertiti (view xx-9240) where Nefertiti turns tenderly to her husband, their two faces brushing together for a kiss, as in the tomb of Mahu. The significance of these affectionate gestures goes beyond the emotional and must also be seen as the political will to show the fecundity of the royal couple and their attention to having offspring.






Couple royal et reine Tiy
passez la souris sur l'image




The Amarna feast
This theme is always in the first room, in the tombs of Meryre, Huya, Ahmose, and of Pentu. Until the reign of Akhenaten, the deceased, sometimes with his wife, is represented rigid and static before a table of offerings, but he never consumes it.  During the Amarna period, everything changes: on the walls of tombs, the king is shown - and sometimes members of the royal family - seated or standing, eating and drinking. The seemingly trivial nature of these scenes should not mislead one: Akhenaten eating is Akhenaten making an offering to the Aten! As for the dead person, if he participates in these scenes it is as a servant, and is represented on a very small scale compared to members of the royal family. Thus, in the tomb of Huya there are two representations of the royal couple eating and drinking with the queen mother Tiy; Huya is represented as miniscule by the feet of Akhenaten (see opposite).

The sister of Néfertiti





Tomb of May - pass
your mouse over the image




She is represented in the tombs of Ay, Parenefer, Panhesy, Tutu, and May. This person is likely the younger sister of the Queen. She is called "Beneret (or Nedjemet)-Mut:sweet mother or sweet (goddess) Mut". She enjoys a very privileged place, as evidenced by marks of respect that surround her. She always appears in the King's train, near his sister, the Queen and her nieces. She is followed by fan-bearers (men and women) and her two attendants, who are two dwarves named "Hemetnisuterneheh (the Queen is bound for eternity)" and "Mutefpare (his mother is Re)" curiously the ef refers to a male subject where one would expect the feminine dependent pronoun es.
There is no formal proof, but collecting all the data together would fit seeing this young person as the lady Mutnedjemet, who will be the second wife of the future pharaoh Horemheb.
On the image above, which is located in the entrance hall of the tomb of May, Mutnedjemet is marked with a red cross and the location where the two dwarfs were is marked with green crosses.

F- Chariot journeys made by the royal couple

1)- Daily sorties






Tomb of Meryre




1) When they leave their residence to go visit temples or to another palace and return, the King and Queen travel by chariot along royal road, several kilometres long, escorted by fan-bearers, standard-bearers, servants ... and also by police and the military (view ki4u-5). This morning journey, north-south, considered as the earthly transposed journey of the east to west path of the Aten in the sky, was sacred and an integral part of worship at Amarna.
It has been shown (Gabolde) that few places are considered sacred, i.e. palaces, temples and roads connected to each other: they are the only places where Akhenaten and his family are represented.
These trips by chariot also allow a symbol dear to the sovereign to be highlighted: the movement. Akhenaten moves in his chariot, like the Aten in the sky, and brings the breath of life, as shown by ribbons floating behind him. In Atenist design, the world is not static, it is constantly changing; this constant transformation is powered by the living Aten.

2)- The Festival days

The ceremonial journeys of the royal couple replace the movement of the divine statues during traditional festivals; for example there are analogies with the festival of the Opet at Thebes in which the divine statue of Amun travels a north-south path (Karnak Temple → Luxor Temple). The population cheered the sovereign like it cheered the statue of a god in his ceremonial boat: "He was the god that came out in procession, which carried signs and wonders which intervened in the destiny of the individual, holding life and death in his hands" (Jan Assmann).
Incidentally any reference to water activities in the Amarna tombs disappears, as indeed in the new theology.

The chariot and the horse





Tomb of Meryre II




Having become the travel mode of elite society and a visible marker of it, the chariot is widespread in the Amarna tombs and is associated not just with the king and his family, but also with individuals. A Solar symbol, it can be simply gold coloured or plated with gold leaf. It plays an important role throughout the eighteenth dynasty in the process developing ruler heliocentralism and therefore it is logical that in the Amarna period, it is most frequently represented. A veritable mobile throne, it is a shared part of the iconography.
We note the importance given to the two horses (which often appear to be only one) harnessed to the royal chariot, and their very detailed harness, embellished with a tall feather adornment upon the head (view jcm-24). Horses are represented rearing to express their energy. The Royal team has a name: "Creature-of-Ankh-Re-Horakhty-who-is-jubilant-on-the-horizon-in-his-name-as-Shu-in-Aten" (!).
Many individual horses are also present, but it is clear that the Egyptians were never really able to properly represent this animal belatedly brought into the country.

G- The ceremony of delivering the Gold of Honour and the window of appearances

This is the most common scene in the Amarna tombs. It is found mostly on the west wall, to the right or left of the entrance.
The rewarding of deserving officials and dignitaries with gold necklaces "shebyu" began to be depicted in the middle of the eighteenth dynasty and lasted until the Ramesside period.
Before Akhenaten, the ceremony took place in the palace, in the throne room and with the Pharaoh sitting in a kiosk.
 At Amarna, Akhenaten, often accompanied by Queen Nefertiti and the princesses, stands above the recipient, at the window of appearances, for a ceremony that takes place largely outdoors.

1)- The window of appearances






Tomb of Ay




This is a new building that allows the king to present himself to his subjects in a way to impress their spirits.
A new form of royal representation, the window of appearances is only meaningful in the context of the theology of the Aten of which it represents one of the most characteristic architectural elements. It is found in Meryre's tomb (twice), Panhesy's and perhaps in the tombs of Meryre II, Huya, Pentu and Tutu.
 As the Aten reveals himself to the king, the king reveals himself to his courtiers: there is a consubstantiality between sunrise and this appearance of Akhenaten. This solemn event requires a special setting, it will be at the window of appearances.









This structure has given rise to many debates among Egyptologists, both in its appearance and its situation as no such window could be identified on the site of el-Amarna. One only knows it from the representations contained in the tombs. Now these representations differ from each other and obey the laws of aspective (see above), which makes it more difficult for us to understand it. Moreover, architectural proportions are often distorted when the king is present; it is better appreciated when the window is empty.
It is believed today that there were at least two buildings that contained this type of development: the north river palace of the king and the royal house (King's House).
The reconstruction (drawing to the right, after Vomberg) is based on the representation contained in the tomb of Parennefer (view xx-0614).

2)- The ceremony






Tomb of Ay









Parennefer rewarded




From the window of appearances, Akhenaten, sometimes his Queen, or even princesses (view tb-17), reclining on a red cushion decorated with geometric patterns, throw gold necklaces and jewelry to the recipient below in the court (who also receives many other things that are brought directly to him).
The official who receives the necklaces stands before the sovereign, both arms raised in jubilation (the gesture "hai" of the Parennefer image). Often he is also anointed with ointments and perfumes at the same time, which play a role in some ritual, but poorly understood. Gradually servants recover goods that have just been thrown down or contributed and arrange them in boxes or bags, as is well illustrated in view xx-0604 from the tomb of Parennefer. The king may address the person with a speech, to which the latter responds by praising his sovereign.

3)- The return home

Necklaces around his neck, the dignitary (who often wears a festive cone upon his head) then returns to be acclaimed by all his household and the crowd present; some spectators are dancing (view xx-0497), while others "smell the earth" before him, a gesture that one does not normally make in principle, save to a deity or the king (view db-3001 et view db-3004). Then he leaves the scene in a chariot or on foot.

We understand that this ceremony has been particularly important at Amarna: Akhenaten is the supreme divine power on earth but also in the hereafter, since there is no judgment of the dead. Everything depends on the royal favour, as confirmed by the example of the stele of Any: Any, rewarded, departs on a chariot, golden necklaces around his neck, with this text: "May I come in peace as one honoured by the king. that gives me a good funeral, he makes me reach the state of being transfigured in peace" (Stele published by Davies 1908 CG 34177, JE 29748). An almost identical text was found in the tomb of Huya.
Adhering to maat' (that is to say fulfilling the will of Akhenaten) and rectitude of conduct are essential ideals to meet daily in order to hope for a future in the afterlife.

H- The reception of tributes in the year 12

In the tombs of Huya and Meryre II a depiction is known as the scene of receiving tributes, or hosting foreign people, which took place in year 12, second month of Peret, day 8, a date that can be considered as the apogee of the reign of Akhenaten.
 The scene was grandiose and brought together three distinct protagonists.
•  First of all the representatives of all foreign nations known to the Egyptians, Asiatics, Libyans Aegeans, Nubians, prostrated in adoration, who crave peace and the breath of life (as in the tomb of Huya, see xx-9988) (upon tribute in general, see HERE).
•  Then the royal couple accompanied by their six daughters and ladies of the harem.
•  Finally, the spectators especially civil servants and courtiers, for whom this staging is intended. For it is above all a staged scene designed to exalt the royal omnipotence. It shows an idealized elite status that carries a political message: that despite setbacks in Asia, Egypt is still feared and respected.





Tomb of Houya-detail
pass your mouse over the image




And there is doubtless a second message, more subtle. One notes indeed in both cases, an almost complete superposition of the silhouettes of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, which leads a shift of royal duties to the Queen. Akhenaten becomes equivalent to the Aten and Nefertiti then occupies the space freed, assimilating some royal prerogatives.

Cyril Aldred describes year 12 year as the "year of wonders" for Akhenaten and Nefertiti. It is not known how they felt, but for Huya (view cb-2967-68) and Meryre II, this reception of tribute is the most significant event of their careers (whether they possibly thus gave it an exaggerated importance, it is not known). The two men were involved, along with others, in the management of the property of the royal family and therefore probably the exchange of goods originating from the treasury. They certainly helped organize the event.
There remains the possibility that Meryre II has simply wanted to represent in his Chapel this scene present in Huya's chapel and whose tomb is next to his ...

I- Omnipresence of the military









Nowhere in Egypt, and at no other time, is there a military presence as important as at Amarna. The private palace of Akhenaten, which is located north of the site ("north river palace") is home to a large garrison who follow the sovereign in all his movements, a true praetorian guard.
There are military and police officials represented in all the tombs, often running along besides when they escort the royal chariot. Several barracks have been found on the site of Amarna. The head of the Medjay, Mahu, also plays a prominent role in the city. These Medjay form the elite troop of the Royal Guard, but also the police force of the desert; they are essentially archers from Lower Nubia.

J- The place of music

Small scenes parallel to the main action scenes take place in adjoining buildings or courts. Some give an overview of popular musical activities such as drumming and street dancing, trumpets sounded to gather the troops together, or as the music that accompanies the festivals.





Tomb of Meryre




In the temples "one encounters musicians playing exclusively for the Aten, the disc of the sun. They are all older men, with shaven skulls and pleated robes, most seemingly blind. They sing, clap their hands and play upon the harp, occasionally the lute. The groups of musicians playing in the royal palace are quite different. Some of them are similar to those we used to see on private monuments before the Amarna revolution: they are groups of women in long dresses wearing scented ointment cones upon their heads, playing on a large arched harp, a long-necked lute, lyre, double oboe, or groups of men playing similar lutes and harps [...] Lise Manniche".

The choir of blind men, clapping their hands and accompanied by a drum is only found in the Amarna period. Only Akhenaten had the right to communicate with the Aten, but these musicians can participate in the ritual because they are blind naturally or because they are blindfolded. Women musicians, on the other hand, on the model of Nefertiti, were allowed to see the king and sing for him.

K- The hymns to the Aten

All these are inscribed on the walls of private tombs. The only known occurrence of Great Hymn is in the tomb of Ay, while the Small Hymn comes in five versions in the tombs of Meryre, Any, Ipy, Tutu and Mahou. All the hymns use the first version of the canonical name of the Aten and were thus composed between year 5 and year 9 of the reign.
Their exact function is not entirely clear. The traditional interpretation that made them liturgical texts to be recited or chanted in temples is now demolished. For these hymns are addressed to Re-Horakhty, manifested in the Aten but also to Akhenaten and Nefertiti, mixing intimately divine praise and Atenist ideology. The content of the hymns does not differ, the Great Hymn is only more developed. Both types develop two main themes: the daily cycle of the sun god and the revelation of his son Akhenaten's divinity. They are a transcript of the education provided by Akhenaten himself (whether he or his theologians have imagined it is an insoluble question).
It is difficult not to see in these hymns the mystical impetus of a visionary, but from another point of view, we are also in the presence of a closed theological-political programme, which prohibits glosses and other exegeses of which Egyptian thinkers were so fond.






Tomb of Ay
the Great hymn




Here is how one can summarize their content (after Pierre Grandet) :
Great hymn:
•  Sunrise of the Aten that fills the universe of light and space under the control of Akhenaten. The god is far off, but his rays are upon the earth.
•  At sunset, everything falls asleep and the earth seems dead.
•  The following morning the earth revives, all beings are celebrating and going about their business.
•  The Aten is the creator of all things in the universe and provides for the needs of his creation.
•  The beneficial effect of the Aten, relayed by his son Akhenaten, justifies the cult which is a worship of thanksgiving.

Small hymn (e.g. on a stele in the tomb of Mahu, view mm-12):
•  At dawn, the rays of the Aten, the uncreated creator, fill the earth, animate beings and manifest the sovereignty of the God.
•  At night, the earth and all beings are in a state bordering on death.
•  At sunrise, life is reborn together with the worship at Akhetaton, the centre of the universe.
•  The Aten shapes Akhenaton in his image each day; only he knows the God. This one, the eternal Creator of heaven, contemplates his creation and sustains it with his rays. All beings, through their appropriate behaviour, praise him with thanksgiving.

Other Cemeteries of Tell el-Amarna

During occupation period of the site two other cemeteries developed:






TA29, an unmarked
Royal tomb




A necropolis for the royal family
Located at the end of the Royal Wadi, 6 km in the desert east of the city, it has five tombs, all unfinished. The tomb of Akhenaten is the only one decorated. The king, his mother Tyi and three of his daughters were buried there. We will devote a special study to it: "The tomb of Akhenaten".

A cemetery for the common people
It was not until 2006 that Barry Kemp's team finally located, near the southern tombs of the notables, a necropolis of the common people. Burials consist of simple graves without any clear alignment, dug in the ground, sometimes very narrow, and frequently covered with stones after the internment' (view amarnaproject).
The anthropological study of the skeletons (the bodies were not mummified) revealed a grim reality about the lives of ordinary residents of the city and shows a callousness by Akhenaten vis-à-vis his subjects, well away from the paternalistic image conveyed by the hymns to the Aten.
Foods that piled up on the tables of offerings to the Aten have certainly not benefited the common people: malnutrition is the rule, their food was insufficient in quantity and quality. In addition, the skeletons show lesions reflecting very hard physical work, with multiple fractures and extensive injuries of the spine, even amongst the very young. Their life rarely exceeded 35 years and 2/3 of the dead were under 20 years old.

Post-Amarna persecution

This Damnatio Memoriae has particularly affected civilian tomb sites in Amarna.
As we know, the attacks against Akhenaten began in the reign of Horemheb. However, the bulk of the destruction dates to the Ramesside period: then the Egyptians wanted to eliminate all their history of Amarna period rulers (Akhenaten Smenkarê, Neferneferuaten, Tutankhamun and Ay). In the annals, one passes directly from the reign of Amenhotep III to that of Horemheb.
Akhenaten had to destroy the names of the gods - and especially that of Amun – in the monuments and tombs; his own cartouches and representations, as well as those of Nefertiti will also be deleted by Horemheb, and especially by Ramses II, while his city of Akhetaten will be totally dismantled.

To access the list of Amarna tombs described on the site click HERE


Bibliography (centered on the tombs of the Nobles)
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