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Akhenaten: mad, bad, or brilliant? (2014) (telegraph.co.uk)
55 points by dang on March 6, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 19 comments

If you are interested in this kind of history, you might be interested in this book:

1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

Which looks at the cosmopolitan trading civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean during the 1400-1177 bc era, and how it collapsed.


There are, of course, alternative theories about "The Catastrophe" as historians call the event, when almost all the cities facing the Mediterranean were sacked in a few short years, preceding a 400-year "dark age".

One well-supported theory suggests a military innovation that enabled a cheaply-outfitted, quickly recruited army of 10,000 to defeat a standing force of 1000 charioteers. Such an army might be easily filled out from among the overtaxed farmers surrounding each walled city. In this alternative, the "dark age" might rather indicate freedom from centralized oppression, with "civilization" arising again only after its faults were forgotten; and the Catastrophe an early sort of "Mediterranean Spring".

There was never more than conjecture supporting the "Sea Peoples" idea. For the popular-uprising approach, we may imagine a core of a few hundred organizers proceeding from one city to the next, with local recruiting promises (and testimonials from the last) of rich spoils from each new target.

Seconded, amazing book, wish it was longer!

"Just imagine, though, what would have happened if his new religion had caught on: perhaps today we would mention Atenism in the same breath as other great monotheistic faiths such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam."

There are theories that Akhenaten was the inspiration for Jewish monotheism. Israelite slaves in Egypt picked up the new idea, then migrated under Moses to the Promised Land, while reinterpreting or suppressing their previous polytheistic Abrahamic origins.

For example, the Ten Commandments from that migration are just a few trivial and obvious rules for communal life, together with fanatical paranoid proscriptions about worshipping other Gods. Why the stress on the one God if it was a long established fact of life? Sounds much more like enforcement of the new exclusive monotheistic doctrine.

... and where was this Promised Land?

In the east, where the sun rises.

Seeing his face carved is one of the highlights of visiting Neues Museum in Berlin (as well as his wife, obviously). He is indeed an intriguing person, who is also the subject for a rather wonderful eponymous opera by Philip Glass.

The opera is absolutely epic. I saw it recently at the Coliseum in London. Looks like it's last night is tomorrow if anyone wants to catch it:


Binoculars were handy because the Pharaoh costumes were amazing.

You don't have to be an opera buff - Glass is is great if you like electronica. It's an opera that could justify having a dance floor for throwing some shapes.


I also saw it a couple of weeks ago at the Coliseum. I was dubious about a three-hour Glass opera, but it was fantastic.

This post made me look up the Philip Glass opera to see if the 2016 ENO production has ENO ally released a DVD, and it looks like they’re coming to NYC!


In service of relevance: some claim that Akhenaten was the first rationalist, or even the first scientist. (IIRC from my half forgotten libart coursework)

I couldn't find any citations from a 5 min goog search on the latter claim, but here's an even more recent article (2018) that talks about Akhenaten anticipating the Athenian philosophers.


The best story we have on the invention of science as practiced comes from Al-Haytham's "Optics", of a thousand years ago, written while he was under house arrest and cut off from access to reference materials. It did originate in Egypt.

"Heliopolis" is almost not a stretch.

I don't think I've encountered this smooth bulbous figure art in any other dynasty, or even under any other pharaoh. And while to some this may feel like still fairly similar to all other Ancient Egyptian art, it must be noted that concepts of trends in art or fashion were basically absent until the Ancient Greeks, a seafaring & trading nation. It reminds me more of ancient predynastic figurines so, combined with sun-monotheism, it all looks a bit like a "back to the roots" kinda thing.

This was a really huge departure from tradition in almost all the ways.

(It's so fun to speculate about all this.)

One explanation is that he made drastic reforms related to the tax collection capacity of the priestly class. This was in addition to/a consequence of his re-conceptualization of the state religion.

After he was deposed by that same priestly class, they did the thing that usually happens -- defiling all monuments and writing a version of the events that put them in the best possible light.

I think the exact changes that he (or his agents) made are kind of immaterial - ultimately, it seems, he tried to implement too large a change too suddenly, and it failed.

There's a lesson in Akhenaten's history for many areas of many sectors - not least the tech sector.

I find it hard to imagine such a vague lesson lending support to any view I don't already agree with

I think that everything in history comes down to taxes eventually.

The Amarna period is endlessly fascinating to me - it seems such a clear example of how little has changed in the way politics and society interact for thousands of years.

We are all still humans, now as then.

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