Ancient Egypt / Religion / Gods /
Other spellings: Aton, Yati
Aten was defined as the highest god of Egypt for a brief period of 12 to 16 years in the 14th century BCE. His popularity started to increase in the late 15th century, and he would be revered for about 90 years, after which he was largely forgot. The monotheistic cult of Aten is sometimes referred to as Atenism.
Considering Aten as a divine name may be misleading, as Aten referred to the solar disc. In many cases, the power connected to the sun is called Re-Horus-Aten, Re-Harakhty or simply Aten. Aten was considered to be both masculine and feminine.
Aten is usually represented as a solar disk with rays ending in hands.
Aten developed from being just a designation of the sun into the sole god, the omnipresent god of the monotheistic religion of King Akhenaten and became worshipped at the new capital of Akhetaten (today Tell el-Amarna), which was built on virgin soil.
In the process of establishing the new religious concepts related to Aten, Akhenaten ordered that all images of Amon and writings of his name to be erased.
The cult and mythology of Aten was in its days highly controversial. Not only did it change the basic concepts of the religion and society, it also destroyed the foundation upon which many cult centres rested, thereby taking away the lucrative jobs of the many temple workers and priests. The influential priesthoods represented a political challenge for the king, and it may be suggested that one of the aims of Akhenaten creating a new cult was to strip them of their powers. Still, these groups never gave in to the Aten cult, and eventually they would emerge as the victors.
The popularity of Aten had increased before the time of Akhenaten, and the iconography was defined some 70-80 years earlier.
Prior to Akhenaten, pharaohs had become associated with Aten. It has been suggested that Akenaten's cult was a veneration of his own father, Amenophis 3. Aten is also presented as having a paternal role to Akhenaten. Amenophis 3 himself had favoured the cult of Aten, and there were priests of Aten at Heliopolis.
Akhenaten, while still being Amenophis 4, built a temple to Aten at Karnak.
The two temples of Aten at Akhetaten were built according to somewhat new patterns. The large one was unroofed and covered an area of 800 x 300 metres. Still, it may not have been considered completed, most parts being built from mud-brick. All over the temple area, numerous offering tables were erected.
The Hymn to the Aten, which is found in its most complete condition at the unused tomb of Ay at Akhetaten, may well have been composed by Akhenaten. It has been compared to Psalm 104 in the Bible.
Shortly after the death or disappearance of Akhenaten, his cult was demolished, his capital abandoned, and the old cults revitalized. Where ever found, name inscriptions and the faces of Akhenaten, Nefertiti and all associated with them would be destroyed.
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