For ancient Egypt, the existence of multiple gods was one of the most distinctive features. People created their gods, hoping that they will protect their cities and help people to survive. Among these gods, Ra was viewed as one of the most powerful ones. However, the existence of multiple cults meant that the Pharaoh would face difficulty in ruling them. Additionally, the appearance of Amun-Ra, a supreme god with an extremely powerful cult, became a serious challenge to the power of a ruler (Van de Mieroop 123).
In such a way, the need for a radical change and a single vision emerged. Pharaoh initiated a religious revolution and ordered to delete names of Amun from temples, to create a new cult that would support his reign. Aten, a Sun Disk, became a superior god, with the Pharaoh serving as his embodiment on Earth (“Planet Egypt: Temples of the Egyptian Cult”). A religious tradition was supported by the change in visual representations. For instance, the creation of the colossal statues supported Amenhotep’s vision of himself as God on earth, and created a precedent, as all following Pharaohs were considered godlike.
Using all resources available to them, both Amenhotep and Akhenaten attempted to empower their divine figures and emphasize the unique role rules of Egypt play in the state. The power and wealth of already existing temples dedicated to other gods should be surpassed to show people that there is only one superior creature who should be worshiped, and the Pharaoh is his representation on earth (Van de Mieroop 124). For this reason, the majority of magnificent buildings erected during that period contained multiple references to the image of a ruler and his divine power. Using this method, the ruler tried to inspire people, emphasize this supernatural and godlike nature, and empower a new cult.
One example of how the construction and building of temples served the ideas mentioned above is Akhenaten’s decision to build a new capital. Trying to excel his father, Amenhotep, who managed to erect magnificent buildings and temples in Luxor or Karnak, Akhenaten created a state 400 kilometers north of Thebes (“Planet Egypt: Temples of the Egyptian Cult”). Open to the sun, a new god, with broad streets and unique architecture, it was a symbol of Aten and Akhenaten’s power (“Planet Egypt: Temples of the Egyptian Cult”). The temples’ walls were covered with images of the Pharaoh’s and his wife praying to make people believe in a cult and join it (“Planet Egypt: Temples of the Egyptian Cult”). The capital became an embodiment of cultural and religious revolution peculiar to the Amarna period.
The video highlights an interesting and previously unknown part of ancient Egyptian history. Everyone knows about unique temples and pyramids, but the causes for their creation remain unknown. The film promotes a correct understanding of how the opposition between pharaoh and priests impacted the emergence of an unusual style, capital, and radical changes in the balance of power and society.
There are multiple other examples in history when rulers tried to alter religion to support their godlike or unique images. In Middle Ages, kings were considered chosen by God, and the Church supported this vision. In such a way, the video proves the critical role of religion in people’s lives and correlates with the class materials that touch upon similar ideas. Moreover, it is interesting how the usual desire for power can trigger radical changes in the culture of the whole nation and introduce a new period in its history.
“Planet Egypt: Temples of the Egyptian Cult (S1, E3) | Full Episode | History.” YouTube, uploaded by History, 2020. Web.
Van de Mieroop, Mark. A History of Ancient Egypt. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.