The failed reforms of Akhenaten and Muwatalli

The failed reforms of Akhenaten and Muwatalli

Itamar Singer

BMSAES, 6 (2006), 37-58


In his fifth regnal year Akhenaten founded his new capital Akhetaten in Middle Egypt, thereby crown- ing his religious reform intended to promote the cult of Aten to the exclusion of the rest of the Egyptian pantheon. Half a century later Muwatalli founded his new capital at Tarhuntassa in the Lower Land, as the apex of a religious reform promoting the cult of the Storm-god of Lightning at the expense of other major deities of the Hittites. Both reforms collapsed shortly after the death of the ‘her- etic’ kings, but Tarhuntassa continued to exist as the seat of a competing Great King. The similarities and the differences between these major religious reforms of the Late Bronze Age will be examined in the light of the contemporary sources and some historical analogies.

The foundation of a new capital has always been one of the most radical and subversive steps in the history of a nation. From Akhetaten and Tarhuntassa to St. Petersburg and Brasilia, the foundation of a new capital derives from a fundamental ideological change in the mind of the reformist, reinforced by an unrelenting commitment to a complicated and risky endeavour. The Late Bronze Age witnessed an unprecedented wave of new foundations throughout the Near East — Dur-Kurigalzu in Babylon, Akhetaten and Piramesse in Egypt, Dur-Untash in Elam, Tarhun- tassa in Hatti, Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta in Assur. All these new foundations share common traits, yet, as I will try to argue, the most meaningful comparison is between Akhetaten and Tarhuntassa, despite the tremendous disparity between the amount of documentation on the two cities.

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