Home Life Works Texts Gallery Literature Wish List
News Letters Bookshop Donations Links Mailing List Contact




There is no historical record of Akhnaton’s life before he succeeded his father as king of Egypt. What we know definitely about him at an earlier date is very little. We know, for instance, that his parents had conceived him in an advanced age, and that he was given at his birth the name of Amenhotep — his father’s name — which means “Amon is at rest,” or “Amon is pleased” (the name under which he is famous in history he chose himself later on). We know that he was, as a baby, committed to the care of a woman — the “great royal nurse” — who bore, like the queen herself, the name of Tiy, and was the wife of Ay, a court dignitary and a priest. We know also that he was married, some time before his father’s death, to a princess called Nefertiti, of whom it is not certain whether she was an Egyptian or a foreigner. That is practically all that can be gathered from the written documents so far brought to light, about the first part of a life so remarkable.

But if nothing precise can be stated about the facts of those early years, yet, from what we know of Amenhotep the Third’s “house of women” and its inmates, something can be inferred of the atmosphere in which the royal child was brought up. And something, too, we can expect to guess of his first reactions to the world around him, in the light of all that we know of his subsequent life.

* * *

To say that he was the son of parents of mature age is already to suggest some prominent traits of his personality, such as eagerness, seriousness of mind, depth. To add that he was not, like most babies, the casual product of a moment’s fancy, but the fruit of yearning and of prayer no less than of


pleasure, not only accepted but intensely desired; to recall that his mother — herself an exceptional woman — with all her power and glory, with the love of her lord and the graceful presence of several daughters was not happy until he, a son, was born to her; that she longed for him, year after year, as for the one blessing she could dream of, is to explain, to some extent, how he was no average child, and could never grow into an average man. Few children indeed ever were so desperately wanted — and so much loved — as the only son of Amenhotep the Third and Queen Tiy.

The queen, as we have said, was surely over thirty-five, and perhaps not far from forty at the time of his birth — an age which is not young for a woman in any climate, and which, in the tropics, in the days of Egypt’s greatness just as now, was considered old. We may try to imagine her feelings when she came to know that she was once more to become a mother, long after her daughters had grown up; her joy for an event that had so long seemed unlikely, if not impossible, and then the hopes, the dreams she had concerning him who was not yet born; the prayers she addressed to the most powerful gods and goddesses, especially to her favourite deities, for the welfare and future greatness of her child. Those ardent hopes, those dreams, that fervour of prayer, that constant anxious thought concentrated on him in an expectation of glorious days to come, were the very earliest influences upon the formation of Akhnaton’s personality — the earliest, and the most impossible to retrace, but certainly not the less powerful, nor the less important.

* * *

The god whom Tiy worshipped was Aton — the Disk — the oldest Sun-god of Egypt. The seat of his venerable cult was not Thebes, but the sacred city of Anu or On — “the city of the obelisk” — which the Greeks were one day to call Heliopolis, “the city of the Sun.” The priests of On were less wealthy but more thoroughly versed in ancient wisdom than those of Thebes. For a generation or two they had been trying to make their deity popular in the great metropolis,


and especially at court. They hoped that, if they succeeded, the god would recover all over Egypt the prominent place which he held of old. And they had succeeded to some extent. People were beginning to add to the name of the mighty Amon, in votive inscriptions, that of the elder god.1

And when he had inaugurated the newly-built artificial lake in the gardens around his palace, the Pharaoh had named the pleasure-boat in which he had glided over its waters with Tiy, his chief wife, Tehen-Aton, i.e. “Aton gleams.”2

But the name of Aton was still that of a secondary god among many. Tiy herself was far from looking upon him as the only god worth praying to; she had grown up, like everybody else, in a world full of various deities, and her father, Yuaa, was a priest of Min, the fertility-god. Yet she was impressed by the great antiquity of the cult of the Disk. Perhaps also did she realise, with her sharp intelligence, that there was much more in the less popular religious traditions of the priests of On than in the pious devices that the ministers of Amon in Thebes were in the habit of using to impress the people, and sometimes to force their will upon the kings. She probably disliked their increasing grip upon public affairs and, without wishing to displease them openly (for she was a worldly-wise woman), she dreamt within her heart of a new order of things more in accordance with the rights of royalty. Perhaps she had already the dim presentment of a possible conflict between Aton and Amon, as of a struggle of royalty against priestcraft.

Whatever might have been her aspirations at the moment, there can be little doubt that they coloured her conception of her child’s greatness. The child would be a son — that was certain; the queen had too long waited and prayed and hoped for her to be disappointed once more. But that is not all; he would be a providential child, a man the like of which are born once in many hundreds of years; he would put an

1 A stele of the two brothers, Hor and Suti, overseers of the works of Amon in Thebes. (British Museum, Stele 475.) See Sir Wallis Budge’s Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (edit. 1923), p. 46.
2 James Baikie: The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 90.


end to the arrogance of the priests of Amon, restore the cult of the old Sun-god of On on a wide scale, reassert the meaning of divine kingship, and surpass in power and glory all his forefathers.

Were these the thoughts of Queen Tiy while day after day she felt the unborn prince come into being within her body? It is difficult to say. All one can state is that it was natural for a woman with her ambitions to entertain such thoughts and that, if she did so, her hopes were to be rewarded a hundredfold — though not in the way she might have expected.

* * *

The young prince spent his early years in his father’s “house of women.” To judge by what we know of his health all through his life, and also by some of the portraits of his boyhood, he was probably a delicate if not a sickly baby, perhaps also a premature one. Though, as we repeat, there is no information to be gathered concerning the very first part of his life, we may, with some chances of not making a mistake, imagine him, when four or five years old, as a quiet, slender boy with a long neck, delicate features, large dreamy eyes, pretty hands like those of a girl, and nothing of the boisterousness of ordinary children of his age.

The uncompromising spirit that he showed, hardly ten years later, as a king, leads us to believe that he already had a strong personality, and that he was conscious of it; also that he loved truth and was incapable of dissimulation. This must have urged him, more than once, to rebel against whatever shocked him or simply bored him; to speak when he was not expected to, and often to take a hasty initiative in matters which the grown-ups preferred to reserve for themselves. It is likely that he used to put a quantity of puzzling questions, as most intelligent children do — many of which, no doubt, were unanswerable, but others that he was himself to answer, one day, in the most eloquent manner. It is likely, too, that he never obeyed but those whom he really loved, and then only after asking many “whys” and “what fors.” In one


word, if conventional behavior be the measure of what is “good,” then many a well-intentioned pedagogue might have called him a “naughty child.” That much-used adjective is equally applied to children who are worse and to others who are better than their environment. Prince Amenhotep was of the latter.

* * *

The greatest and most lasting influence to exert itself upon the royal child was surely that of his mother. His father, who had prematurely grown old, loved him, no doubt, who was his only son and heir. But he had put in him less hopes, less dreams than the queen had, for he was himself weary, and took less interest than she did in the future, even in the present. It was several years since he had practically let the burden of government lie upon his able chief-wife, whom he knew he could trust. It is probable that he also relied entirely on her for the education of his son.

As already stated, the queen was a worshipper of the solar god of On, Aton — the Disk. She must have taught the child to render homage to him at sunrise and sunset. The boy, who was born an artist, opened his heart to the beauty of the Sun.

It is likely that many times his mother’s sweet words rang in tune with his rapture in front of a glowing sky, in which the Disk appeared or disappeared. He saw the fiery reflection of the Sun upon her face, which it beautified, while she repeated to him, in a tender voice, something of what the wise men of On and her own common sense had taught her about the beneficent Lord of the Two Horizons. He watched the birds fly round and round, with joyous thrills, as the Sun flooded the gardens, the Nile and the western hills with pink morning light, and the queen told him that they were glad because He, the Father of all creatures, had come back. She showed him in the ponds the water-flowers that had just opened to receive His warm kiss. And he looked at them, and understood that they were alive, like himself; and he loved them, and loved the birds and the beasts and the


many-coloured insects, and all things that live and feel the Sun’s caress.

It is true that the history of his early years is not recorded; and even if it were, would history have remembered to note the small facts of daily life, psychologically so important? Yet, one can well imagine Prince Amenhotep, a delicate and sensitive child, stooping to pick up a fledgling fallen from its nest, because he felt for the fragile drop of life, or smoothing down with his little hands the burning-hot fur of a cat lying in the sun — a sight so common in ancient Egypt, where those graceful felines were universally cared for — and enjoying to see how, while it purred, it kept gazing at the faraway Disk with its half-shut emerald eyes. He loved the Sun as a living and loving God, and, being by nature kind to living creatures, he loved them all the more, in Him. His mother encouraged him in that true, spontaneous piety, so different from the vain display of bigotry she had so often witnessed among grown-up people. And the Disk, of which he was one day to evolve a personal conception more lofty than anything Tiy could dream of, was always to retain, in his subconscious mind, the indefinable charm of things we have loved from childhood and which remain intertwined with our dearest associations.

The queen, however, was no monotheist, and surely no philosopher, and we think it would be a great mistake to attribute to her early influence the essential of Akhnaton’s religious ideas. They were decidedly his own. The only thing that one can say is that his mother was one of the factors (and the most effective one, probably) which helped him, from the very beginning, to find his way. That she did, and no more. But that was enough. And besides the positive influence she exerted by directing him to ponder over the beauty of the Sun, she played also a negative part, equally important. She helped to create around him the psychological conditions in which the whole religion of Egypt, with the exception of the ancient Heliopolitan solar cult, would appear to him the least lovable. She did not create the facts that would have impressed him anyhow as he grew to know them: the dead ceremonial of the temples of Amon, “as


intellectually low and primitive,” in the words of Arthur Weigall,1 “as its state of organisation was high and pompous”; the hypocrisy of the priests, whose piety was dwindling as their wealth and power increased; the superstition of the people, and that narrow national pride which, kindled by constant victories, had become more and more aggressive since the liberation of the country from the yoke of the Hyksos. But, willingly or unwillingly, she probably drew his attention to some of those facts — and to many others — as soon as he could think. And even earlier still, stray remarks of hers about the priests of Amon, whom she did not like, and about their impressive tricks, which she probably detested, must have made it impossible for him to feel, towards those sacred persons, the respect — not to speak of the awe — that generations of princes had felt; impossible even for him, perhaps, to take their faith seriously.

It is quite plausible to suppose that on more than one occasion the child, who was extremely intelligent, overheard such bitter remarks. Moreover, he was soon given preceptors who, apart from reading and writing and the elements of the sciences of his age, taught him what he should know of the history of his fathers. In a country in which everything was calculated to impress upon the future king the consciousness of his divine origin, every mark of supernatural favour shown by the gods to his family must have been stressed to the utmost. And Prince Amenhotep was surely told of such miracles as that, for instance, which occurred under Queen Hatshepsut, when during a solemn procession the statue of Amon suddenly stopped in front of him who was to succeed the queen as Thotmose the Third, and nodded to him before everybody, so as to make the choice of heaven manifest. The story seemed suitable enough to inspire the child with reverence for the Theban god as well as for his illustrious great-great-grandfather, the builder of the Egyptian empire. What impression it made upon him, nobody knows. But we do know that the prince was to show a very critical mind in early adolescence. And that is enough for one to hold it possible that, already as a

1 Arthur Weigall, in Tutankhamen and Other Essays (1st Edit. 1923), p. 81.


child, he only half-believed the marvellous tale. His next step was probably to ask his mother about it, in answer of which she told him that the whole scene had been staged by the priests of Amon, who favoured Thotmose the Third as Queen Hatshepsut’s successor. She added, perhaps, that when he grew up, he would acquire still more glory than his great ancestor if only he succeeded in keeping those same priests in their place, for they were now becoming a nuisance — if not a menace — to royal power. And she spoke emphatically, for she felt what she said.

Prayers, ceremonies, sacrifices in honour of the “king of gods” were, of course, a part and parcel of the young prince’s official life, so as to say. As heir-apparent, he had to be present wherever his presence was considered necessary. He was never taught that Aton was the only god; and for some years at least it appears that he did not question the existence of other deities. Yet, his early devotion to the Disk must have had the natural exclusiveness of every ardent love. Those dutiful attendances to shrines of other gods must have seemed boring to him, to say the least, in spite of the surrounding pomp. And his inborn disposition to tell the truth and to act according to his feelings — a trait of his character so dominant that it cannot but have distinguished him, even as a child — must have made him feel morally uncomfortable every time he was forced to be the silent witness of some priestly magic on grand occasions, or to pay a public homage to Amon, the god whom he seems never to have loved.

It has been said that every great life is the realisation of a child’s dream. In the case of Akhnaton, who was little more than a child when he began to put his ideas into action, this is obvious. But it is likely that he conceived his main ideas before he gave them a public expression, and that the great tendencies which were to direct his astonishing career were discernible in him long before he even had ideas. That is to say that his contempt for Amon and for most of the national gods, and his passionate adoration of the Sun alone, are probably to be traced to an incredibly early age. His whole life being a marvel of precocity, there is nothing unnatural in supposing him to have been a “heretic” from the start.


The rôle of his mother was not to make him such, but to encourage him to remain such, without perhaps a clear understanding of what she was doing.

* * *

One may assume that, besides his mother, the prince’s step-mothers had a place in his early life. We know next to nothing about them, but we know at least that they were numerous and that they came from various countries far and near. One of the wives of Amenhotep the Third was the sister of the ruling king of Babylon; another, named Gilukhipa, was the sister of Dushratta, the ruling king of Mitanni. Apart from her, the Pharaoh had married at least one other Mitannian princess — if not more than one — and a number of women from all the countries of the Near East, especially from Syria and Mesopotamia. Alliances with foreign ladies of rank were no longer uncommon in the royal family of Egypt since Thotmose the Fourth had taken Mutemuya, the daughter of Artatama, king of Mitanni — Dushratta’s grandfather — as his chief wife.

It is now established that, apart from the great war-god Teshub, the Mitannians, whose ruling class at least seems to have been of Indo-Aryan race, worshipped also Mithra, Indra, Varuna, and other well-known Vedic gods. The remarkable similitude that exists between Akhnaton’s conception of the Sun and that found in certain hymns of the Rig-Veda has prompted some authors to suggest that the Egyptian king might have received the essential of his religious innovations from India through Mitanni. And the influence of his father’s Mitannian wives upon him in his childhood, as well as that of other Mitannians, possibly, during the rest of his life, has been stressed in support of this view.

There are, however, as yet, no available Mitannian documents describing the Vedic gods which we have mentioned. Those gods are merely enumerated, under names slightly different from their Sanscrit ones, as witnesses of a treaty between Shubbiluliuma, king of the Hittites, and Mattiuaza,


son of Dushratta, king of Mitanni. From some Mitannian proper names, such as for instance “Shuwardata,”1 one may also infer the existence of a god whose name was not much different from that of the Vedic sun-god, Surya. But that is all. So much so that Sir E. Wallis Budge,2 one of the authors who stresses the most the similarity of Aton and Surya, backs his argument with quotations from the Rig-Veda, not from any Mitannian text. The argument, as a result, loses much of its weight. For the idea two different nations have of the same deity is not necessarily the same. And whether the Mitannians borrowed their Surya and their Mithra from India, or whether both they and the Aryans of India, borrowed them from a common source, still it remains to be proved that Surya or Mithra represented, to the Mitannian mind, the same religious conception as that expressed in the Rig-Veda. And as long as that point is not well established, it is not possible to assert that a conception of the Sun more or less similar to that in the Rig-Veda is derived from Mitannian influences.

The part played in the prince’s religious education by the Mitannian inmates of his father’s harem must therefore be, we think, considerably reduced.3 Of course, it is plausible to imagine the royal child coming to know from the mouth of his step-mothers the names and legends of different gods. And it is possible that some of those glimpses of foreign religion, especially under its solar aspects, made a greater impression on him than others. It is also not impossible that he might have heard on some occasions of a sun-god little different, at least in his superficial features, from the Surya of the Aryans and from the god he was himself to praise one day under the name of Aton. But the point remains doubtful, for lack of information. And the impression the prince received must have been rather vague, anyhow. For even

1 James Baikie: The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 209.
2 Sir Wallis Budge: Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), pp. 113-115.
3 The proper explanation of the doubtless striking similitude between his conception of Divinity and that of the Aryans of India, as expressed in the Rig-Veda, lies, not in the assumption of any influence exerted upon Akhnaton, but in the fact that he was himself partly Aryan (being the grandson of a Mitannian princess).


if there did exist any noteworthy solar philosophy behind the sun-gods of the Mitannians (or of any other nation represented in Amenhotep the Third’s “house of women”), it is doubtful whether any of the Pharaoh’s wives or concubines would have been able to convey adequately the essence of it, especially to a child. It is much more natural to imagine that the young prince, popular among his step-mothers (as among women in general), because of his mild disposition and girlish beauty, gladly used to go to their rooms; that he spent his time there playing, chatting about trifling things, as children do — partaking of the sweets they gave him; and that occasionally he listened to some outlandish tale of gods and demons, of heroes and hidden treasures and fairy-like queens, tales such as have always been told to little boys and girls all over the world.

Knowing of the child’s precocious understanding, we are inclined to believe that he loved stories and also that he readily put questions to his step-mothers, and to any foreigners he would meet, about strange lands and customs. We do not know if anybody ever threw into his subconscious mind the idea of a foreign sun-god with some of the attributes he was one day to transfer to Aton, or if the god of the priests of On, of which he knew well, was sufficient to set him dreaming lofty religious dreams. But we may say, without much risk of being misled, that through his daily contact with his step-mothers Prince Amenhotep acquired one thing at least which was to leave upon him an indelible impression, and that was the knowledge that every land had a sun-god. That is, no doubt, the one important thing he learnt, at a very tender age, from Gilukhipa and the other ladies of the royal harem: Mitannians, Babylonians, Syrians and Canaanites, Libyans and Nubians, women from the Upper Euphrates and from the Arabian desert and from the sacred land of Punt; Cretans also, possibly, and women from the Ægean Isles, perhaps even from farther northern shores, who had all brought their gods with them.

There were not only sun-gods, it is true. Every land had also its moon-god, and its war-god, and many other gods and goddesses in great numbers, some of which could more or


less be paralleled with those of Egypt. Another intelligent child would have remarked that all the gods were universal, and universally made in the image of their worshippers; and he would have stopped there and troubled himself no longer about the nature of Godhead. The child who was one day to be Akhnaton probably made the same remarks; but he did not stop there. For along with that keen, analytical, destructive intelligence with which he was soon to crush all man-made gods, there was in him an immense power of devotion which he had already directed to the one God whose beauty overwhelmed him — the Sun. Among the hosts of deities of which he gradually came to know, the Sun alone he chose to see. And he saw Him everywhere, for everywhere He was present. He was the true God of all nations.

And as from the terraces of his palace the child gazed day after day at the real Sun and watched Him rise and set in incandescent splendour, strange thoughts came to him — thoughts that no boy of his age, and perhaps no grown-up man had ever had before. That Sun — the Disk, the god of his mother — was surely not a god like the others, not even like those who were supposed to represent Him. How could indeed those clumsy sun-gods — Shamesh of the Babylonians, Moloch of the Tyrians, Amon of the Thebans, worshipped throughout Egypt — gods with bodies like men’s and with men’s passions, who were pleased, when fed and flattered, and who got angry for trifling offences; how could such gods be really the same as He? Since all nations saw the Sun in heaven, why then did they not look up to Him directly instead of making themselves graven images so unworthy of Him?

No one knows what age he was when he first put such questions to himself. It may have been a few years before his accession to the throne — that is to say, when he was a mere child. Children do, sometimes, open new horizons of thought for themselves. But their best intuitions are, half the time, crushed by so-called “education.” Prince Amenhotep’s intuition of the oneness of God, which he grasped through the visible Sun, was too strong to be crushed. As he grew in years, he more often and more thoughtfully gazed at the


sky — the very image of glowing Oneness — and became more and more devoted to the life-giving Disk, the one God whom he loved. And a time must have come when what had been at first, in him, a dim desire, burst forth into a determination that nothing could bend; a time when, conscious of the power he was destined one day to exert, he resolved to use it for the glorification of his God.

* * *

The prince’s education was confided to learned men, mostly if not entirely chosen among the priests. We know nothing of the curriculum followed in his studies, but it is plausible to imagine that the sciences the most in honour in Egypt — mathematics and astronomy on one hand, and the history of the past on the other — had a prominent place in his programme. Apart from his mother-tongue, he was probably taught Babylonian, which was the international medium of trade and diplomacy for centuries and the language in which kings wrote to one another. It is likely that he was able to speak, possibly also to read, several other languages. Brought up as he was in the crowded harem of his father, where so many nations and tribes were represented, it seems hardly believable that he was not. Much less gifted children get acquainted with foreign speeches with amazing facility.

The method of teaching in Egypt, fourteen hundred years before Christ, was not much different from that which prevails to this very day in the Mohammedan schools of the same country, and in the East in general; nay, from that used in Europe throughout the Middle Ages. It consisted mainly of making the child repeat over and over again, until he knew it by heart, all what it was not absolutely necessary to explain to him thoroughly, that is to say, all his curriculum save mathematics. And young Prince Amenhotep was probably made to learn in that manner whole scrolls of hieroglyphics: sayings of the wise men of old, treatises on good behaviour and good government, hymns to different deities, in cadenced verses, summaries on the movements


and influence of the heavenly bodies, and lists of battles in which the kings of Egypt had routed their enemies with the help of the gods.

It is reasonable to suppose that the history of what we call to-day the Eighteenth Dynasty — the line of kings of which he was himself the scion — was given an important place in his course of studies, and that special stress was put, in it, upon the struggle against the Hyksos (the Egyptian “War of Independence”), and the following victorious campaigns in Syria and in Nubia which had resulted in the making of the Egyptian empire. Those happenings, which read like very ancient history to most of us, were modern, almost contemporary events to the people of the time. The ruthless punitive expedition of Amenhotep the Second against Syria was then hardly more remote than the Russo-Japanese War is to-day; and the staggering victories of Thotmose the Third, though less recent by some thirty years or so, were as vivid as ever in everybody’s imagination. Men who had been children under the Conqueror were still alive. It is therefore but natural that the whole glorious period extending from the reign of Seqenen-Ra and Aahmose onwards should have been presented to the young prince as a subject of which he was to be particularly proud. The kings of the Twelfth Dynasty were certainly great ones; and so were, long before them, the famous Pyramid builders of the Fourth and Fifth Dynasties. But they already belonged to what was then antiquity.

There can be also no doubt that the prince’s preceptors thoroughly insisted upon the protection which Amon, the patron god of Thebes and of the Dynasty, had bestowed so lavishly upon all his forefathers. For however popular the ancient god Aton had re-become at court on account of the queen’s devotion, Amon remained the great god of the land, and Prince Amenhotep was expected to be, like all his ancestors, his loyal servant — in fact, his first priest.

In the light of what we already know of the royal child’s tendencies, we may now try to picture ourselves how he probably reacted to the education thus given him.

First, the very method of teaching is likely to have made


much of the imparted knowledge appear to him as uninteresting. The wise but commonplace maxims and proverbs and the sacred hymns he was probably made to repeat in paying great attention to subtle rules of cadence and pronunciation, must have stirred less joy in his heart and conveyed to him less meaning than did the song of a bird, the music of a shepherd’s flute in the distance, or a single glimpse of blue sky. Like most children who are all round intelligent — and not gifted with memory alone — Prince Amenhotep had little taste for bookish knowledge devoid of the touch of life. He may have grasped it easily; and we have indeed no reasons to suppose he did not. But one may doubt if it interested him. The main distinctive traits of his mind, relentless logic and poetic enthusiasm, so remarkable in the man, were certainly prominent already in the child. He must have liked all that could set in motion his reasoning power or captivate his imagination. And, as far as we can infer, the manner in which he was taught could do neither.

On the other hand, it is likely that he used to put to his preceptors many embarrassing questions and that he made, now and then, remarks which already revealed his triple genius as a forerunner of modern science, as an artist and as a saint.

There are no means of knowing what those remarks were. Possibly, as we have suggested, the prince compared more than once the ungainly figure of several of the deities he knew — of which some, such as Taurt,1 the Egyptian hippopotamus-goddess, were little inspiring indeed — with the radiant beauty of the real Sun-disk, which he adored. Possibly, when told that the crocodile-headed god, Sebek, was another manifestation of Ra, the Sun,2 he refused to believe it on aesthetic grounds. Possibly, too, when urged to pay more attention to the moon-god, Khonsu — the son of the great Amon — he may have retorted that the moon only shines by the reflected light of the Sun, without knowing how

1 Or Ta-urt, “the Great One.” Sir Flinders Petrie: Religious Life in Ancient Egypt (Edit. 1924), pp. 13, 82, 185.
2 “Sebek, the Crocodile-god, an ancient solar deity.” Sir Wallis Budge: Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection (Edit. 1911), Vol. I, p. 63.


rigorously true his statement was. It would be too much to attribute such an intuition as this to any other child without sound historic evidence; it is not distorting the spirit of history to hold it possible, even likely, in a child who was, but a few years later, to grasp intuitively the fundamental equivalence of light and heat.

Finally, if there be anything true in the belief that the basic aversions of an individual appear very early in life, we may suppose that Prince Amenhotep always showed a particular repulsion for acts of cruelty of any sort, including those justified by war and sanctioned by religion, that some of his great ancestors might occasionally have committed. It seems, for instance, impossible for his gentle nature not to have shrunk as he heard of the well-known torture of the seven Syrian chiefs captured by Amenhotep the Second during his campaign and hung, head downwards, in front of that Pharaoh’s galley, as it sailed triumphantly up the Nile. The idea of those same men solemnly sacrificed to Amon, and of their bloody remains left to rot for days upon the walls of Thebes and of Napata, must have filled him with hardly less disgust. And whatever be the spirit in which they were related to him, such accounts have perhaps contributed no little to infuse into him, for life, the horror of war; to thwart in him every desire of imperial expansion at such a cost; and to turn his indifference towards the national god Amon into positive hatred.

* * *

Some time before his accession, Prince Amenhotep, then hardly more than ten years old, was married with all the customary pomp to a little princess of about eight or nine, Nefertiti.

Scholars do not agree about the bride’s parentage. Sir Flinders Petrie identifies her with Tadukhipa, daughter of Dushratta, king of Mitanni.1 Arthur Weigall rejects this view on account of the princess’s “typically Egyptian” features, and supposes her to be the daughter of Ay, a court

1 Sir Flinders Petrie: History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 207.


dignitary,1 while the striking resemblance between her portraits and those of her young husband has prompted others to suggest that she was his half,2 or even his full sister.3 Brother and sister marriages were common in Egypt, as everyone knows.

We have no opinion to express on the subject. Yet, we find it difficult to dismiss Sir Flinders Petrie’s version on the sole ground of Nefertiti’s looks. For, if the princess were indeed the daughter of Dushratta, then her mother would be the sister and her paternal grandmother, the paternal aunt of Amenhotep the Third, while the prince’s paternal grandmother — the chief wife of Thotmose the Fourth — was, as we know, Dushratta’s paternal aunt. In other words, the wedded children would be even more closely related than ordinary first cousins are, and there would be nothing strange in their resembling each other as brother and sister. However, it makes little difference whose daughter Nefertiti actually was. To history, she remains Akhnaton’s beloved consort. It is curious to observe that her beauty, revealed in her famous limestone portrait-busts — the loveliest masterpieces of Egyptian sculpture — has made her far more widely known than her great husband to the modern European public at large.

It is probable that the idyllic love that was to bind the prince and his consort together all through their years began long before their actual connubial life. If the features and more particularly the expression of the face do reveal something of what we call the soul, then we must suppose that the two children, heir-apparent and future queen of Egypt, had much in common. Their earliest portraits represent them both with the same regular, oval face, slender neck and large, dark eyes full of yearning; with already, in their gaze, a touch of thoughtful sadness which is not of their age. A delicate, almost feminine charm seems to have distinguished

1 Arthur Weigall: The Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 49.
2 Sir Wallis Budge: Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 76.
3 James Baikie: The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 243. H. R. Hall: Ancient History of the Near East (Ninth Edit. 1936), pp. 258, 299.


Akhnaton’s person all his life. But it was balanced in latter days, as his portraits testify, by a stamp of manly determination. In early youth, and especially in childhood, before his struggle with the surrounding world had actually begun, his virile qualities had not yet found their expression; the delicate charm alone was prominent; and the newly-married prince resembled his wife even more than he did in subsequent years.

The two played together, sat and read or looked at pictures together, listened together to the stories that grown-up people told them. They admired together a lotus-bud that had just opened; they watched a velvety butterfly on a rose, or a flight of swallows going north with the coming of hot weather. A painted bas-relief, dating perhaps a few years later, pictures the prince leaning gracefully on a staff while Nefertiti gives him a bunch of flowers to smell. An indefinable sweetness pervades the whole scene, which we may plausibly take to be a faithful likeness of the young couple’s everyday life.

It is probable, too, that Prince Amenhotep soon initiated his child-wife into what could already be called his higher life. Whatever be her parentage, the worship of the Sun was nothing new to the little princess. But through her daily contact with the inspired child with whom she was now wedded, what had meant to her, until then, little more than a mere succession of grown-up people’s gestures, became an act of personal love. Although his own ideas were yet far from definite, Prince Amenhotep probably taught her to see the Sun as he did, that is to say, as the most beautiful and the kindest of gods; we do not know if we should add, at this early stage of his religious history: as the only God worth praising.

If Nefertiti be, as Sir Flinders Petrie suggests, the daughter of the king of Mitanni, then one may suppose that she told her young husband about Mithra and perhaps Surya, the sun-gods of her country, and that she described to him in a clumsy manner, putting too much stress upon details, as children do, some of the rites with which they were worshipped there. It is doubtful whether there could be in those


details, as she presented them, anything impressive enough to be of psychological importance in the prince’s evolution. But he may have seized the opportunity to tell the little girl, pointing to the fiery Disk in heaven, that this was the only real Sun, under whatever name and in whatever way one may praise Him in different lands. And she possibly felt that there was truth in his childish remarks, and began to look up to him as to somebody very wise — wiser even, perhaps, than the grown-up people.

* * *

We have tried to emphasise that, before becoming the Founder of the Religion of the Disk, Akhnaton was once a child with many of the weaknesses natural to his age, but, at the same time, a child in whom the first sparks of genius must often have burst forth; a child whose coming greatness must have appeared, at times, undoubtable.

As there is hardly any information about his early years to be gathered from historical records, one has to be content with imagining what expression the main emotional tendencies must have taken in the prince, as a little boy, the qualities of mind, and traits of character which made his life and teaching, as a king, what we know them to be. But one can assert with a high degree of probability that those psychological elements were already observable in him at an extremely early age, and that he was therefore not a child like others.

It is likely that he was a serious, meditative child, full of the vague call of an Unknown that he could not yet think about, but that he could feel at times with strange intensity. He had vivid, delicate sensations, and was already deeply moved by visible beauty — even more so, as far as we can infer, by that of land, water and sky, and of living creatures, than by that of the highly artistic luxuries in the midst of which he was growing up. He was a sensitive and loving child, who would burst out in indignant rage at the report, not to speak of the sight, of any act of brutality committed, with whatever purpose it be, on man or beast. He was an


exceedingly logical child, who would question the very foundation of whatever did not seem evident to him, and who would never be content with such evasive answers as grown-up-people often give to children who discuss, in order to make them keep silent. Above all, if there be any children who, from the day they were born, have never told a lie or acted deceitfully, he was certainly one of them. And we may safely believe that he renounced many times in his childhood, for the sake of truth, little advantages which seemed great ones in his eyes, as readily as he was one day to sacrifice an empire to the consistency of his life.