by Katherine Piper
The New Kingdom (c.1550–1069 BC; Dynasties 18 – 20) represents the pinnacle of ancient Egypt’s imperial and economic power following the reunification of Upper and Lower Egypt. The expulsion of the Asiatic Hyksos kings by the Theban ruler Ahmose I allowed Egypt to expand and form an empire stretching from the Fourth Cataract of the Nile (in modern Sudan) to the banks of the Euphrates (in southern Turkey) at its greatest extent, and retained a strong influence in Nubia and the Levant for much of this period.
Figure 1: Watercolour copies of reliefs at the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri showing exotic flora and fauna of Punt (left, by Rosalind Paget), and Hatshepsut’s mother Queen Ahmes (right, by Howard Carter), kept in the EES Lucy Gura Archive.
Having regained control of the entire country, the Theban kings consolidated and expanded their territorial control in the Levant and Nubia with a series of military campaigns, the spoils of which were offered to the Theban god, Amen-Ra. The close relationship between the king, the Amen-Ra cult, and the importance of foreign expeditions can be seen at the memorial temple of Hatshepsut (c.1479–1458 BC) at Deir el-Bahri, which was excavated by the Egypt Exploration Fund from 1893–1907 under the direction of Edouard Naville. One gallery of the temple is decorated with scenes showing a trading mission to the distant land of Punt (possibly Eritrea or Ethiopia), commissioned by Hatshepsut to bring luxury goods such as gold, frankincense, and exotic animals back to Egypt. In the temple reliefs, Hatshepsut is shown offering these treasures to Amen-Ra, and states that the purpose of the mission was to obtain these gifts for the god, referred to as her divine father. The temple reliefs were all painstakingly copied for publication by Howard Carter (with assistance from others) as sketches and watercolour paintings, some of which are still housed in the EES’s Lucy Gura Archive, showing Carter’s incredible skill as an artist.
Figure 2: EES Archive photographs showing excavation work in progress at Deir el-Bahri (left) and Amarna (right).
With continuing royal patronage, the wealth and influence of the Amen-Ra cult continued to grow; however, during the reign of Amenhotep III (c.1390–1352 BC), the Aten – an aspect of the sun god, Ra, representing the sun as a disc – gained prominence in royal iconography. Amenhotep III’s successor, Amenhotep IV (c.1352–1336 BC), initially worshipped the Aten alongside Amen-Ra, before abandoning Amen-Ra and establishing the Aten as the primary royal god, changing his name to Akhenaten (“one who is beneficial for the Aten”), and building a new city and cult centre for the Aten, Akhetaten (now known as Amarna), on a virgin site approximately halfway between Thebes and Memphis. It is estimated that at least 20,000 people lived and worked at Amarna, but in the twenty years or so following the death of Akhenaten, the city was abandoned as the Aten cult was replaced again by that of Amen-Ra during the reign of the young king Tutankhaten (c.1336–1327 BC), later Tutankhamen.
Figure 3: Amarna object cards from the EES LG Archive, showing paintbrushes and paint (left), a royal portrait (centre), and a scribal statue (right). These have recently been used in the #Amarnafortheday online project.
The EES excavated at Amarna, with work undertaken from 1920 – 1936, under a series of directors, including T. E. Peet, Leonard Woolley, Francis Newton, Henri Frankfort, and John Pendlebury. During these excavations, finds were recorded on a series of object cards, which are kept in the EES Archive, and which show the breadth and quality of material – from mundane everyday objects to exquisite interior palace décor – from Akhenaten’s city of the sun.
Naville, E. 1894. The Temple of Deir el Bahari: Its Plan, Its Founders, and Its First Explorers. London: The Egypt Exploration Fund.
Peet, T. E. and Woolley, C.L. 1923. The City of Akhenaten, Part 1. London: The Egypt Exploration Society.
Frankfort, H. and Pendlebury, J.D.S. 1933. The City of Akhenaten, Part II. London: The Egypt Exploration Society.
Pendlebury, J.D.S. 1951. The City of Akhenaten, Part III. London: The Egypt Exploration Society.
Kemp, B.J. 2012. The City of Akhenaten and Nefertiti: Amarna and its People. London: Thames & Hudson.