Amarna Era Chronological Conundrum: Dating Akhenaten’s Death and the Length of Horemheb’s Reign–Part I

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Amarna Era Chronological Conundrum: Dating Akhenaten’s Death and the Length of Horemheb’s Reign–Part I

Amarna Era Chronological Conundrum: Dating Akhenaten’s Death and the Length of Horemheb’s Reign–Part I

When the Nineteenth Dynasty Pharaoh Menmaatre Seti I drew up the famed King List at his mortuary temple in the holy city of Abydos, he was confident that he had struck the final nail in the coffin of one of Egypt’s most turbulent periods—the Amarna interlude. The name of every late New Kingdom ruler who was associated with this Age of Heresy was omitted. But our understanding of the final years of the period has been tossed into confusion as a result.

This rare ostracon sketch depicts a king wearing the blue crown, a collar, and two strings of gold beads. His stubble beard is a sign of mourning. The features make it likely that Seti I is represented, but it is also speculated to show Ramesses II. Walters Art Museum. Baltimore, Maryland.  (Public Domain)

The Mystery of Many Years

To close the yawning gap of missing years between the last recognized orthodox ruler, Nebmaatre Amenhotep III, and the final king of the Eighteenth Dynasty, Djeserkheperure Setepenre Horemheb – whom the Ramessides hailed as their spiritual benefactor – Seti I formulated a plan. Accordingly, the collective years of reign of the Amarna Kings were added to that of Horemheb; effectively excising the names of Akhenaten, Smenkhkare/Neferneferuaten, Tutankhamun, and Aye.

After all, the erstwhile Generalissimo, Horemheb, hadn’t initiated a mere backlash against the “heresy”, but a concerted effort was made to establish his legitimacy to occupy the throne; especially because Kheperkheperure Aye had turned the tables on him, even though he had been the designated Crown Prince under Nebkheperure Tutankhamun Hekaiunushema for a decade. It must be noted that Horemheb became king around 17 years after Akhenaten’s death: Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten Smenkhkare-Djeser-Kheperu (three years), Tutankhamun (ten years) and Aye (four years).

This limestone sculpture, from the Temple of Amun in Thebes, depicts Horemheb standing beside the state god whose worship he further restored after Tutankhamun; and followed it up with a thorough backlash on the Amarna Period. Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy.

But, as he died without producing an heir despite being married twice – first to Queen Amenia and then to Mutnodjmet (or Mutbeneret) – he chose his trusted Vizier and friend, Paramesse, as his successor, who, Egyptologists point out had both a son and grandson to step into his shoes, securing the country’s line of succession. Paramesse adopted the name Ramesses I when he became the ruler and founded the Nineteenth Dynasty.

The early Ramessides bequeathed Horemheb a total reign of 59 years as Pharaoh—this included 27 years of his own reign as attested in a graffiti on a statue in his mortuary temple. How could this have been possible? Based on the calculations cited here, we are still left with an accounted period of 15 years. As there is no debate on Tutankhamun’s age at coronation, there can only be two possible reasons for this chronological conundrum: One, the reign of unknown Amarna kings whose records were successfully expunged; or else, Akhenaten reigned for a longer period than the regnal years attested to him.

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