Wednesday, May 29, 2013

History Mystery: Amarna Capital Of Heretic Pharaoh -2

It was obvious that Thebes was still too devoted to the ancient gods to allow the new Sun cult to flourish. A new capital was needed, unstained by the worship of other gods, and a place known today as Tell el-Amarna was selected. It was named Akhetaten – ‘the Horizon of the Disc’. The site lay on the east bank of the Nile, at a point where the river’s fierce waters had once gouged out a huge natural amphitheatre – a desert space some 12 km (7 ½ miles) long and 5 km (3 miles) wide, bordered by a wall of cliffs to the east. The northern and southern extremities of the site were marked with inscriptions on stone slabs known as frontier stelae. The engravings are surmounted by images showing the king and his queen, Nefertiti (meaning ‘the beautiful one has come’), making an offering to Aten.

The stones declared the boundaries of the area dedicated to the celestial father. More inscriptions were placed in the cliffs to the east, and on the west bank of the Nile. The cliffs were patrolled, and all newcomers were checked. The soil of Amarna was somewhat above the flood level of the Nile, and therefore infertile. In order to maintain a supply of agricultural produce, an expanse of arable land on the left bank was colonized. Amarna was founded not just as a royal capital, but also as a self-sufficient community. Some of those who accompanied the pharaoh must have been true believers, motivated by faith in his vision. Others must have clung silently to their ancient beliefs. Whatever the background of its people, the original community of Amarna was large enough to form the nucleus of a metropolis which expanded over the years that followed. Surrounded by cliffs and water, the site was had to reach. Transporting large stone slabs for temple-building proved difficult, so to speed things up, only to face the walls. Houses were hurriedly erected with sun-dried mud brick. In the heart of Amarna, the official quarter was constructed, comprising the royal place, the Temple of Aten, and administrative buildings. The house of the vizier, head of the administration, was about 1.5 km (1 mile) from the place, and could be reached quickly be chariot.

The palace overlooked the Nile on one side, and on the other it faced the Royal Highway - a broad avenue running through the middle of the city. The ruins of the place extend for more then 400m (1,312 ft), a labyrinthine sprawl of courts and chambers from which archaeologists has identified the principal areas. A large central courtyard contained colossal statues of the pharaoh and his queen, and led to a harem and an immense throne room containing more than 500 pillars. The king did not live in the place – it was reserved for official functions. His personal residence, a more modest villa with gardens and outbuildings, lay on the opposite side of the Royal Highway. The two complexes, official and private, were connected by a covered bridge across the avenue, and this structure played a vital role in the life of the city. From a balcony in the middle of the bridge, the pharaoh would toss shimmering hoards of gold to his most favoured subjects. It has long been the custom of the pharaohs to reward loyal subjects with gifts. Under the Old Kingdom, the royal bounty often took the form of a stone coffin or a funerary adornment for a tomb. Under the New Kingdom, gifts of gold become more usual – the precious metal satisfied the material cravings of a more commercially minded age. Gold could be used in trade, but it also had religious associations – it was an incorruptible solar substance symbolizing immortality.

An award of the ‘gold or recompense’ was considered the honour in Amarna, and the scene if often depicted in the city’s tomb paintings. The honoured subject is generally shown standing on the Royal Highway at the foot of the palace bridge. The royal family appears above him, and articles of gold are tossed down: cups, bracelets, and heavy necklaces with servants fasten around the neck of the receiver. Ecstatic crowds witness the subject’s day of glory: colleagues, friends and servants – all of whom bow down before their ruler. After the ceremony comes dancing and celebration, and the gifts are taken back to the home of the favoured one. Akhenaten certainly knew how to nurture the faith of his followers.

( Cont....)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.