Name derived from the Beni'Amran or El-Amarna Bedouins, and now given to the extensive ruins and rock-cut tombs which are the last relics of the ancient royal city of Khut Aten. These ruins are in middle Egypt, on the east bank of the Nile, near the villages of Hagg Ḳandîl on the south and Et-Tell on the north. They are the ruins of a city built by Amenophis IV., of the eighteenth Egyptian dynasty. Shortly after the beginning of his reign, Amenophis broke away from the worship of all gods except Aten, the god of the solar disk. He accordingly removed from Thebes, which for centuries had been the Egyptian capital, and built a new city, in which ancient traditions and invested religious interests should not be able to oppose his reforms. He selected the site now known as El-Amarna, in the Hermopolitan nome in central Egypt, in which a royal palace and a temple of Aten were soon surrounded by residences of nobles and of others who would naturally follow in the train of royalty. After the death of Amenophis the old religion reasserted itself, the royal residence was soon moved back to Thebes, and the city which he had been at so much pains to build fell into decay. As the reign of Amenophis was less than twenty years, the occupation of his new capital can not have been long. Its site was never reoccupied, so that the course of the streets of Khut Aten and the plans of the ancient palaces and houses may still be traced in the mound.
The position of the palace of Amenophis was discovered by Petrie during his excavation at El-Amarna in 1891-92. It is indicated on the mound to-day by a building erected to preserve some painted stucco pavements which once formed a part of the palace. These paintings, as well as those in the neighboring tombs, prove that the artists of the time of Amenophis had emancipated themselves from ordinary Egyptian conventions, and represented objects much more naturally than had hitherto been the case.The El-Amarna Tablets.
The attention of the modern world was first called to El-Amarna by the discovery, accidentally made by a peasant woman late in 1887, of more than 300 cuneiform tablets, which turned out to be letters written to Amenophis III. and Amenophis IV. by kings of various Asiatic countries and by Egyptian officials or vassals in Phenicia, Syria, and Palestine. This correspondence opened vistas of Oriental history that had been entirely unsuspected. Kadashman-Bel and Burnaburiash, kings of Babylon; Ashuruballit, a king of Assyria; Dushratta, a king of Mittani; and a king of Alashia (supposed to be Cyprus)—all had friendly correspondence with the Egyptian kings. An entirely new conception of international relations at this period was thus acquired; and the remarkable fact was established that the language of diplomatic intercourse was then the cuneiform Babylonian. The majority of the letters were from vassals or officials in places like Gebal, Tyre, Sidon, Lachish, Jerusalem, etc.—letters which proved that even in writing to Egyptians the natives of this region used Babylonian cuneiform. Thus a long domination of these countries by Babylonian influence, before the Egyptian conquest by Thothmes III., was evident. The contents of the letters afford a vivid picture of the way in which the Asiatic empire of Egypt was disintegrating under the weak administration of Amenophis IV.
Amenophis IV. had an Asiatic mother. He was accordingly more interested in preserving these letters than most Egyptian kings would have been; those which had been written to his father he took to his new capital, while those which were written to himself were stored in the same archive, where they remained until 1887. After their discovery the British Museum purchased 87 of them, the Berlin Museum 160 (a considerable number being fragments), the Gizeh Museum at Cairo obtained 60, while about 20 were purchased by private persons.
- Baedeker, Egypt, pp. 203 et seq., Leipsic, 1902;
- Budge, History of Egypt, iv. 117-141, 184-241, London, 1902;
- Bezold, The Tell-El-Amarna Tablets in the British Museum, London, 1891;
- Oriental Diplomacy, London, 1893;
- Winckler, Der Thontafelfund von El-Amarna, Berlin, 1889;
- Die Thontafeln von Tell-El-Amarna (vol. v. of Schrader, K. B.).