The Amarna period of Egyptian history has long been shrouded in controversy, with the enigmatic figure of Akhenaten arousing heated debate among historians who still struggle to piece together the story of this renegade. There remains a deep division among historians as to whether Akhenaten’s reign caused the decline of the Egyptian Empire, and as stated by Nicholas Reeves, a British Egyptologist, “You’re never going to find two people who agree on this period”1. Rick Gore claims that Akhenaten “brought the vast and powerful Egyptian Empire to the brink of collapse”2, while Ray Johnson praises the revolutionary Pharaoh whose religious and cultural innovations brought about “one of the most astonishing periods in world history”3. At the centre of this dispute are the Amarna Letters, which were diplomatic correspondence between Egypt and its rivals spanning approximately 1370BC to 1335BC and, subsequently, the reigns of Amenhotep III to Tutankhamun. They offer an immensely insightful view into Egypt under Akhenaten, from which many contrasting attempts to assess his reign have stemmed. It is correct to claim that Akhenaten’s reign had elements of sheer success, such as buildings, and perhaps failure, such as his foreign relations. However much historians attack him, he remains one of the most recognisable and undervalued Pharaohs of all time.
Akhenaten had little military activity, yet peace was ensured around Egypt’s boarders. This peace indicates a successful reign; as is shown by Amenhotep III, a Pharaoh who needed only to display his military prowess and ensure safety, rather than engage in useless military campaigns to be successful. However, Akhenaten still followed the trends of his predecessors; he engaged in military activities and displayed himself as a Warrior Pharaoh. Despite historians such as C Aldred4 maintaining otherwise, Akhenaten’s military did have his attention, however, it was not of great consequence to him. This is shown in Akhenaten’s early building project at Karnak. Talatat found at Karnak by DB Redford5 show that Akhenaten had a military victory against the Hittites and Syrians earlier than year five, before he changed his name and moved the capital. This shows that Akhenaten’s reign was, at this time, successful, and that he wasn’t revolutionary immediately. This military success against the Syrians and Hittites shows that Akhenaten was still interested in maintaining ma’at and ensuring safety, and he was doing this thus far.
According to J Lawless6, Akhenaten then had a military campaign to Nubia around the twelfth year of his reign. This was, in fact, a traditional Pharaonic campaign to the south, and according to the Victory Stela placed at Buhan, it was a success. Akhenaten was determined to continue expansion into Nubia, adopting a policy labeled by Redford as “unoriginal but… pursued with determination and intelligence”7. However, the campaign was taken late in the reign of Akhenaten, and thus shows historians that he was not complacent about military matters. This is a moot point, because Akhenaten did ensure safety for the Egyptian people. Judging by the evidence given, Akhenaten’s military campaigns credit his successful reign.
However, Akhenaten only wished to take his army to the extent where it protected Egypt’s immediate safety, not the future. It is this lack of concern for the generations to come that is unfairly attacked when assessing Akhenaten. In specific, Akhenaten did not place heavy pressure on the ever-growing presence of the Hittites. Many historians such as JA Wilson state that as a Pharaoh, Akhenaten should have taken part in offensives to weaken the Hittites. These statements couldn’t be any farther from the truth. During Akhenaten’s reign, no foreign army attacked Egypt. Egypt was not under any threat. If Akhenaten’s land was attacked by the Hittites, then he would be unsuccessful. But again, this is a moot point, as Egypt…