Book Title: Pilot Who Knows the Waters
Series: The Lord Hani Mysteries (#6)
Author: N.L. Holmes
Publication Date: June 15, 2022
Publisher: WayBack Press
Page Length: 330
Genre: Historical mystery, political intrigue
Twitter Handle: @nlholmesbooks @cathiedunn
Instagram Handle: @n.l.holmes @thecoffeepotbookclub
Hashtags: #HistoricalMystery #AncientEgypt #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub
Hani must secretly obtain a Hittite bridegroom for Queen Meryet-amen, but Ay and the faction behind Prince Tut-ankh-aten are opposed–to the point of violence. Does the death of an artisan have anything to do with Ay’s determination to see his grandson on the throne? Then, another death brings Egypt to the brink of war… Hani’s diplomatic skills will be pushed to the limit in this final book in The Lord Hani Mysteries.
Guest post for When Angels Fly
When I think of fascinating moments in the millennial history of Egypt, the reigns of Akhenaten and his immediate successors come to mind. This slice of the mid-fourteenth century BCE is marked by Amenhotep III “The Magnificent” on one end—a moment during which Egypt was at the height of its imperial power and wealth—and on the other, the brief reign of “King Tut”, whose youthful face is so well known to us because of his fabulous tomb. In between lies a terrain completely unsuspected until its rediscovery just more than a hundred years ago. To this day, our knowledge of Akhenaten and his times remains spotty, reconstructed from slender archaeological clues. But this is what we think we know:
The son of Amenhotep seems to have co-ruled with his father for a few years under the name Amenhotep IV. At this period, the elder king was gradually setting in place a religious shift that emphasized royal power by claiming that he himself incarnated all the most powerful gods of the Egyptian pantheon. This was a step beyond the traditional idea of a divine king. He often referred to himself as the Shining Sun Disk (pa-Aten Djehen), that is, a manifestation of godhead. We can’t know what role his teenaged son played in this campaign, but he was obviously drinking it in. Picture 1—face of Akhenaten
When Amenhotep IV became the sole ruler, he moved fast to take his father’s theology to its logical extremes. Over a period of several years, the Aten (Amenhotep III) not only absorbed but replaced the other gods, especially Amen-Ra, the mighty “Hidden One”, whose powerful priesthood had long been a target of royal animosity. The young king changed his name from Amen-hotep, Amen is Satisfied, to Akh-en-aten, Serviceable to the Aten. Many of his courtiers likewise jettisoned their old-god names, and eventually his henchmen even desecrated people’s tombs by chiseling out the mention of other gods in their names. The world’s first Thought Police! Within a few years he built an entirely new capital in Middle Egypt, in a place where the cliffs seemed to form the hieroglyph of the horizon—and called it Horizon of the Aten.
Little by little, the temples of other gods were shut down, their tens of thousands of priests and lay employees sent packing, and their extensive lands requisitioned for the Aten. Akhenaten himself was the high priest of the new cult, and it was exclusively through him that one made himself heard by the god, unlike the old religion, where everyone’s prayers were valuable. The afterlife, which was traditionally conceived as an eternal life like that on earth only perfectly full of comfort and good things, was now the bleak prospect of fluttering around the altars of the Aten while Akhenaten offered sacrifice.
We can only imagine the confusion and anger of the populace, deprived of their dearest traditions and hopes. Especially the fury of dispossessed priests and bureaucrats. The suppression of the temple system had sent the economy crashing to the ground, bringing misery to many. But the king either didn’t know or didn’t care. There was just one hole in his theology: what happened when the Sole Mediator died?
Akhenaten did die, and he was only in his thirties. It seems that he might have taken a brother as a co-ruler before his death to pave the way to the reign of his baby son, but this youth predeceased the king. There is some evidence that the successor of Akhenaten was his queen, the beautiful Nefertiti, who ruled briefly before she, too, died. These years immediately following the death of the Heretic King are murky. No doubt there was pushback against the changes he had wrought, fed by hope of a return to the old ways after his disappearance. Nefertiti was advised if not controlled by her father, Ay, a powerful military commander. Was he for or against the Atenist religion? He seems to have been a pragmatist who followed the path most likely to maintain him in power.
At some point in this period after the death of Akhenaten, a strange event took place. Hittite documents tell us—it is never mentioned in the Egyptian archives—that some unidentified queen of Egypt approached the Hittite king to request the hand of his son, who would thus rule over Egypt and unite the two empires. This was mind-blowing stuff. The Hittites were Egypt’s chief rivals! At first, scholars assumed that the queen in question was Tutankhamen’s widow, but external dating issues make it increasingly likely that this episode took place before the boy-king’s reign. So who was she? Maybe Nefertiti? But wouldn’t she have wanted to see her own son on the throne, if he was her son? A more likely candidate is Meryet-aten, the eldest daughter of Akhenaten and his wife. After the death of his brother, Akhenaten seems to have promoted Nefertiti to a kind of co-rule, making her essentially a second king. Thus, he needed a queen to fulfill public duties, and his daughter was promoted to this place. She likewise served as her mother’s “queen” under Nefertiti’s solo reign. Was she the one who sought support from Egypt’s enemies against partisans of her young brother?
All of this is speculative, and we’ll see in a minute why.
One can imagine that this plotting and conniving used the promise of a return to the old ways as its leverage. The priests of Amen would surely have supported anyone who started unraveling Akhenaten’s reforms. Meryet-aten disappeared from sight without a trace. Was there a violent conflict—a civil war? And then, the nine-year-old Tut appeared on the throne, and the world’s face seemed to have come around to the front again. In almost no time, the Heretic’s capital was abandoned for a return to the traditional double capitals of Thebes and Memphis. The temples of Amen-Ra and the other gods were restored and their priests reinstated, and the economic wheels began once more to roll. Little by little, all the changes that had turned society on its head were were reversed, as Tut published manifestos highly critical of his father. We have to see the ideas of adults behind all this. No doubt Grandpa Ay. And also a certain officer named Horemheb, who apparently gained the boy-king’s confidence.
So the reign of Tutankhamen must have seemed like the return of a golden age to the people of Egypt! There is an epilogue of sorts, because, as we know, the youth died suddenly at nineteen—without issue. Nobody was left of the family but old Ay, who ascended the throne for four years, then died in his turn. And who stepped up to fill the gap next? Horemheb, who completed the reversal of the Heretic’s experiment by razing his old capital to the ground and tearing down every monument, chiseling Akhenaten’s name and likeness from wherever they appeared. Worse still, every mention of his reign and those that followed were expunged from the historical record! Within a few generations, it was as if Akhenaten and his family had never existed, until archaeologists in the nineteenth century came across an inexplicable city in the middle of nowhere that went by the name of Horizon of the Aten.
[Note: All images are in public domain.]
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N.L. Holmes is the pen name of a professional archaeologist who received her doctorate from Bryn Mawr College. She has excavated in Greece and in Israel, and taught ancient history and humanities at the university level for many years. She has always had a passion for books, and in childhood, she and her cousin (also a writer today) used to write stories for fun. Today, she and her husband live in France with their chickens and cats, where she weaves, plays the violin, gardens, and dances.
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