The failed reforms of Akhenaten and Muwatalli

During his reign, Pharaoh Akhenaten tried to make Egyptian religion more monotheistic. The change didn't take, and were reversed after he died. Something similar happened with Pharaoh Muwatalli as well.

The failed reforms of Akhenaten and Muwatalli Itamar Singer In his fifth regnal year Akhenaten founded his new capital Akhetaten in Middle Egypt, thereby crowning his religious reform intended to promote the cult of Aten to the exclusion of the rest of the Egyptian pantheon. Half a century later Muwatalli founded his new capital at Tarhuntassa in the Lower Land, as the apex of a religious reform promoting the cult of the Storm-god of Lightning at the expense of other major deities of the Hittites. Both reforms collapsed shortly after the death of the ‘heretic’ kings, but Tarhuntassa continued to exist as the seat of a competing Great King. The similarities and the differences between these major religious reforms of the Late Bronze Age will be examined in the light of the contemporary sources and some historical analogies. The foundation of a new capital has always been one of the most radical and subversive steps in the history of a nation. From Akhetaten and Tarhuntassa to St. Petersburg and Brasilia, the foundation of a new capital derives from a fundamental ideological change in the mind of the reformist, reinforced by an unrelenting commitment to a complicated and risky endeavour. The Late Bronze Age witnessed an unprecedented wave of new foundations throughout the Near East — Dur-Kurigalzu in Babylon, Akhetaten and Piramesse in Egypt, Dur-Untash in Elam, Tarhuntassa in Hatti, Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta in Assur. All these new foundations share common traits, yet, as I will try to argue, the most meaningful comparison is between Akhetaten and Tarhuntassa, despite the tremendous disparity between the amount of documentation on the two cities. Akhenaten’s is probably the best documented religious reform in the ancient Near East; in contrast, Muwatalli’s religious reform has only recently been identified as such. The city of Akhetaten at Tell elAmarna is one of the most extensively excavated sites in Egypt; Tarhuntassa has not even been located with certainty on the map of Anatolia. Akhenaten, despite the inexhaustible efforts to erase his memory, speaks out loudly from his own inscriptions and pictorial representations; Muwatalli does not even mention his new capital in his preserved documents. Nevertheless, from the records of his successors and from subtle clues embedded in his own prayers and seals, it is possible, I believe, to reconstruct this important reform which irreversibly changed the course of Hittite history. The emphasis of my paper will be on the less known reform of Muwatalli, within the domain of my own discipline, and I will utilize Egyptian evidence from translations and secondary sources.