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Amarna Construction

The City - Amarna - Capital Cities

How did Pharaoh choose this Area?

Pharaoh himself wrote on Stelae discovered in Akhetaten that he was, “led there by God Aten” and that his “God could not be jealous or depressed or angry or act on impulse; he simply existed and, by that existence, caused all else to exist“. God Aten was so powerful required a new city built solely for his honour and worshipping

Therefore, Pharaoh needed a place where he could pursue his vision of a society dedicated to the cult of the God Aten which had never been used before in Egypt and was “clean” from the worship of any other Gods or Goddess in his view. Akhetaten was built for the sole purpose of providing a sacred space for the God Aten.  

Pharaoh Akhenaten saw his building projects in the new city as being of benefit to the collective nation and not just the Pharaoh or the Royal Family.

Akhetaten was conceptualised and built by Pharaoh Akhenaten to dedicate a new City to his “revised religion” of the Aten, the one God instead the many. It became the Capital city of Egypt in the 18th Dynasty, built between Regnal Year 5, roughly 1348BC, and Regnal Year 9, roughly 1344 BC. It was home to roughly 30,000 people, but it was abandoned after the Pharaoh’s death in 1336 BC and razed to the ground under the order of Pharaoh Horemheb.

The Builders worked on the roughly 10km long Nile side City and lived nearby on site for the entirety of its construction and thereafter for repairs. Most of the buildings within were constructed of mudbricks and then white-washed, only the Palaces and Temples were faced with local stone. These included Distinct roadways on a grid with divided zones, Government Buildings with Quay side and supporting warehouses, Gardens with Pools, Worker’s Living Quarters & Industrial areas, a Zoo, Artist’s Studios and Quarters & Suburbs for residential use by the Nobles and wealthier Egyptians with large House and Estates, Bath Houses, Cemeteries, Administrative Areas and the Royal Temples and Palaces. The outskirts of the city were reserved for the Farmers, the Workers’ Village, Cemeteries and the Tombs of the Royal Family. 

The Worker’s Village was found to the East of the City within view of the Southern Tombs of the Royal Family on which they worked, over 1km from the borders of the city itself. The Village had some Builders within its community as these would be the people who would hew the Tombs for the Royals out of the solid Rocks, but more of the Village would be populated by the Artisans who would have decorated the Tombs. Their 72 homes were surrounded by an Enclosure Wall and were all made from mudbrick and measured 5 meters wide by 10 meters long.

It seems as though the homes were the only perks of living here though as no Well or gardens to grow foodstuffs were found within the Village. Excavators have found that attempts to garden were made in any space was that was available to the residents. The Villagers were making efforts to be self-sufficient as Pharaoh Akhenaten’s regime seemed not to care about the welfare of the City’s workers as they should, similar to his bizarre national and foreign policies. But this was not all, unlike the high standards of living found at this time in other cities, towns, and village in Egypt, the Worker’s Village suffered with very high levels of Human Fleas and Bed Bugs intimating that it was the breeding ground for disease. Lastly, Egyptologists have only found a main Chapel onsite which was erected at the beginning of Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s reign, meaning that the Village appeared not to have any religious sustenance during the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten.

This covers the Builders who worked on the Royal Tombs, so who worked on the city itself? All evidence is pointing to Akhetaten City, Pharaoh’s shining city to his God Aten, being built by child and adolescent labour. The Amarna Project has been working on excavating 400 intact skeletons from 6,000 plus burials in a cemetery behind the cliffs where the South Tombs are found. Most of the other burials have been looted or are too badly damaged to be worked on as the ground is not sufficiently prepared to hold bodies of the dead. What the excavators have discovered is that the individuals suffered from poor diets, bad health, frequent injuries, and excessively hard work. They lived in poverty and died relatively early deaths.

This is not all. The Amarna Project has also worked on the North Tombs Cemetery. Here the burials were the most basic level known to the ancient Egyptians: multiple skeletons found in each grave, little to no grave goods, flooring reeds used as burial shrouds and no religious amulets or symbols to help the deceased reach the Afterlife. Once the Project investigated the bones inside the burial plots it was found that more than 90% of the skeletons buried were aged from 7 to 25, with the vast majority being 15 years old or under. Their skeletons showed that they were suffering from disturbing and progressive injuries from the repeated overuse of their bodies in hard manual labour which left them deformed and subsequently dead by the average age of 15. Furthermore, the skeletons showed the excavators the evidence of spinal fractures and osteoarthritis. Where were their families? It appears that these children were taken from their families to live and work with other child labourers in the desert to build Pharaoh Akhenaten’s city which would explain the lack of standardised burial and grave goods found. The children were burying their friends, often at the same time, in the best way that they knew how to. No other site like this has been located by Egyptologists to date.