Akhenaten, one of many ancient Egyptian pharaohs, is perhaps best renowned for his loyalty to one deity at a time when the rest of the world, by and large, worshipped several gods. He is certainly the only one of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs to promote a monotheistic religion. This was not to occur again until the Roman Empire took control of Egypt and Christianity was instituted as the official religion.
Akhenaten was born to Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye. Akhenaten's wife is believed to have, at the very least, been a relative and most likely his half-sister, Nefertiti. It was a common, and expected, tradition among ancient Egyptian pharaohs, for the ruler to marry the eldest daughter of his father. Regardless of her relation to him, Nefertiti, is famous in her own right and famed for her beauty. While the pharaoh had other wives as well, depictions found inside temples indicate that Nefertiti was without a doubt his chief wife, at least for twelve or so years. Inscriptions state that he loved her very much, however after several years she seems to have disappeared and Akhenaten made another woman his chief wife. It is unknown whether this occurred because of the death of Nefertiti or because she somehow fell out of favor with the pharaoh.
Facts on Akhenaton and His Religion
His promotion of one deity has earned him the title of "The Heretic Pharaoh". While the pharaoh had been raised, like many other famous Egyptian pharaohs, to worship Amun, five years after he took the throne he proceeded to make several important changes. The chosen deity of Akhenaton's worship was Aten, the Sun god. Born Amenhotep IV, the pharaoh changed his name to the now better known Akhenaten, a tribute to his chosen deity. He moved the capital from the traditional center in Thebes, where ancient Egyptian pharaohs had historically ruled, to an area in mid-Egypt. The new capital was initially named after the 'heretic' king, however today is known simply as el-Amarna. His wife, Nefertiti, appears to have been very supportive of the pharaoh's attempts to institute Aten as the sole god of Egypt. She may have even been the guiding force behind the move.
King Akhenaten worshipping the sun god Aten
The facts on Akhenaton found in temples and shrines indicate that the pharaoh did not stop with changing his name and moving the capital. He publicly declared Aten to be the only god. His only exception to own rule appears to have been in regards to the deity Re. Akhenaton then went on to claim he was the only human being who could commune with Aten. He subsequently outlawed the worship of Amon, sealed the temples that had been dedicated by other ancient Egyptian pharaohs to the worship of Aten and barred the priests. Nothing seemed to be safe from the pharaoh's destruction if it had a reference to Amon on it, including his own father's cartouches. Akehnaton's actions earned him no favor with the Egyptian people. Following his death, references to the king were demolished; much as he had demolished earlier references to Amon. Unlike most ancient Egyptian pharaohs, the people of Egypt seemed to be determined to erase the memory of the ruler who had tried to force his own brand of religion.
There has been much speculation that Moses' written laws and Akenaton's monotheism were one and the same, or at the very least inspired by the pharaoh's take on a monotheistic religion. Some people have even gone so far as to speculate that Moses was Akenaten and ruled Egypt before becoming exiled to the desert.