1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Tell el Amarna

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TELL EL AMARNA, the name now given to a collection of ruins and rock tombs in Upper Egypt near the east bank of the Nile, 58 m. by river below Assiut and 190 m. above Cairo. The ruins are those of Ekhaton (Akhet-Aton), a city built c. 1360 B.C. by Akhenaton (Amenophis IV.) as the new capital of his empire (in place of Thebes) when he abandoned the worship of Ammon and devoted himself to that of Aton, i.e. the sun (see Egypt: History, § Ancient). Shortly after the death of Akhenaton the court returned to Thebes, and the city, after an existence of perhaps only twenty years — of fifty years at the utmost — was abandoned. Not having been inhabited since, the lines of the streets and the ground-plans of many buildings can still be traced. The chief ruins are those of the royal palace and of the House of the Rolls; there are scanty remains of the great temple. In the palace are four pavements of painted stucco work in fair preservation. They were discovered in 1891-92 by Prof. Flinders Petrie (see his Tell el Amarna, 1894). In the Rolls House were discovered in 1887 by the fellahin some 300 clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform characters. They are letters and state documents addressed to Amenophis IV. and his father, from the kings of Babylon, Assyria, &c., and from the Egyptian governors in Syria and neighbouring districts. The greater part of them were purchased for the Berlin Museum, but a large number were secured for the British Museum. Their contents proved invaluable for the reconstruction of the history, social and political, of Egypt and Western Asia during that period.

Hewn out of the sides of the hills which close in on the east the plain on which Ekhaton stood are two groups of tombs; one group lies 1½ m. N.E., and the other 3 m. S. of the city. The tombs, all of which belong to the time of Akhenaton, are full of interesting scenes in the peculiar style of the period, accompanied by hymns to the sun god. The most important tomb is, perhaps, that of Meri-Ra, high priest of the sun, which has a façade nearly 100 ft. long and two large chambers. On one of the walls of the main chamber is depicted the scene, now well known, in which a blind choir of harpists and singers celebrate the arrival of the court at the temple. In the early centuries of Moslem rule in Egypt the northern tombs were inhabited by Copts, one tomb, that of Pa-Nehesi, being turned into a church. In a ravine opening into the plain between the north and south tombs, and some seven miles from the city, is a tomb supposed to be that of Akhenaton.

The tombs and the great stelae sculptured on the cliffs which mark the bounds of the city of Akhet-Aton have been the object of special study by N. de G. Davies on behalf of the Archaeological Survey of Egypt. The results, with numerous plates and plans, are embodied in a series of memoirs, Rock Tombs of El Amarna (six parts, 1903-8).

For the tablets see Tell el Amarna Tablets in the British Museum (1892); C. Bezold, Oriental Diplomacy; the transliterated text of the Cuneiform Despatches discovered at Tell el Amarna (1893); The Tel el Amarna Letters (English translation by M. Winckler, Berlin, 1896); J. A. Knudtzon, Die El-Amarna Tafeln (Leipzig, 1907-9); W. M. F. Petrie, Syria and Egypt from the Tell el Amarna Letters (1898).