Dodson-Ay and Horemheb

I am nearing the end of Aidan Dodson’s Amarna Sunset.


From what we can make out from a fragmentary letter in the Hittite document depository it seems that Ay, the new Pharaoh, denied sending a hit man to intercept King Shupp’s son on his way to Egypt. He talked about peace with Hatti. Shupp did not buy it and began attacking Egyptian outposts in Syria.  The result of this was that he brought Egyptian captives to Hatti and they brought with them the plague that had fallen upon Amarna.  King Shupp himself died of the plague.

Dodson talks a lot about Ay’s family connections.  Did he try to produce an heir with Tut’s young widow?  Did he have other sons? Did they die?  Does a certain phrase mean “crown prince” or is it just a military title?  Dodson suggests possibilities.  He says that such and such a relationship is “not impossible”.  It is unclear to us whether certain events, like the funeral of Ptahemhat-Ty the high priest of Ptah at Memphis, took place under Tut or Ay.

What I really get from all this is that information about Ay’s time as pharaoh is scarce.  One reason for this is that Ay was later written out of Egyptian history.  During the time of the Ramses pharaohs, the official lists of kings jump all the way from King Ak’s father to Horemheb, Ay’s successor.  All the others, beginning with King Ak, got erased from the records.  However, Ay built a number of temples.  We have his tomb, although his mummy has never been found.  He was quite old when he became Pharaoh, so we have no reason to think he did not die a natural death.

Dobson thinks the years of Ay’s reign were 1324-1320, just 4 years.  

Ay’s title under King Tut, seems to mean that he was commander of the chariot forces before he became pharaoh.  Correspondingly, Horemheb had a parallel title as commander of the infantry.  He does not seem to be of royal lineage.  He might have been Ay’s brother-in-law.

We have a long coronation inscription from Horemheb.  The first part of it is in flowery language and is hard to pin down for real information.  But the last part echoes King Tut’s Restoration Stelle.  It says that he restored temples that had fallen into ruin.  He reformed and enriched the priesthood.  The temples now had vessels of gold and silver.  The priests were given herds and fields.  There is a stelle at Karnak that preserves an edict issued by Horemheb.  In it the pharaoh speaks with repugnance of corruption in the land.  The Egyptian IRS takes away people’s food, leather goods, and slaves in the king’s name.  The king wants to have their noses cut off or have them exiled to a desert outpost.  In some cases, he proposes the death penalty.

Of course, we don’t know how much of this was political spin.  One way to exalt yourself is to portray your predecessor as corrupt and neglectful.  It seems that from early in his regime Horemheb displayed hostility to the memory of Ay.  Later, he began to disparage the legacy of King Tut, as well.

One kind of evidence we have is of the way tombs were maintained.  This was an administrative function of the Egyptian government.  We know that tombs, including Tut’s new one, got robbed during Ay’s administration.  This lawlessness may have been general under Ay.  But corruption of necropolis officials may have continued under Horemheb as well.  There were some tomb robberies, which Dodson says were unlikely without inside cooperation.

One scenario Dodson considers is that Horemheb lost influence during Ay’s regime. These may have been Horemheb’s wilderness years.  The evidence is about even as to whether Horemheb was Ay’s designated successor or whether Horemheb seized power in a coup.  

One fact that I did not know before is that there is evidence that the sun-worship cult at Amarna was still active even in Horemheb’s time.  Perhaps the worship of Aten was not persecuted, just left to wilt in the sun on its own.

It is hard to know how long Horemheb reigned because Ramesside scribes assign him an impossible 59 years.  They did this in order to forget about Ak, Tut, and Ay.  They just project Horemheb back into the time of those kings.  Dodson calculates his time in power as from 1320-1291, or 29 years.  

Horemheb did not have a son to take his place, so he designated an old army colleague to succeed him.  This man became Ramses I.


Dodson is very careful.  He does a lot of “on one hand” and “on the other hand”.  It is a valuable thing to remember that the evidence is spotty and jumbled.  Presumably, he will give us his overall impression in his last chapter.

I haven’t read it yet.  So at this point I am going to say that Horemheb sounds like a life-long plotter and schemer.  Who was behind deposing and probably killing the queen mother and actual king, Nefertiti?  Who had the Hittite prince killed?  Who was waiting for the death of elderly King Ay and immediately grabbed power and blamed Ay for everything that was wrong in Egypt?  Horemheb sounds like an excellent candidate for all of this.

As for religion, it sounds to me like even Nefertiti, who had been a devout worshiper of Aten was moving away from the suppression of the old religion.  (The suppression seems to have amounted to a financial starving of the temples and priesthood.)  Ay and Horemheb, as handlers for the child-king Tut, fixed blame on the elevation of the Aten cult for military failures and, perhaps, a deadly epidemic.  But it is not clear that under Tut and Ay the government did more than appease the Amen priesthood by building some new temples.  But Horemheb consolidated his power and ruled for nearly 30 years by really opening the national coffers to the old religion, especially the priests.  

It is hard to tell if these people were actually devout.  Probably every ancient was devout in comparison with contemporary secularists. But were they personally spiritual?  Part of the attraction many feel toward King Ak is that he seems to have injected his own devotion and love of beauty into sun worship.  But even he may have had largely political motivation.  He had it in for the Amen priesthood.  He seems to have aimed to take their power away.  This may be one of the reasons that Aten worship looks like monotheism. Centering worship on one god takes power away from the worshipers and clergy of other gods.  Part of Aten worship involved a power grab.

That is not to say that he was not devout and sincere.  He is called the first individual because he did not accept tradition, but developed his own new art and new theology.  That appeals to us. He made up his own religion. Just like so many of us.

Dodson uses the analogy of Reformation and Counter Reformation.  This is what happened in Europe after Lutheranism arose.  But Akhenaten and Luther do not seem that similar.  Perhaps there was a priest who took a principled stand against the old polytheism of Egypt.  Perhaps he influenced King Ak. Perhaps we just don’t know the name of the Luther of Atenism.  



About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
This entry was posted in Ancient Egypt, Spirituality, Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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