The Amarna Period and the Politics of Iconoclasm in Ancient Egypt


Wednesday, April 22, 2020, 4:00pm


a talk by Dr. Laura Taronas and part of the Harvard workshop, Methodologies in Egyptology and Mesopotamian Studies (MEMS)



The campaign to erase the names and images of some of Egypt’s traditional deities during Akhenaten’s reign is one of the few key elements of the Amarna Period that Egyptologists have yet to treat in-depth in order to better understand the phenomenon. This paper is the product of my dissertation research, which explores which elements are erased — and with what frequency — from portable objects that are now housed in museums and private collections. The objects in the resulting catalogue range in date from the First Intermediate Period to the early years of Akhenaten’s reign and come from thirty-seven different sites from Egypt, Nubia, and the Sinai Peninsula (with of course several objects of unknown provenance). I recorded the erasure of twenty-two separate terms including the names and images of various deities, references to divine plurality, and references to Karnak, with Amun and his syncretized forms accounting for the vast majority of erasable terms in this catalogue. It appears that Amun was the unambiguous target of the erasure campaign, while divine plurality faced marginal persecution. My analysis of Amarna Period name changes suggests that the Atenist iconoclasm began before the Aten’s final didactic name change, most likely between Akhenaten’s years 5 and 9. Lastly, I consider who the Atenists might have been and what skills they needed to carry out their agenda. This project aims to provide a better understanding of the erasure campaign and to dispel some of the old misconceptions of Akhenaten’s iconoclasm.