Read and Review – Visibility, Private Religion and the Urban Landscape of Amarna|Anna Stevens

Small Temple of the Aten at Amarna, Egypt | by Markh | CC BY-SA 3.0

For this week’s task I have to review Anna Stevens’ article ‘Visibility, Private Religion and the Urban Landscape of Amarna’ in 250 words. Below I include her abstract and my short review.

“This short paper is concerned with private religion at Amarna, broadly considered as religion beyond official temple cult. It explores the visual influences—largely in terms of visibility itself rather than content—that may have prompted and shaped religious action, behaviour and thought across the city, and the agents responsible for creating these. It asks how visibility had a bearing on how Akhetaten functioned as a living religious landscape.” Accessed from 18/10/19.


Steven’s argument is that we have simplified the role of the Aten Cult and made assumptions about what this meant for traditional religion, by this she means that the Aten cult didn’t become the only state sanctioned religion. She argues that this bias is due to a focus on elite evidence and by ignoring the evidence from the ordinary people who lived in Amarna.

These people were forcibly moved to Amarna, and she argues that rather than being an act of resistance against the despotic king, worship of the traditional gods was more likely to be used as a connection to their ancestors and their old lands.

The fact that Akhenaten didn’t build as many shrines to Aten and the royal family in the non-elite settlement at Amarna is interesting as it helps to prove Steven’s point that widespread worship of Aten wasn’t the Pharaoh’s goal. However, it also suggests that the archaeologists have been too quick to divide between elite and non-elite. Just because Aten worship seems to be mostly limited to the elites doesn’t mean you should ignore non-elites, and it opens avenues to research ideas into Akhenaten’s relationship with non-elites.

As this is an archaeological paper it deals only with available evidence rather than make inferences, but it would have been interesting to see how Steven’s arguments about the assumptions traditional religion being clandestine are a hangover from the time it was thought worship of Aten was seen as monotheism.


Small Temple of the Aten at Amarna, Egypt | by Markh | CC BY-SA 3.0 from Wikimedia Commons

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