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Was Pharaoh Akhenaten so Cruel that he Forced Children to Build his City of Amarna?

Was Pharaoh Akhenaten so Cruel that he Forced Children to Build his City of Amarna?

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A recent investigation of Amarna’s cemeteries in Egypt has revealed new evidence that clearly shows that a “disposable” working staff was mainly composed of children and teenagers. Experts now suggest that those children provided much of the work for the city’s construction under cruel conditions.

Massive Tomb Discovered in Heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten’s City

As The Guardian reports, a team of archaeologists led by Gretchen Dabbs of Southern Illinois University studied and examined the remains of 105 individuals whose skeletons were unearthed from the North Tombs Cemetery at Amarna, the ancient city that wasn’t destined to last for too long as it was built by the ‘heretic pharaoh’ Akhenaten.

Amenhotep IV, also known as the Pharaoh Akhenaten, was destined to be remembered for his attempt at a religious conversion of ancient Egypt; one that saw the old gods put aside and replaced by a single god, the Aten.

Akhenaten took on the might of the priesthood of Amun-Ra, and enforced by the military, temples were closed and the names of the gods were removed from statues and inscriptions the length and breadth of the land. Akhenaten and his family were more concerned with their new religion, and left the empire unprotected and weakened – led by an ineffectual king more interested in poetry and nature rather than ruling. Statues and inscriptions depict Akhenaten and his family with long thin necks, sloping foreheads and elongated skulls, and this has led to claims – as a previous Ancient Origins article reports – that the king suffered from various disorders. His “legacy” remains to this day as one of the most controversial in Egyptian history.

Pharaoh Akhenaten (center) and his family worshiping the Aten, with characteristic rays seen emanating from the solar disk.

Pharaoh Akhenaten (center) and his family worshiping the Aten, with characteristic rays seen emanating from the solar disk. (Public Domain)

Study of the Burials Reveals Information About Amarna’s Lower Social Classes

Inevitably, when Akhenaten died in 1332 BC, Egypt’s ancient religion was restored under his successor Tutankhamun and the heretical city of Amarna was abandoned and forgotten. The entire cemetery, which is located near an ancient stone quarry, could contain thousands of burials. Recent exploration at the site that has mainly focused on Amarna’s cemeteries, the city’s humble desert graves, has revealed a lot of previously unknown information about the everyday people who lived and worked in Akhenaten’s city and died with it.

The site of Amarna viewed from the desert cliffs to the north of the city.

The site of Amarna viewed from the desert cliffs to the north of the city. Photograph: Mary Shepperson/Courtesy of The Amarna Project

As The Guardian reports, from 2006 to 2013 the Amarna Project excavation, which aimed to unearth four hundred individuals from an immense cemetery behind the South Tombs cliffs, roughly calculated that it included nearly six thousand looted burials. The examination of these burials and the skeletons has opened a new research window on life and death in the lower classes of Egyptian society. They manifest a clear picture of poverty, hard work, poor diet, ill-health, frequent injury and relatively early death.

The Majority of Town’s Building was Done by Children

The Guardian reports that the initial analysis of the 105 skeletons excavated at the North Tombs Cemetery in 2015, was conducted by Dr. Gretchen Dabbs of Southern Illinois University and is now completed. The analysis divulges that more than ninety percent of the deceased in the sample had been between the ages of seven and twenty-five, with most of them being under fifteen. Even though youngsters usually have an extremely good health, the majority of the teens in the sample showed signs of severe injuries and degenerative conditions associated with hard working under unhealthy conditions.

A juvenile burial under excavation at the North Tombs Cemetery, Amarna, Egypt. Photograph: Mary Shepperson/Courtesy of The Amarna Project

A juvenile burial under excavation at the North Tombs Cemetery, Amarna, Egypt. Photograph: Mary Shepperson/Courtesy of The Amarna Project

Additionally, researchers concluded that the young individuals were not buried by their family members, as the graves lacked grave goods. Also, archaeologists speculate that the young workers could possibly have been the children of slaves, or captured in order to build the pharaoh’s city. Despite sounding completely barbaric by today’s modern standards, the safest conclusion experts can make at the moment, is that children as young as seven were forced to carry out frequent heavy labor, with many of them dying from the inhumane conditions.

Last but not least, as The Guardian reports, all work at Amarna is carried out with the permission and support of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. The work at the North Tombs Cemetery is supported with funding from the National Endowment of the Humanities. The Amarna Project is a project of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge.

Top image: Artist’s reconstruction of the ancient city of Amarna. Credit: Paul Docherty.

By Theodoros Karasavvas



Sorry, somewhat late to the party but just got two smooth shocks.
First by the cruel treatment of these small children and young adults in Amarna, who weren't allowed to have a life.
Second by some harsh comments here, interesting comments though.
True, especially in former times children were asked to work very early.
And yes, often they didn't have much time to enjoy their childhood, but it wasn't normal to drive them into death as work slaves.
Hard unhealthy child work still exists, unfortunately.
Findings of small tools, tunnels and huts may indicate mature "little people".
More likely these are hints to child labour and child exploitation.
Don't know for South Africa; in Germany only a few mature "little people" (did) exist.
But often -NOT normally- children here in Germany were abused as small miners and they had a sad short life expectancy either.
One of my favorite fairy tales was 'Snow White and the seven Dwarfs' ...till it became pretty clear that the seven dwarfs referred to underaged miners.
Yep, welcome to the real World.
What doesn't make child exploitation any better.

since the Hebrews are known to have come quite often to Egypt (see oral and written tradition = Abraham fled there during a famine, Joseph was sold by his brothers and became very rich there, many Canaanites ( Hebrews as well) invaded northern Egypt and ruled there until their Expulsion (Hyksos period) and Moses was brought up there until he led the Hebrew exodus. (which might be the same Hyksos-kickout story projected into later periods, but embellished and sanitized).
-therefore it's quite probable that the ruling Pharao not only ordered all male Hebrew newborns to be killed (see Moses' survival story) but also forced their already living children into hard labor in order to reduce their number because of the menace those unruly and patently un-egyptian Semite shephards constituted for the already shaky social atmosphere during the forced transition from Poly- to Monotheism. The fact that Moses rigorously imposed the same monotheism as Akhenaten (using the war-god JAHWE instead of ATEN) is another hint pointing to a connection between the 2 religio-social transformations. Even some verses of Akhenaten's hymn to the glorious ATEN were copied word for word by a Hebrew prophet of this time. So we should not be surprised that not only adult Hebrews worked at Amarna.The Old testament mentions the slave work of "brick laying"

I have been interested in Ark. for many years. Is there anything in the idea that Moses was in some way connect to him hence the spread of monotheism ?

I'm sure the dates are right, I just can't get it out of my mind about the first born were killed. Where are those bodies. Just a thought.

Using children for hard labour is only partially true .For the most part it was not even children! Children of that young age were simply too weak to do such heavy work. The good doctor should re-examine the skeletons and it will be found that it was "little people" . These Little people were commonly found in Africa ,Europe and parts of Asia 2000 to 4500 years ago..Numerous stone tools of -to us - mini proportions and small tunnels indicate who they where.I have found much evidence in South Africa eg small stone huts, microlithic stone tools and other tiny stone artefacts.


Theodoros Karasavvas's picture


Theodoros Karasavvas, J.D.-M.A. has a cum laude degree in Law from the University of Athens, a Masters Degree in Legal History from the University of Pisa, and a First Certificate in English from Cambridge University. When called upon to do... Read More

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