Welcome to The Aten Sequence series of science fantasy books for young adults and big kids everywhere. Aten is fed up. Who would have thought that a little mistake like forgetting to fill up at the intergalactic service station would get him stuck on a sorry planet at the end of the Universe called Earth. He is desperate to leave, but needs to find huge amounts of gold to make fuel for his ship. So he plans to empty the gold vaults of Karnak Temple. After all, whatever could go wrong?
‘The Aten Sequence
Books’ are science fantasy fiction novels, but I have used some real historical
characters and locations in Ancient Egypt to create my stories. One place that gets mentioned is an ancient
city called Akhmim, as it was where Princess Merytamen’s wicked stepmother
Queen Tiye came from. So where is the town of Akhmim and what was its
importance in antiquity?
In the 16th century the author and diplomat Leo
Africanus claimed that Akhmim was the oldest city in Egypt. So is it true? How old is Akhmim and what was its importance
to the mighty ancient Egyptian civilisation?
It is situated on the east bank of the River Nile in Upper Egypt, a few
miles from the more bustling town of Sohag.
Its earliest beginnings are more than probably lost in the shifting
sands of the desert, but clues of human habitation start to appear with
artefacts from the Badarian culture in the 5th century BC. It is from the remains of these very early
settlements and cemeteries that we see the first evidence of the development of
agriculture in the Nile valley. They also made very distinctive pottery, which
included polished red vessels with black rims.
Early artwork has also been discovered in the form of carved ivory
Statue of Merytamun at Akhmim
In pharaonic times the city was known as Ipu or Khent-Menu
and was a centre of worship for the fertility god Min. In the late period the
Greeks knew the city as Panopolis. The
cult of Min stretched back into predynastic times and he was usually shown as a
man with black skin, holding his erect phallus in his left hand and holding a
flail in his outstretched right hand.
Min was depicted with black skin
to show that he is a fertility deity and great festivals would be held every
year to celebrate his ‘coming forth’, where worshippers would carry his statue
in procession and present him with votive offerings. He was the god Egyptians
would pray to for a successful annual inundation of the Nile followed by a
bountiful harvest. Oddly enough, lettuce
was one of the key features of his festivals, possibly because when the leaves
are ripped apart they secrete a milky substance that resembles semen, which is
also an opiate and aphrodisiac. The
Greeks associated him with their god Pan, another fertility god who was often
shown with the head and torso of a man and the lower limbs of a goat.
Tiye was the wife of the Pharaoh Amenophis III and Queen of
Egypt towards the end of the 18th dynasty in the period known as the
New Kingdom. Unusually, we know who her
parents were as Amenophis III produced a series of commemorative ‘marriage
scarabs’ stating that ‘the name of her father isYuya, the name of her
mother isThuya; she is married to
the great king whose southern border is at Karoy and whose northern is Naharin’. These
scarabs make it very clear that Queen Tiye was not of royal birth and it is
believed that her parents came from the town of Akhmim. The intact tomb of Yuya and Thuya was
discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1905 by James Quibell. The mummy of
her father Yuya shows that he was unusually tall for an Egyptian of that
period, had a beard and facial features that differed from those of a typical
Egyptian. A theory has been put forward that he was a foreigner or at least of
foreign descent, with some scholars pointing to the unusual spelling of his
name as further evidence.
Mummy Mask of Yuya, Cairo Museum
Yuya was a courtier of Pharaoh
Thutmosis IV and was a commander of the chariotry and then went on to serve his
successor and son-in-law Amenophis III.
His titles included ‘Master of the Horse’, ‘King’s Lieutenant’ and ‘Father
of the God.’ In his home town he held
the titles ‘Priest of Min’, ‘Overseer of the Cattle of Min’ and ‘Lord of
Akhmim.’ His wife Thuya also held a
string of impressive, high status titles that included ‘Priestess of Amen’,
‘Chief of the Harem of Min’, ‘Chief of the Harem of Amen’ and ‘Chantress of
Hathor’. Their burial was robbed during
antiquity, but much of the impressive, elegant furniture remained and both the
mummies were discovered intact in their coffins. They were known to have a son called Anen,
who became known as the ‘Divine Father’ and also held the titles of ‘Chancellor
of Lower Egypt’, ‘Second Prophet of Amun’, and ‘Priest of Heliopolis.’ Many scholars also believe that Ay, a
prominent courtier in the reigns of Amenophis III, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun
who then took the throne and ruled as Pharaoh for around four years, was also a
son of Yuya and Thuya. So although we
have no evidence that Queen Tiye had royal blood, her family were obviously
powerful and influential at the Egyptian court.
There is very little left of the
pharaonic town of Ipu to be seen as many of the carved and dressed blocks of
stone from the temples were taken away and used in later building
projects. In 1981 a temple dedicated to
Min and his local consort Triphis, also known as Repyt, thought to have been
built during the Graeco-Roman period was excavated to reveal remains of a
monumental gate. Fragments of statues of
Ramesses II were discovered as well as a colossal statue of his daughter, and
later great royal wife, Queen Merytamun.
This beautiful statue has been restored and now stands as the
centrepiece of a small open-air museum.
Interestingly there are also some carved blocks from Akhetaten (Amarna)
that had probably been scavenged to build the later structure. More recently another temple dating to the
time of Ramesses the Great has been found and the fragments of a broken colossal
statue of this pharaoh lies partially buried by what used to be the gate.
There is a necropolis at Akhmim
dating from pharaonic times, which has never been systematically excavated
although some more recent discoveries include five tombs dating to the Old
Kingdom. There is also a necropolis at
nearby el-Hawawish that is notable for its rock-cut tombs of the governors of
the Nome who were buried there from the 4th to the 11th
dynasties. Also at nearby el-Salamuni
there are more rock-cut tombs dating from the Graeco-Roman period and a chapel that
was dedicated to Min. This rock chapel was thought to have been carved during
the reign of Thutmosis III and decorated during the reign of Ay by Nakhtmin,
who was the ‘First Prophet of Min’, with reliefs of Ay and his wife Tey
worshipping local deities. The chapel
was known to the Greeks as the ‘Grotto of Pan’ and more reliefs were added
depicting Ptolemy II Philadelphus during this period.
Bust of Queen Tiye
Magic is a very important part of
the story in ‘The Aten Sequence Books’ and Akhmim is also known as a place
where alchemy and Egyptian magic were very important. Indeed the town was known by the name Khemmis
or Chemmis, which may have been the basis for our modern word chemistry. In ancient times the land of Egypt was called
‘Khem’ meaning ‘black earth’. Some of
the oldest known books on alchemy were written at the end of the 3rd
century AD by a famous alchemist called Zosimos of Panopolis, whose writings
were among those of around forty alchemists that were placed in a compendium
put together in Byzantium in the 7th or 8th centuries
AD. Alchemists concerned themselves with
the transformation of base metals such as copper or lead into precious metals
such as gold or silver. They also acknowledged
that a process of transformation and purification within themselves was as
important as the outward changes in the metal and they worked more for the gaining
of spiritual knowledge and development than they did for the material
gains. The greatest magician and
alchemist of legend, Hermes Trismegistus, who was a composite of the Egyptian
god of writing Thoth and the Greek Hermes, was also supposed to have lived for
some time in the town. So Aten’s
attempts to turn gold into the fuel he needs for ship were perhaps an echo of
the experiments these alchemists undertook.
These links between Akhmim and
alchemy were to last for many centuries as in the 9th century AD the
celebrated Sufi Dhu’l al-Misri was born in Akhmim. He thought to have been an alchemist and been
able to perform miracles. He was a great scholar and travelled large distances
across the Arabian Peninsula and through Syria in order to learn from the great
teachers of the day and also to teach himself.
He died in 859 AD and is buried in Cairo’s City of the Dead.
So although Akhmim might now be a
relatively unknown regional town in Middle Egypt, in antiquity it was a prosperous,
bustling regional centre. Queen Tiye is
said to have owned vast estates in the area, which would have produced a vast
array of agricultural produce. It still has a thriving weaving industry that
produces fine silk and Egyptian cotton that is said to date back to the time of
the pharaohs. It became a centre for
magic and alchemy during the Greek period, melding the ancient Egyptian
traditions and knowledge with the philosophies the Greeks had brought with