What could these all have to do with one another? Be patient, and you will find out. History is a continuous process, with each event producing consequences which spread far and wide, over time and space. Again, situations arise over the millennia in nations which produce similar responses and consequences. Human response doesn’t vary from age to age. Nor do the basic problems communities face over time and space change much either.
We have all heard of Tutankhamun, the boy-king whose tomb seems to be better known than the young ruler himself today. No doubt the shortness of his reign accounts to some extent for this. Similarly his father Amenhotep IV has been a shadowy figure with reaction to his rule depriving future generations of historians of a source of interesting material. Sometimes there is a reverse reaction to a ruler’s actions Henry VIII performed similar deeds, provoking a stormy reaction which has given “grist to the historian’s mill”ever since. Which is better – obscurity or notoriety? Perhaps Henry was less lucky because now everybody is an “expert”on his deeds, whereas the students of Akhenaten have had to do some hard work over a century or so. If I may be excused a side-step, both monarchs were followed by “boy-kings” of limited survival periods but this is perhaps purely coincidental! Edward VI, Henry’s son, had a weak chest – Tutankhamun on the other hand is still the subject of debate on the question of “Did he fall or was he pushed?”
In the case of both Amenhotep, or Akhenaten as he is probably better known, it was religion which loomed large in his story. Egypt in the period we are looking at – around 2000 BC – had a religious system with a whole range of national, international, provincial, local deities serviced by priests, administrators, servants, tenants, and possessing wealth, temples, hospitals, educational establishments. Many aspects of this would be familiar to folk in Henry VIII’s day too. It could be said that the Pharaoh, as well as being the titular ruler of the state, had a prime responsibility for the army, defence, law and order, taxation, social and economic issues etc. Christian Europe of the sixteenth century was not all that different. In both periods clashes occurred between the religious establishment and the state as embodied in the Pharaoh/King. In Europe there was only Christianity embodied in two main groups – Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Eastern Church. In Egypt there was a vast range of gods and goddesses ranging from powerful gods like Amun to humble household spirits. The temple set-ups of the great gods provided a challenge to temporal authority. Also it could well be felt that such a multiplicity of expressions of religious feelings could well be condensed into a simple faith headed by one supreme Deity.
Such a religious set-up however, greater even than that of Amun, could have immense influence over the state. Amenhotep tackled the problem by establishing himself as the founder of the new faith, its creator. The new religion was to be centered around the Sun, with the Pharaoh as its manifestation, so to speak. The monarch changed his title to Tutankhaten, in honour of the Sun God Aten. Temples of the old gods were closed – no doubt their immense assets “nationalized” (Wonder why Henry VIII springs to mind)? It is a pity that subsequent Egyptian rulers deprived us of much knowledge of how this was done because it sounds virtually unbelievable. Perhaps the traditional gods were losing their ground with the people – perhaps the combined personality of the Pharaoh and the heat of the Sun were deemed to be insuperable – perhaps taxes to one combined religious establishment were lower than hitherto (or am I being cynical)? Anyway the new system was established and survived the rest of Akhenaten’s reign – and he too survived!
Apparently there was an immense freeing-up of art and culture during this period. Akhenaten established a new capital city – Amarna – and there must have been a great “breath of fresh air” in what had been a stuffy and traditionalist Egypt. Some scholars have suggested that Akhenaten was acquainted with Moses, who was also an exponent of the concept of One God. There is however a lack of evidence to this effect. It could well be that there was an underlying feeling that the multiplicity of deities was becoming too complex generally. Akhenaten was less successful in areas like foreign policy and Egypt’s territories and influence shrank during his reign. His son Tutankhaten on inheriting power changed his title to Tutankhamun – an indication that his counsellors had restored the old religion headed by the great god Amun. Not surprisingly political chaos reigned supreme for years as the old ways were restored. The great new capital Amarna was literally razed to the ground, with the foundations only being discovered in recent years. (It would almost seem that one “modern”king, Louis XIV knew all this. He called himself the Sun King and images of the sun dominated Versailles as they had dominated Amarna all those years earlier).
TO BE CONTINUED———
An intriguing aspect of the archaeology of Ireland is the “Round Tower”. These are found, as illustrated below, in many stages of repair. Tradition had it in the past that they were constructed post-800 AD to provide a safe refuge for Church treasures, and clergy/monks. This is because they are nearly all found in the grounds of what would have been early Christian churches. However there are now second thoughts on this topic. This is because many have been declared to be much earlier in origin than Christianity, and to possibly date to the Iron Age, if not the Bronze Age.
There is nothing out of keeping in pre-Christian structures being found in the grounds of abbeys and churches. In both the British Isles and Europe dolmens, barrows, standing stones, stone circles and alignments abound on the same sites as early Christian structures. One could assume that it was easier to have a new faith accepted if practiced on what was already a sacred site. (Perhaps there is a message there for today?).
It is perhaps a good idea in archaeology to, instead of saying “either——or”, to accept the concept of “both——–and”. In other words, when exposed to Viking raids, church personnel could have repaired the round towers – even constructed new ones on the same pattern as places of refuge. In their present form round towers have an entrance door well above ground level, which would have made them less accessible to an invader. The narrow windows to be found in most towers could have been inserted at any time in their history. There is evidence that wooden floors and internal staircases have been inserted within most structures at unknown dates I have seen an intriguing feature in some towers – namely the lower reaches of the interior walls having a “glazed” finish (vitrification) which could indicate exposure to intense heat over a period.
Of the towers indicated, Drumbo is an example of a ruined structure, while Devenish fits in with the normal concept, with its graceful lines and conical roof. Whether the original structures did have such roofs is debatable. Drumbo is in the grounds of a post-Reformation Presbyterian church which is on the site of an ancient abbey. Such are the changes in faith through time.
Alongside the Irish Round Towers we need to be aware of equally mysterious structures elsewhere – perhaps of a parallel period? These are Sardinian Nuraghi, Persian Fire-Towers, and Scottish Brochs.