When Amenhotep III became pharaoh in 1390 BC, Egypt controlled a vast empire and was rich, respected and free. But it faced the challenge of powerful new rivals. Rather than fighting these rivals, as his predecessors had done, Amenhotep III talked to them. The Amarna letters were small stone tablets - correspondence between the pharaoh and the leaders of rival nations. Instead of war, Egypt was now using diplomacy. In its diplomacy, Egypt had one huge advantage. Its enormous quantities of gold made it the most valuable ally in the ancient world. Foreign kings often asked Amenhotep for gold. The pharaoh was clever: although he gave them gold, he always left them wanting more. Amenhotep also used this wealth to start an extensive building program, which included enormous temples dedicated to himself and his chief queen, Tiy. However, he was also growing tired of the power of the priests, particularly those of the chief god, Amen-Re. To keep the priests in their place, he began to pay attention to a minor god, Aten. When he died, his son became pharaoh and took this religious change to extremes. He declared that Egypt would worship only one god, Aten, and closed down all the temples to Amen-Re. The pharaoh then changed his name to Akenhaten and ordered a brand new capital city to be built at Amarna. Once completed, he packed up the city of Thebes and moved out. After the death of his beloved wife, Nefertiti, Akenhaten ordered the destruction of all references to Amen-Re. He also lost touch with the outside world, ignoring the pleas of his people and allies and almost destroying Egypt's empire. When Akenhaten died, his heir inherited an empire on the brink of disaster. Tutankhamen, the new pharaoh, was just nine years old, so priests and courtiers ruled behind the scenes. They reinstated Egypt's traditional gods and acted as if Akenhaten had never ruled. When Tutankhamen turned 19, he was old enough to rule for himself. The same year, he suddenly died in mysterious circumstances and was buried with the heretical remains of his father's reign.
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