The sun was always a source of wonder and awe with ancient peoples. Some of the first gods mankind worshipped were associated with the sun, and as civilizations grew, many cultures embraced the sun as part of their mythology.
Ancient Egypt was no exception. Re (or Ra) was the sun god. The early Egyptians believed that he created the world, and the rising sun for them was the symbol of creation. The daily cycle of sunrise and sunset symbolized renewal, and so Re was seen as the paramount force of creation and the master of life. From the fifth dynasty onward (2494-2345 BCE) he became a national god and was combined with the supreme god Amon, who was also a god of creation. From that point on he was referred to Amon-Re.
Although Amon-Re was the supreme god, he was certainly not alone. The Egyptian religion had as many as 2000 gods and goddesses. Many, like Amon-Re, Osiris and Horus were worshipped throughout the whole country – while others only had local followings. They permeated and guided every aspect of Egyptian life for over 2000 years, until one man changed everything.
The pharaoh Akhenaten (1369-1322 BCE) also believed in the power and majesty of the sun, but for him the sun god was called Aten. In the sixth year of his reign he rejected all the other gods and declared that there was only one. Overnight, the Egyptian religion was turned upside down. He left the capital of Thebes, where thousands of priests had devoted their lives to (and gotten power from) the worship of the pantheon of gods, and built a new capital, Amana, dedicated to Aten.
At its height the city grew to more than 10,000 people - bureaucrats, artisans, boatmen, priests, traders and their families. Akhenaten wanted everyone to be happy. He created a beautiful, idealistic religion and Utopia for his people but many just didn't understand it. Akhenaten was not living in the reality of his worshippers. The people wondered why the other gods were not represented.
In 1332 BCE Akhenaten died under unknown circumstances. Soon after his death the followers at Amana, unable to understand what their Pharaoh had been preaching, abandoned the city, and returned to Thebes and the familiar gods. The priests branded the name Akhenaten, as a heretic, and it was erased from the monuments of Egypt. His memory and all that he had created soon disappeared from history - not to be found until centuries later.