In a land like Egypt where the sun was one of the two dominating forces of nature (the other being the Nile), it was natural for the people to worship the sun as a god. Solar (sun) worship had been practiced throughout Egypt in one form or another since Predynastic times. Popular beliefs about the sun god varied from place to place as did the names by which the god was known and the way it was represented- Re, Atum, Kheper and Re- Horakhte.
During the eighteenth Dynasty there was a number of changes in the solar cult. Re was seen as more than just a sun god. He was the universal god – the sole god who has made himself for eternity and as such embodied all the other gods in his being. He was described in the hymns carved into rock-cut tombs, as Re of the Disk. Thutmose III was described as Re, the Lord of Heaven, the Lord of Upper and Lower Egypt when he rises, The Aten when he reveals himself.
Thumose IV, Akhenaten’s grandfather, developed a closer relationship with the Aten than his predecessors. For example, on a commemorative scarab, he was described as The Disk in his Horizon. He also recorded that he fought ‘with the Aten before him’ and hoped that the conquered foreigners would, like the Egyptians, ‘serve the Aten forever’. There was a tendency during the reign of Thutmose IV to describe the sun disk as a god in its own right rather than as the physical aspect of Re.
The priests of the sun god at on or Heliopolis (the city of the sun) formulated the first state religion. They took the various popular beliefs about the sun and superimposed them one upon the other. They also amalgamated the various names for the sun god. By doing this they indicated to people throughout Egypt that the sun god they worshipped was the same as the one worshipped in the cult centre at Heliopolis.