A thousand years prior to the reign of Akhenaten the sun god is mentioned in the pyramid texts. Early worship of the sun god in the form of the Aten can be traced back to the reign of Amenemhat I (1963-1943), whom upon his death was said to have been united with the Aten on the horizon, and during the reign of Amenhotep II (1427-1401) the image of the Aten as the sun disc with extended arms first appeared. In the reign of Thutmose IV (1401-1391) the Aten became known as the exalted god of the sky , but it was Amenhotep III (1391-1353), father of Amenhotep IV, who first gave the Aten a prominent position within the Egyptian pantheon. Under his rule the name of the Aten was given to a palace ('The Aten is Resplendent'), the state barge ('Radiance of the Aten), an army corps, and at least one of his children. It has been suggested that Amenhotep III may have been revered as Re Himself. Amenhotep IV grew up in a royal family devoted to the Aten, and throughout his education was very likely influenced by the Re-Harakhti priesthood of Heliopolis.
It is believed that Amenhotep IV shared coregency with his father, upon the commencement of which the young Pharaoh adopted the titles Neferkheprure, 'Beautiful of Form Is Re', and Wanre, 'The Unique One of Re'. It is clear from the start that the young Amenhotep IV was dedicated to the Aten. During the first four years of his coregency he had built several huge religious buildings dedicated to the Aten in around the temple of Amun at Karnak, and declared himself as the first priest of Re-Harakhti of Heliopolis. Originally Amenhotep IV still maintained a respect for the other Egyptian gods. An early inscription from the Pharaoh's reign at a quarry in Silsileh makes mention of Amun and Horus:
Golden Horus: Weaver of Diadems in the Southern Heliopolis... [Amon]- Re, lord of heaven, ruler of eternity.
The young Pharaoh can also be seen in early reliefs making offerings to Amun.
In the 6th year of his reign, Amenhotep IV made the unprecedented move of declaring that the state would now worship Aten, the visible manifestation of Re, announcing that the Aten was the sole god. No other gods were to be worshipped, nor were there to be any representations of the Aten in anthropomorphic form. Only the Aten, the visible sun-disc, was to be worshipped. The Pharaoh changed his name to Akhenaten ('Servant of the Aten') and his Chief Wife's name, Nefertiti, to Neferneferuaten ('Fair is the Goddess of the Aten'), and announced the building of a new city, Akhetaten ('Horizon if the Aten'), dedicated to the Aten alone. The city of Akhetaten (now known as Amarna) was built quickly from small sandstone blocks ('talatats') on a site on the banks of the Nile in Middle Egypt. The city was surrounded by boundary stelae, of which between these statements and the hymns and prayers to the Aten preserved in tombs comprise the only record of Akhenaten's religious reforms. One of the stelae proclaims:
See [Akhetaten], which the Sun-disc, my father that [made the proposal (lit. witnessed)] concerning Akhetaten;...