Ancient Egypt - Narmers Palette

As Egypt grew and flourished to a powerful and rich nation, it

left behind for today's historians, clues and artifacts of a once

distinctive, well established and structured society. Proof of

this is clearly depicted in king Narmer's Palette. This Palette

shows historians the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, which

signified the beginnings of a civilized era centred around the


The unification of Egypt occurred around 3100 B.C., under the

First Dynasty of Menes(3100-2850 B.C.). This age is commonly know

as the Protodynastic era, which is known for the establishment of

a firm political structure of the land which was unified in the

hands of the king. The glorification of Lower and Upper Egypt

uniting was portrayed in Narmer's Palette, which was found in the

ancient southern capital of Hierakonpolis. The general function of

Narmer's Palette was to commemorate a victory over his human foes.

With Narmer's victory, the Palette also depicts his successful

claim and conquest of all of Egypt, thus establishing unification

of Lower and Upper Egypt under his rule. The dominant them

however, is the victory of the god incarnate over the forces of

evil and chaos.

The Narmer Palette, while depicting several social aspects and

tendencies of the Egyptian society, also reveals and emphasizes

their structured positions within a hierarchy of command. Both

sides of the Palette reveal, at the top, the name of king Narmer,

which first documents, in the written history of Egypt, that we now

are dealing with a civilized state. When the scribes wanted to

write king Narmer's name, they placed a small fish called a 'nar'

over a chisel, pronounced 'mer'. This combination of the words

gave them 'Narmer'. The Palette also depicts king Narmer(probably

the legendary Menes) wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt and the

White Crown of Aphroditopolis, which represented Upper Egypt.

Since Narmer had claimed victory over the northern king, thus

becoming the first Pharaoh, the unification of Egypt was completed.

The reverse of the Palette portrays Narmer clubbing a foeman.

Narmer is then followed by his foot-washer, which should be noted

is shown on a smaller scale and standing on a separate register

line, as suited to his relative rank and position in Egypt's

hierarchy. Narmer stands before the supreme sky-god Horus, of whom

Narmer is also an incarnation, represented as a falcon with a human

arm holding a papyrus thicket.

On the obverse of this palette, Narmer inspects a battlefield

near Buto, with several decapitated bodies of his foemen. Narmer

is then preceded by his four standard-bearers and his priest. The

middle register of this highly organized recording shows two long-

necked lionesses and their attendants, symbolizing the newly

established unification of Egypt. In the lower register Narmer is

in disguise of a bull, which is destroying a fortified fort and

killing any opponents in his path.

The Narmer Palette reveals several important social aspects

about how the Egyptians lived and were structured. The Palette

also shows their value in recording historical events - with such

items of war and political power struggles being 'newsworthy'

events. It would be a mistake however, to read the Narmer Palette

as a mere tale of conquest. Through military conquests however,

Narmer was able to lay the political foundations of the kingship

which endured thereafter as long as a Pharaoh wore the two crowns

of Egypt. The actual finding of a Palette proves that Egyptians

had established a written form of communication, which is today

called hieroglyphic script. The Palette however, was depicted by

Egyptian scribes using a complex combination of ideograms and

phonetic signs. While king Narmer's name appears as hieroglyphic

labels at the top of the Palette, it emphasizes that Egypt at this

time was structured and had firmly established a civilized state.

The entire Nile, now under the control of one king, was able

to be utilized as the most important form of transportation. It

was used for military campaigns, economic trading, and as a form of

communication via boats. The Nile also provided a rich soil base

which encouraged farmers to build huts and plant their crops along

the river bank. Egyptian agriculture and the farmers' practices in

irrigation revealed that the Egyptians had the man power and

capabilities to divert water to particular fields for their crops.

Although each community along the Nile was divided into districts,

each governed by a man appointed by Narmer, each practised the same

methods of collecting and diverting water. Also each man

appointed to a particular district saw to it that taxes were

collected and that the fields were drained and properly irrigated.

The most significant piece of evidence that suggests that Egypt was

indeed a civilized state was a special calendar with a 365-day

year, as well as keeping records of special events and a system of

standard measures for surveying fields and dividing produce.

While Egyptians were basically confined to the Nile valley,

they were able to draw many strengths from their isolation. From

the beginning the Egyptians looked to a central authority in the

person of a king, or god, which was all held together and related

to the Nile river. While king Narmer was able to bring economic

growth and political stability to the newly formed Egypt, he was

unable to control the external pressures which would eventually

break up Egypt and lead to the collapse of the ruling Pharaohs.

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