In 1897, archaeologists Frederic Green and James Quibble made an astonishing discovery during the excavation Temple of Horus in Nekhen, Egypt. They unearthed a 5,000-year-old, 2-foot-long stone pallet. The palette featured a warrior wielding a mace. He wore a crown, which implied he was a king.
Green and Quibble’s discovery was no ordinary find. The doodles on the palette were not illustrations. They told the story of the first pharaoh of Egypt and the unification of the country. A united Egypt began a new chapter in its history, which changed human civilization forever.
The palette known as Narmer Palette contained the earliest known hieroglyphs and gives us a vivid account of the first pharaoh of Egypt, Narmer.
Unlike the legends of Romulus and Remus of Rome and Sargon of Mesopotamia, the Narmer Palette was written during the king’s tenure. We can say that the document is one of the earliest examples of historical record keeping.
Let’s learn more about Narmer and how he reunited Egypt. But before we get to Narmer’s story, what was Egypt like before the rise of the pharaohs?
It was along the banks of the Nile that Egyptian civilization took shape. The lush river valley has given rise to several cities, several of which have become political entities. These city-states were divided into two regions: Upper and Lower Egypt.
Upper Egypt refers to the southern part of the Nile Valley, while Lower Egypt refers to its northern part.
Why is the south of Egypt called “Upper” and the north “Lower”? The Egyptian sense of direction was the opposite of ours.
The Nile stretches from Sudan in the south through Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea in the north. The ancient Egyptians believed that the river started in the north. So they called the southern half of Egypt Upper Egypt and the northern part Lower Egypt.
the proto-dynastic period refers to the history of Egypt before the rise of the pharaohs. During this time, we see the first writings in hieroglyphics, the development of irrigation, and the first royal tombs.
The records of the rulers of Upper and Lower Egypt are not very clear and are linked to the gods. Scorpio Ithe first king of Upper Egypt, may have served as the basis for the Hollywood film The Scorpion King.
The records of the kings of Lower Egypt are unclear. Dual Falcon and Crocodile are two notable leaders. Their exact names are unknown.
The natives of Upper Egypt worshiped Together and those of Lower Egypt worshiped Horus. The monarchs of Upper Egypt donned the White Crown, known as the Hedjet. In contrast, the rulers of Lower Egypt wore the red crown known as the Deshret.
Around 3150 BC. AD, Narmer became king of Upper Egypt and changed the course of his country’s history. He wanted to unite the country under one leader.
It meant going to war.
In the 32nd century BC. J.-C., Egypt was in full upheaval. Conflicts with Nubians in the south and Canaanites in modern Israel were common. New trade relations with Mesopotamia caused a turnaround in the fortunes of Upper Egypt.
The fresh infusion of silver from international trade helped the kings of Upper Egypt to develop an army.
Narmer, the ruler of Upper Egypt, had a vision for his people. He wanted to unify Upper and Lower Egypt into a powerful kingdom that would become an exemplary civilization. As we will see in his future actions, his goal was not just conquest.
Narmer’s troops traveled up the Nile and defeated the armies of Lower Egypt. He took control of the kingdom and ruthlessly crushed his enemies.
He wanted to make sure his new subjects accepted him wholeheartedly and not because he was afraid. To conquer his new subjects, Narmer married a princess from Lower Egypt and declared her legitimate queen.
After declaring himself pharaoh, he combined the Hedjet crown of Upper Egypt with the Deshret crown of Lower Egypt to produce the Pschent. Pschent was the Egyptian crown which was united and later became the pharaonic royal symbol.
In the city of Nekhen, Narmer erects Horus, the deity of Lower Egypt, as a national god. Horus was the first official deity of Egypt and the pharaoh was to rule in his name.
You might be wondering how do we know all this?
To do this, let’s take a closer look at the Narmer palette and understand the information it contains.
One of the most interesting facts about Narmer is that we know his name, unlike many of his predecessors, known as Bull, Elephant, and Scorpion. The clue to his name is on the palette.
The Narmer palette depicts the king as a tall man wearing the traditional Hedjet killing a man with a mace. You can see a rectangle at the top of the palette, directly above the king’s crown.
A closer look at the rectangle reveals a catfish and a chisel. In the Egyptian language, a catfish is called “Nar”, while the chisel is called “Mer”. Thus, the name of King Narmer, which translates to “rabid catfish.”
A falcon perched on papyrus flowers in the upper right corner of the palette. The bird pulls a man using a rope hanging from his nose. Papyrus flowers are a sign of Lower Egypt, and historians say this falcon symbolizes the god Horus.
On the other side of the palette, Narmer wears the Deshret, the crown of Lower Egypt. The new crown and the severed remains of his enemies show that the conquest was a triumph. This is the first time in history that an Egyptian ruler has worn both crowns.
Below Narmer you can see a very interesting image of two men pulling two mythical creatures with lion faces and snake necks. The intertwining of their necks symbolizes the union of Upper and Lower Egypt.
At the bottom of the tablet is a bull breaking through the enemy’s defenses and crushing a man. There is some debate as to what it represents, but most Egyptologists believe it to be a symbolic image of Narmer crushing his enemies.
Some historians believe that the process of unifying Egypt began before Narmer, but it was he who sealed the deal.
On a mass of stone known as the Narmer Macehead, Narmer documented the details of his victories.