Narmer Palette

The Narmer Palette, with a height of 64 cm and a width of 42 cm, also known as the Great Hierakonpolis Palette or the Palette of Narmer, is a significant Egyptian archeological find, dating from about the 31st century BC, containing some of the earliest hieroglyphic inscriptions ever found. It is thought by some to depict the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the king Narmer. On one side the king is depicted with the White crown of Upper (southern) Egypt and the other side depicts the king wearing the Red Crown of Lower (northern) Egypt. The Palette was one of many discoveries located in the Temple of Horus in the city of Hierakonpolis. Today, the Narmer palette draws a significant amount of attention to historians. There are various controversies that are surrounding the legendary Narmer Palette. Among these are the following: Was this Narmer’s victory over the north? Narmer Palette is often taken to be record of victory of southern kingdom over north. But the controversy on whether Nermer’s victory was embedded on the palette remains unsolved.

Around 3000 B.C., Egypt emerged from the twilight of prehistory as one country, united under the single rule of a divine king. Before that, it is generally assumed that the country was divided in two parts : Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. According to an Ancient Egyptian legend, it was an Upper Egyptian king named Menes who first united these "Two Lands". From then on, the Egyptian kings would rule Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt and one of the many names used for the country would be "Two Lands", reflecting the original duality of Egypt. The identification of Menes with one of the archaeologically attested kings of Early Dynastic Egypt has been a matter of debate among Egyptologists for quite a long time and has not yet been resolved. Some identify Menes with Narmer (3300 - 3100 B.C.), others with his probable son, Aha and others yet still see him as a mere legendary figure. The most important document pertaining to the unification of Egypt is the Narmer Palette.

The Narmer Palette, now one of the many exhibits at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, was discovered in 1898 by the archaeologist James E. Quibell in the Upper Egyptian city of Nekhen (today's Hierakonpolis), believed to be the Pre-Dynastic capital of Upper Egypt. Quibell was excavating the royal residences of various early Egyptian kings at Hierakonpolis in Upper Egypt when he discovered that large ceremonial palette of King Narmer with other objects. The palette, which has a shield-shape, is decorated on both sides. It was once erected for display in the temple of Horus in Nekhen. It was a votive or gift offering by the King to his "father", the god Amun-Ra. Not only does it hold one of the oldest known specimens of Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing, its well-preserved decoration also shows us a chapter of Ancient Egyptian history : the unification of Egypt.

There are findings that could be served the claim that it was indeed the victory over the north. But there are some possible contradictions because of the increasing evidence for gradual process of unification over some 200 years that makes an idea of single set-piece battle less likely to occur. As stated by, there are certain conflicts during the emergence of unified state, as shown by evidence from other decorated palettes, but there were probably numerous battles and skirmishes as rival chiefs struggled for territory. Some of conflict recorded on palettes may have been directed against tribes from desert regions outside Nile Valley rather than being connected with internal disputes. Further, the question on were there outsiders involved in the process was answerable with the help of other palettes discovered. The palette provides evidences that there were outsiders that are involved. The figures present in the palette are not in congruence with Egyptian people. They have curled hair and beards, and are circumcised. It is possible that some of warfare conducted against north around time of Narmer may have been directed against local population which had moved into the Delta from west. They were regarded as outsiders by the Upper Egyptian rulers. These claims are substantiated by the Narmer Palette.


The recto of the Narmer Palette is divided into two scenes. Above the top scene, the king's name is written inside a serekh (ancestor of the cartouche), flanked on each side by a cow's head, in exactly the same manner as on the back. The top scene takes up most of the recto of the Narmer Palette. Dominating the scene is a large figure of the king, with a ceremonial beard and wearing the White Crown (which is said to represent Upper Egypt), as well as the symbolic bull's tail. All the important features of the body are present : the whole eye is seen within the profile of the face; shoulders, arms and hips are frontal while the legs and feet are in profile. A solid and static, almost monumental feeling is obtained by having the weight evenly divided on both legs with one leg well in advance of the other. In his right hand the king wields a mace, ready to smash the skull of a kneeling man (possibly a Libyan) whom he holds by the hair with his left hand. The name of this kneeling man (wash) written in hieroglyphs above his head suggests that he may have been important or that it may be referring to a group of people. Above the victim's head and in front of Narmer's face, the falcon Horus of Nekhen - symbol of Egyptian royalty and protector of the king - is sitting upon the plants of a personified papyrus marshland. The papyrus blossom in early hieroglyphs stands for the numeral one thousand - this group therefore means that the king had captured six thousand enemies. This is frequently used to symbolise Lower Egypt. Therefore the meaning of this part of the scene is quite clear : the Upper Egyptian king tramples the Lower Egyptian marshlands.

As on the back, Narmer is followed by a smaller person carrying his sandals. He is thus walking on sacred ground and is barefoot out of respect for the gods and goddesses, in order to perform the ritual act of execution. Narmer, in this way, may be dedicating his victim to the gods and goddesses perhaps thanking them for their help in conquering his foes. Below the feet of the king, below the main scene, are two naked, fallen Deltaic enemies lie helplessly on the ground, and a representation of their walled town. They too confirm the victorious imagery repeated all over the Narmer Palette.

The back of the Narmer Palette is divided into three levels. Above the top level, the king's name, "Narmer" (n'r - fish, and mr - chisel, which translates into 'Catfish'), is written inside a serekh. This serekh is flanked on each side by a cow's head, possibly a reference to either the goddess Hathor or another named Bat ["it is doubtful that there was even a goddess named Bat, although she may have been a nome deity" (Jonathan Van Lepp, personal communication)], often represented as a cow. If they do represent one, she would be the oldest known goddess of Ancient Egypt. The association of Hathor, usually represented with inwards horns, and as mother of the king is seen in most of the Egyptian art and literature. Its disposition in the upper part of the palette gives it a celestial character and prooves the high esteem of the pharaoh towards her.

The Narmer Palette displays the earliest known representation of Hathor with the king. On the left hand side of the top level, the king, followed by a smaller figure carrying his sandals - known as the Sandal Bearer - is represented wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt. In his left hand, he holds a mace, in the other a flail, symbol of his royalty. His name is repeated just before his face. He is preceded by his vizir, and by a female figure called Tjet, holding a kind of sceptre in her left hand.

All the people are represented smaller than the king. The entire procession is walking towards ten decapitated bodies - divided in two rows of five persons each, lying on the ground, with their disembodied heads between their legs.They represent the king's vanquished enemies. In the central scene, two persons tie together the elongated necks of two feline animals, which could be alluding to panthers, symbol of the eastern and western heavens. The two felines are often interpreted as the two parts of the country tied together, since they simbolise harmony and unity. It is believed that the circular depression created by the curved necks may have used to hold or make cosmetics on the palette - if ever it was really used to handle cosmetics. In the bottom scene, the Apis bull is represented trampling a scared, naked bearded Deltaic foe. The symbolism of this scene is made clear : the bull represents the king's masculinity and vigorous power, while destroying his enemies with the force of a strong bull. Some later kings would add a title such as "Victorious Bull" to their titulary.

The dominant theme however is the victory of the god incarnate over the forces of evil and chaos. The king's role was that of the preserver of unity of land and to overcome the enemies of Ma'at, goddess of Truth, Order and Justice.

The palette has raised considerable scholarly debate over the years. In general the arguments fall into one of two camps: scholars who believe that the palette is a record of actual events, and other academics who argue that it is an object designed to establish the mythology of united rule over Upper and Lower Egypt by the king. It had been thought that the palette either depicted the unification of Lower Egypt by the king of Upper Egypt, or recorded a recent military success over the Libyans, or the last stronghold of a Lower Egyptian dynasty based in Buto.

More recently scholars such as Nicholas Millet have argued that the palette does not represent a historical event (such as the unification of Egypt), but instead represents the events of the year in which the object was dedicated to the temple. Much of this doubt also comes from the fact that King Narmer did not appear in the ancient records, which signifies a great deal as Ancient Egyptians were very particular in their recording. It is certainly possible that King Narmer was an alias of Menes, hence recognized to be the first Pharaoh to have unified Egypt. To say that King Narmer has taken this role instead of King Menes would contradict with this recorded and determined history. To supply the Astronomical explanation even further is analysis that King Narmer has actual relations on the Autumn Equinox and Seth. This readily assumes Narmer as indeed, a king and a celestial counterpart as well as the anarchic God, Seth.

Another interesting interpretation may be that the Narmer Palette is an embodiment of the Sinai Peninsula, thus through this perception the palette serves to immortalize the conquest regarding this open area The Narmer Palette can be classified under two categories, historical and symbolic interpretation. The palette literally details the actual unification of Egypt shown from several iconographies. Thus, Narmer may be a king of Egypt, or a much minor ruler. But whatever those interpretations are, the facts still remain as an irony that the Narmer palette could solely serve the answer.

(Sources : http://ivythesis.typepad.com/term_paper_topics/2009/04/narmer-palette.html; http://www.ptahhotep.com/articles/Narmer_palette.html; and wikipedia)

(Pics sources : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NarmerPalette_ROM-gamma.jpg; http://griffis-consulting.com/images/narmer-palette-deities.jpg)
Narmer Palette Narmer Palette Reviewed by Tripzibit on 13:55 Rating: 5

6 comments:

  1. hello again,

    I love your blog! I hope one day they will be able to excavate the spinx's paw and explore the tunnels down there.
    I was wondering if you could do piece on the Nopperabou. It seems it is very hard to find information about this. I found a video on youtube that captured a Nopperabou on film and I want to learn more about it. thanks

    ReplyDelete
  2. (Crazy Canton Cuts) Thank you for spend your time to read my blog.

    (Anonymous) Thanks for leaving your comment here. About your request, i will post it on my blog as soon as i get more sources.

    ReplyDelete
  3. so glad I added this site to my blogroll and follow it

    ReplyDelete
  4. interesting. even though the history is like written in pictograph, it doesn't mean it was easy to read!

    ReplyDelete
  5. (Crazy Canton Cuts) Thanx, i added ur site as well and follow it too

    (renaye) I agree with u. Somehow history n mystery have a strong connection

    ReplyDelete

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