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King Narmer's Pallete


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 Nile.
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
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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