Ancient Man and His First Civilizations


The Narmer Palette


The Narmer Palette, dating from about 3200 BC, contains some of the earliest hieroglyphic inscriptions ever found. The palette seems to commemorate the historical events which led to the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. It illustrates various representations of divine and royal iconographic themes. On one side, the king, wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt, is shown smiting an enemy who seems to symbolize the Delta. Such scene symbolizes also the triumph of order over chaos. The other side shows the king wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt marching in a parade of victory after defeating the enemies of the unification. Below, the two mythological animals representing both halves of the country are being kept under control. The palette also perpetuates the king's name " Narmer " in the early hieroglyphic script.


The palette's top

the name of the king is inscribed in a serekh between two Cow or Bull's heads.

The top scene

The second figure from the left, Narmer is represented wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt. He holds a mace in his left hand, while his right arm is bent over his chest, holding a flail. The two signs in from of him represent his name. He is followed by an bald figure that holds his sandals in his left hand and some kind of basket in his right. A rectangle above this sandal-bearer's head contains a sign of uncertain meaning.

The king is preceded by a long-haired person. The signs accompanying this figure is unknown. A person similarly designed and with the same hieroglyphs, can also be found on the ceremonial mace-heads of both Narmer and 'Scorpion'. His role is normally interpreted as that of a 'shaman'. Before this figure, four persons are holding a standard. The left-most standard represents some kind of animal skin, the second a dog and the next two a falcon. These standards might be the emblems of the royal house of Narmer, or of the regions that already belonged to his kingdom.

The object of this procession is made clear on the right hand side of the scene: 10 decapitated corpses are shown lying on the ground, their heads thrown between their legs. Above the victims, a ship with a harpoon and a falcon in it, are drawn. These signs are often interpreted as the name of the conquered region. If this name has remained the same throughout the history of Ancient Egypt, then the region conquered by Narmer was the Mareotis-region, the 7th Lower-Egyptian province.The two signs in front of the probable name of the region, the wing of a door and a sparrow are thought to mean 'create' or 'found'. Thus it can interpreted as meaning, that on the occasion of the conquest of the Mareotis region, Narmer founded a new province, whose name is written as the ship, the harpoon and the falcon.

Note: The next image is a larger more detailed closeup of this part.

Central scene

The central scene on the palette's front shows two men tying together the stretched necks of two mythological animals. The tying together of the necks of these two animals has often been interpreted as a symbol for the tying together of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Note: Cave drawings, found in the Egyptian desert, from a much earlier time, depict the same type creature. Could it be, that a now extinct, Giraffe-like animal once existed in Egypt?                              

See: Prehistoric Egypt page.

Bottom scene

The scene at the bottom of the palette's front face continues the imagery of conquest and victory. A bull, almost certainly a symbol of the king's vigor and strength, tramples a fallen foe and attacks the walls of a city or fortress with its horns. The name of the city or fortress attacked by the bull is written within the walls, but its meaning is unknown.