Narmer: Dissecting the History of the Upper and Lower Egypt
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It could be said that Egypt is the world’s riches in terms of history of the ancient civilization. It is manifested with the presence of its relics and artifacts that stimulates and challenges the standards of our present time. Such traces of the past illuminate the history of kingship, religion, and the ancient way of life during those times. Expressed through monuments, sculptures and relief, its art is revealed to be very particular in form, unity, and standardization.
Among the most sought-after topics in the study of the remnants of ancient Egypt is the reign of Narmer or Menes. This paper aims to provide data on the reign of King Narmer, The Upper and Lower Egypt, and the Narmer Palette.
The Controversy of Menes
David and David claim that the Egyptian lists of kings provide the name ‘Meni’ – the first king of the First Dynasty (86). This name is the same with Menes, which is the Greek form of Meni as recorded in the early writings of Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus known as preservers of kings’ legends. It is said that he is the first law-giver and the initiator of Egypt’s civilization. He is also considered as creator-god for the creation of building in the first town. According to Herodotus, he drained the plain of Memphis and built the “White Wall” that surrounded united Egypt’s capital. Right at the center of the town which was referred as Memphis in the Greek times, Menes built a temple to the god Ptah. With the Egyptian belief that the creation of the world was followed with the establishment of a line of god-rulers, it is succeeded by dynasties of semi-divine kings as evident in the reign of Menes – the first human ruler.
With the integration of Greeks, historians today identify Menes as the king of the united Upper and Lower Egypt (David and David 86). Menes was regarded as the king, who linked the south and the north that is originally ruled by two separate powers known as the White Land and the Red Land. Menes, who is the ruler of the southern kingdom, completed the subjugation of the north. It was a continuation of the previous endeavors of his predecessors including King Scorpion. When he ruled the south as well as the north, Menes became the symbol of the unification of the two lands. In the same manner, as historians took deeper explorations to the traces of Egypt’s civilization, Menes is identified as King Narmer. King Narmer is represented as the king who wears both the crowns of the Red and White Lands. However, there have been worldwide argumentations over this identification because of several possibilities present at hand like Menes could be King ‘Aha.
With the facts presented, modern controversy surrounding Narmer's identification with Menes, who was first ruler of Egypt documented by Herodotus and from evidence provided by the Palermo Stone as well as Diodorus Siculus findings, archaeological and literary evidence tends to suggest that the identification of Narmer and Menes as one person, founder of a united Egypt and first ruler of Dynasty 1, is correct (David 120).
King Narmer, the Upper and Lower Kingdoms, and the Red and White Crowns
Kamil (37-38) states that the lists of kings that reign Egypt were oftentimes unreliable, fragmentary, and contradictory. The records of Manetho, an Egyptian historian during the time of Ptolemy is considered the most complete. According to his records, the history of Egypt is divided into thirty dynasties – from Menes up to the Greeks. Also, this was grouped into three great periods: the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. But the facts about Narmer remained fixed.
Narmer has been sometimes referred to as Menes, known to have discovered the Ancient Egyptian civilization. He is the legendary King who united the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt (Kamil 1). His reign, according to the Turin papyrus was uninterrupted until the time in power of Unas in 2345 BC (Kamil 3). Narmer is the “most enduring icon” who is distinguished in wearing the crowns of the two lands (Rice 76). He turned triumphant over north (David 118).
Generally, it is considered that King Scorpion, the predecessor of Narmer, was a southern ruler who took early steps to conquer the northern kingdom. When Narmer became the king, the process of unifying the Two Lands was successfully concluded (David and David 128).
Considered as the first pharaoh of all Egypt (Dodson and Hilton 4), Narmer unified the two lands of Egypt. He held the two crowns – red and white as a symbol his reign. He initiated the written history and dynasties of Egypt. He is considered as the “King of Both Lands and Bearer of Both Crowns”. Further, he can certainly be identified with King Menes whom later tradition states was founder of dynastic Egypt (David 119).
After his reign, the Narmer Palette that presents significant facts about his dynasty was made. This is the prime source of all data used by historians and archeologists in making their generalization about the hidden mysteries of the ancient civilization of Egypt.
The Narmer Palette: Uncovering the Mysteries of Narmer (Menes)
With a height of 64 cm and a width of 42 cm, the Narmer Palette was said to have been conceived during the earlier part of the 1st Dynasty when King Narmer took the throne. According to Davis, it was made years or decades after the reign of Narmer and deemed to be created as a commemorative monument (136-137). The Palette was one of many discoveries located in the Temple of Horus in the city of Hierakonpolis. It was among several other palettes which also depicted the achievements of the Egyptian rulers.
Ranke provided a comprehensive description of the said palette. To quote;
“The palette, on the other hand, imitates the shape of the little tablets used for rubbing up the eye-paint, and is wrought from a slaty stone. It was formerly in the temple of the chief deity of Upper Egypt, the falcon-god Horus, at Hierakonpolis, where it had been placed to commemorate for all time the King of Upper Egypt's victory over the northern kingdom. On the one side we see the king, his head adorned with the tall white crown of Upper Egypt, wielding a club in his lifted right hand in order to strike down the foe who kneels before him. Opposite him is a symbolical representation which has its origin in the beginnings of Egyptian writing: the falcon-god, provided with a human arm, leads a man of Lower Egypt, symbolized by the papyrus-plants and a human head emerging from the ground, as a prisoner to the king. On the reverse of the palette the king, accompanied as on the front by a sandalbearer, is wearing the red crown of the conquered northern kingdom and is proceeding with his vizier and a number of standard-bearers to inspect the decapitated bodies of his foes lying on the ground (Ranke 11-12).”
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 (Spencer 48). But the controversy on whether Nermer’s victory was embedded on the palette remains unsolved. 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 (Spencer 54-57). As stated by Spencer, 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 Hunters palette provides evidences that there were outsiders that are involved (Spencer 55). 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 imagery of Narmer Palette implies, “the king was believed to be one of the sources and guarantors of proper order, perhaps exemplified by proportional perfection” (Davis 166). But the Narmer palette presented several issues, mysteries, and interpretations from historians. Among these are the following:
The piece by piece study of W. Fairservis, Jr. to each component of the palette presented debate on ignoring the integration of the whole piece. It remains contradictory in many aspects. Scholars are still pondering on the issue on whether Narmer is the true unifier of Egypt, or whether Egypt was unified prior to his rule.
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.
Pamel Smutny’s own unique astronomical interpretation of the Narmer palette compliments the historical analysis posed earlier. According to Smutny, Ancient Egypt had also relied on constellations and heavenly bodies. From her examination, Smutny compares Narmer to the Orion constellation. They shared the same position of the torso and the poise of the lifted hand (Fletcher).
To supply the Astronomical explanation even further is Alison Moroney's 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 (Moroney).
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 (Sitek).
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.
David, Antony and Rosalie David. A Biographical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt.
London: Seaby, 1992.
David, Rosalie. Discovering Ancient Egypt. New York: NY: Facts on File, Inc.,
Davis, Whitney. The Canonical Tradition in Ancient Egyptian Art. New York: NY:
Cambridge University Press, 1989.
De Luca, Araldo and Tiradritti, F. Egyptian Treasures from the Egyptian
Museum in Cairo. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1999.
Dodson, Aidan and Dyan Hilton. The Complete Royal Families of Ancient
Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.
Fairservis, W. A. Jr., "A revised View of the Narmer Palette" The Journal
of the American Research Centre in Egypt, 1 - 20, 1991.
Jackson, Zoe. "Narmer and the Early Egyptian State”. 3 May 2006 Per
Kamil, Jill. The Ancient Egyptians - Life in the Old Kingdom. Cairo, Egypt: The
American University in Cairo Press, 1996.
Moroney, Alison. "Palette of Narmer" Pathway to Atlantis. Self-Published,
Ranke, Hermann. The Art of Ancient Egypt: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting,
Applied Art. Vienna: The Phaidon Press, 1936.
Rice, Michael. Egypt's Making - The origins of Ancient Egypt 5000-2000 BC,
Second Edition. London/ New York: Routledge - Taylor & Francis Group and Cromwell Press, 2003.
Sitek, Dariusz. "The Narmer Palette" Ancient Egypt - History and
Chronology. 2005. 3 May 2006. <http://www.narmer.pl/main/palnar_en.htm>
Smith, W. Stevenson. The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt.
Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1958.
Smutny, Pavel. "Narmer palette, or astronomical map representing
constellation Orion and its stellar surroundings" 3 May 2006. <http://mujweb.cz/Veda/narmer>
Spencer, A.J. Early Egypt - The Rise of Civilisation in the Nile Valley. London:
British Museum Press, Bloomsbury Street, 1993.
Wilkinson, Toby. Early Dynastic Egypt. London: Routledge, 1999.
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