Text – The first Pharaoh: King Menes and the Palette of Narmer

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“Excavators working in the ancient town of Hieraconpolis in southern Egypt found an unusual object.  Among a cache of sacred relics buried in the remains of an early temple lay a oversized (60 cms) slate cosmetic palette. With carved pictures and rudimentary writing it told the story of the unification of Egypt. One side shows a large figure grasping an enemy by the hair with one hand while raising a mace menacingly with the other. Hieroglyphs over the scene call the man “Narmer”. The reverse side shows Narmer leading a procession of tiny figures carrying banners, while a little man behind him dresses as a priest cradles a pair of sandals.

Most significantly, Narmer wears one kind of crown on one side of the palette and a different crown on the other –distinctive royal hats known as the Red Crown of the North and the White Crown of the South. The pictures narrate Narmer’s leadership of a southern confederation (with processional banners representing various communities) to its successful conquest of the north, a conquest that made Narmer the first ruler of a unified Egypt. Except for a relatively brief period of instability, the country remained a single entity throughout its 3000-year history, but Egyptians never forgot their origins. They always referred to their country as the ‘Two Lands’, and their ruler as the ‘Lord of Upper and Lower Egypt’, a way of acknowledging the indispensable role of the pharaoh in holding a divided country together. Other Egyptian records assign the original pharaoh the name Menes, a different designation for the same man – every pharaoh had at least two names”

Bryer, H. Hobbs, Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians (Greenwood Press, 2008).

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The first pharaoh

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