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
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 chaos.
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.