King Narmer, the first Pharaoh

The unification of lower and upper Egypt in about 3100 BC laid the foundations of Egypt of the Pharaohs. Was Narmer the founder and ruler off the combined kingdoms- the first Pharaoh?


According to ancient Egyptian traditions, the unification of the two regionsof upper and lower Egypt was achieved by a legendary ruler called menes. He is also credited with founding the city between the two lands. Historically, however the fabled Menes has been linked to two known early rulers – Narmer and Aha.
As there are no detailed records from the time, Egyptologists continue to debate whether Narmer was a forerunner or founder of the 1st Dynasty, and some argue that he and Aha were the same person. while others claim that Aha was Narmers son and successor. A jar seal impression found at Abudos in 1985, however lists the eight rulers of the first dynasty, with Narmer first on the list, followed by Aha.

King Narmer

King Narmer

The most important archeological evidence for the unification of Egypt under Narmer is a splendid ceremonial palette found in Hierakonpolis in 1897 (perhaps of the King Scorpion) . The discovery of the mudstone palette, along with lime stone macehead, from under the floor if the temple of the old kingdom (2686-2181 BC), can be clearly identified with a king called Narmer from hieroglyphs of his name. Unfortunately, the excavations were badly recorded, but the palette shows both sides, with the king wearing the crown of Upper Egypt on one and the crown of lower Egypt on the other. On the palette, Narmer is This kind of depiction of victorious pharaohs was to be used for about 3,000 years and was repeated, with the individual ruler of the period in a triumphant pose, on every Egyptian temple until Roman rulers.

Most recently, new studies of the images on the macehead put forth the theory that the scenes are not primarily commemorative but are simply pictorial versions of year-names. The focus of the scene is the king’s figure, seen sitting robed in a long cloak enthroned under a canopy on a high dais, wearing the Red Crown and holding a flail. The enclosure within which he sits can be interpreted as a shrine or temple. He is attended by minor figures of fan-bearers, bodyguards, with long quarterstaves and an official who may be either vizier or heir-apparent. In front of Narmer three men run a race towards him, while above them stands four men carrying standards. Facing the king is a cloaked and beardless figure, over whom is a simple enclosure in which stands a cow and calf (a nome sign).

The running figures may represent Muu dancers, long associated with Buto, presenting a welcome to the new lord of the Delta. The seated figure facing Narmer may be the chief of Buto rather than a princess of the Delta.Beneath these figures are symbols of numbers. The numbers have been recently interpreted to indicate 400,000 cattle, 1,422,000 small animals, and 120,000 men (not women and children, only males.) This would have provided for a total human population of the Delta of perhaps 600,000.The macehead then commemorates the completion of the conquest of Lower Egypt, not with a royal dynastic marriage etc, but perhaps, with the first Appearance of the King of Lower Egypt, by an actual census of the Delta people, similar to and a precursor of the census taken by William the Conqueror after he won England.Some scholars speculate that Menes and Narmer may be the same person. Menes is the Greek form of the name of the legendary first human king of Egypt as given by Manetho, the historian living in Hellenistic times who constructed one form of King Lists.


Namers Palette

Namers Palette

During Narmer’s reign, Egypt had an active economic presence in southern Canaan. Pottery sherds have been discovered at several sites, both from pots made in Egypt and imported to Canaan and others made in the Egyptian style out of local materials. The latter discovery has led to the conclusion that Egypt’s presence in Canaan was in the form of a colony rather than just the result of trade. While Egypt’s presence in Canaan has been explained as the result of a military invasion, this view is not generally accepted. Fortifications at Tel es-Sakan dating to this period and almost entirely Egyptian in construction suggest a military presence, if not a military invasion.


The extent of Egyptian activity in southern Canaan is shown by the discovery of 33 serekhs on pottery sherds at sites in Canaan dating from the Protodynastic Period to the beginning of the First Dynasty. Thirteen of these belong to Narmer, and came from six different sites: Tel Arad, En Besor (Ein HaBesor), Tel es-Sakan, Nahal Tillah (Halif Terrace), Tel Erani, and Lod. An additional serekh from Lod is attributed to Narmer’s probable predecessor, Ka. Significantly only one is attributable to Narmer’s successors, to Hor Aha, his immediate successor. The remainder of the serekhs either have no name on them or have a name not attributable to any known pharaoh


It seems likely that Aha founded the new capital Memphis, as his name is the first rulers recorded at Saqqara, the necropolis for the city. It is, howeve, difficult to say where exactly the center of power of the state lay. During the 1st and 2nd Dynasties, huge tombs were built in Saqqara, as well as Abydos, the most important burial site in Upper Egypt. It could be that maintaining both traditions, conflicts were avoided ant the unification was strengthen. Although we know nothing about caracter of Narmer, his lasting achievement was to forge a state with a national consciousness from regions that were widely different culturally. It is unlikely this could have been achieved with out a strong central ruler who had vision to put place an effective administration with all power invested in himsef.

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