Ancient Egypt: The Narmer palette

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The Narmer Palette: The triumph of the southern king
The triumph of the king of the South
Source: Wikimedia Commons. License Public Domain

The Narmer Palette:
The victorious king of the south

The reverse side

    A few palettes from the predynastic period have been found, some like the Bull Palette similar in content and style to the Narmer Palette which was found at Hierakonpolis and dates to about 3200 BCE. It was carved from a single piece of soft greenish slate and is about 65 cm tall. Both sides are decorated and the hieroglyphic inscriptions are among the oldest ever found.
    Drawing conventions that will be used during much of ancient Egyptian history are used: the head, lower body and legs are shown from the side while the view of the torso is frontal.
    Among Egyptians any representation of facial hair other than the stylized pharaonic beard is rare. All the subdued enemies wear beards, possibly a sign of their being foreigners. Servants of the king are beardless and of smaller size than the pharaoh.


possibly Bat     Both sides of the palette are topped with depictions of human faced bovines on either side of Narmer's serekh. It may be a depiction of Hathor, often associated with the pharaohs but whose worship became widespread only in the Old Kingdom, or of the pre-dynastic Bat whom Hathor absorbed and replaced. Alternatively as a bull it could represent the king.


Serekh of Narmer-     The serekh, a precursor of the cartouche, is depicted on both sides of the palette. The hieroglyphs nar (catfish) and mr (chisel) are a phonetic representation of Narmer's name.


Narmer with raised mace     Narmer, the king of the South, is wielding his mace in a gesture of triumph over his Magan [1] prisoner, whose name may be Wash. The king's stance is similar to Mesopotamian pictures of royalty and points to the influence Mesopotamia seems to have had on Egypt even in these early times. Interpreting it as being a depiction of the sign of Orion may be a bit far-fetched.
    The victory is Narmer's alone: he is followed not by a symbol of state administration like a soldier or a scribe but by somebody carrying his sandals, a personal servant, even if possibly a high-ranking one as the seven-petalled rosette seems to indicate.[2]
    Bearers of sandals, being close to the pharaoh often received promotion
While I was (still only) Chamberlain of the Palace and Sandal-bearer The King of Upper & Lower Egypt (Merenre) my lord,who lives forever placed me as Mayor, and Overseer of Upper Egypt, south from Yebu, north to Medenit, because I was excellent in his majesty's heart, because I was rooted in his majesty's heart.
From the autobiography of Weni the Elder
    Narmer, like gods, pharaohs and commoners, is depicted barefoot.[3] It is doubtful that there is more to this fact than the depiction of a common practice, i.e. the king being followed by his sandal-bearer.
    It has been suggested that being barefoot denotes the strong bond between the king and the land. Footwear certainly could have symbolic value. A pair of sandals, the soles of which were decorated with enemies of the pharaoh, was found in Tutankhamen's tomb.


Horus falcon with bound prisoner     The falcon-shaped Horus, the original divine ruler of Egypt from whom the pharaohs derived their legitimacy, holds on to a prisoner. The rope symbolizing bondage is a recurrent theme in a number of depictions.
    The falcon perches on six papyrus flowers, possibly denoting six thousand foes captured or killed, or just the fact that the prisoner comes from the Delta.


Dead enemies     Two bearded men, enemies of the king, may be fleeing naked, possibly running or swimming, or are, as most see it, lying dead on the ground.

    Much can be interpreted in a number of ways, as experts have done and there is no way to ascertain which meaning is the correct one.


The Narmer palette - the obverse side



[1] Magan     Egyptian Civilization Its Sumerian origin & Real Chronology And Sumerian origin of Egyptian Hieroglyphs, by Louis A. Waddell
[2] seems to indicate     Egypt’s Making The Origins of Ancient Egypt 5000-2000 B.C., by Michael Rice
[3] From the New Kingdom onwards bare feet gave way to sandals.

  -The decorative palettes of the late pre-dynastic period
-Dynasties I and II: The Unification of Egypt
-Main Index and Search Page


Offsite links(Opening in a new window)
These are just suggestions for further reading. I do not assume any responsibility for the content or availability of these sites.
-The Narmer Macehead and Related Objects by N. B. Millett
- The reverse side of Narmer's palette - the bull interpretations
- The followers of Horus
-Narmer Palette
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March 2014
June 2003