Narmer -The First Pharaoh

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This history of ancient Egypt is one of the most interesting subjects in the world. The pharaohs, pyramids, obelisks and mythology have fascinated readers and historians for centuries. The pharaohs have captured the imaginations of all people, regardless of their age. Even more fascinating is the beginnings of the Egyptian pharaohs and the one of the early kings and the man who unified one of the oldest civilizations of the world.

Narmer was the successor of the two Scorpion Kings (rulers of the Upper Kingdom during the Protodynastic Period) and is considered to have unified Upper and Lower Egypt in 3100 BCE. However, it is generally accredited that the unification of Egypt is given to King Menes. Since the discovery of the Narmer palette, the image of a previous unknown king wielding the symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt, has casted doubt on Menes’ accreditation (Wilson, p.166)

The best known evidence of the victory finally achieving unification between the people of Upper and Lower Egypt comes from the magnificent ceremonial palette of the last Protodynastic ruler, King Narmer. On this, he is shown striking his enemies from Lower Egypt. The triumphant king is portrayed looking at the rows of war dead, each decapitated body with its head beneath its feet. On the other side of the palette, Narmer is shown seizing the enemy ruler by the hair with his arm raised in the action of clubbing his captive to death with his mace. He does this before the figure of Horus, recognising that his victory is due to the gods will.

It has been suggested that the army that Narmer raised for his conquest of Lower Egypt came from the people from his home area, as soldiers in Egypt were not professional (Wilson, p.166). The mace is the quintessential symbol of royal power, which originates far back in the early Predynastic period (Wilkinson, p.28). 

Narmer’s wife was lady Neith-hoptep, a princess of northern Egypt, who was buried in a mastaba tomb in Abydos, in the same fashion as Narmer’s and their son, Aha (later known as Hor-Aha (Wilkinson, p.26). It has been suggested that Narmer married her to symbolise and substantiate his authority over both northern and southern Egypt.

Narmer’s own tomb is generally identified as adjoining chambers B17 and B18 in Abydos. It has been argued amongst scholars that “that his actual burial chamber remains to be discovered in an unexcavated portion of the Umm el-Qaab” (Wilkinson, p.31). His tomb is of particular interest as it consists of three almost identical chambers, which may represent a long building programme in different stages.

Narmer is considered to be the best- established Egyptian king at the time of state formation. He ruled over a land of great political transition in the concept of ‘ruler’. His reign, and the surviving evidence, shows characteristics of Egypt’s prehistoric past, but also features qualities that influenced later pharaohs – nowhere else is this better exemplified than the Narmer palette. Because we have more evidence from Narmer’s reign than his predecessors, Narmer provides an illuminating insight to the world of the ruling elite at the time Egypt was moving out of the prehistoric period and into the future civilization of dynastic Egypt.


Wilkinson, Toby A. H. (2000) what King Is This: Narmer and the Concept of the Ruler, The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Egyptian Exploration Society.

Wilson, Hilary (1997) People of the Pharaohs – From Peasant to Courtier, Michael O’Mara Books Limited, London.


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