Brian E. Colless


This stone palette is thought to depict the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. It portrays the triumph of King Narmer of Upper Egypt over his rivals in the North. Usually dated around 3100 B.C.E., the object was found in the temple of the hawk-god Hor (Khor, Horus) in the city of Nekhen (later known to the Greeks as Hierakonpolis, "Hawk City"). The palette would normally have been used for grinding stones to make eye-paint, but this one may have been merely ceremonial rather than cosmetic.

Click on the small image above to see it enlarged

Photographs of the artefact are available here:

My questions to you are:

Find the depression where the grinding would have been done.
(This is easier to see on a photograph than on a drawing.)

The intertwining necks of the animals (lions?) might symbolize the theme of the document, namely (see above):

The king's name appears three times as Narmer; the two hieroglyphic signs are a catfish and a chisel.

Find the three occurrences of the king's name.

Notice that in two of these cases the signs are enclosed in a serekh, a rectangular frame for the Horus name of the ruler, said to represent the front of a royal palace or tomb. Compare the rounded "cartouches" on the Rosetta Stone.

From an artistic point of view, notice the distinctive Egyptian way of portraying the human body, as regards head, shoulders, waist, hips, legs, feet.

Which four sections are shown in profile?
Which two sections are shown frontally?
Find the royal sandal-bearer (twice), standing behind the king.
In each case note the size of the king (a god among humans).
Find the royal scribe (once), in front of the king.

One method of counting the number of men slain in battle was to tally up their
 severed right hands. In this case the scribe would not be counting hands but h. . ds.
Find ten of these (not tucked under their arms, but . . . ).
(However, this may have been a ritual slaying of prisoners.)

Find the standard-bearers. The standards represent various nomes (provinces).

Find the king's white crown. The white crown signifies Upper Egypt (SOUTH).

Find the king's red crown. The red crown indicates Lower Egypt (NORTH).

It is thought that the scene with the white crown depicts the conquest of Lower Egypt by Upper Egypt.

Which detail shows the conquered region of the Nile Delta (Lower Egypt)?

The king is despatching his enemy with a mace.
Find another mace, and a whip (or flail).

The king has two other enemies beneath his feet.

In what form is the king seen trampling yet another foe?

(Or is this a deity? But cp. ka' nekhet "victorious bull", epithet of Pharaohs.)

Find the goddess Hathor.
How many times does she appear?

Which two pairs of details tell which animal she is combined with?

She is  said to be the consort of Hor (Horus), the god of Nekhen (Hierakonpolis, "Hawk City"; see above). But the cow-goddess of Upper Egypt was named Bat, who appears in the Pyramid texts; the Pharaoh is Bat 'with her two faces'. Possibly we have Bat on one side and Hathor on the other side of the palette.

Find the god Horus. There is one obvious example, but there may be others.

Horus is a solar deity, but where is the sun-god Rey?
There is one object (under one of the cow-heads) which might be the conveyance of Rey.
It is not certain whether we can see here the royal ideology of the Pharaoh as Horus incarnate and as the son of the Sun.

The scene with the bull includes a city with its wall broken down.
On this side of the palette the king is wearing the red crown.
Is he here overcoming his rivals in his own region, Upper Egypt?
Or his enemies in Lower Egypt, as on the other side of the palette?
Or cities of Canaan (Palestine), as with the later empire-building Pharaohs?
(The name Narmer is found on artefacts in Gath and Arad.)

My theory: The bull is King Narmer. The signs above the two enemies on the other side are: a papyrus flower with two stems, symbolizing the marshlands of the Delta (cp. the papyrus plants under the hawk); the rectangular glyph represents a walled fortress or city. The message of the monument is, then: King Narmer of Upper Egypt has conquered the rulers of the towns of Lower Egypt, and he now wears the red crown as well as the white crown; the Two Lands (symbolized by the long-necked lions or leopards) are now united.

Was Heliopolis (Ionu, On) one of the conquered cities?
Was the city of Memphis in existence at that time?
Was Narmer the King Menes who (according to the priests of Memphis, as reported by the Greek historian Herodotos, 5th C. B.C.E.) was the first king of Egypt and the founder of Memphis.

Here is a thought I have had: If we read the chisel sign in the name "catfish chisel" not as mer but as menh (menkh) "chisel", and note that the Greeks used to omit h (kh) in such foreign (Hebrew) names as Menahem (Greek Menaem) and Nehemyah (Greek Neemia), then Greek Menes could be Egyptian Menh, and this palette could be the record of the founding of the First Dynasty of United Egypt.

Finally it should be noted that there is another candidate with a claim to be the legendary King Menes. An ivory label found at Naqada (near Thebes) has a sign men beside the name 'Aha, thought to be the successor of Narmer. No tomb has been found for King Narmer at Saqqara (the royal burial place near Memphis) ; the oldest-known tomb there belongs to 'Aha. Was Narmer only the forerunner of 'Aha, and 'Aha the builder of Memphis and the founder of the First Dynasty (around 3000 B.C.E.)?

My main sources of ideas: 
Mary Wright and Karen Hoglund, in Biblical Archaeologist, 48, 4 (1985) 240-253, with bibliography, 252-253.
George Hart, Egyptian Gods and Goddesses  (London 1986).
Christine Hobson, Exploring the World of the Pharaohs  (London 1987)