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The First Pharaoh

Legendary Menes (Narmer)

Egyptologists are divided on the actual name, person, and date of the unification of ancient Egypt, and the founding Pharaoh of the first Dynasty. Many point to the name "Narmer", meaning, "Striker", and the Narmer Palette as conclusive evidence of the first Pharaohnic figure. Others believe that Narmer is identical to Serktet, or King Scorpion, or possibly even Menes, the legendary king inscribed in Manetho's records Aegyptica. No one knows for sure if all are one and the same person, or all different people.

The Narmer name consists of two hieroglyphs, the catfish (n'r) and chisel (mr), which may be shorthand for "Horus the Striker."

The victory of Narmer over the northern (lower delta) kingdom, marked the beginning of a unified Egypt, which Narmer chose to immortalize on the Narmer Palette. The palette was originally found in Nekhen in 1898, which displays the king, Narmer, crushing his enemies with a mace, a common motif in Pharaohnic art in later times, along with the insignia of the two lands of Egypt.

Narmer's Palette

The unity of the two distinct polities of upper and lower Egypt is depicted within the reverse side of the palette, the two intertwining necks of the lions forms the consolidation of the two lands.

No other evidence except that found in Manetho's records, mention Menes as the legendary founder King. However, Manetho, it should be noted, was a Ptolemy Greek who used Greek nomenclature in many cases rather than Egyptian in naming Kings, (Menes is probably Greek for Narmer).


Narmer's Tomb

Discoveries found in Pharaoh Den's and Qa'a's tombs, name Narmer as the founding ruler of their specific dynasty.

Narmer's wife, Neithhotep, a princess of Northern Egypt, is also mentioned in the tombs of Narmer's successors, Hor'Aha and Djer, implying that she might have been the wife or mother of either of those figures.

The tomb of Narmer is thought to be two adjoined chambers, B17 and B18, in the Umm el-Qa'ab region of Abydos.

The name Narmer has been found all over Egypt including Tarkhan to the South of Memphis, the Helwan cemeteries excavated by Zaki Y. Saad, to the East and in the subterranean eastern shaft of Djoser's Step pyramid complex at Saqqara. Due to his repeated recognition, it is more likely then that he was indeed the legendary founder Menes. It is believed that if the earliest settlements of the old Capital are located  (possibly to the North West of old kingdom Memphis) a connection to the Memphis of the legendary Menes might establish further proof of Narmer's significance as founding figure of ancient Egypt.

Horus Scorpion

Another figure, a King Scorpion also has been identified, by a macehead depicting a pharaoh with the symbol of the scorpion next to him. Fashioned as a ceremonial artifact rather than a weapon, the macehead is carved from limestone about 25 cm high discovered by archaeologists Quibell and Green in 1897/1898 in the main deposit at Nekhen where the Narmer Palette was found.

Scorpion Macehead

Given that the palette and macehead were found together, some scholars posit that Narmer and the King Scorpion are one and the same. Others don't think so. A tomb recently found by Gunter Dryer of the German Archaeological Institute, might hold a connection to a separate king, the Scorpion figure. The U-57 tomb, houses many ivory tablets, pots full of wine, and the iconic limestone crooked staff of the later Pharaohs. Since Narmer is traditionally described with the Catfish symbol, many argue against Narmer and Scorpion being identical.

 

Tomb U-57

Instead, it is thought that Scorpion, provided the initial unification of the south, attacking Naqadda from Abydos, and that later Narmer, finished the unification of the entire country, farther north. Scorpion's tomb is also significantly larger than Narmers, and wealthier, reaffirming that Scorpion probably did attack and successfully usurp the rich city of Nubt (Naqadda), a city which was known to be very close to rich gold deposits.

 

Ancient Egypt Index