It was once uncertain whether to consider Narmer
a king of Thinite or rather of Hierakonpolite origins; the contemporary
attestations highly favour the former hypothesis; his tomb was built
at Abydos although the most important specimens from his reign come
from Nekhen -Hierakonpolis- (where they were re-buried centuries after
his death). Hierakonpolis was a center of ancient leaders, one of
the strongest predynastic regional states.
The circumstances from which the final unification arose can't be
known: they might have been ferocious warfares or pacific relations
cemented by marriages; but the relevant fact is that several years
after these events had happened,the early kings of Egypt still held
memory of the ancestral importance of centers as Nwbt (Naqada) and
Nekhen (Hierakonpolis) so that they made the temples built therein
object of worship and commemoration.
By the same way Abydos, the royal cemetery of the thinite early state,
was retained as royal necropolis through all the first dynasty just
because of its ancestral importance as birthplace of the archaic ('Dynasty
') rulers buried in the cemeteries U and B; the nearby Umm el
Qaab necropolis was contemporary with the North Saqqara earliest elite
mastabas; probabily the own kings resided already in Memphis by that
time, but they were buried at Abydos for the outstanding religious
value that this center was credited with along the whole first dynasty
age, a factor of highest importance for the legitimation of the thinite
It can't be known, as we have told, if Scorpion, Ka and Narmer actually
fought against the Delta rulers. The scenes on the mentioned artifacts
of Narmer could be typical repetitions of apothropaic actions highlighting
the king's power in winning the evil forces, with no relation with
real foes or events.
Furthermore, although it appears very likely that the 'conquest' of
the Delta by the Upper Egypt chiefs had begun generations before Narmer,
no evident sign of war-like activities can be inferred by the attestation
of Ka and Scorpion in Lower Egypt.
We are inclined to think that the first foundator of Memphis must
have been Narmer; but this king was probabily more involved in keeping
the trade relations with distant near eastern colonies and in the
military control of the boundaries; in turn Aha, less attested abroad,
must have devoted his major efforts in the construction/organization
of the young northern capital, taking more time in these actions as
well as the building and visiting of cult shrines, than in punitive
expeditions; this suggests that Narmer's actions against the probable
'rebels' must have been very efficient. 'Menes' could therefore have
been a New Kingdom/Greek- culture fusion of two distinct individuals.
Someone has also hypothized two different unifications: the first
one by Narmer should have lasted only few years and then it was reattempted
with success by Aha; nothing proves this theory and as we've stated,
Aha seems to have been a more pacific sovereign (albeit his name meaning
'The Fighter') than Narmer. Aha certainly benefitted of the Narmer's
economic developments: the increased size of mastabas built during
his reign is a clear evidence of a higher prosperity. Few generations
after the foundation of the Northern capital Memphis, in the decentralized
south began a process of marked provincialization that lasted up to
the Middle Kingdom age if not beyond.
B. Kemp' s model of the provincial temples (1989) has been criticized
by D. O'Connor (in 'Followers of Horus' 1992): for the latter scholar
the examples which Kemp has considered 'pre-formal' architecture do
not represent, in the provincial centers considered (Abydos,Elephantine,Medamud)
the principal temple but only secondary and less important shrines.
Hence the supposed 'provincialization' of that period had to be less
radical than how it appears nowadays by the lack of visible architectural
examples apt to deny it.
It seems that, though under the 'wide wing' of the statal control,
many centers once flourishing and of central importance began to lose
their political authority (Abydos, Hierakonpolis) in the Second and
expecially in the Third Dynasty when the baricenter of the state was
definitively and more heavily established in Memphis.
Much more alive did remain their religious value as ancient holy places
and birthplaces of ancestral rulers.
The most famous artifact of the Unification period is NARMER Palette
the characters of the warrior god-king. Victorious over Delta peoles
he wears the Red Crown of Lower Egypt; many discussions have been
made about two main arguments concerning Narmer Palette's actual meaning:
a sort of chronicle of Egypt Unification, or of a mere retaliation
and rebels punishment; the symbolic representation of the king power;
the origin of the defeated enemies: Libyans, western Delta inhabitants,
eastern Delta rebels, Sinai bedawins, Asiatics. (A year-label found
few years ago in the cemetery B at Abydos depicts a similar event
with Narmer's serekh defeating a people symbolized by the papyrus
plant. Beheaded corpses on the palette may perhaps represent the ritual
execution of the battle prisoners; see below).
On the palette of narmer a boat is carved, which leads Horus in progress
to Buto (?). Behind Narmer the sandal bearer (who also figures on
the other side) and before the king the "vizier" (?) (not
the royal wife) is indicated by the title Tjet(y)
in the full form, Tajty Zab Tjaty
, only since the mid or late
Second Dynasty -Menka
-, written in ink on various inscriptions
on stone vessels found in Netjerykhet/Djoser complex, galleries VI-VII).
Below there are two fantastic animals with long necks (the crossing
necks form the circular shape for the kohl) probabily representing
the two lands of Egypt, kept by cords; and in the lower register a
bull (the king) smashes a fortress by his horns.
On the opposite side the king wears the Upper Egypt crown and he is
in the standard pose with a mace that's going to hit the prisoners'
heads which he takes by the hair with his other hand. The victim is
on his knees and is surmounted by an icon of the Delta region which
a falcon takes by a leash. Above, two Hathor (or Bat) heads with the
serekh and the name between them.
The writing is already phonetic as the names or titles identifying
some personages do show; but the most of these scenes must be read
through the image symbolism as aztec pictographies: the positions,
the relative dimensions and the poses of things and persons all have
importance and contribute to explain the meaning of the pictures by
clear descriptive sketches or through more or less evident metaphors.
The third register of the palette depicts two further dead men, enemies
killed by the king. The overall style recalls the King Scorpion macehead.
The long-neck felines, of sumerian and elamite iconography influence,
belong to a group of motives that will be completely forgotten as
soon as the reign of the following king Aha. A re-elaboration of kingship
and religion doctrine(and iconography) was undertaken in the first
half of Ist Dynasty.
seems to depict
a post bellic event; no traces of battle in course but the prisoners
and the booty of war are shown (cattle in an enclosure) and enumerated.
The king sits on a dais, wearing the Lower Egypt crown ; he is surmounted
by the Nekhbet goddess vulture and receives a person who has been
carried in a repit seat. Standards are brought by four men; the insignia
are the same as those on the Narmer palette: two hawks, a canid and
a circular figure with a kind of tail (the king's coushion?).
In the tomb of Neithhotep at Naqada an ivory plaque was found bearing
the name of Aha in the Serekh and, beside it, in a kind of hut (wrmt),
the Nebty name MEN (the gaming table); this name is not written opposite
to the other but in the same direction so it could also be a ritual
(succession) device showing the two kings as in a little King-list;
it can't therefore be sure that the two names belong to the same ruler
(Grdseloff in ASAE 44 p. 279,Vikentiev in ASAE 33,34,41,48 and Emery
On a wooden seal there's the name Narmer with Men (written men+n).
On the Abydos list appear Meni and Teti as first two sovereigns; the
second one is never attested on contemporary sources and it has been
recently proposed to see Athotis as an ephemeral successor of Aha
The Turin Canon
repeats twice the name "Meni" with
a human and then with a divine determinative (on this point, I think
hardly a copy error, there's much to think and too little has been
said). The name Meni, enclosed in a cartouche, corresponds to the
Menes of Manetho, but has equally been rendered as Menoete, Mnesis,
Men and Mena(s); nowadays it has no sense to speak of Menes because
this name is a New Kingdom introduction, and the cartouche is anachronistic
for the first dynasty (it appears in the half second dynasty -Senedj,
Neferkaseker, Peribsen- and in the third-Nebka, Huni-, but only later
in IVth dynasty it did become usual). (For further and different interpretations
of the Name of narmer cfr. Vikentiev J.E.A. 17 p.67-80 : he did propose
a reading 'Nar Ba Tchai'; Godron A.S.A.E. 49 p.217-20 advanced 'Mery
Nari'; a rare variant is Narmer-tchai).
The name of Narmer, as we have said above, has been found in many
sites of the Upper and Lower Egypt Nile valley, as well as in the
Delta, in the western and eastern deserts and in Palestine (Arad,
Tell Erani): here we have almost uniquely serekhs on vessels or on
A bone statuette
of a ruler with Upper Egypt crown (Petrie
Abydos II p.24 tav. 2,13; Glanville J.E.A. 17 p. 65) has been often
ascribed to Narmer; certainly of his is baboon statue (in the Berlin
Museum) inscribed with the name of Narmer and that of 'Khnwmhotep'
(cfr. MDAIK 50 and R.d.E. 21).
It has been also proposed to date to his reign the three colossi
found by Petrie at Koptos (Williams in JARCE 25); this has been done
on epigraphic and stylistic grounds: part of an inscription on one
of the colossi (almost totally effaced) might be the tail of an hawk
above that of the 'Nar' fish. However it seems clear that an eventual
inscription of Narmer (which is indeed by no means certain) would
have been carved only after a long sequence of superimposed graffiti
(which Dreyer interprets as early Dynasty 0 royal names) of early
Naqada III date, thus many decades older than Narmer's time.
The tomb of Narmer is the double grave B 17-18
at ABYDOS (Umm
el Qaab cemetery B), excavated by Petrie in 1900 and more recently
recleared by the German archaeologists' team of DAIK (Kaiser - Dreyer,
in: MDAIK 38, 1982 and following reports by Dreyer et al.).