Narmer Palette


: by artist Carrie Allen

date of the original: c. 3rd millennium BC

provenance of the original: Hierakonopolis, Upper Egypt (discovered by J.P. Quibell); now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo

descriptionBlack double-sided palette with two-dimensional imagery. Plaster replica (two-thirds original size); schist original. Height 36.5 cm, width 21.5 cm, depth 2 cm.

The Narmer Palette is one of the earliest historical records from ancient Egypt. It records King Narmer’s victory over Lower Egypt, at which point he became the king of all Egypt. On the reverse of the palette, Narmer wears the White Crown of Upper Egypt; on the obverse, he wears the Red Crown of Lower Egypt. The king’s name appears on both sides in the serekh (one of the earliest ways of presenting the king’s name) at the top and center on the palette, flanked by images of the goddess Hathor who was likely credited with providing the king’s victory.

The obverse shows the king in smaller stature following a series of standard bearers. Behind him is an attendant carrying his sandals and a small water jar. To the right of the standard bearers are the enemies Narmer has slain with their severed heads placed between their feet. The central scene shows two beasts with intertwined necks that form a circle. This was very likely the part of the palette where cosmetics were crushed. Below is the Apis Bull (see: Head of an Apis Bull), a symbol of the king’s strength.

The reverse shows the victorious King Narmer standing very prominently in the center, brandishing a mace in his right hand, about to smite an enemy whom he clutches by the hair with his left hand. Below are images of his enemies drowning. To the right is the falcon god Horus (see: Horus as a Falcon), the protector of the king, also participating in the subduing of Narmer’s foes, perched upon papyrus plants. Papyrus was a symbol of Lower Egypt and therefore represented the king’s conquest of the region. Once again we see the sandal-bearer to the left of the king.