first king of the first dynasty, Early Dynastic period. This is the conventional rendering of the name of this king, which is written as an apparent rebus composed of a catfish (thought to be read as nʿr) and a chisel (thought to be read mr). It has been argued that Narmer belonged to the period immediately preceding the first dynasty, but his position now seems assured by his leading appearance on seal impressions from the tombs of Den and Ka at Abydos. Whether by coincidence or not, the Ka impression puts Narmer at the head of a sequence of eight kings, precisely as given by Manetho for the first dynasty.
Narmer is best known for the great Narmer Palette, discovered in Quibell's 1897–1898 excavation season at Hierakonpolis (Kom el-Ahmar). The obverse of the palette is divided into three registers, the uppermost of which gives Narmer's name placed in a serekh, flanked by human-faced bovines. The second register dominates the obverse: Narmer, wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt, smites an enemy in a posture that was to become emblematic of pharaonic power to the end of Egypt's pre-Christian civilization. The third register shows dead, nude enemies. On the reverse of the palette, the upper register of the obverse is duplicated. The second register shows Narmer wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt, inspecting rows of nude, decapitated enemies. The third register shows a man mastering serpent-necked lions, and the fourth register shows a bull destroying a town and trampling a dead enemy.
The earliest interpretation of this palette was to view it as a genuine historical document, with Narmer seen in the act of conquering Lower Egypt on the palette's obverse, and on the reverse as having successfully extended Upper Egyptian hegemony to the north. How far the palette should in fact be read in this way is open to question, but based on the Den and Ka necropolis sealings already mentioned, it seems certain that Narmer was viewed as the dynasty's foundational king by his immediate successors. Similarly, Egyptian sherds inscribed with the name of Narmer have been found in Lower Egypt (e.g., Minshat Abu Omar and Tarkhan) and in southern Palestine (e.g., Tel Erani and Tel Arad). The precise historical import of these facts is difficult to establish, but at a minimum, Narmer's presence was felt to some extent throughout Egypt and even into Palestine.
Narmer appears to have been buried in the Umm el-Qaab cemetery at Abydos. The double tomb B17/18 has been attributed to him, although whether this really was his tomb has been questioned.
See also MENES.
- Hoffmann, M. Egypt before the Pharaohs. London, 1980.
- Wilkinson, T. A. H. Early Dynastic Egypt. London, 1999.