First Pharaoh


You want to know who Narmer was, the first of the Egyptian pharaohs? Do you want to know why Narmer was a pharaoh of Egypt when his father, king Scorpion II, was only king of Egypt?

That's perfect, here is an article on the origins and reign of the first of all pharaohs: pharaoh Narmer.

Narmer is the first pharaoh of the thirty dynasties of pharaohs in Egypt. Initially king of Upper Egypt, he became pharaoh in 3150 BC by completing the conquest of Lower Egypt. He therefore reigns over the entire Nile Valley, which gives him the title of pharaoh.

In this article, you will discover:

  • The reason why Narmer became the first pharaoh of Egypt
  • The "Narmer Palette" establishing the reign of pharaoh Narmer
  • The successor of Narmer: the second pharaoh Hor-Aha

After reading this article, the first pharaoh of ancient Egypt will have no more secrets for you!

Let's get started without further delay!

Pharaoh Egyptian ring

1) Narmer, the Unifier of Egypt

A) The Unification of Egypt by Narmer

Unlike the kings of Egypt before him, Narmer is a pharaoh because he controlled the entire Egyptian territory in 3125 BC.

Indeed, Egypt is geographically divided into two regions:

  • Upper Egypt, the southern part of Egypt, Egypt in the heart of the land
  • Lower Egypt, the northern part of Egypt, Egypt close to the Mediterranean Sea (thus, counter-intuitively Lower Egypt lies above Upper Egypt on a current world map).

Although Narmer was the first pharaoh, he was not the one who conquered all of Lower Egypt during his lifetime. It is estimated today that his forefathers, successive kings of Upper Egypt, gradually annexed much of Lower Egypt piece by piece. Narmer, however, is the pharaoh who completed the conquest of Lower Egypt.

This integration from north to south was more peaceful than military, since the merchants and inhabitants of Lower Egypt appreciated the prosperity and protection that might have been brought to them by the mighty Upper Egypt.

B) Is Narmer the "heroic pharaoh" Menes?

It is also important to know that pharaoh Narmer and pharaoh Menes (sometimes considered Narmer's successor) are likely to be the same person.

According to many Egyptian writings from 500 BC, Narmer was not the first pharaoh of Egypt but Menes, a pharaoh portrayed as a heroic figure who unified Egypt.

Menes is said to have succeeded Horus (the falcon-headed god of royalty) in person, unified Egypt, and protected it from invaders from all sides.

The prevailing view among historians today is that Menes is a distortion of the name Narmer. This conclusion is validated because at the time when Menes should have existed, there is no record of any mention of the name of such a pharaoh.

2) The "palette of Narmer"

If we know today that Narmer is the first pharaoh of Egypt, it is notably thanks to the tablet called the "palette of Narmer" also called "great palette of Hierakonpolis".

This tablet is particularly important to Egyptologists (historians specializing in the study of Egyptian history) because it is the first to show an Egyptian king in possession of the Pschent crown.

The Pschent is a crown composed of two other crowns nested within each other: the Hedjet and the Decheret.

As the image below shows, the Hedjet represents the governance of a king over Upper Egypt and the Decheret represents the governance of a king over Lower Egypt.

Thus, wearing this crown, Narmer is no longer a king of Egypt but a pharaoh of Egypt (for he controls all of Egypt).

Pharaoh's Pschent Crown

A) The front of the "Narmer's palette"

On the front of this palette, 64 cm high and 42 cm wide, there are various references to the new power of pharaoh Narmer as well as to his military feats. One can see that while Narmer's predecessors conquered Lower Egypt rather peacefully, Narmer was very violent in his conquest (see legends below the image):

Tablet of the pharaoh Narmer, recto1] - Pharaoh Narmer with his Pschent crown composed of the red crown and the white crown.

2] - The four banners of the first pharaoh Narmer bearing the insignia of the falcon god Horus.

3] - Narmer's enemies beheaded and castrated. One can observe their heads and genitals placed between their feet as a sign of supreme shame.

4] - Serpopards, mythological creatures half jaguar half serpent representing the disorder and chaos at the borders of a country. Thus, the fact that these animals are kept on a leash by servants of Narmer shows that the first pharaoh of Egypt had complete control over the borders of his kingdom.

5] - King Narmer, shown as a buffalo, destroying the ramparts of an enemy fortification. Narmer crushes one of his enemies with his buffalo hoof.

B) The reverse side of the "Narmer's Palette"

On the back of the Narmer's Palette, the pharaoh can be seen up close with the Hedjet crown (see captions below the image):

Narmer tablet, back1] - The cow goddess Bat appears above the tablet. This goddess gradually becoming the goddess Hathor has an important meaning in Narmer's palette. Because the goddess Bat is the wife of the falcon-headed god of the pharaohs, Horus, Bat legitimizes Narmer's power as pharaoh over Egypt because he is accompanied by the gods.

2] Narmer, wearing his white crown (the crown of Upper Egypt), raises his arm to strike one of his enemies with his club.

3] The falcon god Horus drowns one of Narmer's enemies in a swamp (recognizable by the papyrus stems that emerge from it) by driving his head into the water with a stick.

4] - The king's sandal-wearer

5] The enemy the king strikes can be seen as the personification of Narmer-dominated Lower Egypt.

6] Dead enemies can be seen as representations of fortified cities that fell before Narmer.

Egyptian necklace pharaoh Narmer

3) Egypt before Narmer

Although humans have existed in Egypt since the end of the Middle Paleolithic period (in 100,000 BC), Egyptian pharaohs appeared well after this era.

A) The settlement of the early Egyptians in the Nile Valley

In Egypt, there are only nomadic tribes living from gathering, fishing, and hunting until the Upper Paleolithic period (from -30,000 BC).

In 20,000 BC, a period of severe drought began. This period will last 9,000 years and will prohibit all life in Egypt.

In -11,000 BC, during the "Mesolithic" period, nomadic tribes return to Egypt following the end of the drought in the Nile Valley.

In 5000 BC, many tribes are well settled in southern Egypt. Established in villages, these tribes no longer had to hunt and gather because they had mastered the cultivation of barley and wheat and began to raise animals.

B) The beginnings of the so-called "Egyptian" culture

i) The culture of Nagada I (-4000 to -3500)

From 4000 to 3500 BC, the Nagada I culture or "Amratian" culture is a real advance for the Egyptian and human civilization.

Larger and larger villages are formed and a more advanced knowledge of craftsmanship develops. Earthen vases and very solid stone clubs appear. Breeding intensifies. The first animal-headed gods appear in Egyptian beliefs.

ii) The culture of Nagada II (-3500 to -3300)

From 3500 BC to 3300 BC, the Nagada II or "predynastic" period (i.e. the period before the pharaohs' dynasties) was cultivated. In the south of Egypt, the city of Hieralonpolis counts then 10000 inhabitants. The first mummies and iron work appeared in 3300 BC.

Hierarchical pyramid of the old empireDuring this period, the pyramidal hierarchy of the ancient Egyptian civilization prevailed (with a ruling elite reigning over many craftsmen and farmers).

iii) The culture of Nagada III (-3300 to -3150)

From 3300 to 3150 the culture of Nagada III or the Predynastic period took place, a dozen kings reigned over Upper Egypt, the southern part of Egypt. These kings of "Dynasty 0 of the pharaohs" cannot yet really be called "pharaohs" because they do not rule over unified Egypt.

These kings then ruled the first sovereign "state" the world had ever known (that is, a state controlling a collection of cities and villages). It is also noteworthy that before the state of Upper Egypt, the most advanced form of civilization was the city-states of Mesopotamia.

iv) The protodynastic period: the advent of Narmer

In 3150, the protodynastic period begins with the reign of Narmer. In a very violent beginning of reign, Narmer becomes the king of all Egypt and thus founds the 1st dynasty of pharaohs.

4) Hor-Aha, Narmer's successor

It is Hor-Aha who succeeds Narmer according to the book of the history of Egypt "Ægyptiaca" written in the 3rd century in Greek by the Egyptian priest Manetho.

In 3100, at the end of his reign, Narmer established many strongholds outside Egypt in the Gaza region. Hor-Aha continued Egypt's expansion into Nubia, Palestine, and Libya through several military campaigns. In particular, the account of his campaign in Nubia can be found on the tablet "The Year of the Ta-Sety Strike" (Ta-Sety means Nubia in ancient Egyptian).

To further the unification of Egypt, Hor-Aha established a second Egyptian capital at Memphis, 450 kilometers above Thinis, the original capital of ancient Egypt. Egypt then had two capitals: Thinis, in the south of Egypt, capital of Lower Egypt and Memphis, in the north, capital of Upper Egypt.

With Narmer and Hor-Aha, the supremacy of the pharaohs over ancient Egypt is launched and will last for 3000 years (until -30 BC). Indeed, the pharaonic supremacy will stop with the death of Cleopatra in -30 BC, the Roman Empire taking over Egypt.

Narmer, a unifying sovereign

Surely, you now know all about the first pharaoh of Egypt. Indeed, we saw together:

  • The explanation why Narmer is a pharaoh of Egypt and not a king of Egypt
  • The "Narmer's Palette" detailing the methods used by Narmer to conquer Lower Egypt
  • What Egypt was like before Narmer
  • What became of Egypt after Narmer

If the distant dynasties of pharaohs also appear to you as an inspiring element of world history, it would be a pity if you missed our Egyptian paintings! Indeed, we create skillfully inspired paintings of ancient Egypt that grace any room in a house or apartment. To discover them, nothing could be simpler: just click on the image below!

Egyptian paintings pyramid of Giza, pharaohs

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