Close-up view of Narmer on the Narmer Palette
|Reign||c. 31st century BC(?) (1st Dynasty)|
|Predecessor||Ka (most likely), or possibly Scorpion II|
|Consort||Uncertain: possibly Neithhotep|
|Children||Uncertain: probably Hor-Aha ♂
Uncertain: possibly Neithhotep ♀
|Burial||Chambers B17 and B18, Umm el-Qa'ab|
Narmer was an ancient Egyptian king of the Early Dynastic Period. Probably the successor to the Protodynastic kings Scorpion and/or Ka, some consider him the unifier of Egypt and founder of the First Dynasty, and in turn the first king of a unified Egypt.
Narmer's identity is the subject of ongoing debate, although mainstream Egyptological consensus identifies Narmer with the First Dynasty pharaoh Menes, who is also sometimes credited with the unification of Egypt, as the first pharaoh. This conclusion is based on the Narmer Palette (which shows Narmer as the unifier of Egypt) and the two necropolis seals from the necropolis of Abydos that show him as the first king of the First Dynasty.
The famous Narmer Palette, discovered by James E. Quibell in 1898 in Hierakonpolis, shows Narmer displaying the insignia of both Upper and Lower Egypt, giving rise to the theory that he unified the two kingdoms. Since its discovery, it has been debated whether the Narmer Palette represents a historic event or was purely symbolic. In 1993, however, Günter Dreyer discovered in Abydos a year label of Narmer depicting the same event as that on the Narmer Palette which clearly shows that the Narmer Palette depicts an actual historic event.
The mainstream Egyptological consensus identifying Narmer with Menes is by no means universal. This has ramifications for the agreed history of ancient Egypt. Some Egyptologists hold that Menes is the same person as Hor-Aha and that he inherited an already-unified Egypt from Narmer; others hold that Narmer began the process of unification but either did not succeed or succeeded only partially, leaving it to Menes to complete. Arguments have been made that Narmer is Menes because of his appearance on a mud seal impression found in Abydos in conjunction with the gameboard hieroglyph for "mn", which appears to be a contemporary record of the otherwise unattested king.
Another possible theory is that Narmer was an immediate successor to the king who did manage to unify Egypt (perhaps the King Scorpion whose name was found on a macehead also discovered in Hierakonpolis), but he adopted symbols of unification that had already been in use for perhaps a generation.
Two necropolis mud sealings listing kings recently found in the tombs of Den and Qa'a (both in Abydos) show Narmer as the founder of the First Dynasty, who was then followed by Hor-Aha. The Qa'a sealing shows all eight kings of the First Dynasty in the correct sequence beginning with Narmer. Menes is not mentioned on either list of kings because at that time the name generally used on the monuments was the Horus name, while Menes was a personal name.
Until recently, Narmer's wife was thought to have been Neithhotep, whose name means "Neith is satisfied". In this theory, she would have been a princess of Lower Egypt. Inscriptions bearing her name were found in tombs belonging to Narmer's immediate successors Hor-Aha as well as Djer, which Egyptologists took to suggest that she was the mother of Hor-Aha. However, the discovery in 2012 of rock inscriptions in Sinai during an expedition under the authority of Pierre Tallet raise questions about this theory.[b]
Tomb and artifacts
Narmer's tomb is composed of two joined chambers (B17 and B18) found in the Umm el-Qa'ab locality, near Abydos in Upper Egypt. It is located next to the tomb of Ka, who likely ruled Upper Egypt just before him.
Narmer is well attested throughout Egypt, southern Canaan, and Sinai: altogether 94 inscriptions at 26 sites.[c] At every site except Coptos, it appears in a serekh. In Egypt his name has been found at 17 sites: four in Upper Egypt (Hierakonpolis, Naqada, Abydos , and Coptos), ten in Lower Egypt (Tarkhan, Helwan, Zawyet el'Aryan, Tell Ibrahim Awad, Ezbet el-Tell, Minshat Abu Omar, Saqqara , Buto , Tell el-Farkhan  and Kafr Hassan Dawood ), and one in the Eastern Desert (Wadi el-Qaash), and two in the Western Desert (Kharga Oasis and Gebel Tjauti).
During Narmer's reign, Egypt had an active economic presence in southern Canaan. Pottery sherds have been discovered at several sites, both from pots made in Egypt and imported to Canaan and others made in the Egyptian style out of local materials. The latter discovery has led to the conclusion that Egypt's presence in Canaan was in the form of a colony rather than just the result of trade. While Egypt's presence in Canaan has been explained as the result of a military invasion, this view is not generally accepted. Fortifications at Tel es-Sakan dating to this period and almost entirely Egyptian in construction suggest a military presence, if not a military invasion.
The extent of Egyptian activity in southern Canaan is shown by the discovery of 33 serekhs on pottery sherds at sites in Canaan dating from the Protodynastic Period to the beginning of the First Dynasty. Fifteen of these belong to Narmer, and came from eight different sites: Tel Arad, En Besor (Ein HaBesor), Tel es-Sakan, Nahal Tillah (Halif Terrace), Tel Erani (Tel Gat), Small Tel Malhata, Tel Ma'ahaz,  and Tel Lod. An additional serekh from Tel Lod is attributed to Narmer's probable predecessor, Ka. Significantly only one is attributable to Narmer's successors, to Hor Aha, his immediate successor. The remainder of the serekhs either have no name on them or have a name not attributable to any known pharaoh. Narmer's serekh, along with those of other Predynastic and Early Dynastic kings, has been found at the Wadi 'Ameyra in the southern Sinai, where inscriptions commemorate Egyptian mining expeditions to the area.
During the summer of 1994, excavators from the Nahal Tillah expedition, in southern Israel, discovered an incised ceramic sherd with the serekh sign of Narmer. The sherd was found on a large circular platform, possibly the foundations of a storage silo on the Halif Terrace. Dated to c. 3000 BCE, mineralogical studies of the sherd conclude that it is a fragment of a wine jar which had been imported from the Nile valley to Canaan.
In the popular culture
- The First Pharaoh (The First Dynasty Book 1) by Lester Picker is a fictionalized biography of Narmer. The author consulted with Egyptologist Günter Dreyer to achieve authenticity.
- Murder by the Gods: An Ancient Egyptian Mystery by William Collins is a thriller about prince Aha, with Narmer included in a secondary role.
- Narmer, Erober des Nils (in German) by Jackie French.
- The Third Gate by Lincoln Child is a science fiction novel about an archaeological expedition in search of the real tomb of Narmer.
Gallery of images
Alabaster statue of a baboon divinity with the name of the pharaoh Narmer inscribed on its base, on display at the Ägyptisches Museum Berlin.
- Establishing absolute dating for Ancient Egypt relies on two different methods, each of which is problematic. Using the Historical Method, an astronomical event that is recorded in Ancient Egyptian texts is used as a starting point, and then the date of the king in question is determined by “dead reckoning” – adding or subtracting the length of each king’s reign (based primarily on Manetho, the Turin King List, and the Palermo Stone) until you get to the reign of the king in question. Of course, there is uncertainty about the length of reigns, especially in the Intermediate Periods and the Archaic Period. Two astrological events are available to anchor the estimates, one in the NewKingdom, and one in the Middle Kingdom. ( for a discussion of the problems in establishing absolute dates for Ancient Egypt, see Shaw 2000, pp. 1-16). Two estimates based on this method are: Hayes 1970, p. 174, which gives the beginning of the reign of Narmer/Menes as 3114 BC which he rounds to 3100 BC; and, Krauss & Warburton 2006, p. 487 which gives that date as 2950 BC. Several estimates of the beginning of the First Dynasty assume that it began with Hor-Aha. Setting aside the question of whether the First Dynasty began with Narmer or Hor-Aha, these calculations, must be adjusted by the length of Narmer’s reign in order to produce an estimate of the date of the beginning of Narmer’s reign. Unfortunately, we have no reliable estimate of the length of Narmer’s reign. The best we can do is use Manetho’s estimate of the length of the reign of Manetho, p. 29 (Africanus) of 62 years based on the assumption that Narmer and Menes are the same person. The date for the beginning of Narmer’s reign is, thus, 62 years earlier than the date given by the authors who assume the beginning of the First Dynasty is the start of Hor-Aha’s reign. Estimates of the beginning of Narmer’s reign calculated in this way include von Beckerath 1997, p. 179 (3094-3044 BC); Helck 1986, p. 28 (2987 BC); Kitchen 2000, p. 48 (3092 BC), and Shaw 2000, p. 480 (3062). Considering all six estimates gives us a range of 3114 – 2987 BC based on the Historical Method. The exception to the mainstream consensus, is Mellaart 1979, pp. 9-10 who estimates the beginning of the First Dynasty at 3400 BC. However, he reached this conclusion by disregarding the Middle Kingdom astronomical date. His conclusion is not widely accepted. Radiocarbon dating sounds scientific, but also has its problems. According to Hendrickx 2006, p. 90, “Furthermore the calibration curves for the (second half) of the 4th millennium BC show important fluctuations with long possible data ranges as a consequence. It is generally considered a ‘bad period’ for Radiocarbon dating.” Using a statistical approach, including all available carbon 14 dates for the Archaic Period, reduces, but does not eliminate, the inherent problems. Dee & et al., 2013,Table 1, use such an approach and derive a 65 % confidence interval estimate for the beginning of the First Dynasty of 3211 – 3045 BC. However, they define the beginning of the First Dynasty as the beginning of the reign of Hor-Aha. There are no Radiocarbon dates for Narmer, so to translate this to the beginning of Narmer’s reign we must again adjust for the length of Narmer’s reign of 62 years, to get to the beginning of Narmer’s reign, which gives us a range of 3273-3107 BC. This is reassuringly close to the range of mainstream Egyptologists using the Historical Method of 3114 - 2987 BC. Combining the results of two different methodologies, we get a range for the accession on Narmer of 3273 - 2987 BC.
- In 2012, Pierre Tallet discovered an important new series of rock carvings in Wadi ‘Ameyro in the Sinai. This discovery was reported in Tallet 2015, and in 2016 in two web articles by Owen Jarus, “Early Egyptian Queen Revealed in 5,000-Year-Old Hieroglyphs”  and “ Photos: 5,000-Year Old Hieroglyphs Discovered in Sinai Desert” . These inscriptions strongly suggest that Neith-Hotep was Djer’s regent for a period of time, but do not resolve the question of whether she was Narmer’s queen. In the first of Jarus’ articles, he quotes Tallet as saying that Neith-Hotep “ was not the wife of Narmer”. However, Tallet , in a personal communication with Thomas C. Heagy explained that he had been misquoted. According to Tallet, she could have been Narmer’s wife (Djer’s grandmother), but that it is more likely that she was in the next generation – for example Narmer’s daughter or Aha’s sister ( Djer’s aunt). This is consistent with the discussion in Tallet 2015, pp. 28–29.
- Of these, 28 are controversial or uncertain, they include the unique examples from Coptos, En Besor, Tell el-Farkhan, Gebel Tjauti, and Kharga Oasis, as well as both inscriptions each from Buto and Tel Ma'ahaz. Sites with more than one inscription are footnoted with either references to the most representative inscriptions, or to sources that are the most important for that site. All of the inscriptions are included in the Narmer Catalog (www.narmer.org)  which also includes extensive bibliographies for each inscrition. Several references discuss substantial numbers of inscriptions. They include: Database of Early Dynastic Inscriptions  , Kaplony 1963, Kaplony 1964, Kaiser & Dreyer 1982, Kahl 1994,van den Brink 1996, van den Brink 2001, Jiménez-Serrano 2003, Jiménez-Serrano 2007, and Pätznick 2009. Anđelković 1995 includes Narmer inscriptions, from Canaan within the context of the overall relations between Canaan and Early Egypt, including a descriptions of the sites in which they were found.
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