In the last post, we examined the origins of the two crowns in ancient Egypt, the white crown of the southern kingdom and the red crown of the northern kingdom. We saw how Egypt began humbly, as a diverse assortment of villages run by regional strongmen. Over time, the many small villages began to centralize around the Nile and the valley it occupies. Though this was mainly a result of climate change forcing farmers toward the only remaining source of water, the strongmen seized the opportunity for power and turned Egypt into a nation of two kingdoms. The kings of the Upper and Lower Kingdoms made their crowns early symbols of their power.
The discovery of the Narmer Palette in 1898 has shed much light on the conditions of pre-dynastic Egypt. It is significant in that it is a verification of the ancient Greek historian, Herodotus. His Histories credit Menes, or Narmer, as being the first king of Egypt, responsible for the unification of the Upper and Lower kingdoms. Little evidence exists to detail the specifics of the unification process or how it was initiated, but most scholars agree that Narmer was ultimately responsible for Egypt’s unification.
The symbolic significance of the Narmer Palette lies in the different pictorial inscriptions of each side. One side depicts Narmer as a warring king, raising the royal scepter over his head and subjugating his foes. On the opposite side, he is depicted as a victorious king, his dead enemies littering the ground and his new subjects united with his old ones. Two symbols are evident here, the first being the royal scepter, and the second, the two crowns.
The scepter itself is a potent symbol of royal authority, as it is essentially a fancy stick (sticks being useful for beating underlings with, of course.) In later Egypt, after the invention of hieroglyphics, the scepter was adopted as the symbol for “ruler” or “king.” The scepter as a royal symbol is still in use today, as it was throughout all of Egyptian history.
The crowns are a significant part of the Narmer Palette for this reason. The side where Narmer is the warring king shows him wearing the crown of the Upper Kingdom; on the opposite side, the victorious king is wearing the red crown of the Lower Kingdom. Narmer successfully conquered Lower Egypt, thereby uniting the two kingdoms and creating the first type of “nation-state” in history.
The significance of the two differing crown was utilized by the early Egyptians to further their control of the unified country. In an act of asserting the royal authority, the monarchy of a unified Egypt created a new crown by combining the traditional crowns of the Upper and Lower Kingdom’s. This new crown symbolized the unification of the kingdom’s into one state, under the control of one ruler. The First Dynasty had begun.