When the Narmer Palette was unearthed in Nekhet, another symbolically significant artifact was unearthed along side. It has come to be known as the Mace-head of King Scorpion, a king of upper Egypt in the period prior to Narmer’s unification. It is just what it sounds like it is, the head of a mace, carved in stone and intricately inscribed with the depiction of a royal ceremony.
To me, this early Egyptian relic is an ironic symbol of the ancient Egyptian mindset. The Scorpion mace-head depicts the king performing an irrigation ceremony. He uses a hoe to cut a furrow in the earth, while a servant kneels, basket in hand, ready to receive the first sod in dedication to a bountiful planting. In Egypt, this ceremony must have held a lofty place in the minds of the people, for their very life depended on the blessing of the Nile and it’s watering of the earth.
The irony inherent in the mace-head’s symbolism is it’s memorialization of a peaceful ceremony upon an instrument of war. Since prehistoric times, maces have been symbols of authority, and the Egyptian monarchy co-opted the mace’s symbolism for it’s own benefit. Egyptian royal authority leaned in a decidedly autocratic direction, as evidenced by the mace-head itself. But even through the pictures of the Narmer Palette, King Narmer depicted in acts of war and desolation, we can see again the preeminence of violence in the Egyptian mindset.
The most telling aspect of the mace-heads true symbolism can be seen around the top ring of the artifact. Several birds, lapwings specifically, are hung by their necks on a series of gallows. In ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, these “lapwings” represented the common people of Egypt, anyone not a part of the royal family. In essence, the mace-head bore a symbolic undertone asserting the royal authority over the common people, an authority that had very little limit. Egypt’s kings had gained their power through violence and they would go to any length to retain their power over a subservient populace. Before long, however, the monarchy would take the marriage of the Egyptian state and the Egyptian religion to new heights, in an effort to maintain control through indoctrination. Pharaoh would become one with the gods.