Symbology in Ancient Egypt: The Palermo Stone, The Following of Horus and Taxes

As of late, we’ve been examining some of the implications of the monarchy in First Dynasty Egypt. Like all good monarchies throughout history, Egypt’s rulers learned the finer points of taxation. By and large, monarchy has not survived to the present day, but alas, taxes have. We begin with the discovery of the Palermo Stone, named after the residence of the main fragment, but itself a part of the larger artifact known as the Royal Annals.

The Royal Annals is a stele, a rock slab, inscribed with the records of Egypt’s first Old Kingdom kings. It focuses on the kings of the first through the fifth dynasties, and the fragment known as the Palermo Stone is the largest piece to record the royal history. The Palermo Stone sheds light on the development of the Egyptian monarchy directly following Egypt’s unification.  A particular practice of the early monarchy that I’d like to focus on is what the Egyptian’s called “The Following of Horus.”

The Palermo Stone

The “Following of Horus” was an bi-annual event that the Palermo Stone indicates as taking place during the reign of King Aha (I love these Egyptian names), believed to be the immediate successor of the unifying King Narmer. Scholars believe it consisted of the king and his royal court making journey along the Nile River Valley, most probably as a “P.R. tour.” At least, that is our modern-day equivalent of the king’s purpose. His journey most probably allowed the people to catch a fleeting glimpse of the king, enough to keep him above the people but satisfy their curiosity at the same time. Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson believes that it also helped the king’s court to gain a closer perspective of the popular sentiment. As a result of their itinerant schedule, they could help settle disputes in each region, devise and implement new laws or policies, and even help maintain justice by using their higher government status as royal consort. The “Following of Horus” seems to have been an ingenious method of the Old Kingdom monarchy, a method that they tweaked to perfection with one final inclusion.

A Vase Shard with the name of King Aha

What was the last purpose of the royal journey? You guessed it: to take a census for the purpose of taxation. It started off as simply a gathering of money from the people, in order to support the royal court. Over time, probably within the two-hundred years spanning the mid-First to the Second Dynasties, this simple taxation sprouted into a full-fledged census of the population and agricultural crops, all for taxation purposes. This new system seems to have been successful, allowing the monarchy to consolidate its power even further, and making possible the construction of Egypt’s earliest national icons.

Last item for today, I can’t decide between one of two topics for my next post, so I’ll let my readers decide! Here are the choices. 1) An examination of the early pyramids and their use/symbolic status or 2) the origin of Horus as the first national god and his use by the monarchy as a symbol of ascendancy. Thanks in advance!

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