Dynasty Zero: Egypt’s Mysterious King Narmer Exposed
New studies and evidence into Egypt’s Dynasty Zero has shocked egyptologists all over the world. For the first time, the origins of that great land is put to question and hidden truths are beginning to surface. Who was King Narmer, and did he really found the great Egyptian empire? How was the land unified so quickly? What were the consequences of such great political change in a landscape that had never seen dominion by a single ruler? What is Egypt’s Dynasty Zero?
Studies into Dynasty Zero are young, only having been looked into for the past 15 years, it is new ground for historical researchers. To reach this epoch in the human history, we have to travel back further than 5000 years, to around 3100 BCE. There are no great rulers, no god like Pharaohs, only bands of people, tribes living along the life line of Egypt, the mighty Nile river.
Farmers, fishermen, people of everyday life make their living quietly along the Nile’s banks. It serves as the bringer of life, flooding predicatively, securing fresh fertility to nourish its inhabitants. The people here live in tribes, those of the delta even belonging to small kingdoms. But there is no centralized power as seen in later periods. However, this isn’t always the case.
Around this time, the territories of the Upper Kingdom had been secured by one man, a great tribal chieftain named Narmer. Before long he had secured his territory, but his thirst for power had not been slaked. Knowing of the fertility and rich lands of the northern tribes, Narmer hungers to extend his kingdom. He sets out to establish his rule, and so begins the coarse that will impact human history like never before.
That is what is known, what comes next is still conjecture.
Theory One: Violence
It is believed that after he secured his southern kingdom, Narmer set forth messengers and diplomats to speak with the chieftains and rulers of the Nile delta. He did not want bloodshed, for a peaceful occupation is always preferred. Through peace, Narmer would not have to raise and pay for an expeditionary force, and the new peoples under his rule would be happier and more productive. However, Narmer’s path of peaceful capitulation did not happen. The Nile Delta chiefs flat out refused Narmer’ s offer and so the southern king was only left with one option, a violent, destructive campaign to subdue the people of the Delta.
This is recorded on the Narmer Palette , a double sided slab of carved stone depicting the actions of Narmer’s conquest. The Palette shows Narmer as the central figure, smiting his foe with a mighty club. The mighty gods (the falcon) grasp onto a chord tied around his cowering enemies neck, showing that the kings actions are divinely sanctioned. It is evident that the enemy he would vanquish were the people occupying the Nile Delta because of the papyri plants growing around him, symbolic of the prosperous lands of the north. So the Palette in fact shows Narmer seizing northern Egypt by force and that violence and destruction must have been involved.
Theory Two: Peace
There is however, a second theory, one where Narmer never raised his club in violence. It is suggested that the unification of Egypt was a more organic process, one that occurred through the frequent mixing of the upper and lower Egyptian people. As Narmer held a centralized government in Upper Egypt, the people there flourished in wealth and culture. The Nile, acting as the central route of trade, allowed this wealth and culture to be seen by all, and slowly the tribes of the south assimilated into the ways of the Upper Kingdom.
The Truth of Dynasty Zero
The big question is, can an empire only be founded through violence, or can it be achieved through peace? It is clear that violence within humanity is the rule, not the exception, and warfare was not uncommon throughout Egypt, especially prior to its unification. But it is also true that Narmer had a greater vision then merely controlling the people of the north. Historians have for a long time been baffled on which way to interpret the evidence, but more recently, archaeological finds have helped put the issue into context.
#1: The Tombs of Dynasty Zero
The tombs of the first Pharaohs from Dynasty Zero have been found in Egypt’s desert wasteland. In an ancient city called Abydos, that was once nestled in the fertile Nile Valley before the river slowly shifted away like a snake in the sand, taking the life from the city. The burials at Abydos hold little more than broken pottery now, thanks to five thousand years worth of tomb raiders and thieves. But in the land of the pyramids, what was the tomb of Egypt’s first Pharaoh like? Narmer’s tomb is very modest, it is literally a ditch in the ground, lined with a mud brick wall. It was not designed to last forever, and is even now crumbling away. To call it a ditch takes away the formality somewhat, in reality, there are two rooms, one a little larger than the other, the small room is designed to hold the body, the larger for funerary ornaments. This kind of burial site is very generic and it is shocking to find the first Pharaoh, Narmer, buried in one instead of something more ornate and resilient.
#2: Lies on the Narmer Palette
The fact that Narmer’s funerary tomb is so insignificant suggests that he was not as powerful as he professed. In fact, Narmer’s glory as recorded on the Palette could be but a fantasy, an exercise in political propaganda. This is not uncommon in Egypt. Every Pharaoh has depicted himself as a strong, capable leader, a conqueror of people, blessed by the gods. Great tablets and monuments are established throughout the empire to show the people how powerful their god-king was. The Narmer Palette may have been doing just this, a device displayed to the people, detailing how great the king was, without any basis in reality.
#3: Egypt: A land of peace?
All archaeological evidence shows that Egypt, at around 3000 BCE was a land of relative peace, there are no signs of widespread warfare or conquests. The fact that so many of the civil centers in Egypt were flourishing through trade and cooperation gives further foundation to suggest that Narmer’s battle did not occur. Though it does not prove it. The Egyptians quickly discovered that the Nile can take all this prosperity away with just one flood, and that only through working together and cooperating, they would be able to flourish and survive. By sharing resources they could hold enough food in reserve for years of poor harvest. They could collectively work together to rebuild settlements damaged by the inundation from the Nile. This suggests that the people on the Nile were not interested in fighting each other, but had invested interests in working together.
#4: Cultivation and Specialization
With cultivation and irrigation, the rich flood plains of the Nile are so fertile that at 3000 BCE they could feed one million people. Wheat does not grow so quickly, and so abundantly anywhere else in the world. This boon in fertility led to the most important evolution of ancient Egypt – specialization. Where fewer people are required to farm, and still producing more than enough food for everyone, it allows other people to pursue jobs and crafts outside of agriculture. People begin to specialize in pottery, stone and metal work, music, literature and art.
#5: Trade is the great unifier
Specialization spread to all aspects of life, and a key feature of Dynasty Zero culture we see is widespread trade and transportation up and down the Nile. In Dynasty Zero, we see an innovation in water crafts with a uniquely styled boat, the first in the world of its kind, that allowed for large volumes of good to be carried. This wide spread trade and travel unified the country.
The Narmer Palette Remains
Despite the archaeological evidence, the Narmer Palette still exists, and very specifically records violence during the era which cannot be ignored. The images on the Palette are very cryptic in symbolism, this means we can infer ideas on what it could mean, but until there is something else to back them up, they are only theories. However it also contains very specific names and deeds, so it cannot be assumed to be purely fictional, there appears to be some truth in it.
Corroborating evidence to back up the Narmer Palette was finally found, shocking Egyptologists everywhere. When sorting through his fragmented finds in Abydos, archaeologist Gunter Dreyer discovered some hieroglyphics recording a shipment of oil and wheat, but it was the shipments actual date that astounded him, “The year that Narmer defeated the Papyrus People.” Violence in Dynasty Zero had finally been confirmed.
Another mysterious artifact was found, the ceremonial mace of Narmer, which depicts the results of that bloody battle, he is pictured with the double crown of Egypt, divine ruler of the upper and lower kingdoms. The mace records that his forces took 120,000 captives, 1,000,000 goats, 400,000 cattle. On the Narmer Palette , the king looks over the lines of the enemy dead, their bodies rotting in the desert sun, each head decapitated, every man castrated, the severed body parts placed between the ankles of its owner.
The Birth of Dynasty Zero
Narmer had astonishingly taken all of Egypt through a fierce, bloody campaign! Though the evidence for a peaceful period of history also holds true, Narmer may have brought the country together politically, but culturally they had already unified.
This isn’t so surprising, Narmer’s need to control the north is more obvious when you consider that his power base in the south was relatively cut off from other civilizations – namely those of Mesopotamia. As the people of Narmer’s kingdom developed culturally, they demanded the luxuries only supplied by the near east, and could only be traded via the Nile Delta region. Narmer needed to control Lower Egypt to control the trade. Narmer’s battle with the Papyrus people, the kingdoms of the Nile Delta, seems to be factual, it was the first battle ever recorded, taking place somewhere in the fertile Nile Valley, an event that resulted in Egypt becoming united for the first time ever in history.
Narmer’s legacy was his bringing Egypt out of an age of dispersed tribes, to a unified dynastic empire. He brought the entire country together under the rule of one man, and was the first to bear the Egyptian double crown, a custom that continued in every Pharaoh for the next 3000 years. And so, the Egyptian civilization was born.