The Narmer Palette

Narmer Palette, circa 2850 B.C.E. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

The Narmer Palette provides an early Egyptian example of the power of the image of the beheaded enemy. The palette presents a complex scene of domination in which King Narmer is pictured on both sides of the palette in various forms. On one side, he appears in the classic smiting posture, with arm upraised ready to strike the enemy who is kneeling before him. In the upper right quadrant is a hawk, another representation of the king, standing atop the enemy in a similarly emblematic form. This enemy’s “body” has no arms or legs. Rather, papyrus stalks sprout from his back, indicating that the enemy comes from the Nile Delta. The king as hawk holds a leash connected to the nose of the enemy, lifting the head to expose the neck in preparation for its severance.

The top register of the other side of the palette shows the gruesome results of this act. Here the king appears in a procession directed toward two neat rows of decapitated enemies. Their severed heads have been placed between their legs. These grotesquely rearranged enemy bodies illustrate the idea that the king has ordered the forces of chaos that the enemies represent. Decapitation signals the king’s complete conquest of his chaotic foes.


The capital of Egypt since 1168 CE, located near the ancient city of Memphis.

Absence of order. In the ancient Near East, chaos was believed to precede and surround the order of the known world.

cut off the head

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