Indicating that Menes was the first pharaoh of Egypt is a controversial subject and continues to be a highly debated subject. In fact, some Egyptian books mention that Narmer was the first pharaoh and this theory is also accepted today. Yet others say that Menes and Narmer was one and the same person. But due to some historical documents and more current theories, there are experts that insist on giving this title to Menes. Although there is a disagreement among experts as to which of these men was the first pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, it should be noted that there were other pharaohs before Menes and Narmer but not much is known about them. So with all this information at hand, who was the first pharaoh to rule Egypt?
It is important to note there is no real evidence of who actually ruled Egypt first, but rather it’s a conjecture from experts. It is theories that have been piecemealed from information that is minimal. There is no tomb, no monument, or no mummy that proves that Menes was the first pharaoh to rule Egypt. In fact, most of what our modern society relies upon for the first pharaoh came from the Ptolemaic time era, around 300 BC and an ancient list of pharaohs discovered in Egypt. The first pharaoh is believed to have started their reign around 3100 BC, roughly three thousand years before the Ptolemaic era. Three thousand years is a huge span of time and information could have easily been altered and changed; especially due to the fact that most pharaohs tried to erase and outdo a previous pharaoh’s accomplishments before them.
So why is Menes often given the title of being the first pharaoh? This can be attributed to the Turin King List, a document discovered in Luxor that lists all the kings in chronological order. The other account of proclaiming the first pharaoh is from Manetho, a historian of Egypt from the Ptolemaic era. According to these two sources Menes is the first king of Egypt. It is said that Menes united Upper and Lower Egypt and for this reason he becomes a prominent figure and therefore given the title of first pharaoh by many experts.
So how did Narmer become known as the first pharaoh if Menes holds this title? Narmer came to light during a major discovery in 1898 by James Edward Quibell. The discovery was a stone carving known as the Narmer Palette. Once discovered and examined, it changed many modern historians and Egyptologist’s perception about who ruled Egypt first.
The palette showcased Narmer on both sides. One side shows the king wearing the crown of Upper Egypt and defeating his enemy. On this side, the king is shown at war with his opponents. This is expressed by the king holding a battle mace and him standing over his enemies. To aid him in his conquest, Horus sits upon a bed of papyrus reeds which also gives credence to his god-like affiliation with power and deities.
On the other side of the Narmer Palette, King Narmer is depicted wearing the crown of Lower Egypt. The king is also shown taking control of Lower Egypt with his enemies being crushed. Four small men carry the insignia of Lower Egypt while walking with Narmer. This suggests that the king has control and dominance over the region.
Also, depicted on the same side, is a picture of two long-necked lions that have their heads intertwined. Two serpents are forcing them to stay intertwined which some experts interpret this as a symbol of the unification of the two lands.
This palette discovery further confused the question of who actually was the first pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. Many Ancient Egyptian documents point to Menes while this one palette points to Narmer. Both men have been attributed to uniting Egypt, and for this reason, some historians believe Menes and Narmer are the same king.
There were other kings before Menes and Narmer; however, as mentioned above, they are not as well known with the exception of the Scorpion King. These kings reigned during the first period of Egypt known today as the Predynastic Period or the Prehistoric Period of Egypt.
According to the Palermo stone, the pharaohs in Lower Egypt were Hsekiu, Khayu, Tiu, Thesh, Neheb, Wazner, and Mekh. This stone documented the kings from the Predynastic times to the Old Kingdom.
The kings of Upper Egypt during the Predynastic Period were believed to be Scorpion I, Iry-Hor, Ka, and King Scorpion. Many experts do not consider these kings as true pharaohs because of the notion that to be given this kingly title, they had to unite both the Lower and Upper regions of Ancient Egypt.
During the Predynastic Period, Egypt was divided into several regions making the region volatile and chaotic and most likely very difficult to unite. However, due to ancient texts documenting Menes as reigning in both Upper and Lower Egypt, he is then given the honor of unifier and probably why many experts consider him as the first pharaoh of Ancient Egypt.