Part Eight of The Giza Discovery


The First Pharaoh

By Peter Goodgame


"You are crowned Lord of the West after having governed Egypt and the inhabitants of the earth."
Incantation referring to Osiris, Sarcophagus Texts, Formula 44, (Middle Kingdom)


The Ethiopian Osiris

In Part Five of this series I followed the lead of David Rohl and placed the beginning of Nimrod's career in Mesopotamia. This may in fact be correct, as Genesis 10:10 suggests, but since writing that section I have come across more information regarding Nimrod's conquest of Egypt. According to Egyptian legends Osiris began his conquests in Egypt before leading his armies throughout the known world. What I am currently considering is that perhaps Nimrod/Osiris inherited a kingdom in southern Mesopotamia and then his career as a conqueror began in Africa with the land of Cush as his entry point. Nimrod is named as a descendent of Cush and so a connection with Ethiopia (the land of Cush) should not be unexpected. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, who lived in the first century BC, offers support for an Ethiopian origin for Osiris the Conqueror:

They say also that the Egyptians are colonists sent out by the Ethiopians, Osiris having been the leader of the colony... And the larger part of the customs of the Egyptians are, they hold, Ethiopian, the colonists still preserving their ancient manners. For instance, the belief that their kings are gods, the very special attention which they pay to their burials, and many other matters of a similar nature are Ethiopian practices, while the shapes of their statues and the forms of their letters are Ethiopian; for of the two kinds of writing which the Egyptians have, that which is known as "popular" (demotic) is learned by everyone, while that which is called "sacred" is understood only by the priests of the Egyptians... Furthermore, the orders of the priests, they maintain, have much the same position among both peoples; for all are clean who are engaged in the service of the gods, keeping themselves shaven, like the Ethiopian priests, and having the same dress and form of staff, which is shaped like a plough and is carried by their kings, who wear high felt hats which end in a knob at the top and are circled by the serpents which they call asps... Many other things are also told by them concerning their own antiquity and the colony which they sent out that became the Egyptians, but about this there is no special need of our writing anything. [1]

From this statement (which has been largely dismissed by mainstream historians) we should not conclude that there were no Egyptians before the alleged "Ethiopian colony" arrived, but rather that the colonizers were an elite ruling class that brought cultural advancements such as ritual burials, writing, and "organized religion."  They were invaders from the south who subdued the indigenous Egyptians and established the Pharaonic civilization of Dynastic Egypt that ruled the land for close to three thousand years. Part Four explains that these invaders, referred to by Flinders Petrie as the Falcon Tribe, had in fact originally come from Mesopotamia.

The identity of the historical Osiris, and thus the historical Nimrod, is hinted at by Manetho the Egyptian historian and High Priest of Ra. Manetho wrote in the third century BC, and it is from him that we get our foundational chronology of the early history of Egypt. Based at Heliopolis Manetho wrote during a time when Egypt was ruled by the Greek Ptolemies after the conquests of Alexander the Great. In his writings Manetho sought to impress the Greek world with the wisdom and antiquity of Egypt and so he often embellished his historical accounts. For instance, in his pre-Dynastic king list Manetho gives a total reign length of 13,900 years for the gods Hephaistos (Ptah), Helios (Ra), Kronos, Osiris, Typhon (Set) and Horus. After that Manetho states that there was another 11,000 years during which Egypt was ruled over by "the spirits of the dead" and "the offspring of the gods."[2] Of course all of this can be dismissed as mythical and non-historical. Yet if Osiris was in fact a historical person identical with the Biblical Nimrod then where can we find him? Here is what Manetho writes in his King List about the first truly historical king of ancient Egypt:

    After the dead and the demigods comes the First Dynasty, with 8 kings of whom Menes was the first. He was an excellent leader. In what follows are recorded the rulers from all of the ruling houses in succession.
    Dynasty One, 1st King - Menes of Thinis, whom Herodotus calls Men, and his 7 descendents. He ruled 62 years. He led the army across the frontier and won great glory. He was killed by a hippopotamus. [3]

Manetho tells us that the very first truly historical human king of Egypt, King Menes, "an excellent leader," led his army "across the frontier and won great glory." In addition to these achievements Diodorus Siculus writes that Menes was the first law giver and that he established the worship of the gods in Egypt. The Roman historian Pliny also states that Menes brought writing to the Egyptians.[4] All of these descriptions sound strangely similar to the descriptions of Osiris given in Plutarch's Isis and Osiris:

One of the first acts related of Osiris in his reign was to deliver the Egyptians from their destitute and brutish manner of living. This he did by showing them the fruits of cultivation, by giving them laws, and by teaching them to honour the gods. Later he travelled over the whole earth civilizing it without the slightest need of arms, but most of the peoples he won over to his way by the charm of his persuasive discourse combined with song and all manner of music. [5]

Plutarch writes that Osiris civilized the whole earth "without the slightest need of arms," which is a statement in need of some critical examination. Diodorus Siculus offers a different explanation for the way in which Osiris achieved supremacy over the entire earth. In his writings he mentions a monument of twin pillars that he found in Arabia, dedicated to Isis and Osiris, which contained the following inscription:

My father is Kronos, the youngest of all the gods.
I am Osiris the king, who led my army all over the earth
to the uninhabited districts of India and those that lie to the North,
to the source of the river Ister, yea, everywhere, even to the Ocean.
I am the eldest son of Kronos.
Child of the noble and beautiful egg, I was born an offspring congenital with day.
No place is there in the whole world, whereinto I have not been,
conferring on all the benefits whereof I have been the inventor. [6]

This inscription states that the conquests of Osiris reached north to the source of the River Ister (the Danube in Europe), east to India and (apparently) west all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Plutarch seems to argue that Osiris conquered peacefully with his charm and "persuasive discourse" and with a flute or a harp, while Diodorus is more straightforward and tells us that Osiris conquered the known world with an army. All of this lines up well with Manetho's description of King Menes who "led the army across the frontier and won great glory."

There is one more item that may help to associate the historical King Menes with the mythical Osiris who was honored as the first king of a unified Egypt and then worshiped posthumously as the Lord of the Underworld. In Manetho's descriptions of the first four Dynasties of Egypt there are thirty-four kings listed for a total of 1,046 years. Within these descriptions there is only one king whose cause of death is mentioned, and that king is Menes. Manetho writes that after a glorious reign of 62 years, Menes "was killed by a hippopotamus." This may seem curious and strange, but only to those who do not realize that the hippopotamus was a symbol for the Egyptian god Set, who was the legendary murderer of Osiris. In Egyptian myth Set is portrayed in hippo form after the death of Osiris during the conflict between Set and Horus (the son of Osiris) over who would rule Egypt. This conflict and symbolism can be found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and the triumph of Isis and Horus over the "Set hippopotamus" is also portrayed in a depiction of the "Festival of Victory" that is inscribed on the Temple of Horus at Edfu.[7] By stating that Menes was "killed by a hippopotamus" Manetho is offering another hint that King Menes was in fact Osiris.

Who Was King Menes?

So what else do we know about this King Menes, the historical founder of Dynastic Egypt? Aside from a few references from the ancient historians there is really very little archaeological evidence for a "King Menes" to aid the modern historian. In the online article "Who Was Menes?" Jimmy Dunn explains that the name "Menes" was probably not meant to be a proper name at all, but was originally a verb, a pronoun, or perhaps a title:

It seems almost certain that the various Greek forms of the name [Menes] render the Egyptian name Mni, found in the Abydos and Turin king lists, although the etymology of the name is problematic. Some have proposed a connection with the verb, "to endure", while others wish to connect it with the Egyptian indefinite pronoun mn, meaning "so-and-so", that is, a substitute for a forgotten name. [8]

Dunn goes on to explain that Manetho's King Menes, or "King So-and-So," is most likely to be equated with either King Narmer or King Aha, both of whom were instrumental in the early founding of Dynastic Egypt at the very end of the fourth millennium BC:

    What seems clear to us is that Menes must have been another name given to one of the better attested kings of the 1st Dynasty, if he indeed was not a legendary figure composed of several of them. Many scholars do believe that he represents a specific king, but who exactly this might be is an argument almost as old as Egyptology itself. Today, the two primary candidates are Narmer and Aha. We are more certain, though not entirely, that these two individuals reigned successively, with Narmer preceding Aha. If Narmer is considered to be Menes, then Aha would be the second ruler of the 1st Dynasty. Otherwise, Narmer would be the last ruler of the Predynastic Period, or as some have suggested, Dynasty 0.
    Perhaps the most important aspect of this discussion is to remember that there has been no absolutely conclusive proof that either of these individuals was Menes, even though many scholars will and have voiced absolute opinions, because their absolute opinions are not unified. We do not know with any certainty who Menes actually was, and we may never have the answer to this question. Furthermore, opinions over the years have swung to and fro.
    Narmer's claim rests largely on his earlier historical position and on the Narmer Palette, which has been interpreted as showing the king in the act of conquering Lower (Northern) Egypt.

The argument that King Menes is to be equated with King Aha (Hor-Aha) is put forth in the book Chronicle of the Pharaohs by Peter A. Clayton:

Hor-Aha, his [Narmer's] successor, and therefore probably his son, possibly by Queen Nithotep, stood to inherit a unified kingdom, both by right and by conquest. He took the nebti name ... of Men, which means 'established', and this could be the origin of the later record of the first king as being called Menes. For present purposes we may look on Hor-Aha as the first king of the 1st Dynasty. An interesting piece of evidence is a small broken ivory label found in the tomb of Queen Nithotep at Naqada. Although schematically represented, the busy scene on this tiny piece seems to show two humans celebrating a ceremony called 'Receiving the South and the North'... The king's name, meaning 'Fighting Hawk' – an allusion again to Horus – indicates his Upper Egyptian origin and rule. His adoption of Men as his nebti name for ruling over both parts is indicated on the ivory label by the fact that his Horus name... Hor-Aha, and his nebti name, Men, appear side by side. Other similar small labels from Early Dynastic tombs indicate that his was not an easy reign. There were campaigns to be fought and rebels to be subdued in Nubia, recorded on a wooden label from Abydos, and another label records his foundation of a temple to the goddess Neith at Sais in the Delta. Her warlike aspect was signified by a pair of crossed arrows and her worship continued into Roman times when she was identified with Athena at Sais. [9]

All of this information compares well with the myth of Osiris, but only if we equate Narmer with Menes/Osiris, and equate Hor-Aha with Horus the son of Osiris. Both Osiris (from textual/mythical evidence) and Narmer (from inscriptional/archaeological evidence) are known to have unified Egypt under one rule. Yet the myths also state that after the death of Osiris there was a conflict over who would rule Egypt, with the brother of Osiris (Set) claiming legitimacy over the alleged son of Osiris (Horus). Remember also that the myths explain that Isis was impregnated with Horus in a magical ritual only after the death of Osiris (sort of a reverse immaculate conception: Mary the Mother of Jesus was impregnated by the Living God, whereas Isis the Mother of Horus was impregnated by a dead man-god), so we can conclude that Horus was probably in fact viewed by many as an illegitimate son, just as Jesus was portrayed as illegitimate in non-Biblical sources such as the Talmud.

Another important point to note is that there were actually two mythical figures known as "Horus" in Egyptian myth. There was Horus the Elder and then there was Horus the Younger, who was accepted as the son of Osiris, who defeated Set and became the new ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt. As I stated in Part Six, I continue to believe that Horus the Elder can be equated with the Biblical Ham, son of Noah, from whom this early seafaring and warlike Falcon Tribe descended. The founders of Dynastic Egypt referred to themselves as the Shemsu-Hor (Followers of Horus), and this is certainly a reference to Horus the Elder, whose existence preceded Narmer and the myths of Osiris that came much later. (We must remember also that the first historical evidence for an Egyptian god known as "Osiris" is found in the Pyramid Texts that date to the Fifth-Sixth Dynasties hundreds of years after the life of the human King Narmer.)

In examining the quote from Clayton above we can see how Narmer fulfills the role of Osiris, Queen Nithotep fulfills the role of Isis, and Hor-Aha fulfills the role of Horus the Younger. Hor-Aha's ceremony of 'Receiving the South and the North' would then refer to what happened after the victory of Horus over his uncle Set that brought an end to civil war and unified Egypt once again. This war may have involved campaigns to the south against Nubia (Ethiopia), just as the historical record attests. It was in fact Ethiopia, according to Plutarch, that played an important role in the death of Osiris in the first place:

During his [Osiris'] absence the tradition is that Typhon [Set] attempted nothing revolutionary because Isis, who was in control, was vigilant and alert; but when he returned home Typhon contrived a treacherous plot against him and formed a group of conspirators seventy-two in number. He had also the co-operation of a queen from Ethiopia who was there at the time and whose name they report as Aso. [10]

After the death of Osiris the kingship of Egypt was up for grabs, with the primary contenders being Set the brother of Osiris, against Isis the widow of Osiris, who championed her son Horus as the legitimate heir. If Osiris did have an Ethiopian origin, as Diodorus Siculus maintains, then perhaps his brother Set came from Ethiopia as well and was allied with the Ethiopian Queen Aso. Perhaps that is why Hor-Aha (Horus the Younger) was forced to subdue "rebels from Nubia" before he was able to unite Egypt, as Clayton explains above.

So if Narmer was the original King Menes then why does the name Men, translated as Menes, appear in inscriptions next to the name Hor-Aha? A clear answer has not been found but it must also be noted that the name Men also appears on artifacts next to the name Narmer. In Clayton's Chronicle of the Pharaohs, which equates Menes with Hor-Aha, there is a discrepancy in his list of First Dynasty kings as compared to the list given by Manetho. Clayton names Narmer as the final king of the so-called Dynasty '0', and then he lists seven kings, beginning with Hor-Aha, within the First Dynasty. However, Manetho writes that there were eight kings in the First Dynasty. The problem is resolved if we simply accept that Narmer was the Menes referred to by Manetho who founded the First Dynasty, with Hor-Aha and the rest of the kings following after him, for a total of eight First Dynasty kings.

The Turin Canon is another ancient document, now in fragments, that provides a list of Egypt's kings and, as Nicolas Grimal comments, this document provides some rather remarkable information about the original King Menes.

The first 'king of Upper and Lower Egypt' (nsw bity) is unequivocally named as Meni, his name actually being written twice, but with one important difference – the first time his name is written with a human determinative and the second time with a divine determinative... Is this Meni – or Menes according to Eratosthenes and Manetho – to be identified with Narmer, as is generally thought, or is it simply a literary method of designating 'someone' in general, whose name is lost? ... It is difficult to see why Meni's name is repeated. Is it perhaps because he passed from being 'so-and-so' to being 'king so-and-so', changing his name at the same time as he changed his status, with the text regarding him as an incarnation of all of the local holders of power combined into one archetypal ruler of a united country? [11]

I believe that the reason for Egyptian scribes recording the name of King Menes (Meni) in two forms was that they viewed this King as being both fully human and, after his death, as fully divine as well. The Turin Canon dates back to the New Kingdom period of Ramesses II, and the scribes who wrote it knew perfectly well that the founder of Dynastic Egypt was their mythical "god-man" known as Osiris, who was predicted to return once again to the land of the living to rescue Egypt and to bring about a new Golden Age of the gods.[12] He was the God-King "So-and-So," whose name and identity was never "lost" (which is an absurd idea) but was reverently concealed from the eyes of the profane.

Narmer the Hunter

The most important artifact relating to King Narmer is the Narmer Palette. This famous artifact was discovered in Upper Egypt in Hierakonpolis in 1897-98 and dates to a period around 3150 BC. The name "Narmer" is depicted with the hieroglyphs that are read as nar (fish) and mer (chisel) as found between the bull's or cow's heads on both sides of the palette. The fish and chisel hieroglyph for Nar-mer can also be found just in front of the king's face on the obverse or front side (the image on the right) of the palette, as Narmer and his retinue look upon the ten corpses in front of them. Clearly the expansion of Narmer's kingdom was not done peacefully. The following images and the interpretation of the palette comes from the article Who Was Menes? by Jimmy Dunn:


The Narmer Palette
(images from http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/menes1.htm)

    On the front side of the palette, just under the king's name, is a scene depicting Narmer wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt. He holds a mace in his left hand, while in his right he holds a type of flail. Before him are the symbols for his name, though not written in a serekh. He is followed by a servant who holds his sandals in his left hand and some kind of basket in his other hand. Above the servant is a symbol of unknown meaning.
    Just in front of the king walks another figure who may either have long hair or some sort of unknown headdress. He is also accompanied by symbols of unknown meaning. However, a similar individual with the same symbols can also be found on the ceremonial mace-heads of both Narmer and Scorpion, and they have at times been described as perhaps being shaman, or priests, though their appearance would be very atypical of later Egyptian priests.
    Preceding all of these figures are four individuals who each hold a standard. The standards include some kind of animal skin, a dog (or perhaps a seth-animal), and two falcons. The emblems might either represent the house of Narmer, or perhaps more likely, regions that already belonged to his kingdom.
    This procession is approaching, on the right of the scene, ten decapitated corpses who lie on the ground with their heads tossed between their legs. Above these victims is depicted a ship with a harpoon and a falcon in it. These symbols are usually interpreted as the conquered region. If the symbols for the nomes (provinces of ancient Egypt) remained the same over time, then this could be the region of Mareotis, the 7th Lower Egyptian nome. In front of these symbols is also the wing of a door and a sparrow, which are thought to mean "create" or "found". Therefore, one might speculate that Narmer founded a new province from this conquered land.
    The central, largest scene on the front of the palette is an interesting one depicting two men tethering the stretched necks of two fabulous animals. The tying together of the necks of the two animals has often been interpreted as the joining of Upper and Lower Egypt, though in fact there is nothing much to indicate that these two animals were symbolic of southern and northern Egypt. This is a unique image in Egyptian art, and one must remember that the taming of wild animals was a traditional symbolic task of the king.
    The scene at the bottom of the palette's front face continues the imagery of conquest and victory. A bull, almost certainly a symbol of the king's vigor and strength, tramples a fallen foe and attacks the walls of a city or fortress with its horns. The name of the city or fortress is written within the walls, but unknown to us.
    Most of the back side of the palette is taken up by a central scene, finely carved with highly detailed raised relief. It shows the king, who must certainly be Narmer, in the classical pose found throughout Egyptian history of smiting his enemies with a war mace. He wears a short kilt with a dangling animal's tail, and on his head is what appears to be the White Crown of Upper Egypt.
    Behind him we once again find a servant who holds the king's sandals in his left hand and a basket (or perhaps water bottle) in his right. We also see that, around his neck, is probably a cylinder seal for the king. Again, there are signs written behind this man's head that may denote his title, but their exact reading and meaning are unclear. The fact that the king is represented as barefooted and followed by a sandal-bearer may suggest a ritual nature for the scene depicted on the palette.
    The enemy is depicted kneeling before the king, naked but for a slight girdle. Behind the enemy are two signs that include a harpoon and perhaps a lake, the meaning of which is also unclear. It is possible that this represents the origin of the enemy, or where the possible underlying battle took place. However, one must also remember that later in Egyptian history, such scenes were highly symbolic, and need not represent a real event.
    Above the enemy's head, facing the king, is what most scholars believe to be a personified marshland, with a man's head rising from it. Out of the land, six papyrus plants are growing, indicating that it was marshland, usually identified as the Egyptian Delta by most scholars. A falcon, symbolic of the king, is perched on top of the papyrus plants and appears to draw the breath of life out of the nostrils of the marshland's face.

King Narmer is the first Egyptian ruler to wear both the White Crown (of Upper Egypt in the south) and the Red Crown (of Lower Egypt in the north), and he is therefore viewed as the first unifier of the entire land of Egypt. The primary city of Lower Egypt was the port city of Buto located in the Delta of the Nile, and many Egyptologists believe that the name of Buto is given in the sign that appears directly above the ten decapitated captives next to the sign for Horus. Nicolas Grimal reads the entire textual message as "a triumphant Horus making a pilgrimage to the sacred city of Buto." [13]

The Narmer Palette's depiction of a dominant Bull as a symbol of the King defeating his enemies also appears in a similar artifact known as the Bull Palette that dates directly to the time of Narmer. Grimal describes the scene given on the two sides of this palette:

The Bull Palette (Louvre) introduces [an] image of royal power, the bull, in the process of goring a man of northern ethnic type; below, a long line of prisoners is tied together with a single cord held by the personified standards of five federated kingdoms. The verso [opposite side] bears a depiction of two crenellated walls with the names of two conquered peoples written in the form of pictograms. [14]

The message in the Bull Pallette is clear: if you ally yourself with the Bull, you will be safe, but if you resist the Bull, you will get the horns. Both the Narmer Palette and the Bull Palette depict a Bull defeating enemies, they both depict a city or cities with crenellated walls being captured, and they both list the names of kingdoms that chose to ally themselves with, or submit to, the aggressor.

Another artifact that may be related to Narmer is known as the Hunters' Palette, and it dates to the same time period. Grimal describes it:

The Hunter's Palette is quite explicit, depicting an organized expedition to slaughter and capture wild animals: lions are pierced by arrows, while deer and goats are driven along by dogs and taken captive. Men armed with bows and arrows, spears, axes, throwsticks and pear-shaped maceheads are shown organized in a military fashion, under standards representing a falcon on a perch and a version of the hieroglyphic sign that would eventually stand for the east. There are also depictions of a holy shrine and a bull with two heads recalling the upper section of the Narmer Palette. [15]

The final artifact that we will examine that relates directly to King Narmer is the Narmer Macehead. The following image and comments are taken from the article King Catfish, Also Called Narmer, by Marie Parsons:

The Narmer Macehead
(image from http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/narmer.htm)

    The Narmer macehead, also discovered at Hierakonpolis, has had three interpretations. Petrie's theory, also held by later scholars, was that the mace head depicted the political marriage of Nithotep, princess of the north, with Narmer. Other scholars feel the macehead depicts a celebration by Narmer of his conquest of the north, while still others regard the macehead as commemorating a Sed-festival of the king. Nithotep’s grave has been found at Naqada, with Narmer’s name as well as with King Aha’s name. Nithotep thus is linked with two kings as wife and mother.
    Most recently, new studies of the images on the macehead put forth the theory that the scenes are not primarily commemorative but are simply pictorial versions of year-names. The focus of the scene is the king's figure, seen sitting robed in a long cloak enthroned under a canopy on a high dais, wearing the Red Crown and holding a flail. The enclosure within which he sits can be interpreted as a shrine or temple. He is attended by minor figures of fan-bearers, bodyguards, with long quarterstaves and an official who may be either vizier or heir-apparent. In front of Narmer three men run a race towards him, while above them stands four men carrying standards. Facing the king is a cloaked and beardless figure, over whom is a simple enclosure in which stands a cow and calf (a nome sign).
    The running figures may represent Muu dancers, long associated with Buto, presenting a welcome to the new lord of the Delta. The seated figure facing Narmer may be the chief of Buto rather than a princess of the Delta.
    Beneath these figures are symbols of numbers. The numbers have been recently interpreted to indicate 400,000 cattle, 1,422,000 small animals, and 120,000 men (not women and children, only males.) This would have provided for a total human population of the Delta of perhaps 600,000.
    The macehead then commemorates the completion of the conquest of Lower Egypt, not with a royal dynastic marriage etc, but perhaps, with the first Appearance of the King of Lower Egypt, by an actual census of the Delta people, similar to, and a precursor of, the census taken by William the Conqueror after he won England.

Nicolas Grimal also views the Narmer Macehead as commemorating Narmer's conquest of the region of the Nile Delta. He views it as the continuation and conclusion of the story first related by the Narmer Palette that indicated a campaign against Buto:

[The Narmer Macehead] perhaps celebrates this victory, showing the king under a jubilee canopy, accompanied by the same courtiers, protected by the same emblems and receiving the homage of captives (and also of 'hundreds of thousands' of animals, if the accompanying caption is to be believed). More remarkable still is the fact that the animals, represented on earlier palettes as wild beasts, are now shown enclosed in pens. [16]

King Narmer thus became the first King of all Egypt. His conquests were swift and decisive, and after taking control of Egypt he turned his eyes to the rest of the world. With the strategic port of Buto under his control the entire Mediterranean was at his mercy, and there was always the lure of his rich ancestral home back in Mesopotamia.

The Mediterranean Osiris

The conquests of Narmer and his fame as a great hunter eventually became known on the island of Crete. When the Greeks interacted with Egypt during Classical times virtually all of the Greek writers equated their god Dionysos with the great Egyptian god Osiris. The similarities were obvious, and Minoan Crete was merely a stepping stone between Egypt and Greece for the worship of this great archetypal Underworld "god" who conquered the known world during his lifetime.

German scholar Carl Kerenyi has traced the origin of the cult of Dionysos to the island of Crete, but I believe that it can be traced from Crete back to Egypt and even back to Ethiopia. The Greek poet Anacreon (born around 570 BC) gives one of the titles of Dionysos as "Aithiopias" which simply means "The Ethiopian."[17] Also, one of the many interpretations of the name "Dionysos" is "Dio-Nysa" which means "God of Nysa." According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Nysa was located in the land of Ethiopia:

"...as it is, the Greek story has it that no sooner was Dionysus born than Zeus sewed him up in his thigh and carried him away to Nysa in Ethiopia beyond Egypt." [18]

In Crete the original name for Dionysos was Zagreus who was often represented as the "lord of the wild beasts." Kerenyi writes that in Classical Greek literature Zagreus first appeared in the sixth century BC in a poetic line that reads "Mistress earth and Zagreus who art above all other gods!" Zagreus is also mentioned twice by the poet Aischylos who gives Zagreus similar reverence, equating him with Zeus and also with Hades. Zagreus was simply the Minoan name for the Egyptian god Osiris, and each was worshiped as the primary "Underworld" god.

The Greeks worshiped Dionysos and they also also had memories of a hero-figure that they knew as Orion, who "threatened to exterminate all the animals on earth" while hunting on Crete. According to Kerenyi, the meaning of the name Zagreus is "Great Hunter," or more accurately "catcher of game."[19] Kerenyi refers to a Minoan seal from Kydonia that depicts this ancient god holding up two lions:

His relationship to the two lions flanking him is clearly expressed in his gesture—he rests his hands on the heads of the erect animals... The god holds fast the lions, two living beasts of prey, with his bare hands. He tames them, as it were, by a "laying on" of hands. He draws them into his sphere of influence and holds them captive. [20]

Kerenyi goes on to ask, "Why was this great mythical hunter, who in Greece became a mysterious god of the underworld, a capturer of wild animals and not a killer? What are the implications of 'capturing alive'?" Kerenyi goes on to answer his own question:

On a bronze shield from the Greek period of Crete... we see the "lord of the wild beasts" with a different gesture from that on the gem from Kydonia. Under the influence of Assyrian art, he is represented here with a beard, but what interests us most is that he is stepping on the head of a bull and seems to be holding up and rending a lion. In this instance the lion is torn to pieces, but on Crete that could also be the fate of a bull. The bull games of the Cretans were a continuation of the bull capture, enacted in the form of a drama. It seems hardly credible that in a wild Dionysos cult such powerful animals should have been torn to pieces alive by the teeth of the participants and devoured raw, but we have express testimony showing that this monstrous rite occurred in a feast of Dionysos repeated every two years... Thus the purpose of the "capturing alive" evidently lay in the rending of the captive animals and the devouring of their raw flesh. [21]

According to the Biblical account of the early post-Flood world there were four sons of Ham who were Cush, Mizraim, Put and Canaan. Cush initially settled south of Egypt, while the other three took lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea (Egypt, Libya and Canaan). It appears that after King Narmer took over Egypt he was able to bring all of the descendents of Ham under his banner and gain control of the entire Mediterranean Basin. Flinders Petrie refers to these seafaring colonizers of Africa, Egypt and the Mediterranean as the "Falcon Tribe," because all of them seem to have revered the Falcon and used it as a conquering symbol. The Falcon was the sign for Horus (eventually representing both Horus the Elder and Horus the Younger, whose identities became confused) and, similar to the Biblical Ham, there are numerous Egyptian mythical references to the "Four Sons of Horus," including fourteen in the Pyramid Texts. [22]

On the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, in the land of Canaan, a primary entry point for King Narmer's armies would have been the ancient port of Byblos, whose connections with Egypt can be dated back to pre-Dynastic times. In Plutarch's retelling of the myth of Isis and Osiris it was in Byblos where the casket holding the body of Osiris washed ashore and was discovered by Isis. The name "Byblos" means papyrus in Greek, and from antiquity it was a commercial hub importing paper from Egypt and exporting its great cedar timbers to Egypt. Mettinger comments on these connections during the era of Egypt's New Kingdom:

...the connections between Egypt and Byblos are, indeed, of a special kind and very old. The local ruler uses Egyptian language and writing, recognizes Pharaoh as his right lord, and carries the title of an Egyptian official... In the Amarna letters, the ruler of Byblos says that Byblos is like Memphis to the king (Pharaoh). [23] p.176

The primary god who was worshiped at Byblos was Adonis, which is a name that simply means "Lord." According to the people of Byblos, Adonis, or Adon, was killed by a boar while out hunting in their land, and the red runoff that colored the river during the rainy season was understood to represent the blood of Adonis flowing from the mountain on which he was killed. The death of Adonis by a boar is related to the death of Osiris by Set who was, as we have previously shown, represented as a hippopotamus. The Greeks knew the hippopotamus as a "river horse" (which is what the name means) but to the Egyptians the animal was viewed as a "river pig," so in this sense Osiris/Narmer was killed by the "river boar" Set, just as Adonis was killed by a boar. The Roman historian Lucian of Samosata (2nd century AD), in his De Dea Syria, explains further connections between Adonis and Osiris and between Byblos and Egypt:

...I did see in Byblos a great temple of Aphrodite of Byblos, in which they perform ceremonies in honor of Adon; and I learned about the ceremonies. They say, at any rate, that the deed that was done to Adon by the boar occurred in their land, and in memory of that misfortune every year they beat their breasts and mourn and perform the ceremonies, making solemn lamentations throughout the country. And when the breast-beating and weeping is at end, first they make offerings to Adon as if to a dead person; and then, on the next day, they proclaim that he is alive and fetch him forth into the air, and shave their heads as the Egyptians do when Apis dies. And all women who will not let themselves be shaved pay this penalty: that for a single day they proffer themselves for sale of their beauty; but the market is open only to all foreigners, and the payment becomes an offering to Aphrodite. Nonetheless, there are some inhabitants of Byblos who say that Osiris of Egypt lies buried among them, and the mourning and the ceremonies are all made in honor of Osiris instead of Adon. [24]

The death of the Apis bull in Egypt was celebrated yearly and the bull was viewed as a representation of Osiris, the deification of King Narmer, who was also represented as a bull on the Narmer Palette and other artifacts. The bull was also the central element of Minoan religious worship.

We will next look for evidence of King Narmer's influence outside of Africa and the Mediterranean Basin.

The Uruk Expansion

King Narmer of Egypt, according to the academically accepted chronology, ruled around the time of 3150 BC, at the same time that the Sumerian city-state of Uruk was experiencing an unprecedented expansion of power and influence. King Narmer (King Enmerkar to the Sumerians, or Nimrod to the Hebrews) is directly related to this mysterious "Uruk Expansion" and evidence of this connection is revealed in the following article written by Bruce Bower. The story starts at Buto, the Mediterranean port taken by King Narmer in a victory that confirmed his status as Egypt's first Pharaoh.

Civilization and its discontents: why did the world's first civilization cut a swath across the Near East?

Science News magazine
March 3, 1990
By Bruce Bower
(See http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1200/is_n9_v137/ai_8784921/pg_1)

Investigators from the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo, Egypt, make an annual slog through the Nile Delta to the waterlogged site of Buto, the legendary ancient capital of Lower Egypt. Strategically located near the Mediterranean Sea, Buto was a major port during the 4th millennium B.C. -- a poorly understood period of Egyptian history preceding the emergence of the pharaohs around 3100 B.C.

During four field seasons that began in 1983, the German researchers repeatedly drilled through the mud, sand and water-saturated soil covering Buto until they reached pottery fragments and other ancient debris. Since 1987, the investigators have siphoned off groundwater at the spot with diesel-driven pumps and then carefully dug into Buto's muddy remains. Their duty work is yielding important evidence not only about Lower Egypt's early days but also about the world's first civilization, which began developing in Mesopotamia around 5,400 years ago.

"We've found the first archaeological evidence of cultural unification in Egypt at the end of the 4th millennium B.C., before the first dynasty of pharaohs appeared," says project director Thomas von der Way. Excavations show that during the final stages of the predynastic era at Buto, local methods of pottery and stone-blade production were replaced by more advanced techniques that originated in Upper Egypt, which lay farther to the south. Apparently, Upper Egyptian invaders had conquered this prominent city and port, von der Way says.

Some of the Upper-Egyptian-style pottery is poorly made and probably represents the handiwork of Buto residents who were allowed to stay on and adapt to the new regime, he maintains. Those individuals were most likely commoners, von der Way says, adding, "Buto's ruling class and its followers might in fact have been wiped out."

Even more intriguing is evidence of close contact between Buto's Egyptian residents and the Sumerians of southern Mesopotamia (now southern Iraq), who fashioned the world's first full-fledged civilization and state institutions during the last half of the 4th millennium B.C. Not only does pottery at Buto display Mesopotamian features, but clay nails uncovered at the delta site are nearly identical to those used to decorate temples at sites such as Uruk -- the largest Sumerian settlement and the world's first city. In Mesopotamia, workers inserted the nails to temple walls and painted their heads to form mosaics. The researchers also found a clay cone at Buto that closely resembles clay decorations placed in wall niches inside Mesopotamian temples.

Scientists have long argued over ancient Egypt's relationship to early Mesopotamia. Much of the debate centers on Mesopotamian-style artifacts, such as cylinder seals and flint knife handles, found in 4th-millennium-B.C. graves situated on slopes above the Nile Valley near Buto. Traders who regularly traveled through Mesopotamia and Syria may have brought those artifacts to Egypt, says David O'Connor of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

At Buto, however, Egyptians may have copied temple decorations shown to them by Sumerians more than 5,000 years ago, suggesting "direct and complex influences at work" between the two societies, O'Connor observes.

"It's not possible to trade architecture," von der Way asserts. "Direct personal contact between people from Lower Egypt and Mesopotamia led to the adoption of foreign architecture at Buto."

Buto fuels the growing recognition among archaeologists that early Mesopotamian civilization experienced an unprecedented expansion between 3400 and 3100 BC. The expansion occurred during the latter part of a phase called the Uruk period (named after the major city of the time), which began around 3600 B.C. Excavations conducted over the past 15 years indicate that southern Mesopotamian city-states, each consisting of one or two cities serving as political hubs and providing goods and services to thousands of people living in nearby farming villages, established outposts in neighboring territories lying within modern-day Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Even artifacts recovered at sites in the Transcaucasus of the Soviet Union show signs of Sumerian influence.

Such discoveries leave investigators pondering what made the Sumerians such hard-chargers in a world largely made up of subsistence farmers.

Many subscribe to the view of Robert McCormick Adams of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., who calls the Uruk expansion "the first urban revolution." Adams says the economic demands of burgeoning Mesopotamian cities led to a great transregional civilization in the Near East.

Others, such as Henry T. Wright of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, contend the term "urban revolution" masks the fundamental significance of the Uruk expansion -- the introduction, for the first time anywhere, of political states with a hierarchy of social classes and bureaucratic institutions that served powerful kings.

"Whatever the case, it was a revolutionary time, a moment of extraordinary innovations in art, technology and social systems," Adams says. For instance, in the late 14the millennium B.C., Mesopotamia witnessed the emergence of mass-produced pottery, sculpture as an art form and the harnessing of skilled craftsmen and pools of laborers by an administrative class to produce monumental buildings. The world's earliest clay tablets, portraying simple labels and lists of goods with pictographic symbols, also appeared, foreshadowing the birth of fully expressive writing around 3000 B.C.

The Mesopotamian revolution paved the way for modern societies and political states, Wright observes. "A number of competing formulations of what was driving the Uruk expansion have been proposed and must be tested with new archaeological studies," he says.

Perhaps the most controversial of these theories, proposed by Guillermo Algaze of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, holds that advanced societies in southern Mesopotamia were forced to expand northward, beginning around 5,400 years ago, to obtain scarce resources desired by powerful administrators and social elites.

These northern regions held items crucial to the growth of the incipient civilization, including slaves, timber, silver, gold, copper, limestone, lead and bitumen (an asphalt used as a cement and mortar), Algaze argues in the December 1989 CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY. To guarantee a reliable flow of imports, Sumerian settlers colonized the plains of southwestern Iran and established outposts at key points along trade routes traversing northern Mesopotamia, he suggests.

Excavations at a number of ancient villages in southwestern Iran indicate the areas was "part and parcel of the Mesopotamian world" by the end of the Uruk period, Algaze notes. Cultural remains, such as ceramic pottery, record-keeping tablets, engraved depictions of religious offerings and architectural styles, are strikingly similar at sites in the Iranian plains and southern Mesopotamia, he says. Apparently, Sumerians colonized "a fertile and productive area that was only lightly settled and could surely mount only minimal resistance."

Uruk-period cities and smaller settlements also popped up farther to the north, especially where east-west trade routes intersected with the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Algaze argues. A good example is the Uruk city of Habuba Kabira, which lies along the upper Euphrates in what is now Syria. Habuba Kabira once encompassed at least 450 acres, according to estimates based on Algaze's assessment of the site. Cultural remains in its metropolitan core and in clusters of sites outside its huge defensive wall are identical to those found in southern Mesopotamia. With its neatly planned residential, Industrial and administrative quarters, Habuba Kabira was well situated to control the flow of trade goods through the region, Algaze says.

Although Sumerians produced surplus grain, leather products, dried fish, dates and textiles for export, they most likely took more from colonized areas and northern traders than they gave in return, Algaze maintains. The influx of imports, he says, added new layers of complexity to Mesopotamia's urban centers as fresh legions of administrators scurried to coordinate distribution of the bounty.

Sumerian city-states, of which there were at least five, almost certainly engaged in fierce competition and warfare for imported goods, Algaze says. Cylinder seals from various southern Mesopotamian sites, depicting military scenes and the taking of prisoners, reflect these rivalries.

Cylinder seals are engraved stone cylinders that were used to roll an impression onto clay seals for documents and bales of commodities. A variety of scenes, often including domestic animals, grain, deities and temples, are found on the seals.

Algaze's assertion that the Uruk expansion was primarily fueled by an urgent need for resources available only in foreign lands is receiving much attention, and a good deal of criticism, in the archaeological community.

Piotr Steinkellr of Harvard University contends that, contrary to Algaze's argument, southern Mesopotamians did not need to establish such a far-flung network of settlements to obtain such resources, which were available in the foothills of the nearby Zagros mountains. The Uruk expansion was purely a commercial venture aimed at making a profit, Steinkeller asserted at December's annual meeting of the American Institute of Archaeology in Boston.

"The Sumerians wanted to become middlemen in international trade networks and reap big profits," he says. "They weren't forced to expand because of internal growth."

In Steinkeller's scenario, Uruk migrants did not colonize new territories. Instead, they forged intricate trade agreements with foreign communities to divvy up local and imported goods.

Both colonization and commerce are difficult to pin down through archaeological research, observes Adams of the Smithsonian Institution. "There's no evidence for goods moving in a private-enterprise sense during the Late Uruk period," Adams asserts. At most, he says, valuable items may have been exchanged between distant royal palaces or religious temples.

"Today we tend to treat economics as a separate domain," he says. "But in Uruk times, the economy probably wasn't separated from politics and religion."

Indeed, says Carl C. Lamberg-Karlovsky of Harvard University, religious beliefs may have exerted an important influence on the Uruk expansion. Southern Mesopotamians believed their temple gods owned the land and humans were its stewards. Thus, Uruk city-states may have pursued a type of "manifest destiny," he suggests, claiming nearby lands in the name of their deities.

Harvey Weiss of Yale University downplays religious factors. He contends that the emergence of social classes -- particularly elite groups seeking exotic items to signify their elevated status -- may lie at the heart of the Uruk expansion.

Weiss says archaeologists lack substantial evidence for extensive imports during the Uruk period, with the exception of copper and the semiprecious stone lapis lazuli.

"It's a good bet the Sumerians were acquiring foreign materials that weren't necessary for their survival," he says. "Newly emerging social elites defined what types of exotica were imported."

However, he adds, it is far from clear what types of social classes characterized Sumerian civilization and why they emerged at that time.

Knowledge about Sumerian settlements built before 3400 B.C. is similarly scant, observes Wright of the University of Michigan. "The Uruk expansion must have started earlier and been more complex than Algaze assumes," he argues.

While Algaze proposes that long-distance trade resulted in the explosive growth of Sumerian city-states, Wright argues just the opposite. As he sees it, competitive city-states attempted to control ever-larger territories, and trade was an outgrowth of their political jousting.

In a fundamental challenge to this already-diverse collection of views, Gregory A. Johnson of the City University of New York, Hunter College, questions the whole notion of a strong, expanding Sumerian civilization in Uruk times. Instead, he contends, the period was one of political collapse and fragmentation.

Johnson says the Sumerian colonists described by Algaze were most likely a group of refugees, initially consisting of administrative elites who had been defeated in the political power struggles that flared up in budding city-states.

"Why were Uruk outposts established in distant areas fully equipped with household utensils, administrative paraphernalia, husbands, wives, children, sundry relatives, animals, architects, artisans -- all the comforts of home? Perhaps things at home were not that comfortable," he suggests.

If, as Algaze argues, traders founded communities such as Habuba Kabira, they could easily have adapted to local ways of life without taking with them everything but the kitchen hearth, Johnson points out. Refugees, however, are more likely to recreate the lives they were forced to leave behind.

And masses of Mesopotamians indeed left their lives behind. Populations declined sharply in many shouthern Mesopotamian cities and their surrounding villages at the end of the 4th millennium B.C. Surveys conducted by Johnson and others indicate the abandonment of nearly 450 acres of occupied areas representing as many as 60,000 people.

The populations of inhabited areas of seven major Sumerian cities dropped by an average of 51 percent in the last few centuries of the Uruk period Johnson notes. Only at the city of Uruk have archaeologists documented significant expansion during that time.

Moreover, widespread abandonment of settlements on Iran's Susiana plain created an uninhabited, 9-mile-wide "buffer zone" between two large Late Uruk communities known as Susa and Chogha Mish. What once had been a single state in its formative stages was thus sliced in half, Johnson says. The buffer zone probably became the site of intense warfare between administrative elites from the two sides, who wrestled for control of rural labor and argiculture on the plain. Some Sumerian cylinder seals portrary political conflicts of this types rather than economic rivalries, he asserts. Susa gained the upper hand and remained an urban center into the 3rd millennium B.C., while Chogha mish became a ghost town.

Johnson says competing political factions undoubtedly plagued other nascent states, creating a reservoir of disgruntled Sumerians with plenty of incentive to haul their belongings to distant greener pastures.

Further archaeological work, particularly in areas remote from the intensively surveyed river sites, may clarify some of the controversy surrounding the rise and rapid fall of the world's first civilization. But a consensus will be difficult to dig out of the ground.

"Quite frankly, no one has come up with a good explanation for the Uruk expansion," concedes Weiss. "It remains a great mystery."


In a future installment we will compare the Uruk Expansion with Biblical and Sumerian history. The growth of Sumer began peacefully right after Noah's Flood, but then it took a violent turn when the Biblical King Nimrod arrived on the scene. In the end it was the mysterious Tower of Babel event, instigated by King Nimrod, that brought the Uruk Expansion to a sudden end.



8 9


1. The "Ethiopians" According to Diodorus Siculus, http://www.homestead.com/wysinger/diodorus.html

2. Berossos and Manetho, Verbrugghe and Wickersham, 1996, pp. 130-131

3. Ibid, p.131

4. Who Was Menes?, by Jimmy Dunn, http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/menes1.htm

5. Isis and Osiris, by Plutarch, Section 13,

6. Osiris: A Study in Myths, Mysteries and Religion, Harold P. Cooke, 1931, p.149

7. Egyptian Mythology, Geraldine Pinch, 2002, p.144

8. Who Was Menes?, by Jimmy Dunn, http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/menes1.htm

9. Chronicle of the Pharaohs, Peter A. Clayton, 2001 (1994), pp.19-20

10. Isis and Osiris, by Plutarch, Section 13,

11. A History of Ancient Egypt, Nicolas Grimal, 1988, pp.47-48

12. For instance, the New Kingdom Story of Setna speaks of the "Day of Awakening, when Osiris shall return to the world once more." See http://touregypt.net/godsofegypt/thebookofthoth.htm

13. A History of Ancient Egypt, Nicolas Grimal, 1988, p.39

14. Ibid, p.37

15. Ibid, p.36

16. Ibid, p.39

17. The Mighty Bull of the Two Lands, http://www.winterscapes.com/sannion/osiris.htm

18. Histories, 2:146, Herodotus, from http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Mythology/Dionysus.html

19. Dionysos - Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, Carl Kerenyi, 1976, pp.80-83

20. Ibid, pp.81-82

21. Ibid, pp.84-85

22. The Ancient Gods Speak, Donald B. Redford, 2002, pp.132-134

23. The Riddle of Resurrection, Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, 2001, p.176

24. De Dea Syria, Lucian of Samosata, http://www.geocities.com/soho/lofts/2938/deasyria1.html

Further Reading

An Uruk World System? Historical and Archaeological Aspects

Ancient Weapons Found in Ruins in Syria (An example of an "Uruk Expansion" that was not peaceful)

Rethinking World-Systems: Diasporas, Colonies, and Interaction in Uruk Mesopotamia, Gil J. Stein, 1999

The Uruk World System: The Dynamics of Expansion of Early Mesopotamian Civilization, Guillermo Algaze, 1993

School of American Research Advanced Seminar: Mesopotamia in the Era of State Formation
    A seminar of experts on the Uruk Expansion, with significant points of agreement and disagreement noted

Uruk Mesopotamia & Its Neighbors: Cross-cultural Interactions in the Era of State Formation, edited by Mitchell S. Rothman, 2001


Peter Goodgame
February 18, 2007