The Narmer Palette depicts the Pharaoh Narmer bearing the Red Crown for Lower Egypt and then the White Crown for Upper Egypt. Were there any social, political or economic factors that necessitated the joining of the two separate regions?
Why? Because successful ruling elites try to increase their wealth and power. Ancient Egypt was mainly arranged along the Nile with inhospitable desert to both East and West. This leaves only two directions for expansion. Egyptian polities expanded along both of them with the following results:
- Political unification of Egypt.
- Expulsion of inhabitants from the Nubian border regions.
- Fortification of not just border regions but many places in Egypt and frequent conflicts before unification.
- Eventual expansion of influence if not political suzerainty towards the Levante.
Of course, we may go deeper and ask why this happened, why this happened when it happened, and who was responsible.
There are three instructive articles in the Journal of Archaeological Research on the matter in the last 20 years:
- Savage (2001): Some Recent Trends in the Archaeology of Predynastic Egypt
- Stevenson (2016): The Egyptian Predynastic and State Formation
- Bard (2017): Political Economies of Predynastic Egypt and the Formation of the Early State
The literature discusses various causes:
- Scarce resources (and consequently expansion to gain control of additional resources). This theory has been discredited according to Savage (2001).
- External conquest and oppression by a warrior culture. This theory has been discredited according to Savage (2001) and was almost certainly an artifact of early modern European concepts of how history works.
- Increased political affluence of certain groups (Cluster 3 burials at Naga-ed-Dêr, according to Savage 2001). This yields more resources to support an army to conquer other polities.
- Development of advanced tools of control and government, such as sophisticated writing in Abydos according to Bard (2017).
- An increased militarization of Egyptian culture in general (see Stevenson 2016).
- Rise in inter-regional trade leading to more sophisticated technology, greater wealth and freeing up of resources for conquest.
- Gradual consolidation of political power over centuries ceasing only with the unification of Egypt (i.e. the question should not be why Egypt was unified, but why Egypt was not unified with other places - the answer probably has to do with technology and geographical distance).
... and many other causes of various importance.
The Narmer palate
...should not be overestimated. Although an important historical document because of the lack of other such documents from the same time (besides Pharaoh Scorpion's mace head), this was a relatively insignificant object at the time. It shows various things (the use of sophisticated writing, the existence of the institution of the Pharaoh, the importance of some ideology involving the unification of what later became known as upper and lower Egypt since Narmer is shown wearing the crowns of upper and lower Egypt respectively in different scenes), but there are many things that it does not show beyond reasonable doubt: Did the crowns Narmer was shown wearing actually stand for the whole of upper and lower Egypt at the time? Was Narmer the one responsible for their unification? Etc. etc.
There are many things about the process of the unification of Ancient Egypt that we do not understand. We should be very careful when interpreting the sources ...