By Marie Parsons
Egypts culture is a product of its geography, its people, and at least to some degree by its links with its neighbors. Egyptian traveled to and traded with Palestine, where pottery and Egyptian-style buildings have been found, with Afghanistan and beyond to modern Pakistan, the source for lapis lazuli, documented to have been imported into Egypt from Predynastic time. They also traded with Elam and Sumer, from whence came elements shown on palettes and cylinder seals, and indicates contact between Egypt and other regions of the Near East.
However, with all the similarities that can be noted, there are also significant differences between Near Eastern cultures and that which is undeniably Egyptian. The Egyptian cosmology, cosmogony, governmental hierarchy and administration, writing, dress, its concept of kingshipthese were all things most definitely Egyptian, even if perhaps influenced by outside contacts.
The movie entitled "The Mummy Returns", and an already-planned sequel, tentatively titled "The Scorpion King", purport to tell of a semi-mythical king of late pre-dynastic Egypt. The sequel so far is scripted to speculate about the Scorpion's rise to become King over Egypt. The fact that Scorpion has suddenly leapt into the most popular Hollywood media is perhaps a victory for the science of Egyptology. Tutankahmun, Cleopatra's Palace at Alexandria--we know of these things--we race to visit them, to see and touch and learn, because of what the Egyptologists have accomplished. Scorpion may soon join the ranks of his famous successors. And people will travel to Egypt to see where he may have walked, just as they do now to see where Hatshepsut walked.
Who is this King that may soon be as familiar as his later, more historically documented successors such as Hatshepsut, Tutankhamun, and Cleopatra VII? His name may very well have been Scorpion, though in Egyptian it may have been pronounced something like Srqt.
What is known thus far about this ruler?
In the ancient Upper Egyptian town of Nekhen, The Falcon, also called Hierakonpolis, where archaeological finds have been made that are significant to the earliest days of the unification of Egypt, a fragmented and incomplete macehead attributed to King Scorpion was found by J.E. Quibell in 1897-98. Maceheads were early considered to be symbolic of Kingly power, and throughout Egypts history, were shown in relief carvings as the weapon of the king as he smote his enemies who were the enemies of Egypt.
This macehead depicts a King or Chieftain wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt in full ritual dress, with the bulls tail representing power, hanging from the back of his belt. The multi-petalled rosette or star at this time was used to identify Egyptian kings and in fact, in neighboring Sumer, signified divinity itself. It is shown in front of his face, along with a clearly drawn scorpion sign, thereby giving his name as indicated earlier to be Srqt, or Scorpion. In another convention of Egyptian art, this kingly, perhaps quasi-divine, figure is drawn towering over his companions and attendants.
King Scorpion is accompanied by his high officers, who carry standards on which are displayed symbols identified with particular districts into which Egypt was divided. Many of these district symbols are familiar throughout Egypts history. Two of these interestingly enough are Set animals, showing that at this very early time Followers of Set supported the royal clan; others represent falcons, a jackal, the god Min, and possibly the mountains. If these are accurately interpreted as regional standards, there are more here shown than on the Narmer palette.
On this macehead, Scorpion is apparently performing a ceremony using a hoe. Perhaps he is opening the irrigation dykes to begin the flooding of the fields, or perhaps he is cutting the first furrow for a temple or even a city to be built, thus beginning a foundation ritual which was a kingly prerogative in Egypt (similar to Roman emperors millennia later, shown on coins ploughing the outline of a city at its foundation).
The decorative frieze around the remaining top of the macehead has lapwing birds hanging by their necks from vertical standards. In hieroglyphics these rekhyts have been interpreted to represent the common people of Egypt, and their fate seems to indicate that they were conquered by King Scorpion. However, some authorities have interpreted the rekhyt symbol as only later representing the Egyptian population, whereas early in predynastic history they referred to foreigners or non-Egyptians instead. Thus the Scorpion macehead and Narmer palette may represent the respective rulers as having successfully defeated foreigners from the west Delta (something which happened later in history as well.)
Although a four-chambered tomb in Abydos designated as B50 has been speculated as being Scorpions burial place, no conclusive evidence of Scorpions existence has yet been found at Abydos, where the tombs of several First Dynasty kings and even some preceding Dynasty 0 kings have been found. Some scholars are not even sure Scorpion actually existed (perhaps Scorpion was a title; perhaps the Scorpion sign did not signify the personages name at all
He may have come from the royal house of Hierakonpolis, rather than from This, the origin city of the Thinite dynasty from whence came his later successor Narmer, the King Catfish. Perhaps This and Hierakonpolis each were the centers of rival chiefdoms, and when Scorpions reign ended, This assumed an uncontested position as sovereign of Egypt. Perhaps Narmer was the first king who actually reigned unchallenged throughout the country. Based upon Scorpions apparent connection with Hierakonpolis and from the stylistic similarities between his macehead and the palette and macehead attributed to Narmer, the two rulers may well have been close contemporaries.
The only other evidences to date of the existence of a King Scorpion come from small serekhs found on vases. Serekhs were the enclosing devices within which the early names of Kings were written. A serekh of Scorpion may occur on a wine jar from Minshat Abu Amar, though this inscription has also been read as being that of "Aha," the later First Dynasty King who may have been the same king known by Manetho as Menes. Two serekhs written on pottery vessels from Tarkhan have been read as Scorpion, but that is not yet considered a conclusive reading either. Indeed, it has been proposed that these inscriptions be attributed to a King called "Crocodile", perhaps a king reigning concurrently with the main Thinite royal family.
As more discoveries are made in Abydos, Hierakonpolis and other Predynastic and Early Dynastic sites, it is possible that the gaps of legend and history will shrink, and a clearer picture of these earliest days of Egyptian beginnings will stand clear.
Narmer: First King of Upper and Lower Egypt, a Reconsideration of His Palette and Macehead, Abstract by Frank Yurco, published in JSSEA #XXV,
Prehistory of Egypt by Beatrix Midant-Reynes,
Early Egypt: Rise of Civilisation in the Nile Valley by A.J. Spencer,
Early Dynastic Egypt by Toby Wilkinson.